Archive for the ‘education’ Category

Dear Boy in the 2nd Grade Lunch Line

BAM

Last month I began taking a community theatre class here in New Orleans.  The course is a 14-week community based theatre project open to college students and community residents. The course consists of workshops on Black Arts Movement history in the South, performing arts, thoughtful readings and group discussions. The class is high energy and fun with an incredible mix of people from all different ages and backgrounds. But what I enjoy most from our course  is the story circle.

The power of the story circle never ceases to amaze me. It consists of people gathering in a circle to share their personal stories based on a theme selected by our instructor. While one person speaks, the rest of the group has the honor of listening. Some stories are in the forefront of our consciousness, eager to jump forth to the group.  Others have been tucked away in forgotten compartments of the mind. Together we sit, reflecting on the theme at hand: racism, poverty, meritocracy… and like magic, a bright light begins to beam on dark, hiding places within the soul.  The circle breathes new life into the reality  of each person’s shared experience. It validates. It affirms. It empowers.

One evening we finished a story circle on racism and our instructor asked us to take the exercise a bit further. We were to write a letter to a person that appeared in our individual story. It was here that the following letter unfolded from the envelope of my subconsciousness:

Dear Boy in the 2nd Grade Lunch Line:

It’s been years since this incident happened, but I remember it as if it were yesterday.  We were standing together in the cafeteria lunch line as 2nd graders, waiting to be led back to our classroom.

You walked over to me and began singing, “Jingle bells, shocking shells, Granny had a gun. Pull the trigger shot the nigger………..”

That moment has stayed with me for years.

I wish I could have told you then how hurtful that was and how humiliated I felt.  I was embarrassed. I was ashamed.  I wanted to rid myself of my brown skin and crawl into a deep, black hole.  Who could I tell?  Who could I report you too? There was no one in my school that looked like me.  No one who would understand how awful I felt.  Your words paralyzed me.  So I walked back to my classroom that day with my head down. In silence.

But if you were here before me today, I would stand tall.  I would be amused by your song.  I’d tell you that your singing was off key and that the Sand man was coming for you to take you off the stage.  I’d tell you that no words, no songs, nothing had the power to ever make me ashamed of who I am.  You see,  I come from beautiful, courageous, and wise people.  People who’ve survived indignity.  People who’ve survived brutality. People with strong shoulders.  Shoulders that allow me to stand up to you in this 2nd grade lunch line.   I am a Queen. I am an Empress. I am Royalty. Your clever jingle, your attempt to harm ME will never prevail.

Besides in the words of Zora, “How anyone can deny themselves the pleasure of my company is beyond me.”

This free lunch, is over.

Yours in the struggle,

Frieda

“We Are Not Quitters”

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Ty'Sheoma Bethea (Washington Post)

“…And I think about Ty’Sheoma Bethea, the young girl from that school I visited in Dillon, South Carolina – a place where the ceilings leak, the paint peels off the walls, and they have to stop teaching six times a day because the train barrels by their classroom. She has been told that her school is hopeless, but the other day after class she went to the public library and typed up a letter to the people sitting in this room. She even asked her principal for the money to buy a stamp. The letter asks us for help, and says, “We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina but also the world. We are not quitters.

I am so glad that President Obama took time in last night’s speech to Congress to recognize Ty’Sheoma Bethea and to quote from her letter (.pdf file) about the horrible conditions of her school in Dillon, SC. I admire her determination, and her strength of character, and I am grateful that this country has a President who acknowledges her aspirations. Read the full text of the president’s speech and a local article on Bethea’s appearance, or if you are so inclined: order the t-shirt.

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The Night Shift: 4 Years of Law School Come to an End

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For the past four years I have worked the Night Shift – better known as law school evening classes, while working a full-time job during the day. Next month, it finally comes to an end. I will receive my Juris Doctor degree and will officially enter the legal profession.

Sure there are some “minor” details to attend to such as the bar exam in February and completing my final exams over the next two weeks. But for now, I am celebrating the “No mores.”  No more evening classes. No more dashing off to school at 5:15p.m. at the end of a long workday. No more guilt trips about not visiting family on the holidays because of study obligations. No more!!!!!!

I applied to law school five years ago because I wanted to join the ranks of legal giants that have used the law as a weapon of social justice. Charles Hamilton Houston, a great civil rights attorney and former Dean of Howard Law School once said, “A lawyer is either a social engineer or a parasite on society.”  Each day, I strive to work towards a career that builds upon this principle. My heroes are Constance Baker Motley and Thurgood Marshall and all of the countless advocates that have come before our nation’s justice system for relief against inequality and oppression.

Constance Baker Motley

Constance Baker Motley

Like them, I can understand how the road to success is often lined with unexpected obstacles. In the fall of my second year, a force known as Hurricane Katrina, displaced me from New Orleans and threatened to disrupt the flow of my law school career. But I pressed on. I relocated to Georgia and began working full time while continuing my studies at night.

That semester was a blur for me. I was dealing with the shock and uncertainty of being displaced from my new home and the government’s unconscionable treatment of people pleading for help on their rooftops. During the day, I worked at a non-profit law office helping Katrina victims to secure disaster benefits and assistance. But most importantly, I met with and counseled men and women traumatized by the flood waters and their experiences  during those dreadful days after the storm. Their stories inspired me to return to New Orleans months later to continue my legal studies and help the city in its recovery. And when Hurricane Gustav threatened the city again this past year, I was a much wiser evacuee.

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