Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The Richness of Poverty

September 24, 2016

It is often said that “Money can’t buy happiness”; a truism attested to by many a wealthy person who faced circumstances that fell well out of range of their bank accounts: debilitating disease, destruction of a home by natural causes such as flood, fire or earthquake—one in which all memories and family treasures are lost, loss of a loved one—human or animal. These are but a few instances in which money is rendered mute to console. But, that is not the kind of happiness, or lack thereof, that I am referencing here.  I’m talking about the everyday things that contribute to our sense of well-being, contentment, and yes, love and acceptance.

If you’ve ever been poor, you probably know what I mean. Not having a lot meant that what you did have was appreciated to  the max. Often that was the simplicity of a small home that afforded shelter, simple but deliciously prepared food, a few of your own clothes—even if they were handed down to you, and family and friends with whom to spontaneously play and laugh—no appointment needed. There were also multiple places to just “be yourself”: parks, school, church, juke joints, pool halls, swimming pools, street corners, etc. No one judged you in these places. You were “free.”  “Free”, yes, that’s it, exactly! History is replete with stories of how poverty “freed” up incredible creativity and daring in countless people whose ideas and works are substance to our world today. Few aristocrats are credited with creating ingenious inventions that are now commonplace in our daily lives. It was “Mother Necessity” that is credited with so much of what we know and use today.

I know that I’m not alone when I long for some of those times, now gone, when solitude in my small, close-quartered home was enough to satisfy me; when being alone with a great book, great music, a long, tall, cold drink, and a warm fire made me feel “rich” enough; when the smell of a sleeping baby’s breath and Johnson’s Baby Powder was all I needed to feel secure and worthy; when the warm fur of a loving, loyal dog or cat reassured me that someone or something cared deeply for me and depended on me. My bank account was practically non-existent—or at best, overdrawn, but the things that mattered most could not be withdrawn from it, anyway.

Think about the first time you were truly “happy.” For me, it was when the obstetrical nurse laid my first child in my arms. I had labored hard and produced something truly wonderful. Pride, joy and consuming humility brought tears of indescribable happiness cascading down my face. There are no words to capture that feeling—most certainly not the word “money.” No price tag would be high enough—not one. The closest would be “Priceless!” I struggle to recall just exactly when the last true “happy” took place.

So, why is it that we so dogmatically pursue wealth if it’s happiness that we desire? Isn’t that activity counter-productive to what we aspire to achieve? How many times do we have to see evidence of the sadness and personal destruction that money has wrought in lives of people we both know and read about? Countless! There are those who tout that “Money is the root of all evil”, quoting, or “mis-quoting” from some passage in the Bible. The irony is that they are mixing two very different constructs: money is a symbol of value, created by Man—evil is an inherent quality—generated by an internally driven spirit, the source of which is unknown. Chew on that for a minute—and please don’t go to the “Devil” as your reference.

Poverty is given a bad rap—it definitely is an inconvenient state of being, but its ultimate value in the experience of mankind is that one doesn’t easily forget it. With all the bad news about being poor, the good news is that there are no other avenues toward wealth that are so rich with memories. Living in it (poverty) provides the soul-stirring stories of sermons, and heartfelt reminiscences among old friends that evoke, and re-evoke the  joys, and hurts that we can’t, and often don’t want to forget–the people, the places, the events– they are what shaped us, from the ground up.

From my days of living in an impoverished neighborhood, I will take  with me to my grave these words that I once saw painted in a large sign on a burned-out building in the “Hood.” It read:

“Thank you for all you gave me,

Thank you for all you took from me,

Thank you for all you left me.

Gratitude is Attitude”

TRUMP THIS!

May 20, 2016

There’s rarely a time when I listen to one of Donald Trump’s inarticulate “rants” that I’m not reminded of how similar our political paths have been. In some ways, although his is on a much larger and more treacherous scale, my beginnings in the world of politics closely mirror “The Donald’s.” In a nutshell, I once ran for, and was elected to an office that I was blatantly and summarily unfit to hold. It was a long time ago, but I remember it as if it were just yesterday. It’s hard not to be embarrassed, even today, sixty-nine years later.

Here’s the story: I had just enrolled in a prestigious Junior High School that was in my attendance area. I was thirteen, and Black–the only one in the entire school. Schools were newly integrated, and it was just my luck to be the right age to walk into this untested world of all-White– except me–, hormone- charge environment. To my surprise, the students seemed excessively anxious to make me comfortable. I had expected the opposite. I was braced for insults and name-calling. That’s what I thought would happen. In fact, I’d rehearsed a few choice retorts of my own. But, those words were not needed. The kids were great! Everyone wanted to be my “pal.”

One of them decided to nominate me for the office of Student Council Secretary. She even became my campaign manager, and did a phenomenal job of selling me to the students leading up to election day. I won by a LANDSLIDE! My opponent-a ninth grader who had been on the council for two years, and who was highly qualified for the secretary’s job, was “trumped” by me–the most popular girl on campus! I had never served in any student council office, and had absolutely no clue what a secretary was supposed to do. Oh, I loved the excitement of the campaign: the banners bearing my name, the chants of my supporters at rallies, and the hype that made me feel so important! Once the election was over and I took my seat alongside the Council President, I could only stare at the blank pages of a “Standard” recording book in which I was supposed to write what was said and done in the meetings. I didn’t know where to begin.What had I gotten myself into?!

My incompetence was hard to hide–the scratched out words, ink blots, and incomplete, poorly punctuated sentences made my lack of experience utterly transparent. It was only after weeks of struggling and a lot of tutoring by the Student Council’s Faculty Advisor that I began to get the “drift.” I had to learn to listen with my ears, not my eyes, and to write in brief, succinct, but accurate sentences that gave a clear account of what took place during  meetings: who said what, who motioned what, who seconded the motions, what proposals were voted in, which failed, etc. I soon regretted my victory over the girl who would have sailed through those first months–her experience and preparation far exceeded mine. It was a classic case of the old adage: “Opportunity favors a prepared mind.” I had “trumped” her in the election, but, “to the victor went the spoils.”

I can now report that I ultimately overcame those rough days and months in my first “public” office, and finished the school year feeling pretty proud of the work I finally was doing in my job. Nevertheless, I will always remember the lesson I learned about popularity. I know now that it is a fickle construct of society that can lull one into thinking that they can do things they are not ready to do. The lure is sexy, but the actualization is often disappointing. I hope that will not be the experience of Mr. Trump–but, especially, I hope that it will  not be that of the American People, who deserve better!

“Millenia Women”? –What the Heck is Going On?

February 19, 2016

Words from a familiar Christmas carol reverberate in my brain: “Do you hear what I hear?” This time, however, the words are not accompanied by a melodic tune; just hard cold numbers that have caught my attention. Did you know that young women who are entering adult life (18 to approximately 32) are called, “Millenia Women”, and that their life goals are about a millenium away from those of their grandmothers’? Here are the stats reported on CNN from a recent study of what this group of American women want:

(1) Independence-96%,

(2) Children-68%,

(3) Marriage-50%,

(4) Wealth-38%.

Wow! What a difference a generation makes! These statistics are so-o o different from those of my generation. When I came of age in the 1960’s, I believe the #1 goal of most of my college friends was to get married. True, it was a strong desire among us to marry someone who held the promise of a wealthy future lifestyle—a man’s potential to achieve highly was a strong selection factor. Next would come the desire to have children and raise them to be successful contributors, gainfully employed, and of kind, generous, character. If we were to accomplish this one, our old age would be “insured” by caring, well-off offspring. The notion that unmarried young women would live independent lives was only perceived plausible in the context of living independently from our mothers. The last thing we wanted to do was to either remain single at home or be forced by circumstances to return to Mom’s nest (and nagging). Our fervent prayer was to be saved from such a curse as that would have been!

What is ironic is that, in spite of my generation’s lofty aspirations to have great marriages and to raise brilliant, caring children, most of us lived lives that were closely reflective of the desires of today’s “Millenia” Women—we worked long hours in our careers, left our children with baby-sitters, and paid little attention to our marriages. Our results, as it turns out, were dismal. For example, It is hard to find couples from the 60’s and 70’s (my era) that are still married—let alone happily so. Divorce was rampant in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s—just about the time that today’s young women were waking up to life around them. What they saw was often a parade of boyfriends and girlfriends who were absorbing their parents’ affection while holding their own childhood needs for security at bay.

Additionally, family finances often took a huge hit as homes and bank accounts went splintering in every direction by the divorce process. Many of these young ladies held on by a thin thread through the turmoil of their mothers’ travail, post-divorce. At that time, mothers usually ended up with the house and the kids, while fathers set their sails for other, more alluring, shores. My guess is that many, if not most, of the really alert girls took careful notes and made the decision early-on to never be a victim of that type of circumstance. As I have said many times before, “more is caught than is taught.”

The survey results, if they are significant indicators of future trends, will have to give us all pause. Do you really hear what I hear? If today’s Millenia Women value their independence more than marriage or children, and if they’d rather be rich than compromised by family, where is our society headed? I will acknowledge that wealth is better than poverty, and that it is poverty that is the millstone of the majority of young mothers; married or not. Certainly, we should aim to alleviate this burdensome problem. The question is, where is the balance struck? Is there still a place for wholesome male-female relationships in unions called marriage? Is it possible to procreate, as in the olden days, stay together, and still raise mentally and physically healthy children? Is it okay to want the children without or more than marriage? I believe that African Americans don’t really have a choice in this matter; that we have to confront this issue head-on in dialogue in all of our common settings—church, sororities, fraternities, clubs, school—everywhere. We have got to talk! There is peril in our choices.

Call me out on this if you like, but I will invite you to just look around. Who do you see finishing college and assuming responsible positions in the workplace and in society? Who is doing the heavy lifting of black society? Now look again, who do you see without skills, money, jobs or entrepreneurships? . . . It’s not Millenia Women—especially not the African American ones! Somehow, we are going to have to right our ship if our race of people is to survive. Otherwise, I fear, we will sail right off the cliff of a world flattened by ignorance and complacency.

By the way, I’m not the first to say this; check out “The Souls of Black Folks”, W.E.B. Dubois, Random House, 1996. History has a way of clarifying perspective.

 

 

ARE YOU SURE? THE OTHER SIDE OF RETIREMENT

February 8, 2016

When my husband decided to retire, it was as if he heard a voice from heaven one morning saying: “Quit!” At least that’s how it seemed to me as he described how he came to the decision to turn in his resignation, “effective immediately.” He literally pushed the “eject” button on his job of seven years, and bailed out. Well, perhaps that’s a little too graphic a description, but that’s how it seemed to me, looking on in shock–and some trepidation. There was no warning. This momentous announcement dropped from nowhere. Just imagine a “thud” sound. That was it–just “plop!”

Fact is, he had already successfully completed a twenty-two year career in the US Army where he was a paratrooper who routinely bailed out of high flying airplanes–sometimes into foreign territories. That was Retirement # 1. Now, here he was, doing it again–only this time, the landing was to be very different. After life in the military, finding work commensurate with his training and experience was daunting, to say the least. For him, Security assignments seemed the most natural fit, so that’s what he pursued for eight of the eleven years of our marriage–working day shifts as a Security Officer at a large city hospital.

One day, when he was thoroughly fed up with the boredom of his routines: making rounds to check on locked doors, monitoring illegally parked cars, interceding in patient and visitors altercations with hospital staff, and answering endless questions on the same topics, he drafted his notice of intent to retire. He had just turned 62 and couldn’t wait to apply for Social Security! He could smell the coffee and feel the wet grass of his favorite golf course beneath his feet. “Sweet!” “Sweet!”

After an emotional Retire Reception at the hospital, where he said goodbye to colleagues, supervisors, and friends he had met there, the big question loomed up to confront him just as soon as the car wheels hit the exit driveway: “Okay, what now?” He was quite caught off-guard. He had not stopped to think about anything more than the leisure of retirement–the part about not having to get out of bed to go to a job. Contemplating an answer to that question was haunting, and very uncomfortable. He was clueless. He had not cultivated any hobbies, the closest “buddies” were his ex-soldier comrades who had scattered throughout the country, and all of the kids were grown and gone, too.  Cheez! What a predicament! What was a guy to do? The idea of having a plan had evaded him. Now, all he could do was hang around the house, waiting for ” Wifey” to come home from her whereabouts to fix him a meal and watch the games with him. He had way too much time on his hands! Finally, after two long, boring years, he enrolled in school. The change is remarkable! Learning is another form of work; it is far more rewarding.

Over and over again these days I hear similar stories. People seem incredibly anxious to leave the 9 to 5 gigs in exchange for an imagined life of leisure and adventure–only to find that their goal is not exactly as attainable as they imagined. Truth is, successful retirement requires intense, intentional planning and preparation. You can’t just “bail out” without a map. Retirement is an expensive journey–depending on how long you’re on the trip, so you have to be able to afford the ticket. It pays to do the research: a) How long do you expect to be retired if you start now? b) Who will you need to support? c) What’s it likely to cost you to do what you think you want to do? d) How much do you have of that cost right now? e) How much do you need in “contingency” money? e) What skills and knowledge can you “re-employ” if you need to make some money later on?

Here’s the thing: No matter what your age, you can stop at any point from doing work you don’t like, and start doing work that you do like. But, if you’re still young-ish (in your early 60’s or 70’s), healthy, and don’t have a plan for filling your days with meaningful activities, my advice to you is, “DON’T QUIT!” Be sure. Be very sure, that retirement is really what you want if you’re “clueless” on the answer to “What’s Next?”

 

 

 

 

What Do Blacks Want?

December 9, 2015

In the wake of so much media publicity documenting the daily moves of protesting Black activists , such as “Black Lives Matter”, I’ve begun inwardly searching for answers to the recurring, thematic questions that are raised by constant voices of disgruntled Black marchers and spokespersons: “How long?”, “When?” “Who cares?” “Am I not a man?” –questions that beg to be answered in the overarching question: “Just what do Blacks want?” It is the low, whispered question heard among the rhetorically “others”, who dare not speak too loudly in this current racial climate. Because I, too, am a Black American, I listen and wait for answers to questions posed by my people today–as I have for nearly 80 years.

As if in a dream, one word recently came to me that I believe sums up what we, who are black in this country want; not wealth, not social status, not even freedom–those are too easily obtained. What I think we want is DIGNITY. Now, there’s a word! It’s one that too few people speak , let alone understand its meaning. Our Black ancestors did. They understood, oh too well, how it felt to live in a world where one’s dignity was subject to be trampled in the mud, abused in uncompromising pursuit of lust, and all-too-often  strung by a rope to a tree. So what is it that we’ve lost and can’t find? In the Oxford Dictionary, “dignity” is defined as a state of being worthy of honor or respect;  worthiness, respectability, high regard, being treated with due respect.

One would think that dignity was a birthright. In many places, for millions of people, it is. Dignity is a by-product of position, wealth, and power for many. Those attributes are sparse among American Blacks. What’s left is to impose dignity on oneself–like taking a “selfie.” In the absence of a sense of worthiness and respectability that a fair society might generously bestow, Black Americans must rely on themselves, and upon the elements of good in their environments to extract a”self-worth”–a sense of “self- worthiness” and “self-respect” that is earned by hard work, stridently carved character, and that may be perceived only in the narrowest of bandwidths. “Dignity” is not easily garnered, but once acquired, it is a treasured state.

There are those who say, and rightly so, that  acquiring “dignity” is  an inside job; nothing more, nothing less. I believe this, also. It is what we say to ourselves that matter most in the end. The orders we give to ourselves that direct our behavior and our innermost drives determine just how “worthy” we feel about ourselves. This is what Black Americans must understand and embrace if we are to stop looking outward for the validation that we want–as the old Black  spiritual said: “The world didn’t give it to you, and the world can’t take it away!”

This is not about “Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.” On the contrary, it is about “Starting where you are, with what you’ve got–making something of it–and never being ‘satisfied'”. Those are the immortal words of one Dr. George Washington Carver that speak to the issue of “dignity” among our people. We must re-visit them now, and often, and take them to heart if we are ever to get what we really want and long for–“DIGNITY.” We have only to claim it!

And So It Is. . .

June 23, 2015

I don’t know a single person who was not affected by the horrific events of last week–black, white, green, purple. Everyone who heard and saw what happened in Charleston, SC had to be touched by  incredible, ghastly images of wounded hearts grasping for air through tears of anguish and painful disbelief. Could this be possible? Could this monstrous hatred of black people still be alive to this “uber” degree? STILL? STILL?

People in their 70’s and 80’s, like me, thought we had seen the last of such insanity in our “diverse” American society. Yes, we continue to experience the occasional “wrongful death” episode that victimizes individuals of color, like the most recent ones; unarmed black men being killed by police, but we thought the old days of random meanness toward groups of black people were over, gone, in the past–at least, I did. “Shock and Awe” are words that I’d come to ascribe to war vernacular–stuff that happened “over there” in other countries. But here it was, in my living room! My people being gunned down like dogs in the only place that has been deemed “safe” among African Americans–brought to my eyes by my trusted constant companion, Television. What I felt, watching the initial reviews of what happened, was “shock” and compelling “awe.” Anger and anguish settled in later as the story unfolded to reveal who the shooter was, and what his stated aims were.

As a teacher, I couldn’t help noticing Dylann Roof’s youthful countenance. How many times have I seen those eyes, that hair, that white face in one of my classrooms? I took it all for granted–just another kid, I’d always thought–color never mattered to me in my role as instructor and school “Mom.” Once on campus, and inside my classrooms, I really don’t think color, especially mine, mattered to my students, either. Along with the state’s curriculum, I taught them what love meant; praising them through their triumphs, channeling their interests, chastising them appropriately when behavior called for chastening.  It’s the playbook of parenting and teaching–the co-mingling of roles that has under-girded our civilization for centuries.

School integration was supposed to meld together black, white, and brown students in a way that would eliminate color-consciousness among kids and make possible friendships and alliances that would change race relations in cities and boroughs North to South, East to West. That “dream”, it seems, according to the news of the day,  is yet to be realized. Although Roof attended school with black people and is reported to have had black friends, somewhere, somehow, he still embraced a sense of superiority of them that provided the incentive to “kill black people.” So where did that come from? Assuredly, he was not born with it. No baby leaves the womb with that assignment. I assert that the media, my constant and trusted friend, has been a much more effective teacher of Dylann Roof than the ones in his classrooms. One only has to focus on what is being “taught” in social media: video games, music streaming, Facebook, Insta-Gram and others to understand how impactful are the contents of such programs. We should not be surprised. What we should be, I believe, is ASHAMED.

As parents, teachers, and just plain citizens, we have allowed everyone else, no matter how depraved, perverted, and patently inadequate, to influence the hearts and minds of our kids with smutty, low-class visual images performed by all races and sensuous, sex-oriented audio recordings. We tune in to what they want to hear on our car radios–no matter how lewd or inappropriate lyrics may be, we defer to their “taste” in TV shows and DVD’s–no matter how violent and profane, as if they were astute judges of what is wholesome to take into their immature psyches. Yes, we are contributors to the “New Normal” that pervades our society–especially among our young. It’s no wonder that a  21 year-old “kid”–white, black or green–growing up in such an atmosphere, without the sage guidance and observation of adults would conceive of perpetrating such a heinous, hate-filled act as that which took place in the African American Episcopal Church in Charleston,South Carolina. It’s where black people most definitely would be on a Wednesday night.

I, for one, am tired of hearing the default cliche about incidents,such as this one, being a “wake up call.” If we choose to sleep on in the face of what is destroying our kids, our “dream” of a more peaceful, equitable world will continue to bring up nightmares. It’s time to wake up and “root” out what is rotting the fabric of our society.

My New Orlando

July 29, 2014

Each time I land at Orlando Int’l Airport, I feel more and more like this is my second home. It is the place that I have visited most and for the longest stays. This is where daughter, Ellen, lives with her two kids, Chloe, age 11, and Marcellus, age 9. It is the only address that I never have to look up in my address book–I know it by heart–zip code and all. Oddly, although the house is the same, it often feels like the emotional family “furniture” has been re-arranged during my absence. Every visit is different–no matter how long or how brief. As mom to my daughter, and grandma to her kids, I am always in a different place; like a game of checkers, the board looks different after each new play. There’s no more diaper changing here; the children are older and much more self-sufficient. They choose what to wear, what to eat, and what to play without any input from me. In fact, so little “input” is needed that I’m often left out of their activities altogether–a natural consequence of aging–for all of us. They spend hours playing their video games, I spend hours surfing the web and reading posts on Facebook and other blogs of interest to me. Technology, one can say, has all of us, no matter what age, in its grip. I’m still pondering whether this is a good or bad thing.
As the clock winds around to a mealtime, I get back into my familiar position–you know, fixing up something for everyone to eat. Now there are new “likes” and “dis-likes” since my last visit. Oh, and I am now chided by my uber-smart grandchildren to scrupulously monitor all “Expiration” dates on foods I’m planning to serve. Even peanut butter can “expire” I’ve learned. Imagine that! It’s a wonder their mom has survived this long–she must have eaten gallons of “expired” peanut butter when she was growing up in my home–we didn’t throw the jar away until it was empty. Even milk, in those ancient by-gone days, wasn’t considered “expired” until we could smell that it had soured–not a day sooner!
Another change that I notice is how little time is spent in the backyard or playing games on the patio. It does no good to suggest that the children “go outside to play” in their park-like backyard. I’ve been emphatically informed that “We are INSIDE kids.” Inside kids? Since when? If this is a new trend, I guess we’ll not need too much yard space in the future. Does this portend homes built up and up like towers? No more swings in trees? No more games of hide ‘n seek? No more ring toss? No more dodge ball? Where is this trend taking us? There was once a time when having a big backyard was a prerequisite for selecting a homesite for families. Room to run about and play provided worry-free wholesome activities that not only taught kids recreational skills, but also how to interact with each other using multiple forms of communication and negotiation. It also meant time away from parenting demands for moms and dads–much needed and cherished time! I am struck by the number of times my daughter is summoned to arbitrate disputes between her two children over the smallest issues of disparity. Sibling bickering and fighting can drain the nerves and energy of parents who try to do it all. My mom had a pat answer for un-resolvable issues between my brother and me–one that I dare not print here–but you can believe that it was effective!
I guess the best summation for the observations of my current visit with grandkids who are transitioning to teens is this: “Things, they are a-changing.” Without doubt children are growing up differently. In today’s world, kids are both freer and, simultaneously, more bondaged. compared to my times, and that of my children, today’s children are being raised by more liberal-minded parents, who, like my daughter, influenced by social media and contemporary thought, allow greater freedom of expression–verbally and otherwise. Technology leads the way in their lives, depriving them, in significant ways, I think, of opportunities for conventional forms of creativity and invention that characterized “play” in the past. For better or for worse, they are by-products of a fast-moving cyber-driven society that has lain aside many of the mores and customs that ushered us into the Twenty-First Century. Now, we who traveled through a different space in time must bravely and humbly address, and often acquiesce to the changes that re-define our roles. Orlando is a different place for me, indeed!

My New Challenge: NCNW Leadership

July 11, 2014

Who wouldn’t be proud and honored to be elected president of such a prestigious organization as the Austin Section of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW)? Well, that’s me, and I am very proud of the honor! The late Ms. Dorothy Height elegantly, and forcefully,  led the national organization for many years. Under her leadership much was accomplished to elevate the status of Black women in American society. She was a staunch soldier in the civil rights war for equality and fairness for all people, but especially for African American women. I am honored to follow in her footsteps at the local level.

Every new leader accepts a challenge to bring new energy and ideas to the membership. This challenge suggests that a new vision will be presented, and, hopefully, embraced by those who desire to continue. For me, the vision must encompass change in a significant area of community need. What I see is a dire need to address the problem of teen parenting. It is a problem that is disproportionately prevalent in the state of Texas, and, specifically, among Black teens. From my perspective, we must get a “hold” on this problem to preserve our dream of a better future. Education is the key. I will aspire to inspire NCNW members to embrace, dissect, discuss, and direct an action plan that will leave an imprint of our organization’s efforts to make a difference in this matter statewide. I hope to hear from others who share this passion. Your thoughts, ideas, statistics, and experiences will be most valuable to our group. Please post here.

HERE COMES KINDLE!

February 9, 2013

Yay! At last, “From Dunbar to Destiny” will be available on Kindle! If everyone loves reading e-books as much as I do, you’ll rush onto Amazon.com and order more than one. After all, it is Black History Month, and goodness knows there’s a plethora of history contained in the pages of my memoir. Little did I know how much of what I lived through on my journey would one day be written down in history books as significant events.  They were significant to me, or else I wouldn’t have recalled them so vividly, and felt compelled to mention them in my book. That’s what happens when you are moving through life with your head down.

I hope many people will purchase my e-book, then write a comment on the blog about something that interested them.

Yay! Here comes Kindle!

Two Great Minds, Two Dreams That Changed Lives

January 19, 2013

Every year at this time (MLK’s Birthday), I’m reminded of an event that occurred early in my teaching career that provoked what can be called a “C” change in schools in Los Angeles, California. I like to think of it as a metaphor for the meeting of two great minds: that of Martin Luther King and of a little known heroine of mine, Norma Lancaster–wife of the great late actor, Burt Lancaster. By now, everyone knows how Dr. King dreamed of equality of  opportunity for all races. In 1961, Norma Lancaster set about operationalizing her dream of integrating her children’s school in Bel Air. The story of how she went about achieving her goal, and how it ultimately expanded beyond her wildest dream, is told in “From Dunbar to Destiny” on pages 95-97.  The cover of the book is a photograph of me teaching my classroom of all-white students. It was taken by a national magazine photographer just after the 1961 Montgomery, Ala. Sit-ins. Here is an excerpt from the book:

-Norma Lancaster-

Norma Lancaster was an icon for liberal consciousness.  She was a leader in community and civic affairs and the president of the League of Women Voters, among other involvements of this type.  When she came to my classroom before school started the next day, I was calmed down and felt safe enough to answer her gently-phrased questions and to share with her what had taken place the day before. 

Norma calmly listened to my side of the story; she had heard others elsewhere.  At the conclusion of our time together, she assured me that the problem was not mine — that it was a problem that had long been brewing.

“In my opinion”, she stated, “these children at Bellagio are just as underprivileged as the children who live in south L.A..  They are not aware that there are many other types of people in the world because they have no opportunities to interface with them except in subservient roles (maids, butlers, chauffeurs, etc.). I think it’s wonderful that they have a black teacher, but that’s not enough.  They need opportunities to play and work with peers, other kids, who are different from themselves.  Otherwise, how will they ever be prepared for the world away from here when they grow up?  I think this situation needs to be changed.  And, I hope to live long enough to see that it does!”