Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America

by Storyteller Pippa White

Story Summary

Someone once called her a humanitarian. “I’m not a humanitarian,” she replied. “I’m a hell-raiser!” And she was. She was over fifty years old, she weighed one hundred pounds, and she was under five feet tall. And yet she was called by the United States Government, “the Most Dangerous Woman in America.” Come and hear what she has to say. Come and hear how she changed the world.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Mother Jones-The Most Dangerous Woman in America

Discussion Questions:

  1. We hear a lot today about resistance. Was what Mother Jones did “resistance?” Why or why not?
  2. One hundred years ago, many children worked ten and twelve hour days, seven days a week. And they worked for pennies.  Think back to when you were seven, eight or nine years old.  How would work like this have affected you?  How might you be different today if that had been your fate?
  3. Child Labor was a scourge. How do you think it happened?  Why would people stand by and allow little children to do hours and hours of monotonous, dangerous work day in and day out? (Hints: pay, immigration, ignorance)

Resources:

  • Autobiography of Mother Jones—Charles Kerr and Co. Publishers, Chicago, IL
  • Speeches and Writings of Mother Jones – University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA
  • You can visit Mother Jones grave and memorial in the Union Miners’ Cemetery in Mount Olive, Missouri, not far from St. Louis. In 1898, eleven miners had been gunned down in nearby Virden, Illinois during a riot that broke out during a strike.  The Union Miners’ Cemetery was created to honor those men, and other hardworking people who fought for workers’ rights.

Themes:

  • Immigration
  • Taking a Stand and Peacemaking
  • Workplace

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Pippa White and I’m a storyteller. And the story I have for you today goes back about 100 years, give or take. It’s the story of a woman whom I consider to be a heroine and in her day, many people considered her a heroine. But in her day, many people also considered her a troublemaker. And that is a label she would have been completely happy with. What I have for you, is a little bit of her autobiography. So, I’m going to speak her words. But before I do that, I want to tell you a little bit about her. Because and I think that little bit from her autobiography will be richer for you.

She was born Mary Harris, in 1837, in Ireland. Her father, as was the case often back then, emigrated to the United States. And when he had enough money, and a job, and citizenship, he sent for his family. So, Mary Harris got to the United States when she was about 10. And she said of her American citizenship, she had always been proud. She grew up. She married a man named Mr. Jones. He was an iron molder and he worked in Tennessee. So, they moved to Tennessee. They started a family. All went well until, in the 1860s, a terrible epidemic of yellow fever swept through that part of Tennessee, and she lost them all. She lost her family of four children and her husband. She said she sat through nights of grief. No one could come to her, she said, because other families were stricken as she was.

She moved to Chicago and began a new life as a dressmaker. She was successful but, unfortunately, she was in Chicago for the Great Fire of 1871. That fire burned her establishment, her apartment, and again, she was left with nothing. She wandered the streets of the city as the fire burned and she came to St. Mary’s Church, which was taking in refugees. And there she stayed because she had nowhere else to go. She was there for quite some time.

She said, next door there was a rickety, old building where the Knights of Labor would hold their meetings. And she would go over there. Now the Knights of Labor were a fledgling union. Back then, ‘round the turn of the last century, millions of immigrants were coming to the United States, literally, every year from all over the world, but mostly, at that time, from Central and Eastern Europe and Russia but also from all over the world. And employers took advantage of them. They worked for pennies. They worked long, long hours. And they worked in terrible conditions and sometimes dangerous conditions. So, they joined together to form unions so that they could have a voice. So, this rickety, old building, next to the church, was called the Hall of the Knights of Labor. And Mary Harris Jones would go there. And she said, she would listen to their inspiring speakers and her life took a completely new change. It went in a completely new direction. She became that troublemaker. She became a labor activist.

So, let me get my hat here and my glasses. And I’m going to become that lady. But while you listen to the words from her autobiography, keep this in mind. She was about five feet tall. She was no more than 100 pounds. She didn’t even get into this line of work, a labor activist, until she was over 50. And she was not even well known until she was probably over 60. Yet the government of our country, the United States government, called Mary Harris Jones, for a good decade or so, the most dangerous woman in America. So, as you listen to her words, I want you to think about whether that title, The Most Dangerous Woman in America, is right for Mother Jones.

When the railway strike ended, I went down to Cottondale. I wanted to see if the gruesome stories I had heard of little children working in the mills were true. I applied for a job but the manager said he didn’t have anything for me unless I had a family that could work also. “Oh,” I said, “I have a family. There are six of us.”

“You have children?” he said.

“Well, yeah. Yeah.” Well, he was so happy he took me with him to find a house to let. The house he brought me to was a kind of two-story plank shanty. All the windows were broken. The door hung loose. The latch was broken. Inside there was one room, with a big, fireplace and a kind of open air aloft above. Holes in the roof had let the rainwater in, which had rotted the flooring in front of the fireplace. There were big holes, two big holes, big enough to drop a brick through. I said, “The wind and the cold is going to come in through those holes.”

He said, “Oh, summer is coming. Where are you at, a hotel? What are you talking about?”

I said, “I’m not sure this is big enough for all of us, six of us.”

He said, “It’ll do.” And so, I took the house with the understanding that my family would join me at the end of the month, when work was finished up on the farm.

And I started working in the factory. And there I saw them little children working. The most heartbreaking spectacle in all of life! There were times I couldn’t look at those bodies, those little bodies. I wanted to be back in the Rocky Mountain camps or the grim coal fields where at least the labor fight was fought by grown men! Little children working. Running up and down the rows of spindles. Putting a little hand in to repair a snapped thread. Putting, um, crawling under the machinery to oil it.

Hands got crushed. Fingers got snapped off. Children of six with faces of 60 worked a 10-hour day, for ten cents a day. When they fell asleep on the job, cold water was splashed in their faces. Toddling chaps of four went along with Big Brother or Sister. Oh, but their work was not paid. Machines were built in the north. Built low for little hands.

Every morning at 5:30 these children came in from the gray dawn, into the factory, into the pounding noise and the lint filled rooms. They’d fall asleep over their lunches of fat pork and cornbread. Sleep to these children was what play was to a normal child. But the manager would shake them awake and it was back to the grind.

Well, my family, not joining me at the end of the month, a manager got suspicious and I left. I went up to Lexington, Pennsylvania where fully ten thousand workers, textile workers, were on strike and half of them were children. They’d come into our, our union office. They were stooped, round shouldered little things. Some of them had a thumb missing, others a finger off at the joint. Most of them were under 10, even though there was a law in Pennsylvania saying children couldn’t work under the age of 12. I asked the newspaper boys, “Why don’t you fellows write something about child labor in Pennsylvania?” Oooh. They said they couldn’t. The mill owners had stock in the papers.

“Well,” I said. “I’ve got stock in these children and I’ll just make a little news!”

And that’s how it began, my children’s march on Washington. I asked the parents if I couldn’t borrow their children as they were all striking, they agreed. A lot of adults came with us. A man named Sweeney, agreed to be our Army captain. Each child carried a knapsack with a plate, a cup, a fork, and a spoon. I had a big wash tub with me so that I could make food along the way. And we carried signs saying, “We want to play.” “We want to go to school.”

In every town, I got into the town square and I brought those children up onto the platform and I showed the people their mangled bodies. I said, “The mansions of Pennsylvania are built on the backs of these children!” Well, at this point, I decided we would not go to Washington, but rather to Oyster Bay where President Theodore Roosevelt was vacationing with his family. I thought, perhaps, he might like to compare these children to his own. I thought he might like to know who wove the carpets he walked on, the drapes that hung in his window.

Do you know that recently they passed a law in Georgia for the protection of songbirds? When Labor asked for protection for these children, they don’t hear. I was in Washington D.C. recently and I saw our legislators passed three bills, in one hour, for relief of the railways. When Labor asks for relief for these children, they turn a deaf ear. I was in a prison recently. I asked a man how he came to be there. He said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him if he’d stolen a railway, he’d be a United States senator.

Well, we got to Oyster Bay. But President Roosevelt refused to see us nor would he answer my letters. But our march had done its work. Preachers were preaching about us. Teachers were teaching about us. Two newspapers got in a fight about us. And although the strikers lost the strike and had to return to work, one year later, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a law saying no child could work under the age of 14. Thousands were sent home from the mills and thousands more never had to go. Our march had done its work.

Mother Jones died in 1930 at about the age of 94. She is buried in the Union Miners’ cemetery in Mount Olive, Missouri. She asked to be laid to rest there. There had been a riot that had left some protesting miners dead. The mining company had brought in detectives with rifles who shot them. And that was the beginning of the Union Miners’ cemetery. And that is where Mother Jones wanted to be buried. There still is child labor on this planet, most especially, in countries like India, China, Bangladesh, and South American countries. In our country, still a little bit. Agriculture, sometimes meat packing, but, mostly, the trouble has been taken care of thanks to Mother Jones and many others like her.

Thank you for listening.

A Twist of Fate: My Jewish Father in World War II

By Storyteller Heather Forest

Story Summary

Heather tells of the odd twist of fate that saved her father’s life when he, along with all the other Jewish teenagers in his neighborhood, gave up their personal life plans and enlisted in the U.S. army to go fight Hitler in 1942.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:   A Twist of Fate-My Jewish Father in World War II

Discussion Questions:

  1. Many European Jews tried to immigrate to the U.S. to escape the atrocities of the Nazis. Quotas, zenophobia, and anti-semitism were barriers to being able to immigrate to the U.S. at that time. Do you see any parallels to today’s immigration crisis where persecuted people from war torn countries are having difficulty seeking refuge in the US?
  2. Has a skill you happen to have ever been useful in your life in unexpected ways?
  3. Have you ever followed your parent’s practical advice and found that it was helpful or even life changing?

Resources:

  • Website – https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007652
  • The letters referred to in this story were references to people attempting to reach out to relatives to find work as well as housing in the U.S. to meet strict immigration rules. Quotas limited the number of Jewish immigrants allowed to flee to the U.S.:
    “The economic crisis known as the Great Depression led then President Herbert Hoover to mandate that immigrants had to prove that they would not become a ‘public charge,’ disqualifying people who could not financially support themselves indefinitely. Public opinion, motivated by economic fear, xenophobia, antisemitism, and isolationism, did not favor any increase in immigration to the United States, even as it became clear that Nazi Germany was targeting Jews for persecution.”

Themes:

  • Family and Childhood
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • War
  • Workplace

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Heather Forrest. My father was a… gentle giant. He was six foot seven and had soft blue eyes. He was a formidable basketball player for Weequahic High School in Newark, New Jersey back in 1942. He hoped that someday he would get a scholarship to go to college because his family was very, very poor.

He lived on Schuyler Avenue with his mother, my grandma Sadie, who had come to the United States as an immigrant in the early 1900s to escape the pogroms in Eastern Europe. These were organized violent riots against the Jews. She came to join her husband, Jacob Israel, who had come to the United States a few years earlier to seek his fortune. And when they were reunited, they had several children. And then Jacob Israel died in a construction accident. And Sadie was forced to support the family alone, which she did with her weekly winnings from a weekly poker game she held in the parlor.

She worried all the time about her son Emmanuel. “Manny,” she would say, “Basketball is not a job. Perhaps you should learn a trade. Think about it. Maybe, maybe you could take up typing.”

My father listened to his mother and the next day joined the secretarial program at Weequahic High School. He liked typing because he was the only boy in the class. And because he was competitive by nature, in a very short amount of time, he could type 120 words a minute. And, of course, he was eager to show off his skill to any girl who would watch.

You know, he did get that basketball scholarship, a full scholarship, but he didn’t take it… because of the letters. The letters that were coming from relatives in Europe to people in the neighborhood. Letters, desperate pleas, for sponsorship so they could escape the Nazi horror that was unfolding around them.

It was the spring of 1942, and although it was not being reported in the American newspapers, everybody in the neighborhood knew what was happening in Europe. Jews were being forced to wear yellow stars on their jackets when they walked in the streets. Jews were being forced from their businesses and from their homes. They were being herded into ghettos, locked ghettos. They were being rounded up from rural villages, and put on trains, and sent off to what they thought were work camps. Every Jewish boy in the neighborhood, including my father, set aside their life’s goals and joined the army to go fight Hitler.

And so, my father found himself at Fort Dix in southern New Jersey for basic training. He was in an infantry platoon when he said the “muckety muck” came. He told me about the visitor. He was a straight-backed, high military official. And so, all the men in his platoon lined up in front of the barracks.

And the “muckety muck,” as my dad called him, addressed the group. He said, “There’s a war goin’ on over there. Everybody needs to do their part. Any of you jokers know how to type?”

Well, only my father stepped forward, and he went off with that man who turned out to be the commander of an Army hospital ship. My father became his personal secretary and spent the rest of the war with the 200th Hospital Complement serving in the North Atlantic. Every other man in my father’s infantry platoon was killed in battle. My father survived because he knew how to type.

When a young man is killed in battle, it’s not just his life that’s lost, it’s his family line that disappears. And so, you see, if it wasn’t for typing, I wouldn’t be here to tell you this story.

My Chinese Grandfather

by Storyteller Brenda Wong Aoki

Story Summary

As a child, Brenda visits her Grandfather who collects, dries and sells seaweed along the coast of California. When she is older, she helps him with his work. Brenda finds his ways strange and the work hard, but the two find unique ways of talking and enjoying each other’s company.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  My Chinese Grandfather

Discussion Questions:

  1. What service did Brenda’s Grandfather provide? Why do you think he lived the simple life he did?
  2. Do you have any relatives whose language, cultural customs or ways of making a living are very different from yours?
  3. Do you have any relatives you wish you had spent more time with? If you had an extra few days with them right now, what would you ask them? How would you want to spend your time with them?

Resources:

  • Chinese Americans: The Immigrant Experience by Peter Kwong and Dusanka Miscevic
  • Chinese American Voices: From the Gold Rush to the Present by Judy Yung and Gordon H. Chang
  • Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans by Jean Pflaezer
  • The Chinese in America: From Gold Mountain to the New Millenium edited by Susie Lan Casel You can read an excerpt from the book and on page 161, you can see a photo of Brenda (the teen with the glasses), her younger sister, her aunts and her Grandmother with her Grandpa, George Lum, drying seaweed. There is a picture of How Long on page 163. In the actual book, on page 167, the little boys in the photo are Brenda’s uncles. Excerpt and photos at: http://bit.ly/SeaweedGatherers

Themes:

  • Asian Americans/Asians
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European Americans/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Languages
  • Workplace

Full Transcript:

I’m Brenda Wong Aoki. And when I was a little girl, I used to wish that I could trade in my grandpa because I felt like I got cheated ’cause I know what grandpas were supposed to look like. You know they have, like, white hair and twinkly eyes and you go to their house for, like, Thanksgiving or Christmas or something. Except my grandpa wasn’t like that. My grandpa didn’t have any hair, and he didn’t even have a house. So, I, I, ss… he was Chinese. But now that I’m older, I wish that I spent less time thinking about trading in grandpa, and more time getting to know him.

My grandpa lived in an old, tin roof shack. It was built out of tar paper and pieces of wood he’d just find on the beach. He had no electricity, no running water. He never really learned English, and his strange gruff ways used to scare me.

I can remember my first trip to Grandpa’s was 1959. I was six years old. We were in our old Chevy station wagon, and along the way I saw a sign that said, “How Wong” ’cause I just learned how to read. How Wong. That confused me. But my mother explained that How Wong was Grandpa’s best friend. They had come together from Canton, China when they were only 18 years old.

And then I saw a dwarf, right out of Snow White. It was Grumpy. No, it was Grandpa. Inside his shack, he had frogs big as my head, living in his sink and they were ribbiting. (Ribbit! Ribbit!) My mother gave me some flowers to give to Grandpa, a bouquet of flowers. He wouldn’t take it (giggle). “Moano zhu tou! Zhu tou! Stupid bamboo head!”

It turns out, bamboo head, that’s what you call ABCs. American-born Chinese, because we’re hard on the outside and hollow in the inside and Grandpa thought I must be a stupid ABC if I didn’t know that cut flowers are an omen of death. He thought I was trying to kill him or somethin. That summer, that night, Grandpa laid down blankets on bales of seaweed and blew out the kerosene lamp (whooo). We are at the edge of the ocean. There are no streetlights. Nothing. You can’t even see your hand in front of your face. And I didn’t remember seeing a bathroom. Mom hands me a metal pail. “What’s this for?”

“You know.”

“You mean?”

“Um huh! We call it a thunder bucket.”

When we left, our car was covered with pigeon droppings like icing on a cake. I had never seen anything like it. And that’s what I remember from my first trip to Grandpa’s. And after that, we would return to Grandpa’s every summer, and help him gather seaweed ’cause this is how Grandpa made a living. He would gather seaweed, spread ’em out to dry. Then later on, cut ’em into little pieces, put ’em in packages and sell ’em to Chinatowns throughout California, and even over to China.

When I was 16 years old, we returned to Grandpa’s. This time the sign said, “How Wong is the Chinaman.”

My mother explained, “Somebody must have written that because they were being racist.”

That summer I found myself wearing men’s galoshes, Grandpa’s overalls and this big coolie hat. I looked totally f.o.b. (fresh off the boat). And after they left me at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, whatever time the tide was low, his little green flashlight leading the way, we climbed down the cliffs on these little steps my grandpa had hewn out of the rock. Now I was slippin’ and sliding trying to keep up with Grandpa’s short, stocky legs. He was just like buh, buh, buh, buh, buh, buh, buh! Buh, buh, buh, buh, buh, buh, buh, and down. And I was hangin on for dear life. When we finally get down to the bottom, there was tidepools but tidepools like you can’t see anymore. Tidepools that were like jewels with pink and green sea anemones, orange starfish, little baby crabs,
golden fish, eh, gorgeous! But there was no time to look.

Grandpa would say, “Fai Dee! Fai Dee! Hurry up!”

Oh, the tide would not wait. So, twist and pull and throw in the basket. We gathered seaweed. Twist and pull and throw in the basket. Not the green one, not the brown one, just the black one for sushi. That kind. Twist and pull and throw in the basket, twist and pull and throw in the basket. This was terrible on my fingernails! Twist and pull and throw in the basket. This was not the way I was supposed to spend my summer. I have a new, brand-new bikini with white polka dots. And I was supposed to be on the beach, listening to the Beach Boys with my transistor radio instead of here with him. And he can’t even understand English. Twist and pull and throw in the basket! Twist and pull and…

“Watch waves.”
“What are you talking about? Watch waves.”

“Watch waves!”

Ah! This was really dangerous work. There’s no lifeguards out here. Ah, huh! When we were done, the beach was covered with all these big baskets full of wet seaweed. My grandpa would take this big pole and he’d put the baskets on either side, and he’d just climb up the cliffs. Buh, buh, buh, buh, buh! Buh, buh, buh, buh! Uuh! Buh, buh, buh! Uuh! Buh, buh, buh, buh, buh! Uuh! They must have weighed about 200 pounds easy, those two wet baskets. And when he was finished, I was up there spreading ’em out, spreading ’em out, spreading ’em out ’til we had, like, I dunno… seemed to me like a football field full of thick seaweed. Then when we’re finished, Grandpa would go into the shed, into his shack. He’d light a fire in the stove. (Shhhh!) Shoo the frogs out the sink. “Go now. Go. Go!” and they’d hop away.

He’d take a great big wok and make dinner. (Shh, hhh, hhh!) Sometimes on special occasions, Grandpa would bring out a Chinese delicacy, pickled chicken feet. Little toenails clicking, he’d walk them across the table towards me. Eeheeheeheeh! He loved to do that. Heh, heh, heh, heh! After supper, Grandpa would take 180 proof Chinese whiskey, pour it in a teacup, and in another, he’d pour me tea.

He’d say, “This fo’ me. This fo’ company!”

He’d light a big stogy, (ooh, whoo), look me in the eye and say, “Ooh, whoo, ah, Blenda! Blenda! How’s skoo?”

Brenda, how’s school? That was Grampa’s favorite American line. You see, in Chinese, words take on different meanings if you change the intonation. So, my grandpa would change his tones and think he was saying a whole bunch of American words. Our conversation used to sound something like this.

“Ah, Blenda! How’s skoo?”

“Grandpa, tidepools are cool.”

“Ah, Blenda! How’s skoo?”

“Tomorrow can we take a day off?”

“Blenda! How’s skoo?”

We used to talk like that for hours. At the end of the summer, Grandpa poured gasoline on the rocks and torched them. I remember standing with him watching the flames burning on the waves. He said that was so the old seaweed could die and the new seaweed could grow.

When my parents picked me up, I gave my grandpa a big kiss on his bald head, right between his big, floppy ears (smooch). And he said to me, “You go now! Go! Go!”

And he stood there all alone in the cow pasture with his little green flashlight. And that beam never wavered until we’d gone all the way up the mountain and dropped over the crest.

My grandpa died when I was in college, and we buried him up near San… up near San Francisco in the Chinese cemetery. Cem… cemeteries were all segregated. And the Chinese cemetery is right behind Home Depot, so I can always find it. Everybody put cut flowers on his grave, but I remembered and brought a small green plant that still had its roots.

Recently, my Uncle Victor passed away, and I found out that my grandpa was one of the last seaweed gatherers off the coast of California. This was a community that had been there for 100 years. They’d escaped the purging of the Chinatowns when Chinatowns throughout California were burned down. And fleeing Chinese were shot or lynched or put on barges and left out in the open sea without water or food. Grandpa and a bunch of men and their families, they, they gathered seaweed quietly on the coast. And they were respected because they weren’t in competition for the ranch hands, uh, jobs or anything. They also had money. They were merchants. They sold to China; they sold to Chinatown.

And I interviewed one of the ranch hands, and she said that my grandpa had saved them during the Depression. She said, “We were starving. The ranch hands were starving but your grandpa came with baskets, and he brought us Chinese food. It was the first time I’ve ever had Chinese food.”

And I thought, “Chinese food and baskets.”

She said she’d never had fish or crab before in her life until grandpa came and saved them during the Depression. So, my grandpa was a well-respected merchant. Georgie Wong, the Chinaman.

Racism on the Road and Into the Next Generation

by Storyteller Brenda Wong Aoki

Story Summary

Brenda performs a children’s song in Japanese and is told to stop using “demonic language” and is called “a witch.” She is told by a producer that he is disappointed she isn’t a “real” Japanese. Unfortunately, the bias and ignorance Brenda encounters on the road is also visited on the next generation as Brenda learns that her son is mistaken for another Japanese American student who looks completely different from her son.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Racism on the Road and Into the Next Generation

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do some people approach differences with curiosity and respect and others react with ignorance and hate?
  2. What would you do in Brenda’s place if you had been confronted with similar statements and actions? Have you experiences similar slights and biases?
  3. Brenda is disappointed that her son is experiencing similar prejudices and invisibility? Do you think race relations are improving or getting worse? Why or why not?

Resources:

  • Everyday Bias: Identifying and Navigating Unconscious Judgments in Our Daily Lives by Howard J. Ross
  • Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaji

Themes:

  • Asian Americans/Asians
  • Bullying
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Workplace

Full Transcript:

I’m Brenda Wong Aoki, and I’m the first nationally recognized Asian Pacific storyteller in the United States. I’ve been doing this for a living for the last 40 years. So, I wanted to share with you some stories about being on the road. Uh, one of the stories is about being called a witch. I was doing this song for a bunch of children in a school. It goes like this. It’s about a big fish and a little fish.

Okina sakana, suiei, suiei

Chisana sakana, suiei, suiei, suiei

Okina sakana, chisana sakana

You get the idea, right. So, I’m doing this story. And, um, the person around me says, “Don’t do that.”

And why… I’m, like, “Why?”

And he said, “Well, because the mothers think you’re doing a demonic incantation on their children. Please don’t do that.”

I said, “Okay.”

So, then I did my public concert and there were women in the audience with signs that said, “Witch, go home!”

I think they’re talking to me but I’m a professional storyteller so I go on. And I start telling my story and they start chanting, “Witch, go home! Witch, go home!” And they start pulling their kids out of the assembly, and the kids are crying and everybody’s… There’s chaos and they’re chanting, “Witch, go home! Witch, go home!

Witch, go home!”

And I just freak out, run into the dressing room, and I’m so shocked. And I look in the mirror. And I think, “Huuuh! Maybe I am a witch because nobody out there looks like me.”

So, I called my friend Eric, who is a priest, and I say, “Eric, you gotta come out here because people think I’m a witch out here.” Now Eric is a circuit rider in Nevada. This happened in Nevada. So, he has lots of churches, and he usually wears a Hawaiian shirt, and he’s in a big open jeep. And I said, “But don’t come like that. Come in your cossack. Come with your cross; you know, come looking churchy.

So, Father Eric puts… comes. And he looks like Jesus Christ on the back of a jeep. And he’s got his black Cossack, he’s got his cross, his blond hair was flying in the breeze, and he screeches up to where I’m performing. And all these people with placards go, “Oh, my xxx, the witch has the anti-Christ with her.

So, all Eric said, “Let’s just go get a beer.”

But that was one of my experiences. It happened several times to me throughout the country being called a witch, but it was a very innocent song. Another time I was at a reception in my honor, which was before the show, which is awkward because usually a performer likes to be preparing, warming up their voice. Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah! That kinda stuff, right. But if you’re at a reception before your performance, you can’t be doing that.

So, I’m trying to be polite and thank everybody for having me. And one of the society ladies comes up to me. You know the kind, starved to perfection.

She says, “Goodness, Brenda! It has been a delight working with you because, let’s face it, you speak such good English.”

And I said, “Well, thank you. I was born here.”

And she goes, “Uuuuh! Oh! No, no, no, no, no. I thought we bought a real one!”

And then she took me to the guy who paid the big bucks and he kind of looks like a great, big toad. He says to me, “What part Japan you from?”

I said, “I’m not from Japan. Actually, my name is Brenda Jean. I’m Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, and Scotch, and I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah.”

And he goes, “What part of Japan is Salt Lake City, Utah?”

I said, “It’s not in Japan; it’s in the United States.”

He goes, “Oh, that’s why your eyes aren’t as slanty as the rest.”

And I’m thinking, “Am I supposed to say thank you?”

Now I have to tell you another story. I’d just finished performing in New Orleans at the New Orleans Contemporary Art Center. Wonderful, standing ovation! I was doing Japanese ghost stories. And after the performance, this woman comes up to me and says, “You know, we’re having so much problems between Vietnamese and blacks that could you come to East New Orleans and tell some Japanese ghost stories?”

“Okay.”

So, I go to the high school and it’s, like, one of those high schools, you know, with, like, like, guards everywhere. And they got German Shepherds sniffin lockers to look for drugs and things. And I go to the auditorium, and there’s hundreds and hundreds of kids and I look at them. They’re all wearing baseball caps and baggy clothes and they’re just kinda… uh, un. And they’re all Vietnamese, and I’m thinking, “Well, where’s all the African-American kids?” But anyway, I start my Japanese ghost stories.

And you couldn’t… there’s just silence, absolute silence. And when I’m finished there’s, like, one applause (clap, clap) and they can’t wait to get out of there.

And I’m thinking, “Wow! Great! I do a free performance and I bomb.” And I’m sitting there. I think, “What a waste of effort!”

And this girl comes up to me and she’s typical f.o.b., fresh off the boat. Immigrant young girl with glasses and books. And, you know, over… her clothes are too big. And I think, “Great! Not only did I have to do a free gig, but now some bookworm’s gonna ask me for a dissertation on Japanese theater. Uuh, huh!”

And she goes, “Miss Aoki? We don’t means to be dissing you but this is East Nawlins. Here we don’t gots to be Vietnamese. We gots to be black.”

And that was like, bam, slap, slap, slap, slap, enlightenment! I should not have been sittin up there tryin to tell these kids Japanese ghost stories. I should have been tellin ’em what it was like for me growin up in my mom and dad’s store. Bein the eldest kid, havin no money and bein poor. And knowin what it felt like not to have money, and havin people look at you. And it woulda been so much better. Sometimes the personal is so perfect.

The last story I want to tell you is about MaK.K. I have a son Kai Kane. Well, he grew up in an all African-American neighborhood. Very ghetto, crack house next door, arms dealer across the street. We all get along. It’s just that K.K. was the only non-black kid on the block. So, all of his friends didn’t want to call him by his real name, which is Kai Kane. And they said, “We’re just gonna call you K.K. So. K.K. grew up playing basketball and, you know, everything with African-American kids. Then he gets a scholarship to this fancy, white school on the other side of the bridge. Suddenly, there’s only two, uh, boys of color in his entire school. It’s Masashi, who’s from Japan, who’s very, very tall with straight hair and glasses. And K.K. who’s, uh, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, and Scotch, and looks like a cherub with all these curls. And he’s very, very short and kinda chubby. And the school cannot tell ’em apart. They can’t tell the difference between Masashi and K.K. So, they just decide to call him MaK.K. So, from kindergarten to eighth grade, he’s MaK.K. along with Masashi. MaK.K. So fast forward.

My son is a dancer, and he’s dyslexic, and he’s got ADHD. So, he gets a scholarship to Stanford because they’re looking for another Steve Jobs and they thought that, you know, with all these learning things, he might be the new Steve Jobs.

And he just graduated with a Master’s in Cultural Psychology. And he tells me, at the celebration, there’s only four kids who graduated with a Master’s in Cultural Psychology at Stanford. This just happened a couple of weeks ago. The four kids: one’s an African-American girl, one’s a Filipino girl, two Asian boys – one’s from China, and one’s my son K.K. Okay, the boy from China is very, very short. K.K. is now very, very tall. And K.K. tells me, the whole time they’re in the Psych Department getting their Master’s, the secretary of the department, who controls everything, you have to be on her good side, could not tell him and Larry apart the whole time. And this is Stanford University, the best Psych Department in the country, and this is Cultural Psychology. So, isn’t it funny and sad how some things never change.

Fit In or Stand Out: An African-American’s Battle to Fit into White Culture

 by Storyteller E.B. Diggs

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the similarities between the storyteller’s hometown and the legal community?
  2. What is the importance of the storyteller expressing his individuality in the white culture in which he finds himself?
  3. How do the storyteller’s opinions compare to his barber, Mr. Matthews, on standing out from the white culture?
  4. How do the storyteller’s opinions compare to his coaches on fitting into the white culture?
  5. Compare the 8th grade coach’s opinion to the high school coach’s opinion on standing out and fitting into the white culture.
  6. What are the similarities between high school coach’s position on his dyed hair and storyteller’s position on the black girl’s dyed hair? Why is the storyteller conflicted about hiring the black girl with the red dyed hair?

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Fit-In-or-Stand-Out-An-African-Americans-Battle-to-Fit-into-White-Culture

Resources:

Black Faces in White Places: 10 Game-Changing Strategies to Achieve Success and Find Greatness by Randall Pinkett
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Themes:

  • African American/Africans
  • Bullying
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
  • Workplace

Full Transcript:

I grew up in a small town right outside of Columbus – Delaware, Ohio. It was 95 percent white, 5 percent black and we all, or most of the black people lived on the southside of town.

Um, there was a barber. His name was, uh, Mr. Matthews and I loved Mr. Matthews. Mr. Matthews used to cut our hair, um, cheap, $3; he used to cut our hair for $3. All the other haircuts were 10, 12 dollars.

He had this idea that, um, he wanted to make haircuts affordable but he also wanted to give you your own style, your own personal style. And I just loved that. So, uh, as I was transitioning from seventh grade into eighth grade, from, like, band geek and brainy guy to, uh, basketball superstar, I was gonna play on the basketball team and be a star.

“Mr. Matthews, um,” I said, “Man, cut, cut Diggs in my hair and put the dollar sign in it, right! And it was kind of funny ’cause I was poor but I had a dollar sign on my hair. So, I did it and my eighth-grade basketball coach, Mr. Webb, it was amazing.

He used to, uh, just allow you to be an individual, um, which is very important. Um, as a black person on the southside, you can kind of get lumped in together. And having your own unique haircut and your own unique style allows you to break through some of those stereotypes and to be seen as an individual. And Mr. Webb would walk up, call you brother, can… give you the pound. Um, he would dev…, he developed some one on one plays, allowed me to do what I do best, to go one on one. But he also showed me the importance of fitting into the collective, how me, one of, uh, two black people on a p… white dominated, uh, team, how I needed to fit into that collective. But I could still be an individual, and I loved Mr. Webb for that. I loved him so much for that. Um, I was hoping, as I went from eighth grade to ninth grade, that it would be the same thing in high school.

So, I devised this plan. Everybody was looking to fit in, um, fit in with whatever group they were gonna be in high school. And I was looking to stand out. So, in the living room with my mom, I devised this plan.

I said, “I’m going to put red tips on my hair.”

And she said, “Why don’t you just dye your whole hair red?”

I said, “Mom, why don’t I dye my hair blonde?”

She said, “Why don’t you dye it silver?”

I said, “Mom, I’m gonna dye my hair silver!”

So, that day, we went, we got the hair dye. We sat in the living room. She sat on the couch. I sat in between her legs and she put this hair dye in my hair. And it… I could smell the chemicals mixed in with my hair, the ammonia. It just smelled so good. I was becoming Diggs; I was becoming my own person. I just loved it. I went to school. Everybody knew me.

“Hey, who’s that guy with the, uh, silver hair?”

“Oh, that’s Diggs! That’s Diggs.”

I was my own person and I was hoping the coaches would accept me as well. So, a week… the weekend before we were starting basketball, we’re going to have our first game. Um, we’re in the gym. I’m standing against the wall, waitin’ for my turn to go in, to run the drill. And there’s a coach. One of the coaches is about four steps away from me.

He says, “Hey, Diggs, I, I like your hair. You gonna keep that for the season?”

And I was like, yes, yes! This is so awesome! The coaches are accepting me for who I am. They’re gonna allow me to be an individual and fit into this collective. A black man fitting into this white culture. This is amazing.

I said, “Yes, coach. I’m gonna keep it.”

His voice dropped a little bit. He took two steps towards me. The conversation became a little more intimate.

“You’re gonna have that out of your hair before the season starts, right?”

No, no. I’m going to do it this year. I may do it next year. Uh, why did you just ask me that? But I figured because he asked me the same question again, he wanted a different answer. So, I just didn’t say anything. He takes two more steps towards me and now we’re almost face to face. His voice drops even more and the conversation became very intimate.

“You’re gonna have that out of your hair before the season starts, right?”

Ohhh, okay. Maybe he doesn’t accept me as an individual and maybe he just wants me to fit in. Okay, I see what the coach is doing here.

“Um, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I, I’ll have it out.”

And, uh, that day… we had the weekend to dye my hair back so, I went and told my mom. She got this jet-black hair dye and, um, I sat in the living room. She sat on the couch, I sat between her legs and the chemicals, huh! She put this hair dye on my hair and I could smell this disgusting ammonia smell as the chemicals were mixed in with my hair.

And I could feel my individuality just being stripped from me and I loved playing basketball in high school. But after that, I liked playing just a little bit less. And, uh, after my sophomore year, I just… I, I felt like I was losing myself. So, I, I didn’t, I didn’t try out for my junior year.

Going into college, I started to find myself again. I started finding my writing voice and started figuring out who I was. Um, I knew that I wanted to help people and maybe I was just like Mr. Matthews. Um, going into law school, I realized that, um, I needed to figure out how to fit into that new collective, that new legal, uh, community. So, after I graduated, I moved out here to, um, Chicago. And I started my own law firm and I realized that the, uh, the legal community is primarily white. It was just like my old town; it’s primarily white with speckles of, of black. And I needed to figure out how to be an individual but also to fit into that collective.

A few years later, my law firm started to take off. It was amazing and I had an opportunity to, uh, make my first hire. It was this black girl and she had, um, long hair and it was dyed red. And I wanted to tell her that, um, you can’t have your hair dyed like that; you’re gonna stand out too much. I felt like my coaches. You can’t have your hair dyed like that; you’re, you’re not gonna fit in. You’re going to stand out too much and we already stand out. And if I take you into court, we’re gonna look ridiculous and no one is going to take us serious.

Then I thought about my coaches, and I thought about if I told her that, I’d be stripping her of her individuality. So, when she asked if she could work for me, I said, “Yes.” And I decided I was gonna allow her to figure out how she wanted to fit in or stand out.

Rosie the Riveter Part III

By: Judith Black

 

Story Summary:

During WWII, men fought on the eastern and western front, but Rosie was the soldier on the home front. Working all shifts and all jobs she plowed her way through a workplace woven with sexism and racism and despite it all, this gal had production levels that turned heads. In this excerpt, you’ll meet an African American Rosie who changed the nature of a 1944 workplace.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Rosie-the-Riveter

Discussion Questions:

  1. During WWII, 5 million women poured into the American workforce, and worked an average of 56 hours a week.  These same women remained the primary homemakers, and caretakers for their children. What, if anything, has change for working women today and why?
  1. During WWII, the nation and its industries desperately needed women to step up and take the jobs that men were leaving when they volunteered or were drafted for the armed forces. Can you name three of those industries?  What difficulties did women, immigrants, and people of color have entering these industries?  Did women remain at their work after the war?  Why or why not?
  1. WWII was the first time in our national history that women, immigrants, and people of color were hired to do difficult, technical jobs that paid them well.  Though many of these people had to sign a promise to give their jobs back to the white males when they returned from the war. How do you think that doing these jobs and experiencing a sense of equality changed the new workers?

Resources:

  • The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter by Marilyn Whitman
  • V Is For Victory: The American Home front During WWII by Miriam Frank
  • Uncle Sam Wants You: Men and Women of WWII by Sylvia Whitman

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Stereotypes & Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
  • Workplace

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Judith Black.

Now during World War II, when men were serving on both the eastern and western front, who do you think made the boats, the guns, the airplanes that they fought with? The women on the home front. Was often called the Third Front. And this is a story about those women. There are actually three adventurers in it and each Rosie deals with a different issue. The first Rosie with sexism, the second with Holocaust denial. But I want you to meet the third Rosie.

(Singing)

All the day long whether rain or shine
 She’s a part of the assembly line
 She’s making history, working for victory
 Rosie the Riveter
 Keeps a sharp lookout for sabotage
 Sitting up there on the fuselage
 That little frail can do more than a male will do
 Rosie the Riveter

Rosie rocked underneath the great wrought iron gate. It was the graveyard shift, 11 at night till 7 in the morning. But Rosie, she kept the pace and the spirits high. As a matter of fact, the only thing that didn’t keep the spirits high was that night’s set-up man.

“Hey, my man, Emmanuel, how you doing?”

“Oh, Rosalita. You’re looking fine tonight, girl. You’re gonna turn heads.”

“Oh, yeah, Baby, I’m gonna turn heads. Roundheads, flatheads, and brassheads.”

“Hey, Susie, girl,”  Rosie asked Susie the same question every night and got the same answer. “Hey, Susie girl, how’s college education helping you on the line?”

“Oh, Rosie. It’s teaching me how to check my paystub for the right amount.”

“Girlfriend, I’m going to have to have you look at mine. Hey, Ho Trung, how’s it going?”

Ho Trung, a slight talking east man was very shy and Rosie was careful to greet him every single night.

“Okay, ya’ll, let’s get to work.”

That night set-up man. During the war, it was the very first time that people of color, women could actually get well-paying technical jobs in the factories. And the bosses trusted them, they trusted them to do rifling, they trusted them to do file and polish, they trusted them to do chambering but leadership roles still only went to men. White men. And sometimes the guys that got those jobs, just didn’t deserve them. That night set-up man was a long, lean boy with oily hair, pendulous lips and a nervous habit, and whenever he could get it, a cigarette hanging from those lips.

“Okay, you black and white and yellow and brown, let’s get my little United Nations to work.” That always came after a number of racial invectives.

And Rosie would whisper, “Come on, ya’ll. Let’s remember who the real enemy is and show aw stuff.”

But that night set-up man, he was still like a cold wind at people’s necks.

Well, during break time, Rosie kept the pace and the spirits up, “Come on, ya’ll. Come on. We’re going to hear the news as it has been seen and now will be reported, Ho Trung Nguyen.” She knew that Ho Trung, being alone in this country, went to see the newsreels each day. “How Trung, my man. What do we need to know?”

“Rosie, they say since girls come to work in factories, too much kissing and hugging.”

“Coo wee! They’re making blue reels about the workers. What else?”

“They say at McDonnell Douglas Aircraft, they closed back room because girl found kissing with foreman.”

“Coo wee! Don’t mix me up with our set-up man. We’d make some hot stuff.”

“Don’t make too hot, Rosie. Make casing on fighter bomber explode.” It wasn’t a big joke for Ho Trung; it was to the world. Everyone laughed and they were back at their stations before the bell went off. But that didn’t stop the night set-up man.

“Come on, black and white and yellow and brown, let’s get my little United Nations to work. Hey, Emmanuel, maybe if you wash your hands more often, things wouldn’t slip through. Hey, Susie girl. Why don’t you stay after shift? I’ll teach you something they don’t teach you in college. Hey, Rosie,” he knew better than to say anything to Rose. “Trung. Ho Trung, you with the slanty eyes. You, you! You see, you look like a Jap to me. You probably sellin’ secrets.”

“No, not Japanese. Tonkinese.”

“Yeah, you look Jap to me boy, and I bet you’re taking them secrets. I’m gonna tell the boss. Probably fire you.”

“Need job to bring my wife and children here.”

“You’re talking back to me? Are you talking back to me?!” And he took one aggressive step toward Ho Trung. Ho Trung took a step back. He tripped, he fell, and his head missed a moving lathe by that much. And the set-up man just leaned over him. His foot starting to swing like it would when you wanted to kick a stone across the street. Until he felt a warm vibration right at the nape of his neck. And when he started to turn, the vibration intensified ever so slightly. But he knew. It was Rosie and a riveting gun. And he could imagine any hole going from the back.

“Oh, girl! You’re in trouble. You got to…”

“Help that man up, Mr. Mister.”

“Girl, I’m telling you. Girl…”

“Help him up.”

“Ho Trung.”

“Good, Now, dust him off.”

“Girl, ya…”

“I said, Dust him off, Mr. Mister.”

“You..”

“Good. Now you apologize to that human being…Now.”

“Sorry, Ho Trung. That was an accident. You know that, don’t ya? Ok. Girl, you and me, we are going down to the foreman’s office right now.”

“Fine. I am right behind you.”

And Rosie, she walked down that long shop floor. That riveting gun never leaving the nape of his neck. They walked up the two steps into the night foreman’s office and door, (closing sound).

Ho Trung looked around and he said, “I don’t know about any of you, but I could speak for Rosie.”

“Wait, Susie will come with you. l’ll talk for Rosie.”

“I, Patrick McPhee, I’ll talk for Rosie.

Emmanuel, “I’ll talk for Rosie.” And soon, all 22 people who worked on that riveting shop floor were lined up behind Ho Trung Nguyen and marching down the aisle there, until they got to the foreman’s door and they heard inside angry voices. But none of them were Rosie’s trying to defend herself.

“I’m telling you! I’m telling you if I’m your voice on that floor, that girl is going to cause anarchy! That girl, she, she thinks she is the boss! She…”

“Now, we’ve never had any trouble with Rose. She has incredible production.”

“I’m telling you unless want anarchy, this girl has got to go! And…”

For the first time in his life, Ho Trung Nguyen opened a door without knock’n. The foreman looked down and he saw 22 pairs of angry eyes. All riveted to his night set-up man. “Rose, I don’t know what happened out there but I’m going to ask you to do me a big favor. Would you please, please go back to work?”

She stood a little too slowly, dusted herself off in the direction of the set-up man, looked down at everyone in that shop. “Come on, ya’ll. We got a lot of time to make up for.” And Rosie and that graveyard shift, they had the highest production levels at any factory during that war.

Well, people often ask when the war was over, did Rosie keep riveting? Well, most women signed a pledge that they give the guys who came back their jobs. So, lots of women went back home. Too many of them had to go back to the poor paying jobs that they had before the war. Some went on for training. But if you asked any of them, “What were you doing during the war?”

They’ll proudly tell you, “Me? I was a Rosie.”

(Singing)

What if she’s smeared full of oil and grease
 Doing her bit for the old Lendlease
 She keeps the gang around
 They love to hang around
 Rosie the Riveter

Mixing It Up

by Storyteller Laura Simms

 

Story Summary:

 In schools, racial violence often stems from learned bias. Listening to one another is an antidote to the gap between people and transforms bias into deep concern and creative change.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Mixing-It-Up

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever been misunderstood?  Has someone either assumed something about you or misread what you said or did?  Can you tell about that experience?
  2. What do you think happens when we know something about another person’s life that engages us with empathy or interest (especially if only moments before we had decided he or she was not a good person?)
  3. What is the difference between listening to a story and reading a story?

Resource:

  • School Violence in Context: Culture, Neighborhood, Family, School and Gender by Rami Benbenishty and Ron Avi Astor

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Workplace

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Laura Simms. And I got a phone call early one morning, from a junior high school principal. It was 20 years ago. And he said that there was racial tension in his school. Three gangs, battling every day in the schoolyard. “Sometimes it was extremely violent,” he said. “There were Chinese, Latino, African-American gangs. Could I tell stories? And would that somehow bring them into dialogue?”

He wanted to know exactly what I was going to do and exactly what the outcomes were. So, I said, “Well, I have no idea about the outcome; I’d have to just be there. But I do know that listening is a kind of magic.” He said he would think about it. Two days later, I was in the school.

And I entered the classroom, and it was a scene that I’m now very familiar with, there were kids sitting in three racially specific zones. Arms folded as if they had absolutely no emotions and a kind of weird, numb tension in the room. I sat in the front of the room. Nobody paid any actual attention to me but I started telling stories. And I told three stories, one after another. I told a story about growing up in Brooklyn with a Norwegian and African-American girlfriend. It was all about creativity, disobedience. I noticed that arms were kind of loosening. Then I told a West African story about girls and jealousy, power necklace. And people were leaning in. And then I told the third story, which is a story I love from Morocco. About a wild girl who has been so traumatized that she doesn’t speak and how she becomes, through her story, a queen.

And there was a moment of silence and then a Chinese boy just blurted out, “Man, I know that story about the girls is true.” I didn’t have time to ask which story. He said, “My grandmother, my grandmother had a walk across China during the revolution. She sold her only gold bracelet for a bowl of rice.”

Then a girl in the back said, “I sleep during my classes. You want to know why?”

I said, “Yeah, I do.”

And she said, “I understand those girls in the necklace story. I like that.”

I said, “Okay.”

She said that, “I have 10 brothers and sisters. My youngest brother is retarded. It’s my job to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning, dress everybody, feed the youngest. When I come home, I have to do homework with all of them. I put them to bed. I’m tired. That’s why I sleep all day.”

Everybody kind of giggled but it wasn’t in criticism or making fun of her. It was some kind of a mutual understanding. I said, “Wel,l anybody else have a story? Does this remind you of anything? Did you like those stories?”

Somebody called out and said, “Hey, was that mud story true?”

I said, “99.5 percent.” And they all laughed and then they went on to tell stories. And it was the first time they had listened to each other. And it was for me, the time I realized that when you hear each other’s stories, you’re not an assumed enemy anymore. You’re a human being.

Bell rang, everybody got up. They kind of sauntered out. A couple of people touched me. Somebody shook my hand. Gave me like a fist hello/goodbye. Off they went. Second group came in. Same thing. Three zones. But then, half of the kids who’d been there earlier, wandered in and they sat on the windowsills, filled in empty seats. The three zones were not so clear anymore. I said, “What are you doing here?” You have to go to classes.”

“These teachers, man, they don’t care if we come in. We said, ‘We like that story girl, can we go back?’”

So, I had a large crowd. I chose three different stories. Again, the conversation occurred. I told stories every day to all of them for three periods, three days. After that, we began to write in small groups. They wrote about their futures, what they wanted to be. One boy at one point looked around the room. He started laughing. He said, “Hey, we mixing it up now.” And I knew what he meant.

The principal said to me, “Like how’d that happen?”

And I said, “You know, something I’ve really come to think about a lot and to say a lot? What’s really happening here is that when you listen to a story, you’re not really hearing about someone else, even if it’s your personal story. When you hear the story, you become everything you imagine. So, that distance just dissolves like a wall of sand melting.”

We were peacemaking. I never talked about the causes of their violence. I never spoke with them about the violence in the schoolyard. What we did, we shared our lives. It wasn’t a common ground of what we had in common. It was the common ground of everyone having a story, and everyone listening, and everyone beginning to want each other to have the best future possible.

Months later, I went back to the school and I was walking down the hallway and, uh, actually, no one remembered my name, but they remembered the names of characters and the stories. They would say, “Hey, Magali! Hey, mud sister!” They didn’t have to even thank me for me to know that they had uncovered inside of themselves what was always there…their joy. And by listening.

It’s true that those violent gang battles in the schoolyard lessened. And that was the beginning of my work with kids in the schools. Understanding why I was telling stories.

Election Night:  How President Barack Obama’s Elections Changed My Life

by Storyteller Donna Washington

 

Story Summary:

The night Obama was elected to the presidency, Donna was a lone black woman in a very conservative part of the country. She discovered that it is possible be in a foreign land in her own country. She also found out that the world is full of people with good hearts.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:Election-Night-How-President-Barack-Obamas-Elections-Changed-My-Life

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Have you ever been scared in a new place?
  2.  Have you ever reached out to someone who was uncomfortable?
  3.  What does it mean to be brave? Does it have anything to do with being scared?
  4.  Have you ever felt like a group of people disliked you for no good reason? Who and why?

Resources:

 Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
  • Workplace

Full Transcript:

My name is Donna Washington and this story is called Election Night.

In 2008, right before the presidential election, I was touring through a very conservative part of North Carolina. And the first day I got there, I was told by my sponsor not to be concerned, but the FBI was in town because someone in the community had been burning crosses on the lawns of the six elderly couples that were left in the county. They were African-American. And I thought, “Well, that’s terrible, because it’s terrible.”

But I never thought about it really having an impact on me. I mean, I was just there visiting. I kept working in high schools and middle schools over the course of the next few days and it was amazing. I saw as all these girls with Sarah Palin glasses and McCain-Palin signs everywhere.  And I was so excited because everybody was really excited about the election.

And on election night, on Tuesday night, I got back into the area where my hotel was, right around 4:30. And I pulled up to a drive-through, at a fast food restaurant that normally is open until 2:00 a.m. And there was a big sign on the, the speaker that said they were gonna close at 7:00.

And I thought, “I bet it’s because they have teenagers, and they all want to go home and watch the election. That’s cool.”

So, when I got up to the window to collect my food, I, I asked the young man behind the window, I said, “So, why are you guys closing at 7:00?”

And he said (and I quote), “In case they riot.”

And I had a moment, because I was fairly certain I didn’t become less black from the time I ordered the food to the time I got to that window. But somehow, me sitting there as a black person, it didn’t occur to him that he was talking about me. And that’s because, during that election, there was all this hyperbole and all this anger and fear that was going around, and black people ceased to be black people. We became this nameless cloud of doom that was going to descend.

And all I could think was, “There are only six elderly black people in this county. What are they going to do? Gather together somewhere and menace the street corners?”

So, I didn’t say anything. I just kind of felt that’s funny, that’s kind of funny. And I took my food and drove back over to the hotel but there was no place to park. The, the parking was full. So, I, I managed to find a place to put my car. And I got out of the car and I couldn’t figure out why Tuesday night, there were so many cars. And then it occurred to me, there is a big, flat screen TV in there. I bet they’re watching the election. And as soon as I got closer, I could see through the window that Fox News was on and the room was packed. And that’s when a lot of things going on in that community hit me.

And the first thing I thought was, “There are people burning crosses on the lawns of the black families here. Some of them may very well be in that room. And there are people who know who’ve been doing it and they have not seen fit to tell the authorities.”

And I was terrified to walk through that lobby and I thought, “I can’t do this. I’m going to go in the back door.”

Because my room was right up the lobby and I didn’t want them to know where I was. But even before I began to take that step back, to back away from that, that door, an image of my great-grandma Topsy came into my mind.

And, I swear to you, she was standing next to me. And I could hear her voice from segregated Texas saying to me, “Yo’ money is the same colla as dey money. If you cain’t go in the front door and sit where you want to sit, then you don’t have no business going off in there.”

And I thought to myself, “Someday I am going to die. And on the other side of that, my great-grandmother Topsy is going to be waiting for me. And if I go in the back door, I will have to spend eternity trying to explain the choice… or I could spend 10 seconds and just walk the lobby.”

Mmm. Squared my shoulders, took my little bag, walk the lobby. I cannot tell you if anyone was looking at me or not. I don’t remember. I just had my eyes focused (with my little bag) on the hallway that led to the door, and I got into my room. I closed the door. My, my dinner fell out of my hand, my purse slipped off my arm, and I realized I was shaking. And I was sweating, and I couldn’t catch my breath and I didn’t know what was happening. And I realized, I was having a panic attack.

And I kept telling myself, “Calm. Down. Just calm down.”

And, eventually, I did catch my breath and everything calmed down and I had my dinner. And I stayed up and the election was over. And I was really wanting to be excited but I was right off the lobby, and I didn’t dare make any noise.

Fast forward four years. I’m down south in North Carolina. I’m in Romney-Ryan country. And Clint Eastwood had just done that thing where he talked to an empty chair at the RNC and said the people where I was, around in Romney-Ryan country, that thought it was a great idea to lynch the chairs from the trees, because apparently that’s reasonable political speech. And I didn’t have any trouble in the community. No one said anything crazy to me. And that Tuesday night. I went, I actually got a nice dinner. And I went back to my hotel room and I sat down and it was over pretty early.

And then the next morning, I went up to go and get some breakfast. And I go down there. And. Again. I just… I’m the only black face in the room. I look around. The waffle line is out the window. I’m not going to have waffles. So, I put my tray down.

And an elderly woman, elderly woman comes out of the waffle line. She walks up to me and she grabs my arm. And she says to me, “I’m so glad that’s over. Now we can talk to each other again.”

And my first thought was sarcastic, which was, “Honey! Me, you’re not talking to me. You’re wasting your time, ’cause I don’t know who you are.”

And my second reaction was sort of incredulous, like, “What have you been doing the last four years, doing or saying, that makes you need to find absolution from the first black person you see!” But I didn’t say that. I move right into being angry.

And I, I thought, “Again! You want to go back. Back to talking like there was nothing going on in our country? Like there are no undertones. I cannot go back. I will not go back and pretend people haven’t said the most horrible things to me over the last four years. I will not go back and pretend that all of the things that have happened around me didn’t happen. I won’t go back and pretend that my neighbors aren’t lynching black mannequins from the trees and going, “It’s not personal or racist. I’m not doing that anymore. If you want to talk to me, we have to go forward from here.”

And then I realized that that’s what she was trying to do… She had gotten out of the waffle line, walked over to the first and only black person in the room. And taking me by the arm, she had, in fact, “un-othered” me.

And I just looked at her and thought, “I hope that I am that brave.” And I smiled down at her, and I said, “Yes, we can.”

And she just lit up. She started smiling, and she just, she stood up so proud. And she wandered back over to the waffle line.

And I made two promises to myself after those two election nights. The first, I will never let anyone ever make me feel like the “other” in my own country ever again. Not allowed. And the second promise, that I will strive to be brave enough to get out of the waffle line, walk over to someone I don’t know, take them by the hand and say, “We have to talk.”

Ripples: From a Field in Mississippi to General Motors in New York

 

Story Summary:

 April 4, 1968 may have been the end of one dream with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. However, on that day, another began in a young woman who pushed past despair, journeying from Mississippi to New York City, to discover that the “dream” lived on in her.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Ripples-from-a-Field-in-Mississippi-to-General-Motors-in-New-York

Discussion Questions:

  1. Dr. King is associated with bringing together people of various ethnic backgrounds. While the message of equality was a theme of the Civil Rights Movement, a critical part of the movement centered around employment – compensation, fairness, availability, and equity. How are there still struggles around employment issues in the U.S. and the world?
  2. Each person has been given a talent – teaching, preaching, engineering, drawing, you name it! What are the talents you have been given and how have they helped someone else or you in an unexpected way?
  3. Travel can reveal a new perspective about one’s self, others, and places. Where have your travels brought you? How has something you experienced or seen changed your perspective?
  4. The Great Migration refers to the exodus of African Americans from the American South, seeking a variety of opportunities, new beginnings, and work during the 20th century. This departure from “home” enabled families to unite and offered a different future to the next generation. What sacrifice did those who left the South make for the next generation? What opportunities did future generations have? In your family, how did one generation make a sacrifice that benefitted the next generation(s)?

Resources:

  •  America Street: A Multicultural Anthology of Stories edited by Anne Mazer
  • Seeds of Change by Jen Cullerton Johnson
  • Voice of Freedom – Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford
  • 28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World by Charles R. Smith, Jr.
  • The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
  • Workplace

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Diane Macklin. There are moments in history that are like a rock thrown into the lake of time. The ripples reach all the way to the shore even if you cannot see them.

It was May 1968. Barbara Jean stood at a Greyhound bus station staring across the street. The bus wasn’t there yet but her siblings were, her two sisters and her youngest brother. They were holding hands, watching her, hoping that maybe she would walk to them. Maybe she would head back home to the shotgun shack. She wasn’t going to. She looked down at her freshly polished shoes, saw the little bit of dust on them where she could wipe it off. She had her suitcase. She was determined. She was going to go. Nothing could keep her in Mississippi. Barbara Jean pulled out of her purse the clipping from the newspaper. “Hard working young women needed, live-in maid, New York City.” She folded it up again and put it back in her purse. She was going to go. This was May.

A month earlier, April 4th, 1968 a shot rang out in Memphis Tennessee. A hundred miles north of where she lived, and it came shatterin’ all the way down to where she lived. And she knew the dream was gone. Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. The dream that work would come to the South, that work would return to Mississippi. People that knew the life of sharecropping, people that knew how to work the land, would have work again. But without Dr. Martin Luther King, who was trying to help people to get work, she would never find work, and nor would her children, even though she had no children. She had to go. She had to go to New York. There was work in New York. The bus came. She looked down at the ground. She might stay, if she looked at them again. She got on that bus. She got on the far side away from where her siblings were standing there. The bus pulled off, and she could not look at them. But they stood there until the bus was out of sight. She rode that bus all the way to New York City with that $24 ticket that she gave to that bus driver. She got off and was met with people she’d never seen before.

Women with hair, women with no hair. Women with short hair, women with long hair. There were all sorts of people from all sorts of places from the world. It was a lot of movement, a lot of sound. And she made her way all the way to her employer who brought her to the house that she was going to work. Now as a live-in maid, she knew hard work and this was nothing compared to the work that she did on a farm. At four years old, she learned how to pick cotton. And then at 12 years old, she could pick 300 pounds of cotton. And by the time she was 15, she could pick 600 pounds of cotton, take care of her brothers and sisters, help them to pick because she was determined to make sure that their family picked more cotton than anybody else.

She knew hard work, but there was another work that she did that was harder than dusting and mopping floors. At night, she would sit in a backroom quiet, listening to her employers. They’re from the North. And then she would go back to her own bedroom, sit on the bed, and start to train her tongue not to speak like she was from the South. She felt that people would not think that she was intelligent. They would think she was unintelligent if she sounds like she was a Southerner.

But one day she met this man. He was charming, he was a taxi cab driver. And in his charm, he convinced her to give her… give him, her phone number and she did. She didn’t want to lie.

So, she gave him her phone number but she gave him all the wrong numbers in all the wrong places. But they were the right numbers but all the wrong places.

But he spent two months trying every single combination of those numbers until he reached her. And he courted her and she fell in love. And this man worked for General Motors, hmm, General Motors. There weren’t many women that worked for General Motors. So, she asked him, well, should she apply and he didn’t think it was a good idea. It was a man’s place. It was a man’s job. Required someone who was strong, who could work hard.

He didn’t know her very well. Her father was a blacksmith. She would shoe horses with him. She would make fence posts and put up fences. They would go out and glean for metal. She knew metal and she knew hard work. So, she applied. They continued to court.

She got a job on the assembly line in 1974. And a lot of folks came up to her and told her, “You know, this isn’t your kind of work, so you can stay on the assembly line but that’s about it.”

But she took classes and she did well. She excelled more than any other student. Some folks thought that they didn’t like this so much. Some folks thought that they needed to turn her locker upside down to discourage her. Some folks thought they needed to put glue in her lock to discourage her. Some folks thought they needed to meld all of her tools together to discourage her.

But she knew something! A skilled trade was one of the highest paid positions at General Motors, at that plant in New… Tarrytown, New York. She was going to shoot for that. She took course after course, credit after credit, certification… certificate after certificate. And eventually she became the first woman and the second person of color to work at the skilled trades at Tarrytown General Motors plant. And, eventually, she did have two lovely children, and they had an opportunity to live in New York, with opportunities that she felt she did not have. And one of those children have told you the story of their mother, Barbara Jean Macklin.

Chinese New Year’s Frogs: A Collision of Culture and Nature

 

Story Summary:

“Ranger Linda” describes her encounter with a group of well-intentioned Chinese Americans bearing bullfrogs. This surprising incident illustrates how cultural differences can have unintended consequences and how cultural awareness can lead to greater understanding and a better outcome for all.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Chinese-New-Years-Frogs-A-Collision-of-Culture-and-Nature

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What do you do when cultural customs clash?
  2. What is more important – cultural beliefs or environmental protection?
  3. Have you ever encountered a similar situation where a cultural practice clashed with what was best for the environment?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Asian American/Asians
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Identity
  • Interfaith
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
  • Workplace

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Linda Yemoto. And for many years I worked as a park naturalist at a nature center in the hills of Berkeley, California. And I want to share with you an incident that happened and that brought home to me how cultural differences and beliefs and practices can have unintended environmental consequences. But first I begin with a very brief folktale.

Long, long ago in China, a Buddhist monk was traveling from temple to temple. One day, his travels took him deep into the forest where he came upon a small, wild pig that had been captured in a hunter’s trap. Now, the pig was squealing and squealing with fear. And the monk felt compassion for the pig and so, he released it. Now, according to the laws of the time, that monk was guilty of theft. Now, when the matter was brought to the attention of the Buddha, the Buddha pondered for a bit and then said, “According to the Dharma, the teachings, the monk is not guilty for he acted out of compassion.” And that simple act of releasing the pig over hundreds and hundreds of years became a Buddhist practice called fang sheng. The releasing into the wild of an animal that would otherwise be eaten.

Now, fast forward about 2,000 years, a Saturday, in February 1994, five minutes until closing time. As the naturalist on duty at the Nature Center that day, it had been pretty busy. Lots of nature walks and snake talks and puppet shows. And we were ready for the day to be over. We were just about ready to lock the glass doors of the nature center, when a visitor came rushing in from outside rather out of breath saying, “There’s a big group of Asian-Americans walking down the road to Jewel Lake.”

“OK,” I thought.

“They’re carrying two big, cardboard boxes.”

“OK,” I thought.

“Full of bullfrogs.”

“Oh, no,” I thought.

“And they’re going to release them into the lake.”

“Oh, no!” So, I asked Lauren, one of our interpretive student aides to lock up the building. Eveline, the other one, and I jumped into the park truck, drove down to the lake as quickly as we could. And all the time I’m thinking, “What the heck do they think they’re doing? Don’t they know bullfrogs are not native to California? Don’t they know what’s going to happen when they release them? Oh, I hope I can get here on time.”

So, we parked the truck and strode up to the lake and sure enough there were probably 20 or more Chinese Americans standing around the edge of the lake. They were chanting; they were singing. They were looking very happy for all these bullfrogs that were hopping around their feet and swimming away across the lake.

“Who’s in charge here?” I asked.

“Ah, I guess, I am,” a middle-aged man approached me. “Ah, why?”

“Ah, well,” I said. “I guess you didn’t realize that bullfrogs are not native to California and when you release them into an environment like this, they can completely decimate our little native Pacific Chorus frog population. You see, bullfrogs can get as big as dinner plates. And they will swallow anything they can get their mouths around. So, there go our frogs, our snake, our fish.”

“Oh, no!” said the man. “We didn’t know! We had no idea. But,” he said, “we didn’t release the turtles that we bought.”

“Oh, good,” I said. “What do you mean, ‘turtles that you bought?’”

“Well, we went down to Oakland, Chinatown, to two different markets.” And they bought as many bullfrogs as they could possibly afford. And then they brought them down to Jewel Lake to release, in celebration of Chinese New Year. They were practicing fang sheng.”

“Oh,” I said. “How many bullfrogs do you think you bought?”

“Oh, maybe two hundred,” he said.

“Oh.”

With much apologies, they said they would take their turtles and they would leave the park. They didn’t look like they wanted to touch the bullfrogs, much less help us recapture them. But Eveline and I looked at each other and looked at all these frogs hopping about and some of them did not look too good. They’re kind of hopping sideways and flipping over. And you can capture some of them pretty easily. So, she and I decided that the best thing to do would be, we had to recapture as many bullfrogs as we could that night before they had a chance to recover.

Now, luckily, Eveline’s family lived close to the park and they owned two kayaks. So, she rushed home to get the kayaks. I went back to the office and called my family, told my husband what had happened. He turned to our two boys, their ages 7 and 4 at the time, and said “Hey, do you want to help your mom catch bullfrogs tonight?”

“Yeah!” they said. So, they came on down.

I think we spent six hours on the lake that night. Eveline and Lauren were in the kayaks. They were each holding a flashlight in their teeth. And they were paddling slowly around the lake When they’d spot a bullfrog they’d shine the light in its eyes, which stuns it. They’d put down the paddle, pick up a long-handled net and scoop the bullfrog out of the water. And then they’d stick it in a garbage bag, which was at their feet inside the kayak.

Now, that worked pretty well until I saw the bullfrogs started getting loose. And I could hear them across the lake, “Ooo, aaah, ooof!” I was in a small flat bottom row boat with my two boys. They had their flashlights. I had the net and their father was very slowly rowing us around the lake. Well, about 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, we decided we had to quit. We had recaptured 98 of the 200 bullfrogs. We put them in two large, five-gallon tubs with lids, put the lids into a storage room in the nature center, and we went home for the night.

Now, unfortunately, during the night those bullfrogs were hopping so vigorously against the lids they popped them open. So, when I opened the storage door there were those bullfrogs all over the place. We had to recapture them, put them in their tubs, put on the lids a little more tightly, and we took them down to the East Bay Vivarium, which is a store that raises and sells amphibians and reptiles. Now, they knew they couldn’t sell the bullfrogs but they were thrilled to have them because they were going to freeze them, which is actually a humane way of killing the frogs. And then, over time they were going to feed them to a large South American snake that they owned.

Now, as Chinese New Year’s rolled around again the next year, we knew we had to do something. We couldn’t let this happen again. So, we posted some signs that said, “We honor your practice of fang sheng but releasing of any animals into our regional parks is strictly prohibited. And we appreciate your cooperation.” But we also got in contact with some of the larger Chinese Buddhist churches in the area. And we had a really good discussion with them about their Chinese New Year’s practices and what happens when you release non-native animals into the environment. And I think, in the end, we had a much better understanding of each other’s perspective. However, it did take us over 10 years to get rid of those Chinese New Year’s bullfrogs and all their generations and generations of offspring.

Now, you may wonder, “Well how do you know you got rid of all those frogs?” Well, bullfrogs sound like, Ba-rump! Ba-rump! Ba-rump! And our little native chorus frog, they have that more classic ribbet, ribbet, ribbet, ribbet, ribbet, ribet. So, for years you go down to the lake and you would hear mostly Ba-rump! with a little bit of ribbet. But now if you go down to Jewel Lake on a spring or summer evening, you’ll hear not a single Ba-rump! But just ribbet, ribbet, ribbet, ribbet, ribbet, ribbet.

Small City, Big City: Opportunities Grow with More Diversity

 

Story Summary:

 A new workplace is sometimes like the first day at a new school. Differences aren’t accepted quickly, and sometimes differences can make a person feel completely isolated if they aren’t welcomed.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Small-City-Big-City-Opportunities-Grow-with-More-Diversity

Discussion Questions:

  1. How could the new workplace environment been more welcoming to Shannon?
  2. What could Shannon have done to mesh better in the environment?
  3. Should workplaces be more diverse and reflect the surrounding community? Why?

Resources:

  • Makes Me Wanna Holler by Nathan McCall
  • Black Men Ski – Stew at TED –https://www.ted.com/playlists/250/talks_to_help_you_understand_r

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • European Americans/Whites
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
  • Workplace

Full Transcript:

My name is Shannon Cason. I worked at a plumbin’ wholesale company in Flint, Michigan. Flint, Michigan is a predominately black city and ah, I was the only black man working in a region. I don’t even know how that happens. But I, I was working there. And many times I used that kind of opportunity to stand out and give a different perspective. And I remember we went out for a drink one day, and we were talkin’ about demanding customers and, and how, ah, warehouse issues and after that the conversation turned to like NASCAR, deer huntin’ and cabins up north. And I didn’t really have a breadth of knowledge about any of those conversations topics. I’m just a city kid from Detroit so I really didn’t really know about those topics. And I just, I love learning and listening to new things. So I just listened in. And after a time frame, I felt like I could chime in or somethin’. So, I say, “You know, I remember when my grandmother took me up north to Mackinac Island to the Lilac Festival.” And no one seemed to really care about that conversation. Everybody just ordered another drink. And it kind of just drifted off into, into space. So I felt like, you know, it’s an uncomfortable place to feel isolated at work and not have certain connections. And, ah, at the job, it kind of went the same way. I wasn’t connecting. Ah, my mistakes seem like they were magnified because where other people, we would take these long orders, very long orders, and you’d miss some things, you know, and the mistakes that I made, seemed like they were larger than life. You know, other people can kind of gloss over a mistake or just kind of like laugh about it or crack a joke because of familiarity or, or connection and I didn’t have that.

So, it got to the point where I was put on a 90-day probation. I never really hadn’t any bad reviews or anything like that. And, ah, I, I remember I moved with my new wife, closer to this job. So I didn’t tell her about the probation. And I was, I was nervous about it. So I started looking for new jobs. Then a new job came and it wasn’t my job. My wife had got a promotion and the promotion was in Chicago, Illinois. And I had to go in to my boss, who had put me on probation, and ask him for this transfer. And it was challenging to get the transfer. He said, ah, um,  that there was really no positions for me available in Chicago. And that if I was to move to Chicago, I would have to take a demotion from inside sales to counter sales. And I was looking for new jobs anyway, so I took the job in counter sales because it’s better to have a job than no job. And I moved to Chicago.

And I remember when I started up, it was totally different in Chicago. I went into the building and it was a really diverse situation. You had men, women, Latino, black, white, ah, seniors, younger people. Um, forklifts whizzing by, order pickers high up in the air, racks up to the ceiling, 15 trucks out front, just right in front of the building. And I remember my manager, he was a black man. He shook my hand, showed me to the counter, and said, “Do a good job.” And I did. And I was making good connections with the people in the warehouse, customers; cracking jokes with them, having fun and making good sales.

And after time on the counter, I remember my boss came back out to me, and we walked in front of the building. And we were talking right in front of that rows of trucks, and he was saying that he had he was skeptical about initially hiring me because of the bad report I had from my, my former boss. But he was happy to see the improvement in my, in my performance. And he was telling me that there was a position openin’ up for shippin’ manager and he wanted me to take that position. I had never had any experience with managing 15 union drivers. But he said he’d think I’d do a good job.

And I think I did. I went into the shippin’ management position. And as a shipping manager, that’s like one of the most important positions because you, you, you, everyone in the company knows you, all the sales people know you, all the top management knows you, every part that has to get to customers in all of Chicagoland comes through me. I mean, it’s a big deal. We shipped all the Kohler parts to the Trump Tower. So it’s really big deal.

And I remember, ah, one more challenge. So after the shippin’ position, I asked for another position. And they put me back into sales. And I worked in sales for six months. Then I got my own facility. So I have my own building, with my own shippin’ and trucks and everything. And, ah, and I would sit in my manager meetin’s, with my old boss who believed in me. And he would mentor me on leadership but we would also talk about the Bulls winnin’ a game or we would talk about, ah, places downtown that plays the best blues music. So those types of things where we have a relationship. And, ah, they had this corporate-wide meetin’… was in another state. All the, all the facility managers from all over the country were there: Las Vegas, San Francisco, Chicago, even Flint, Michigan. And I ran into my, my old boss, the guy who I didn’t connect with and, ah, we’d never really, he gave me a bad review, and put me on probation, and gave me a bad recommendation, and I ran into him. And I had my own facility at this time, ‘n mine was a lot bigger than he is, about three times the sales of his facility. And I remember, we talked and we talked about the challenges of running our own plumbing wholesale company and we were related, finally. And it was, it was a cool experience.

So, I just want to say, like if you, if, if it’s times when, when you’re in a com, uncomfortable situation sometimes you have to take the risk, to jump out into a more comfortable situation for your personality.

So, thank you.

Learning Long Division and White Superiority from My “Sweet” Third Grade Teacher

 

Story Summary:

 In the early 1960s, at a time when the hierarchy of race was evident in much of the country, a Black student feels relief to encounter a White teacher who operates without apparent bias. However, as the school year progresses, the student discovers that, in spite of her kind heart, his teacher unknowingly perpetuates White superiority by unselfconsciously promoting cultural and social standards that are rooted in “White” cultural and social norms; norms that might have worked for her, but not for everyone. It’s a lesson that is even more valuable for today’s “colorblind”, “post-racial” society.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Learning-Long-Division-and-White-Superiority-from-My-Sweet-Third-Grade-Teacher

Discussion Questions:

  1.  One of the major points of this story is that in the United States “Whiteness” acts as an invisible, unspoken, socially unacknowledged set of cultural, political, educational, etc. standards by which we all are forced to live. Since those standards aren’t talked about, they are perceived to constitute a neutral, normal, and (if you are White) benign quality of life. As the story relates, that doesn’t work for everyone.
  2. Try this: If you self-identify or are socially identified as “White” – Over the next day, without forcing the issue, try to make a mental note of how many “White” images you see versus images of everyone else. Look for things like “White” mannequins in stores, “White” people on product labels, images of “White” people in books and magazines, on medical charts and TV shows, in ads on billboards and buses. Before hearing the author’s story, were you ever self-conscious of those things?
  3. To read and do: Roger Bannister is credited with being the first man to run a mile in under four minutes. Matthew Henson is purported to be the first man to reach the summit of the North Pole. Read a book or a few of the numerous online accounts of each of these men’s lives. Why do you suppose absolutely none of the literature on Bannister ever calls him the first “White” man to run a sub four-minute mile? In contrast, why do you suppose all of the literature on Henson calls him the first “Black” (or African-American) man to reach the North Pole?
  4.  Did you know? . . .  The first woman in space (1963) was Russian Cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova. Twenty years later, the first American woman in space was Sally Ride. Consult a variety of sources and read their stories . . . Notice that there is absolutely no mention in any of their histories about them being “White”.  The first Black woman in space was Mae Jemison in 1992. The first Latina in space, in 1993, was Ellen Ochoa. The first Japanese woman in space was Chiaki Mukai in 1994. Consult a variety of sources and read about them. Notice that every single account of their stories mentions their “race”. To what do you ascribe these different treatments?

Resources:

  •  The Right Hand of Privilege by Steven Jones, PHD. jonesandassociatesconsulting.com. Jones & Associates Consulting, Inc.
  • Privilege Revealed: How Invisible Preference Undermines America by Stephanie M. Wildman (Introduction, Chapter 1Making Systems of Privilege Visible”, and Chapter 7 “The Quest for Justice: The Rule of Law and Invisible systems of Privilege”
  • Understanding White Privilege from the Teaching/Learning Social Justice series (Chapter 2 “What’s In It For Us: Why We Would Explore What it Means to be White”)
  • Anti-Bias Curriculum: Tools for Empowering Young Children by Louise Derman Sparks and the A.B.C. Task Force
  •  Beyond Heroes and Holidays: A Practical Guide to K – 12 Anti-Racist, Multicultural Education and Staff Development by Lee, Mankart, and Okazawa-Rey
  • Eight Habits of the Heart by Taulbert Clifton

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Workplace

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is La’Ron Williams and I want to share with you just a tiny, little piece of a much larger story that I wrote about 12 years ago. It was a story examining the role that race played in shaping the structure of the community in which I lived. The original story is about 55 minutes long but this is, like I said, just a tiny, little piece so I hope you’ll stay with me through the whole thing.

A long, long time ago, way back when I was growing up, there was a story that I used to hear over and over and over again about the way that America thought of itself. Now, it didn’t come as a straight-out narrative. It came to me in tiny, little snippets and you’ll probably recognize some of these. Things like, “land of the free and home of the brave,” or “with liberty and justice for all,” or “we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.” That kind of thing. And taken in the aggregate, taken together, they constitute a kind of a narrative that says that this country is free and very equal and equitable place. And so, I grew up with the notion that that it should be like that.

But when I was a boy, way back when I was born in 1951. Jim Crow segregation was still the law. It was very, very obvious and very, very thorough in some places like Georgia where my father was from. And in some places like Flint where I was from, Flint, Michigan, it was not so obvious. Not so brutal, not so open but it was there, because it was everywhere. It was all over the country. So, I’m one of those people who remembers drinking from the segregated drinking fountain, for example, or having to sit in the balcony of the segregated movie theater, or having to swim on one side of the segregated swimming pool. And I, especially, remember, one time when my family took a trip to Washington D.C. and we weren’t allowed to eat in a restaurant. We were greeted at the door by a man who simply, very matter of factly, told us that we couldn’t eat there because they didn’t “serve Negroes.” And I remember my brother, as we walked away, said, “That’s okay, because we don’t eat them.”

I didn’t read about those things in books. I remember those things. They constitute a part of my upbringing, a part of my lived experience. And you may notice that my lived experience didn’t match the stories that I was told about the way this country was. And so, what that meant was, that, that I was kind of like I was two people. There was the person who really, really wanted to be free and equal and to believe the stories I was being told. And there was the person who knew that it was a lie. And these guys didn’t always trade places. I mean, sometimes I would be both of those guys at the same time.

Well, the fall of 1959 was when I went into third grade and my teacher that year was a woman named Mrs. Paris. Now that’s not her real name but for story purposes, Mrs. Paris was my third-grade teacher. And at the school that I went to, most of the teachers were black. Most of the students were black. It was, it was a largely African-American school and Mrs. Paris was the first white teacher that I had ever had. So, when I walked in the door, I felt a sense of trepidation. I mean, ’cause, because I didn’t know what she might be like. She might be like that guy who told us we couldn’t eat in the restaurant. So, I was ready for anything but my heart was also open because I was two people and one of them wanted to believe that things could be fair.

Well, as the year went on, I learned that Mrs. Paris really was a pretty good teacher. She taught us a lot of things and she always had a smile on her face and I like that piece of it. And I love the fact that she, she loved to sing. She was always singing songs in class. She taught us long division. She taught us how to say the Pledge of Allegiance, every, single day. She was a very loving and kind teacher who never, ever, ever gave up on any of her students, even those students that were considered slow. She would take special time with them to make sure they caught on with all the lessons.

Well, now, there was one time when the entire class was working on painting, a huge banner mural. And Mrs. Paris had taped this kind of really thick butcher paper up all around, all the walls of the room. And each student was assigned a part of the butcher paper to draw on. And so, we had to draw our part of the painting before we started painting. Now, I was a pretty good artist and so I finished my part of the banner before anybody else. So, Mrs. Paris came over and she gave me a number of different cups of paint that she had mixed up beforehand. And she’d labeled all of these cups.

So, I picked up one of the cups of paint and I started to paint one of the people in my portion of the mural but I didn’t get very far because one of my few white classmates standing right next to me, suddenly became, like, super exasperated. She put her hands on her hips, (disapproving breathing), and she’s going like this, (exasperated look), and only in a way that only a 8 year old kid can do. And I thought she was out of her mind. What’s going on with you? What are you doing? And, and she looked at me and she says, “You’re not supposed to use brown to color history people.”

I had no idea what she meant. I just looked at her and I started to say something. But before I could say anything. She called the teacher over. She said, “Mrs. Paris, he’s using the wrong color.”

I can almost hear all the heads turn of all my fellow students as they looked to watch Mrs. Paris walk over. Mrs. Paris walked over, she reached down, and she took the cup of paint that I’ve been using. She picked up another cup of paint and just handed it to me. And then she walked away without saying a word. So, I took a cup of pain and I turned it around and I looked at it and the label said, “flesh.” Now, I mean, it’s not like I didn’t know what flesh colored paint was. I had used flesh colored paints and flesh colored crayons hundreds of times before that. I mean, I didn’t mind using them. I knew it wasn’t the color of my flesh but it was the color of a lot of people. It was the color of Mrs. Paris, basically, and my classmates, and people that I admired on TV, like the whole cast of “Father Knows Best” and “Ozzie and Harriet” and I didn’t mind using it. It’s, it’s just that this time, with this teacher, for the first time, I became aware of how bad I felt not to use that color.

Well, as the year progressed, there were a lot of incidents like that. I mean, times when Mrs. Paris would be talking about something and my white classmates seemed to know what she meant even in advance. Times when we would sing songs from our school songbook and all the white students seemed to know all the words in advance. I mean, at home I sang songs by The Drifters and the Shirelles and pop tunes like that. And sometimes spiritual songs and gospel tunes. And I knew all those words by heart and half of them I still know. But somehow, none of those stories or songs ever seemed to appear in my school books. I mean, it’s not that I was upset that I didn’t know the school stuff sometimes. It’s just that for the first time, with this teacher, I became aware of how bad I felt that they did know it.

I didn’t have the words to describe it back then but I know now that, without meaning to, without even trying to, Mrs. Paris was teaching her black students to feel ashamed of the way that they did things. I mean, she was a good teacher and there was no malice in her heart. But she was teaching us to be ashamed. Just by using the school books and the school curriculum in the way that it was intended, she was teaching her black students shame. But there was something else that was going on too. Because at the same time that we were learning shame, she was teaching a lesson to the white students. She was teaching them superiority. Only none of us thought of it that way. I didn’t. Mrs. Paris didn’t. My classmates didn’t. It had been going on all our lives. But to them, to me, to her, to all of us, it was just normal, just standard, just the way it was, kind of like TV, a kind of an official story.

It was because of TV, it was because of shows like, “Father Knows Best,” that I knew what the suburbs looked like. It was because of programs like, “The Lone Ranger” that I knew what Indians, “How!” talked like. TV and Mrs. Paris and the movies and all kinds of things, the school books, gave me a kind of standard that was rooted in white culture, rooted in a white European way of thinking about things. But without naming it, without even talking about it, it was just considered standard. But in a way, I was lucky because when it came to what Mrs. Paris and the movies and the books and things had to say about being African-American, I knew that it didn’t even come close to matching the reality that I was living.

But what if I had been one of my white classmates? What if that paint that Mrs. Paris mixed up, at least came close to matching the color that I was? What if a Johnson’s Band-Aid didn’t stand out like a glaring beacon of mis-coloration whenever I stuck it, whenever I stuck it on my arm? What if everything around me told me that I was the standard, that I was just normal, just the way things should be? And what if everything around me reinforced that notion? What if I lived in a community where practically everybody looked like me and I never even heard a different point of view?

You know, crayon manufacturers no longer make a crayon that they call flesh but there are pantyhose that are called “nude.” And the color of the nude pantyhose is the same color that the flesh colored crayon used to be. I wonder whose nude are they talking about?

There, there’s also a color of makeup that’s called blush. It’s the same color that the flesh colored crayon used to be only it’s a little bit redder. And there’s a color of makeup that’s called suntan. It’s the same color that the flesh colored crayon used to be only it’s a little bit brown there. So, I’m left to think, in what ways is the flesh colored crayon is still with us? In what ways do you notice that we still live surrounded by flesh colored crayons?

Come With Me and Be Free

Story Summary:

 Storyteller, Kate Dudding, tells the story of Iqbal Masih, a 12-year-old boy in Pakistan who led thousands of children to freedom from 1993-1995. Even after his death, Iqbal went on to inspire other children and show that even the youngest among us can make a difference.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Come-With-Me-and-Be-Free

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why did Iqbal keep running away from the factory where he worked?
  2. Why do you suppose that the Bonded Labor Liberation Front had to hold rallies in villages?
  3. What gave Iqbal the courage to sneak away from the factory to go to the Bonded Labor Liberation Front rally in his village?
  4. What must it have been like for Iqbal to travel to Boston to receive his Reebok’s Youth in Action Human Rights award? What new experiences did he have to deal with?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Asian American/Asians
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
  • Workplace

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Kate Dudding. Some people say children can’t make a real difference in this world. I’m going to tell you a story about one who did. His name is Iqbal Masih of Pakistan. By the time he was 12, he had led thousands of children to freedom. He talked to them at meetings. He told them his story.

I was born into a poor family. My father was a laborer, my mother a house cleaner. When I was two, my father deserted us. Later, when my older brother was getting married, my father knew he had to help pay for the festivities but he didn’t have the money. He couldn’t borrow from a bank so he borrowed from a carpet factory owner the six hundred rupees, ($12) that he needed. I was the collateral. I would work at the carpet factory until the debt was paid off. I was four years old when this happened, when I became a bonded laborer. This is a modern story. This happened in 1987.

I left home every morning at four o’clock and returned at 7:00 in the evening, six days a week. I only had energy to play on my day off. I worked in a small, airless room. The windows were sealed to keep the insects out that might harm the fac… the carpet. There was one light bulb hanging from the ceiling. There were 20 looms in this little, this little room. We were not allowed to speak. The factory owner said, “Children who are talking are not paying their full attention to their work and could make mistakes.”

Sometimes I ran away and when I came back, I was always beaten and sometimes chained to my loom. Once, I ran away to the police station to tell them of the horrible conditions and the beatings and the threats. But all policemen did was return me to the factory where I was severely beaten. And the carpet factory owner told me, “You are a working boy. You are a carpet weaver. You will be a carpet weaver for the rest of your life.”

Members of my family kept on borrowing money from the factory owner. The debt grew from the original $12 to $260. Far more than I would ever be able to pay off. But wonderful things started happening after six years, when I was 10 years old, in 1993. A law was passed making it illegal to have bonded labor and cancelling all the debts. But I didn’t read. No one in my family could read. We didn’t know about the law. Luckily, a man called Ehsan Ulah Khan and others founded the Bonded Labor Liberation Front. They went from village to village telling people about the new law.

They came to my village. The factory owner said to all of his boys, “Do not go to this meeting. It would be bad for you.” But I thought if he said it was going to be bad it must be good. So, I ran away again. I learned of the new law cancelling my family’s debt at this meeting. Ehsan Ulah Khan noticed me, and called me up on stage, asking me to tell my story. When I said I was 10, I could see people looking startled. And, and I heard some of them saying, “I thought he was six.” You see, I’m rather short because I’ve never had enough food to eat.

After the meeting, I insisted that a freedom letter be written to terminate the contract bond, the bonded contract. You had to give a freedom letter to the factory owner. So, I insisted that a lawyer there write me one. And then I insisted on delivering it because I wanted to tell the boys I worked with, “Come with me and be free.”

The factory owner was furious but he could do nothing. I started going to school for the first time and traveling to meetings like this, telling people my story.

Iqbal always ended his talks by saying, “Come with me and be free.” Thousands did.

When Iqbal was 12, two years after he had been free, he received Reebok’s first Youth in Action Human Rights Award. As part of the award, he traveled to Boston at the end of 1994. While there he visited the Broad Meadows Middle School. All the children were so excited to meet him. They talked to him. They listened to his presentations. His interpreter was exhausted by the end of the day.

Later that week, when he received his award, he said, “Children, in my country use this tool.” Holding up his carpet weaver tool. “They should be using this tool.” And he held up a pen. He also called on President Clinton to invoke sanctions against countries that had bonded child labor. At the end of the presentation, he was asked many questions by reporters. One of them, that so many children are asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Iqbal said, “A lawyer to fight for the rights of my people. But first I must finish school.”

Unfortunately, Iqbal will never get a chance to finish school. Four months after he received the Reebok award, he was shot dead in the street. There have been many investigations. No one has ever been arrested. Some of the investigations blame a villager who was tired of screaming children and took a pot shot at them, that accidentally hit Iqbal. Other investigations say it was a member of the carpet mafia in Pakistan. But amazingly, Iqbal’s story does not end with his death. The students of Broad Meadows Middle School decided to collect money in Iqbal’s honor. They contacted schools and youth groups around the world suggesting a donation of $12. Symbolic of both Iqbal’s death, age when he died, and the size of the original debt. They collected $127,000 from children and another $19,000 from Reebok and other adults.

With this money, they built a school in Pakistan, in Iqbal’s honor, In Canada, twelve-year-old Craig Kielburger read of Iqbal’s story. With friends, he started the organization Free the Children. In the 17 years since Iqbal’s death, Free the Children has built over 650 schools and donated $16 million dollars in medical supplies, among other achievements. Two and a half years after President Clinton’s… 2 ½ years after Iqbal’s death, President Clinton signed a law making it illegal to import goods made by bonded child labor.

Some people say children can’t make a real difference in this world. Clearly, they have never heard of Iqbal Masih, the students at Broad Meadows Middle School or Craig Kielburger.

Sudden Story

 

Story Summary:

 This is the true story of storyteller, Laura Simms, telling a deeply traumatized boy – an ex- child soldier from Sierra Leone, West Africa – a story in a taxicab in New York City. The story within this story relieves his misery and, in the process, Laura discovers the power of the tale and the boy’s innate and potent resilience.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Sudden-Story

Discussion Questions:

  1. Would you have tried to keep the young man from Sierra Leone with you?
  2. Why was a story and this particular story helpful to the young man who was about to get on a plane to go back to his war-torn country?
  3. Did you expect the ending to the story? Why was this young man able to go on to have a family, an education and career success?  How do you think he was able to rise above his experience as a child soldier?

Resources:

  •  A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
  • Folktales from Around the World by Jane Yolen
  • Website – The Children Bill of Rights, 1996 http://www.newciv.org/ncn/cbor.html

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Jewish Americans/Jewish
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
  • War
  • Workplace

Full Transcript:

name is Laura Simms. I’m from New York and this story takes place in New York, in 1996.

I was hired by UNICEF and Norwegian Peoples Aid to be a facilitator for a conference called Young Voices. And there were 53 kids from 23 third world countries there to create a Children’s Bill of Rights. So, my job, of course, as a storyteller was to listen to stories and help kids tell stories. And I heard stories that, literally, changed my life.

So, I became really close to two boys from Sierra Leone, West Africa, who, on meeting them, their voices were gentle and sweet. They were skinny. It was snowing out and they’re wearing summer clothes. When I heard their stories, it was something else. They were ex-child soldiers. They had committed atrocities. It was an amazing experience. And one boy, Aluzin Bah, fantastically, beautiful boy asked me to keep him in New York. And I was up every night, “Could I keep him in New York? How could I send a child back to war?”

I thought about if it was 50 years ago and I was in the Holocaust and somebody brought me out and then sent me back. At any rate, UNICEF heard about this. The boy told me, “Don’t tell anybody,” but he was 15, so, he told everybody. And ha ha. So, I, um, was told, “No conditions could I keep him in New York.” Actually, both boys, I’m still very close to. And the other boy Ishmael is now my adopted son.

We were in the last day of the conference. In the morning, the kids were getting ready to get on the bus to go to JFK. And Aluzin was furious with me for not letting him stay, suddenly began to sob. But it wasn’t just sobbing, it was a kind of, almost like, an earthquake in his heart. And I begged someone at UNICEF to just let me take him to JFK on my own, in a taxicab. And, of course, he didn’t trust me. So, I was side by side with a tall, Norwegian, sort of Viking, humanitarian. So, the three of us were in the taxi. And Aluzin was crying. And I thought to myself, “If he can’t get on the plane, he can’t go back to war in this way because it would make him in danger.” So finally, when he was heaving and heaving, I just said, “Aluzin, I’ll do everything I can. Everything. To stay in touch with you, to see if I could get you out of Sierra Leone. But I have to take you back. Tell me what can I do for you now? I can’t keep you here. What can I? You can’t go on a plane, traumatized.”

And he stopped crying. And he looked at me and he said, “Tell me a story.”

It was as if every story that I knew just sort of flooded out of my body. And I was…”What do you, what do you do?”

You have like five minutes. It has to be a story that means something. And then a story just arrived up the back of my legs and I had no idea if this was appropriate or not but I thought, just go for it. And I tell this story.

It’s about a boy, a poor boy who had no money. It’s a story from Morocco. And he went to market place he saw everything in the market. He wanted everything. He couldn’t have anything. But in the middle of the market, there was a magician performing a magic act. The magician had a magic finger. Anything he touched, turned to gold. Everybody came, applauded, left. But the boy was like, Wha! The magician said, “Ha, ha, ha, ha. You like my magic.”

And the boy said, “Yeah.”

Magician said, “Do you want some gold?”

The boy said, “Yeah.”

A little mouse came by, the magician touched it, turned to gold. He said, “Here.”

The boy said, “No, I want more.”

The magician looked. There was a huge table with, with plates and brass objects he turned to gold.  He said, “Here.”

The boy said, “I want more.”

“Oh.” The magician said, “Come with me.” He took him. There was a field filled with cows. He turned all the cows to gold. “Here.”

The boy said, “No! I want more.”

The magician said, “What do you want?”

The boy said, “I want a magic finger.”

Shuli, my Viking guard, said, “Why did you tell that story?”

Honestly, I wasn’t sure I knew. But Aluzin said, “I know. Because that’s what I want.” And I knew, that if this boy survived, he would more than survive. He would live because he wanted his own life force.

We got to JFK. He got on the plane. He went back to Sierra Leone. I called him every Friday morning, as I could, until the rebels attacked and it was hard to reach him. And then I called him again.

And I’ll tell you one tiny incident more, which is so beautiful about these kids. It was one Tuesday, I called him, was actually my birthday, and, selfishly, what I really wanted to do was have a cappuccino and get back into bed. So I, with my cappuccino, did get into bed and did make the call and I wasn’t going to tell him it was my birthday. I thought how lucky I am.

And when I called and, you know, there were two phones in Freetown through Sierratel, and I would say, “Aluzin Bah.” And everybody would call out Aluzin!”

And then I would hear people calling, “Hello, hello.” Hundreds of people waiting just in case somebody might call them. And he got on the phone. He said, “Laura, how are you?”

And I blurted out, “It’s my birthday!” And Aluzin, crying and laughing, called out to hundreds of people and said, “It’s Laura’s birthday!” And in the middle of the war, all these people sang “Happy Birthday.” And I realized that it would have been the most selfish thing if I hadn’t told him and given them the opportunity for joy.

Then the story… I’ll just tell you the great thing. That Aluzin graduated from college this year. He’s working in a bank so he could bring his childhood sweetheart to Montreal, where he lives. And he’s working for the benefit of children. And to me that’s a great story.

CONSTRUCTION

By Storyteller Jim May

 

Story Summary:

Storyteller Jim May relates his days working his way through school on a union construction crew; as well as the unions roll in softening the effects of classism and racism.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Construction

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever worked in a menial job with someone without an education but found that they had much wisdom and sound advice based on their natural intelligence, intuition and life experience?
  2. Have you ever worked in a job where you were kept on but someone was let go in spite of the fact that they were as good a worker as you? Was there some kind of prejudice involved around race, gender, sexual orientation, class or age?
  3. What is your feeling about labor unions? What was their role in ushering in the 40-hour week, getting paid for overtime and ending child labor among other worker benefits?

Resources:

  • Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do by Studs Terkel
  • Working Class in America by Eugene Debs
  • History of the U.S. Labor Movement: Labor Movement in the United States: Volume Two by Phillip Foner
  • Trail Guide For A Crooked Heart by Jim May (p. 12)

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Workplace

Full Transcript:

I was about 16 years old, somewhere in 1963. I had my first construction job, the first time, really, out of my little town, Spring Grove that I had grown up in. This was the first time I had the chance to work side by side with African-American workers and learned from them and learned a little bit about work, what the world of heavy construction was to them, being middle-aged and black versus the experience of a 17-year-old high school kid.

Well, it was the summer of 1963, and I got a job during high school summer vacation. It felt like my first real job, although the summer before that I had worked on a thoroughbred horse farm, and it was a real job, we worked six days a week, 11 hours a day sometimes. But it was farm work, the kind of work I grew up with; the working climate was a little more informal than my job during my junior year in high school, which was working for a union excavation company, concrete and excavation work. And this was the best company to work for. This company almost single handedly raised a good deal of farm boys out of the working class to the middle class during those years. Not many companies, that I knew of at least, were paying union wages at that time. Now my brother had gotten a job working for this company, and my brother was sort of a construction genius as it turns out, we were already beginning to realize that. He dropped out of high school but really could run machines, really understood everything about a construction project.

He got me the job. So, I was 16, 17, I didn’t know anything about construction, barely knew, which end of the shovel was up. I was the kind of guy the old guys were talking about, telling jokes about, sending the kid to the trailer to get a left-handed hammer. You know, I probably would have gone a couple of times before I figured out what they were doing to me. So what do you do with a dumb, fairly strong kid? Well, you give him the hardest, dumbest job on the job, and on this job we were pouring thousands of feet of curbing, cement curbing. And back in those days you had to take a steel form, by hand, drive it into the ground with sledge hammers and steel form pins. They poured the concrete between the curbing forms and then it all had to dry for several hours at least to set up, and then someone had to go and pull all those pins, and you did it basically with a crow bar and a chain. And you leaned over, set the crow bar against the steel form—you didn’t want to get into the concrete, because you’d notch it or make a dent in it if it was a little bit green. Sometimes the job was moving so fast that you had to pull the pins when the concrete was little bit green, and then you would just pull. You would bend over and take the crow bar and just lift with your legs and your back and pull; oh, some of them were close to an inch in diameter, those pins. And this was in Zion, Illinois, so it was Lake County, which was notorious for the clay-packed soil.

So, it was hard work, and no overtime; you got union wages, but someone would put the crow bar on the curb before you started in the morning. You got out of your car at exactly 8’o clock. You got back into your car at exactly 4.30, no overtime. Someone else would put the tools out. As the foreman would say, “All I wanna see from you guys is arse and elbows. You know, I wanna see you guys bending over, pulling pins. You’re not paid to think, you’re paid to work.” So that naturally was the job that the kids got, high school kids, college kids, “dumb kids” they called us and worse. So that was the low job on the crew.  Now, so basically that was my job and couple of other high school kids and a couple of younger college kids and two middle-aged black guys who knew a lot about construction, much more than we did, but they did not have any connections with the company. They were union, sent out “from the hall,” as they said, and they were right there with us doing the lowest, hardest job on the crew. And though they must have felt some humiliation to be in that position, they were always very kind to me at least and everyone as I remember. They gave us good working man hints on how to survive in heat and that kind of hard work. I remember I would look at my watch sometimes and would be suffering from that heat, pulling those pins, and they would say, “Oh, Jim, don’t look at your watch, don’t look at your watch, that will slow the time down. Never look at your watch!”

So, I just I had this sense of privilege that I was only sixteen and somehow had gotten into that position where these men had been working construction all their lives and hadn’t gotten any higher in the company than that particular skill, which required brawn and that was all. On the positive side, if it hadn’t been for the union they wouldn’t have been there at all, out in the “Ru-burbs” way out in the country. Where the company was based there wouldn’t have been any black men living, or very unlikely to have that position at all. So, the union was slowly changing things, looking back on it. But I also had this sense that there was an injustice. The work slowed down, and we got laid off. All the young kids got laid off, and these black guys got laid off. And I remember having a sense that maybe I wouldn’t be able to go to college, because my father had died that year before and there was no money and this was how I was going to go to college. And I remembered being called back and being very relieved but I didn’t see, didn’t hear those two black guys were called back and I asked about it but never received any information.

I was telling someone about this, and they said, “Did you ever bring this up? Or talk about the inequity?” Someone asked if I brought it up with the foreman. My first thought was I was afraid to even talk about the weather with the foreman. The foreman, you know, wore these state-trooper, mirrored-glasses and ran around screaming at people. He had a big bumper sticker on his car that said, “I don’t have ulcers. I give them.” He was known as “Firing Dick” I think was his name. But he eventually kind of took me under his wing and kept me working for several summers, helped me get through college. He was under that same pressure. When the owner would come, he would take his helmet off and put under his arm like a good cadet and take his glasses off and scurry right over to the boss’ big car. Everybody was under this kind of intense pressure. I think most of the workers that I worked with had grown up working class or were raised poor or the only alternative was farming, and farming was dying at that point in the late sixties, mid-sixties and seventies. And this was a union job, and you couldn’t afford to take care of yourself; if you were asked to do a job that wasn’t safe, you couldn’t afford to say, “I think I’d better wait till somebody gets here with some safety glasses or a helmet.” You just dug in and you just did the job, because it felt like survival. So everybody was under that system, and the owner of the company, there were all kinds of legendary stories about him starting out with nothing but a wheel barrow and cleaning the ashes out of wood burning stores and along Front Street in McHenry. So, the system was pretty locked in, but the union was the wedge that began to change things, I think that’s an important piece of it as well.

Use this video and story in your classroom with the Reflections and Discussions

http://racebridgesstudio.com/story-short-construction/

FASTER THAN SOONER

by Storyteller Antonio Sacre

 

Story Summary:

 While studying to become an actor, Sacre happened into storytelling through a class at Northwestern University. Because he found that he was often excluded from acting jobs because he was seen as either “too ethnic” or “not ethnic enough,” he took on storytelling performances to pay the bills. He started to understand the power of his bilingual storytelling and remembers an encounter with a grade school bully where learning the other boy’s story made all the difference.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Faster-than-Sooner

Discussion Questions:

  1. Antonio described how surprised he was to learn about the history and culture of many Latin American countries, but especially Mexico. What have you learned about another country or culture that surprised you or made you think differently? How might you do more of that learning?
  2. When Antonio tells stories switching back and forth between English and Spanish he sees students becoming more engaged. What might be the advantages of a fully bilingual education?
  3. When have you learned another person’s story that has caused you to change your mind about him or her? How might you listen to others’ stories more? How might you tell your own? How might we better encourage sharing our authentic stories?

Resource:

  • Be Bilingual: Practical Ideas for Multilingual Families by Annika Bourgogne

Themes:

  • Bullying
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Identity
  • Languages
  • Latino American/Latinos
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
  • Workplace

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Antonio Sacre and this is from a larger story called Faster Than Sooner.

In 1990, I decided I was going to be an actor and I moved to Chicago to study at Northwestern University. And it was fantastic. I had a very difficult semester once and the easiest class I could take was a storytelling class. There were no books to read, there was no tests to take, exams to do … and so I took it. It was just something that was fun, passed the time but I liked it and I found out that if I would tell the stories before a big audition I would feel better.

Now, even though I was comfortable with the fact that I was a Cuban Irish American man like my friend says — a “Lepricano” … I never really felt quite at home in the acting world. There were times while I was doing auditions and they would say to me “you are too ethnic for this part” and then times I do the other audition they say “you are not too ethnic enough,” I was constantly falling through the cracks. Maybe I was just a terrible actor, I don’t know, but I started to tell more stories in the neighborhood that I was living in Chicago. I was living in Logan square.

And I was at one of the schools telling stories, telling one of the only stories which I knew at that time which is the tall tale from the American West — Davy Crockett …   And I am telling the story to 300 3rd graders and I’m noticing that its going pretty well except that off to the right there’s a class of maybe 50 kids they don’t seem to be paying attention at all. I wonder what’s going on.  I look.  And at the back of my head I think, maybe they understand Spanish better than English and since I think in both languages anyway.

I switch the Davey Crockett story into Spanish. And as soon as I did those 50 kids their eyes got big. They were so excited to be hearing their language from the stage and I was so into the story that I just started telling the story in Spanish to them, but then the English speaking children why you speak English here, oh yeah then I switch back to English, but the Spanish children …Spanish … I switch into Spanish and soon I am telling the story simultaneously in English and Spanish. Davey Crockett said ..Spanish … and the kids started laughing together and I tell one part in Spanish, these kids translate it to English speaking kids and I do another part in English and they translate for Spanish speaking kids.  And it was for me one of the most exciting and fun performances I ever had. It’s usually one all Spanish — and all but to do both at the same time, the principal recognized it.

And she came running down to me and she said “that was amazing, you know how many schools in Chicago need somebody like you?” I said “No, I don’t” she said “a lot” and she actually wrote out the names and numbers of the principals I had to talk to and she told me how much money I could charge which was more than the money I was making as a waiter at that time, so by default and by accident and also because it was fun, I became, almost overnight, a professional bi-lingual story teller. Which was hard because I knew only that one story you know.

So, I began to study much of other stories because I was living in Chicago was a lot of people from Mexico and Puerto Rico at that time, so I began studying those cultures and I ended up travelling to Mexico and I ended up finding out things that I never taught ever. I never knew things about Mexico, the fact that there are pyramids there. That are incredibly large and some of them are the largest pyramids in the world. You know as a kid I learned pyramids are in Egypt, but Mexico right here? So close to the United States and I learned all the rich history and culture and the clash between the Indian and the native population in Mexico and Spanish, all the other cultures that came to Mexico and all the different states.. it was incredible.

I have learned one just small example — the Day of the Dead celebrations that the Mexicans have the beautiful honoring of the ancestors that happens on the same time when Halloween happens, and it’s interesting to see how the Day of the Dead celebration is coming up for us, and we are learning how to honor our ancestors from this culture right or not , but it’s part of our country for sure so this is what is all happening while I was becoming a story teller.

I like the money, I like the finding about all the cultures, I love that I was broad in my mind view and one day I was telling stories in this school and I never forget this, teacher came up to me. He was this granola dude …he was in Birkenstocks. He said, “You were great man …  It’s cool to hear about Mexico.. yeah , you know.” I started to talk like him you know, yeah what’s up…he said “storytelling can save the world” ….  I’m like rock on dude …yeah. I’m totally wantin’ to goof on this guy, want to go and tell all my friends about this crazy volunteer and I am thinking story telling can save the world??

Then I thought about it..the power of knowing somebody else’s story and then it reminded me of the time when I was in 4th grade. We had a class bully, his name was Larry Sergeant. He was three years older than everybody else because he was held back because how stupid he was we all said you know and he would beat up all of us you know.

One day he just came around and started beating up on Binkey Meyer, he was youngest in all of our class; because he was so smart he was promoted. There was Larry 4 years older than Binkey, five feet taller it seems, giant beating up Binkey and now I decided to do something about it. I stepped in between the two and tell Larry, “Larry you should pick on someone your own size.” Now I thought he would go finding the 7th graders because he was as big as a 7th grader, but no. Larry with a pea brain decided to pick on me, I much shorter than him anyway; we started fighting — it was terrible.

We ended up getting separated by the teachers and we both got major detentions. But I felt a little bit like a hero for sticking up for Binkey — but still you know it was just a bad situation. And while we were sitting in there, I saw Larry has started to cry and I couldn’t wait to tell the playground the next day that Larry was such a cry baby and I was going to make sure … but then he started heaving, sobbing it was awkward for my age you know may be eight or nine years old in the 4th grade. I am like what’s the matter? It’s not a big deal, it’s just a detention. He said “No, this is my third detention which means I’m going to get expelled.”

I am like “yeah yeah…I get the school bully kicked out, they ride me around the playground the next day you know. But he started crying even harder, I said “wat’s the big deal” he said, “Now I’m gonna go home and my dad gonna beat me.” At 4th grade I didn’t even understand what he is talking, you get grounded you get in big trouble. “No, my dad will beat me, he’ll keep me out of school until my bruises heal and put me in another school, that’s why I have been held back all these years.”

And at that moment I was so ashamed to have been the one to pick a fight with Larry… to have stepped in the fight and ashamed to send him home for another beating by his father and if I had known his story… maybe you know… honestly now, I don’t know anything would have been different about it, maybe Larry can be just kicked out anyway.

But I know, if I had known his story I would have acted differently that day. I don’t know if knowing someone else’s story can save the world …  but I know that there is great power in that. I think the more that we can learn each other’s stories and have the courage to tell our own stories … the more that we can begin to find some sort of solution.