Sunday, September 25, 2016

My African American Experience

Yesterday as I channel surfed, I came across the opening of the African American Museum on the National Mall in DC. I learned that Bush had signed the legislation funding for the museum, and his wife is on the board.   At the time, Presidents Obama and Bush were with their wives on stage.  I stopped to watch a while.  I noticed President Bush and Michelle Obama were sitting so close, their shoulders were touching. It brought to mind some time in the last year or so I saw them on stage somewhere, and President Bush grabbed Mrs. Obama for a dance.    A little while later yesterday, my bff called from Detroit where she was visiting a friend.  As I recounted this to her and the teachers who were not at work Friday due to going to DC, she responded, "Well, you know he (Bush) likes black women."  Then, a slight pause for effect....He loved Condeleeza (Rice).  I had to inwardly chuckle because this is how we talk:  an African American "much" older woman raised on the South side of Chicago who rode the train alone at age 4 from one part of the city to the other and her "sister from another mother" who grew up in a private school in the deep South.  What an unlikely pair.

This and the divisive election year got me thinking about my African-American experience.  To do so, I had to step back in time.  The fall of 1974 I was new to John C. Calhoun Academy, the small private school in Walterboro.  My second brother had had problems during integration at the junior high and told my parents not to send me there.  His books had been stolen several times, and the assistant principal used to lock himself in his office until the "rioting" was over.  In reality, it was probably more like fighting than rioting; this is a small town, after all.

So, there I was in private school.  I had to give up my public school friends, but I had had trouble there, bullied by an African-American girl.  Then, I went to private school and experienced another kind of bullying.  Some boys there nicknamed me "butterball" because I was chubby.  This introvert never felt welcomed there.  Indeed, my fondest memories were in English and French classes.

Fast forward to college.  I attended an all women's private college, Columbia College, in the heart of Columbia.  I don't recall how Pat and I met, but she was an African-American woman from Virginia.  I considered her my best friend.  She was grounded and sensible.  We lost touch over the years but reconnected on FB this past summer.   In spite of not being in touch, I have thought of her often over the years and how I counted her as my greatest college friend.

Now, it's 1988, and I'm starting my teaching career at Ruffin High School in Ruffin, SC.  Except for a brief stint in my old private school, 28 of my 29 years have been spent in Title One schools.  This means they are high poverty schools that get federal funding.  Here are some of the students I taught:  O'Retha, Lesley,  Janette, Hope, Wanda, David, Kakeshia, Shedrick, LaToya, Shaki,   This "young" man has become one of my greatest friends since I reconnected with him two years ago.  (The inset pic is of me and one of my girls from that time, Wanda.) Although we don't talk often, about every six weeks or so Rick (Shedrick) will call me or text me, asking me to pray over something.  I have asked the same of him. He is a Clemson graduate and an engineer wayyy up the line with Duke Power.  He, along with my bff Carol, have been my greatest encouragers of late.

Now, to the lady who lives here:
Priscilla...I can't find a pic of her right now, but this is where she lives.  Several years ago the homeless ministry I was part of ended.  I had been the cook for the Sunday afternoon meals.  It was during this time that I met her.  She lives downtown, and I take her a meal every weekend.  Although she has had a couple of strokes, there is nothing wrong with her mind.  We pray together, and I have told her that God has her there to pray for her children.  She has enriched my life so much.

Finally, I get to my best friend.  I will not put her picture on here because she is anti-social media.  She has said I'm her sister from another mother.  As I said earlier, she grew up on the South side of Chicago and was cared for by a neighborhood woman she called "Grandmother."  By age 20 she was a college graduate, married, and teaching in Tennessee in the height of the Civil Rights Movement.  Fast forward to me as a child, lying on the floor of my living room looking at the Sears Wish Book.  By then, she was likely the buyer for those toys.  She had given up teaching, moved back to Chicago, and was at different times, a buyer for Mattel Toys and Sears.

By my third year at my current school, we were on the same team and next door to each other; I was teaching ELA and she, math.  When I had BOTH cancer surgeries, she was the one who spent the night with me in the hospital the first night after each operation.  Since then, she has been the one who met me at the colonoscopy appointments, took me to breakfast, then dropped me off at my car parked a ways from the clinic because I was not supposed to drive at all the day of the procedure.  Because of my fear of bridges, she is the one who drives when we go to Pooler to Sams Club and the outlet mall.  It was her convertible that I threw up (a little on the door) on when she drove up into her driveway after lunch that day at Cheeburger Cheeburger.  She insisted I go in and lie down while I could hear her hose running, which meant she washed my puke off the driveway.  She was the one who would stay at school until 8 or so at night many nights, then call me on the drive home to Sun City.   When I birth my baby named Retirement in about 8 months, she said she is taking me to dinner....my choice.

Although I was not brought up with African Americans, they have been the largest part of my life...aside from my son and parents.  This post is merely a short tribute to those I hold dear.   I can not understand the current climate in this country and the deep-seated racism that this election has brought to light.  I will leave this post with this simple fact:  God created man (all of us) in His image.