Saturday, January 24, 2009

In with the new !

I knew that I would be emotional. I just didn't expect how overcome I would feel watching as the day unfolded. The atmosphere in the DC area was one of sheer excitement. You could literally feel it in the air. I chose to stay home and watch history on TV. The tears started flowing as the dignitaries were being brought into the ceremonial area.

The faces on those in the audience were ecstatic. Faces of all ages and colors.

As a baby boomer, I remember times when this was not the case. The DC suburb I grew up in was all middle class white. My first memory of race was when I was in kindergarten. My teacher, Mrs. Plummer, was an African American. I don't remember really thinking about her as being different. She was everything you would want in a kindergarten teacher--warm, loving and genuinely concerned about her students. I remember giving her hugs everyday upon entering and leaving the classroom. So around the second week of school, I noticed that some of my friends were conspicuously absent from school several days in a row. Upon asking my mother, I was given a sober lesson in reality. "Some people," my mother told me, "don't like people who are different than they are. They think that because Mrs. Plummer is 'colored,' she isn't as good as they are." Wham! There it was! My childhood was forever changed by this harsh reality. My mother told us that judging people by their color, religion or nationality was just wrong. We are all equal in God's eyes. This was a sentiment that we would hear in our house throughout our lifetime. My mom, the child of missionaries, grew up in China. She would tell us stories of coming back to the states to visit her grandparents in New York and being teased mercilessly by the neighborhood kids. They would call her and her sister "Chinky Chinky Chinamen." She told of how hurtful it was. No one should ever belittle people who are different. No one--ever!

As a baby boomer, I remember seeing "Colored Only" signs on water fountains and restrooms in Virginia and segregated swimming pools in the south where we would visit my grandparents. I remember when Martin Luther King Jr. was assissinated and the riots that ensued in DC afterward. I remember that my high school graduating class of almost 800 had exactly 3 black students in it.

Times have changed. I teach in a school in that very same suburb that is extremely diverse. There are classes with no white children in them and the most any class has is one or two, yet you will see every single shade of brown imaginable. I continue to marvel at how my students don't see color. This is as it should be. I tell them stories of my childhood and they are in disbelief. Many of them are too young to understand that their options have been limited. Yes--we tell our children that anyone can grow up to be president, but those doors have never really been opened to anyone who was not a white male--until now. This fact, in and of itself, offers much hope.

It is my sincerest hope that the country will continue to feel the unity it does now. I hope that we will reach across party lines and discontinue the partisan politics of the past. I hope that all of us will see our responsibility in making our country a better place for all.

I hope . . .

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