Three Assassinations: Kennedy, King, Kennedy

by Storyteller Megan Hicks

 

Story Summary:

 Megan was confused when her 9th grade classmates reacted differently to the assassination of President Kennedy than her family did. She didn’t know who was right. And then she learned to listen to what her heart told her was truth for her.

For print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Three-Assassinations-Kennedy-King-Kennedy

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Have you ever wondered how you’re “supposed” to feel about a situation that makes you uncomfortable?
  2.  How can you be friends with someone you disagree with?
  3.  What’s the difference between an argument and a debate?
  4.  What happens when you realize you no longer believe some of the assumptions you grew up with?

Resources:

  • The President Has Been Shot!: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James F. Swanson
  • The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

 

Themes:

  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Megan Hicks.

It was a Friday morning, in late November, in 1963. I was in my second period algebra class. We heard the loud speaker in the ceiling crackling and the vice principal’s voice came through. He said, “Teachers, students.”  We all figured it was gonna be an announcement about the pep rally or the activity bus for the game that night. Instead, he said, “We’ve just received word that the president has been shot. President Kennedy has been shot and he is dead. Extra-curricular activities cancelled, school is dismissed early. Please take your regular assigned buses home.”

Well, I sat there on the bus on the way home that day, I was looking out the window, looking down at my lap, wondering how I was supposed to feel about all this. And all around me, kids were crying, boys and girls, volubly. I, I, wondered…They acted as though it were a family relative who had just been killed. I mean, I knew a terrible thing had happened but I didn’t know President Kennedy personally. It’s not like his death affected me. These kids, the way they were carrying on, you know, it just seemed kind of phony to me, except that 9th graders, especially boys, don’t cry in public. And I thought it was really strange. I realized all these kids came from families that their parents had probably voted for Kennedy for president.

My parents hated Kennedy. They voted for Richard Nixon. I remember, that 1960 campaign. I was 10 years old; my mom and dad took me with them. They knocked on doors, they distributed year signs, bumper stickers, they made phone calls. That election was so close, they held out hope until the very last votes were counted. But, when all was said and done, it wasn’t Richard Nixon. No, it was the rich kid from Harvard, the papist, who talked funny, who went to the White House.

Now, my mom and dad, like Richard Nixon, had both grown up in humble circumstances. We were living in Orange County, California at the time but both my parents had grown up during the Great Depression in Oklahoma, where Jim Crow laws were strictly observed and enforced. That “separate but equal” approach to race relations, to my parents’ way of thinking, had been working just fine all along. And then along comes this East Coast intellectual, this John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Bringing in Federal government to integrate Southern schools, Southern buses, Southern affairs that were none of his business. I sat there on the bus that November day, and I thought, “Well, he went and got himself assassinated.” And I guess that’s a terrible thing. But it all washed over us pretty quickly. Thanksgiving was just around the corner and then Christmas and by the time we rang in the New Year, everybody was accustomed to the idea of President Lyndon Johnson.

Now, my mom and dad hated Johnson too. I mean, he went right on with Kennedy’s Civil Rights Act, plowing through, with, with movements and, and legislation. And my parents were just sure it was the end of life in America as we knew it. I mean, it was an almost a weekly occurrence now. We saw race riots, we saw protest demonstrations, sit-ins; not firsthand because we lived in a good neighborhood. And, you know, I went to an all-white high school but all you had to do is turn on the TV. And my parents said, “See there, there’s proof this country is going to hell in a handbasket. What do those people want? That Martin Luther King and all those black power agitators. I mean, they’re just whipping them into a frenzy. King needs to go back where he belongs. They would go back where they belong and then we could get some peace around here. Somebody needs to shut that man up.”

And in April 1968, somebody did shut him up, permanently. My next-door neighbor was almost beside herself with excitement. She said, “Isn’t this just exactly what I said was gonna happen, huh? Haven’t I said that he has been asking for it for years? He got no better than he deserves, as far as I’m concerned.”

My mom allowed us how it was really terrible that things had come to this pass. She said, “Well, no. He won’t be giving any more speeches but you know, the real tragedy is that now the is a martyr.”

My dad watched the six o’clock news with satisfaction, “Ah, there’s another troublemaker out of the way.  Pay attention, Megan,” he said. “This is what happens when you stand up, you rock the boat, you make yourself a target. Martin Luther King brought this on himself. I hope you understand that.” I didn’t understand anything.

You know, by the time of Dr. King’s murder, 1968, I was a freshman in college. A very sheltered freshman living in a household where all the answers had been determined long before I was even born. I was going to a college where there didn’t seem to be any answers, just more questions. In my home, a disagreement meant somebody left the conversation angry. In my college classes, we were encouraged to disagree, to debate, to argue, to, to consider things from different perspectives that sometimes change our minds. You know, all I wanted was for somebody to tell me what I needed to know to pass the tests. I thought, “I can’t sort this out now. I’ve got papers to write. I’ve got finals coming up. It’s not as if I’m old enough to even vote yet, anyway.  So, what difference does it make? All this controversy, it makes me uncomfortable. It’s distracting. I‘m not gonna think about it.”

And I didn’t until June when Robert Kennedy was shot and killed. I knew what my parents thought of Robert Kennedy, not much. He was just like his big brother, John – only worse. Only more the advocate for this Civil Rights Movement, more the champion of these political agitators who, to my parents’ way of thinking, were running America into the ground. And it looked like, until the bullet brought him down, he was on his way to the White House too. I heard about it driving to my sociology class. It was on the radio news. The announcer said, “Senator Kennedy had just won the California Democratic presidential primary and was on his way out of the convention hall.  He has been shot and killed.” The announcer said, “Today has been declared a national day of mourning. People who want to honor the work and the life of Senator Kennedy are encouraged to drive with their headlamps on as a sign of respect.”

I honestly didn’t know what I thought about Bobby Kennedy at the time but in that moment, in the car alone, with no one there to cue me about how to think, how to respond, how to act, I did know one thing. That was the moment I knew that it is obscene for anyone to think somebody’s standing up and speaking their mind, speaking what’s on their heart, is grounds for homicide. In that moment, I realized it doesn’t matter if I embrace what you have to say or if I totally rejected it. You speaking up should not get you shot.

I sat up a little straighter in the driver’s seat. My hand trembled a little as it left the steering wheel and reached out for the dashboard. It was a tiny, timid, political statement but it was my first and I remember it viscerally. I reached for the knob, I pulled those headlamps, and I drove with my high beams on all day.

Sparta, Georgia

by Storyteller Gene Tagaban

 

Story Summary:

 Gene travelled by van across the country to see the land of his people. Along his journey, he had the experience of meeting a southern white couple on a backcountry dirt road and an old black man in Sparta, Georgia who fought with First Nation men during the Korean War.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Sparta-GA

Discussion Questions:

  1.  How do we break up the biases we have about other people?
  2. Can travel be a way to open or confirm our ideas about other people?
  3.  Where would you like to travel? How would you keep an open mind about the people you meet along the way?

Resources:

  •  On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  • The Smooth Traveler: Avoiding Cross-Cultural Mistakes at Home and Abroad by Susan O’Halloran

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • First Nations/Native Americans
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
  • War

Full Transcript:

Gunalchéesh! My name is Gene Tagaban.

My name is Guy Yaaw.  I’m of the Takdeintaan clan, the Raven, Freshwater Salmon clan from Hoonah, Alaska. I’m the child of a Wooshketann, Eagle, Shark clan Káawu huna in Juneau, Alaska.

I am Cherokee, Tlingit and Filipino. I’m a Cherotlingipino. I’d like to tell the story about an adventure of mine when I was a young man. I bought a van and I was going to drive across the country. And see what that land where I came from, my Indian people, was like.

Many people were exploring Europe and going over there but there’s so much richness here just in our backyard. So I was driving through Louisiana, me and my girlfriend. And so we stopped one night on a side road, dirt road and it was dark out. We were gonna camp there for the night. As we are just gettin’ ready to camp, a truck pulls up. Pulls in front of us. Turned around. And the headlights are shining right into our van. I’m thinking to myself, “Oh! What the heck’s going on here?”

And the only thing that could run through my mind was just these things I hear that’s going on in the south in the back country in Deliverance. We were kind of freaked out and they pulled up right next to us. I rolled down my window. And they said, “How y’all doin’?”

“Oh, we’re doin’ good.”

“Now where are y’all from?”

I told ’em, “I’m originally from Alaska.”

“Who are you people?”

And I said,” Guy Yaaw (then speaks about his people in his native language).

And they looked at me and said, “Now what kind of foreign language is that?”

“Oh, that’s my Tlingit language. I’m a Native American from this country. That language I just spoke to you was from Alaska.

“Alaska! You guys from Alaska?”

I said, “Yes, I am!”

“Now what y’all doin’ way down here. Did you guys get lost?”

I said, “No, we’re just driving around seeing this country.” And we started to strike up a conversation.

And he asked me, “How do y’all say… fire?”

“Fire.”

He said, “Now did you hear that… fire. Now right here you say… fire to say… fire. You know, you’re some interesting folks! Now we don’t get many people like you around here much often. You know what? We’re having a… a gathering here that’s coming up here in a couple of days. You sure are welcome to come if you’d like to come. You can meet my kin, my folks that’s back there in the swamps a little bit. You’ll be more than welcome!”

I said, “Ah, thank you for the invitation but I think we’re gonna move on and keep traveling. I think we’re gonna make our way up… around Georgia. See, I’m part Cherokee and my people come from that area.”

“Well, all I want to tell you is that stay away from Sparta, Georgia there. I’ve been to Sparta. A lot of black folk there, you know. You good people. I don’t want you to get in trouble now. Ah, it’s good to meet you.”

“It sounds good to me too. I’ll tell you what! A couple of days later, we are in Sparta, Georgia and we were hungry. So we went to go get a couple of sandwiches and across the street was a basketball court and playin’ basketball there – a bunch of youngsters playing ball and they’re all black. And we sat there to go watch them play basketball. So we’re sitting there eatin’ our sandwiches and they’re arguing back and forth because they need an extra player.

And so they looked at me. They came up to me and said, “Heh! You right there! You play ball?”

I go, “Who? Me?’

“Yeah, we’re talking to you. You play ball?”

I said, “Do I play ball?” Now, I tell you what! Indians love basketball! So I said, “Yeah, I play ball!”

And so we went out there. They brought me out there. We started playing hoops back and forth. And we were playing basketball all afternoon and then they asked me, “Excuse me. Where are you from?”

I said, “From Alaska.”

And they asked me, “Are you an Indian?”

I said, “Yeah, I am!”

“Can we touch you?”

“You want to touch me?” I said, “Sure.”

So they felt my skin and they felt my hair and they told me… they said, “Hey, wait here, wait here!” And so they ran off but they brought back all their family, their relatives – aunties, uncles, cousins. They wanted to meet us Native American people because they’ve only heard about us in movies, books, magazines, museums. They never met a real live native person before. They said, “We gotta take you…we got Uncle Leroy who’d love to meet you.”

And so we went to Uncle’s Leroy’s house and Uncle Leroy, when we walked in, he was like this skinny black man. I mean he was so black, he was like purple. Long white hair, long white beard and he had square glasses tinted blue. Yes, and he was skinny, about as skinny as a broom pole when he came shuffling up to us, looked at me, “My Indian brothers!” You see, Uncle Leroy was in the Korean War and in the Korean War, Uncle Leroy was this young black man and he was scared and there were bombs and guns goin’ off. And so he was runnin’ around. But at the same time he was runnin’ around, there are a couple of Indians in a foxhole and they’re smokin’ their tobacco, saying their prayer. “Oh, Creator, take care of us. I swear here on this here foreign land, watch over us and we promise we’ll live a good life. Send us a sign that you hear what we’re talkin’ about. You hear our prayers!” And they’re smoking their tobacco! And just as they’re praying, suddenly Uncle Leroy jumps into their foxhole and those two Indians look at this black man and they go, “Ah, the creator! Thank you for sending us this good luck charm of a black man. We promise we’ll take care of this young man here in a good way.” And so they did.

They kept that promise and they took care of Uncle Leroy. And they taught Uncle Leroy about spirit, honor, culture, tradition, prayer, brotherhood. And they took care of Uncle Leroy and Uncle Leroy felt that. He owed those Indian brothers of his. So I went to his house. He told us the stories of brotherhood, took care of us while we were in his home. So the next morning we jumped in the van and we headed off. And as we were driving off, I heard Uncle Leroy, “My Indian brothers!”

My Parents’ Three Migrations

by Storyteller Kiran Singh Sirah

 

Story Summary:

 Kiran shares the stories he heard about his parents’ three migrations from India to Uganda to England.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  My-Parents-Three-Migrations

Discussion Questions:

  1. If a story plays a part in your identity – what is it and why do you use it to state who you are? Is there more than one story we can use to claim or identify who we are?
  2. What is your family migration story?  Does it matter or not?
  3. What are some of the challenging moments in your life? How did you handle them? Could the challenges you faced and the solutions you created be a story that you tell?
  4. Can you describe the story of a world you’d like to see and live in?

Resources:

  •  Idi Amin: Lion of Africa by Manzoor Moghal
  • Immigrants Settling in the City: Ugandan Asians in Leicester by Valerie Maret

Themes:

  •  Asian American/Asians
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Immigration
  • Living and Traveling Abroad

Full Transcript:

So, my name is Kiran Singh Sirah. And this story is about my parents.

How do you eat a mango? You hold a mango in your hands, you caress it, you squeeze it, and you soften the pulp from the mango, and then you suck out the juice from the middle. I know how to eat mango because my parents told me how to eat a mango. They came to Britain in 1972 from Uganda as Ugandan refugees, and I was born in England. But they told me how to eat the mango because that’s what they did in Uganda. Mangoes flourished in their garden. And we eat mangos every day. But there are so many other stories from Uganda and Kenya.

There were stories about how my mother, when she grew up, she was sitting in an elementary classroom, and, she picked… a cobra, walked into, came into the classroom, and she picked up a hockey stick and killed the cobra. And still to this day, that cobra is in a jar and in the school museum with a label on it, “Killed by Pravina Korga Tora.” There were so many other stories from East Africa, from Kenya, and Uganda, where my family grew up. Stories about how they’d make popcorn and go to the drive-in cinema. Or stories of how they would pick food from the garden and make bugga or baquarda, bagia. Or how they make African food and combine that with Indian ingredients like ugali.

There was even a story once that my mother told me that the Bisaya people used to come on trains with vegetables and fruit and sell these vegetables to the houses. And one day, a young boy was knocking at the door to sell vegetables. And my grandma opened the door and invited this young boy in. And he became a friend of the family and as he grew up with my mother.

There was a story about my grandfather that one day, he looked out and he saw so many people walking past thirsty, they had no water. So, he went out with his own hands, he built a well so they could drink fresh clean water. There are many stories such as this and I know them because my parents told them to me and I had never been to Uganda.

But in 1972, in the summertime, Idi Amin, the then dictator of Uganda, announced on public radio, that Ugandan Asians had to leave the country in three months or they be executed. Now, you can imagine the panic. People were scared. But they had no time to fuss around. They had to pack up what they could, put their possessions into bags, and then leave the country, or obtain the visas so they could leave the country. A sociologist once described my people as the thrice migrant community. A community of people that had migrated across three continents in one lifetime. Thousands fled the borders. Some moved back into Kenya or Malawi or Tanzania. Well, my family were kind of lucky because they were born as British citizens. Originally, my grandparents came from India to East Africa to build the railroads from Mombasa to Jinja, the source of the Nile. The British needed the British railroads to keep control of the British Empire. They needed an access from the sea to the source of the Nile, to keep control of the Suez Canal. So, they sent for migrant Indian skilled workers to do this. And when it became an independent country, both Kenya and Uganda, the Ugandan Asians, they stayed and they settled and made Uganda their home.

On route to Britain, though, in the winter of 1972, things weren’t all that rosy. When the plane tried to land at Luton Airport, the airport was stormed by far right fascist groups that tried to stop the immigrants from coming into the country. And this was spurred by Enoch Powell’s “The Rivers of Blood” speech. Enoch Powell was a politician that talked about the blood of migrants is going to ruin our country. Many of the refugees settled in refugee camps. But my father got word, because he was a young architect in Uganda, that sister branch in a town called Eastbourne, sent word that any Ugandan refugees that were going to come to England had a promise of a job. So, my parents moved to Eastbourne.

The front page of the headline of the Eastbourne Herald Newspaper read, Uga, “Eastbourne  Welcomes Ugandan Refugees,” and there was a picture on it of my parents. A young, cool Indian couple. My father wore a bright red turban. My mum even, even bright red sari and they carried a little baby, my older brother.

Eastbourne was where they grew up. It was also where I was born. It was a town that welcomed my family in. There was so many stories about those early years. I remember, my dad told me once, when he was walking down the Eastbourne promenade, a young boy called out, “Look mum, aliens!” My dad loves to tell that story. I once asked my dad what was it like. You left Uganda at gunpoint. You came to England, you had, your plane had to reroute. You started a new life. You had no possessions, no houses, hardly any money. The only money they brought into the country was jew… wedding jewelry, stuffed into my brother’s diaper. They had to start life from scratch. Must’ve been really difficult.

And my dad was like, “No, Son, it was fun. It was an adventure. And you know why? Because we’re doing it together. We had a sense of community. We helped each other out.”

When they came to Britain, alls they had was minimal possessions but what they did have was the power of the stories that are passed on to them and the power of stories that they passed on to me. I’m so grateful for the stories that were passed on to me by my parents. And the strength and this belief that I believe. That to tell a story in this world is more than a human right. It’s actually an act of love that can change the world. And I’m grateful for the stories that have changed my world and made me realize the person I could be.

The Story of My Teacher

by Storyteller Kiran Singh Sirah

 

Story Summary:

 Kiran reveals the experiences of living between two worlds: on one hand, his experiences with racism being one of the few brown boys in his town contrasted with the kindness of strangers as well as the inspiration he received from his storyteller teacher, Mr. George.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  The-Story-of -My-Teacher

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is there a teacher, a parent, a movie star whose life story inspires you? If so, describe why.
  2. Recall a story you heard, a folktale or someone’s personal story that influenced you. Why does it matter to you?
  3. We can all be the stories we want to see in the world. Do you agree with this or not? Explain your reasons and what would your story be?
  4. Why did Kiran talk about both racism and the kindness of strangers in one story? What do you think was his intention by doing so?

 Resources:

Themes:

  •  Asian American/Asians
  • Bullying
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

My name is Kiran Singh Sirah. And this story is for my teacher Mr. George.

I was born in 1976, in a summer heat wave. In a town called Eastbourne. My mother called me Kiran. Kiran which means in Sanskrit, light from the sun. The town I was born in was on the south coast of England, about 80,000 people. I was the first person of color born in that town. On a clear day, you could look out to the sea and you could see France. “Bonjour,” I would say sometimes. And I imagine people back saying, “Hello.” There were so many stories about growing up. It was a good place to grow up. It was a nice town. There was good things that happened. We used to go out for ice cream. We would go down to the seaside. We used to go to and sit on blue and white deck chairs and listen to the bandstand. We would even eat a lot of the fish and the crab sticks. And we used to be a lot of family gatherings.

But then there was the bad side. There was a lot of racism going on at that time. Spurred by Enoch Powell and the far-right fascist groups. The skinhead punk, the green bomber jackets, the Dr. Martin boots. They used this word called “Paki.” It was a horrible word to use. It doesn’t matter what co… where we came from; we could be from Pakistan or India or just brown skinned. They just refer to all of us as Pakis and they’d go out Paki bashing. For us, it’s like the N-word. That’s how we felt. It wasn’t so much about when someone… I’d would leave the house and I’d feel like I have to be on my guard. And it wasn’t the hurt that came to me. It was when I heard someone use that word against my parents, my mother or my father or my brother.

One day when I was about five or six years old, and I remember this vividly, I woke up in the living room on the couch. I’d been knocked out. I didn’t know where I was. My memory just before that, as I was cycling around my BMX bike and a punk had knocked me out. He’d gone Paki bashing. But my mother told me that this old lady, old white lady, had seen what happened. And she picked me up and she took me home. Racism existed in our, in our community. As I said, there was good and there was bad. But sometimes, it was just very difficult to understand why I felt so different. Why was I being treated different? Some of these people called my people the smelly Curry people. The people that worship lots of gods. We’re somehow different and sometimes made to feel really different. I couldn’t concentrate in the school classrooms. I found it really hard to focus. But that was until my head teacher, in the classroom assemblies, started to tell stories.

Mr. George was an older white man. He wore a tweed jacket and always wore a kind face. He told us folk and traditional stories from all over the world. And one day, he told us story about a prince. This worldly prince that gave up all his worldly riches and went out into the world to explore the world and to meet the people of the world. We took two objects with him, a cup and a toothbrush. And one day, he looks out and he sees this man break a twig from a from, a tree and starts chewing it and release these juices that start to clean his teeth. And he realized, I don’t need my toothbrush. And he threw it away. And then, he looked out again and he saw someone bent double, by a river, and used their hands and they cup their hands together and poured out a scoop of water and then drink the water from their hands. So, he threw away his cup, realizing he don’t need that too.

But then one day, he tells us the story about someone that really inspired him throughout his lifetime and that man was called Nelson Mandela. He told us how he remembers him as a chubby man going into prison for his beliefs. But then, over the years, were the images that were coming from South Africa, was this man that had gotten thinner, he’d become wiser, he’d become calmer. And he was promoting messages of peace, of unity. Not just to unite the people of South Africa from all different backgrounds and races and ethnicities, but to unite the world. He was like the conscience of the world.

From Mr. George’s stories, he was connecting me to the wisdom of these folk and traditional tales to know that we can go anywhere in the world. We don’t need the objects. We just need our human bodies. And he’s also connecting us to the idea of social justice and equality and that we actually belong and we’re part of the world around us. I now live in Tennessee, in Jonesborough, Tennessee and I oversee the work of the international storytelling center. My job is to advocate for the power of stories to change people’s lives and to enrich people’s lives. But then I realized last year, now living in the States, I haven’t actually thanked the person that inspired me to tell stories and to think about life in this way. So, I contacted my old elementary school back in Eastbourne. I looked them up. Phoned up the school and I asked about Mr. George, where his whereabouts. They told me that he’s now retired. He’s doing well still. And, uh, but he’s there… in touch with his daughter Claire George.

A few months back, I got an email from Claire George. Never met Claire, his daughter. And Claire had said that she had printed out the articles. She’d Googled me. And she used these articles to speak to Mr…. her…  Mr. George, her father. And all the articles I’d written about Mr. George and talked about what I’m up to. A few weeks back, I received a letter in the post addressed to me at the International storytelling center. And guess who it was from? It was from Mr. George. Mr. Len George. I’d never known his first name. In the letter, he talks about how he remembers me but not just me, he remembers my mother. He remembers the house that I grew up in. He remembers my character, and he remembers, and he’s so proud of me, he said in the letter, of what I’ve achieved and what I’m doing now. And he also studies, still telling stories.

It’s been 30 years since I’ve had any contact with Mr. George. But I know that I owe so much to this teacher, this great teacher, for inspiring me and make me think about the world and how it can also teach. Storytelling is such a powerful teaching tool to enrich other people’s lives. The fact that we don’t need any props or things or objects to experience the world just like that prince in that story. All we really need are the stories. And ultimately, the fact that, we can be the story that we want to see in the world. That was for Mr. George.

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.

The Complexity of Our Street – Burying the Unspoken

by Storyteller Laura Simms

 

Story Summary:

 Issues within the same religious group or ethnicity are complex and rarely discussed. Laura grew up on a street in Brooklyn with many kinds of Jews – Orthodox, Conservative, Sephardic, cultural and so forth. As different as they were, they had one thing in common: no one talked about World War II and the Holocaust. Two young children (one from an Orthodox family and Laura from a Conservative background) find a way to memorialize the unspoken through a make believe graveyard. In doing so, they strike up an unlikely and forbidden friendship.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-Complexity-of-Our-Street-Burying-the-Unspoken

Discussion Questions:

  1. As a child, what games did you play with other children?
  2. When you were growing up did you play with children from other races, gender or culture? What was the best part of getting to know others?
  3. When challenges in life and even deaths go unspoken how does that still affect the children?

Resource:

  • God, Faith & Identity from the Ashes: Reflections of Children and Grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors by Menachem Z. Rosensaft and Elie Wiesel

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
  • War

Full Transcription:

Hi, my name is Laura Simms. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. I was born after World War II. Everyone on my street, in Brooklyn was Jewish. It was after the Holocaust, which was a huge conflagration, a genocide, the murder of millions people.

People in my neighborhood spoke seven languages, they had different customs, they wore different clothing.  There were Conservative Jews, like my family. Those were Jews who went to synagogue once in a while and on the holidays, ate Kosher food. There were Orthodox Jews. They were seriously religious. They wanted nothing to do with Hebrew. They spoke the language from their old country of Yiddish. They wore medieval clothing. I was fascinated by them. There were Reformed Jews. Those were the more political Jews. Everything had to happen in English. And then there were Sephardic Jews from the Middle Eastern countries like Spain and Greece. They, they had different languages and different food. It was very exotic.

The one thing that everyone had in common was that everyone in my neighborhood spoke Yiddish. Oh, and then there was one other thing that everyone had in common. No one spoke about the war that had just happened. But I was a child and as a child, you feel everything.

My father was the neighborhood dentist, and in the back of our house, in the kitchen, that was the place where he was responsible for making important announcements. One afternoon, coming in at lunchtime, my father said, “Lohala, we have new neighbors. Next door, there’s an Orthodox family from Poland. They have a daughter just your age. Her name is Leahala, just like your Hebrew name.” At birth, I was given my name Laura and also a Hebrew name, Leah. I got, as usual, very excited. My father, as usual, tried to dampen my excitement. I think it was something about, “Don’t get too happy. You’ll be disappointed.” But he said, of course, “Don’t get excited. She won’t be your friend. They’re Orthodox. they don’t think we’re real Jews.” Now, I accepted it, the way I accepted everything as a child. Kind of taking it in, thinking about it and somewhat forgetting about it.

Next to my house, right, actually, under my bedroom window, was a small alleyway of dirt. Nothing ever grew there. The sun didn’t shine. It was where I had my secret graveyard. I loved to bury things. I had pieces of dolls’ clothing, my mother’s single sock, an earring. I stole little plastic toys from my father’s dental office. My favorite things to bury, actually, were Chinese food and pieces of pizza that were not kosher. We had strict Jewish dietary laws. My father didn’t allow those foods but when he wasn’t home, my mother would bring it in and say, “Don’t tell your father.” So, I would bury a piece of pizza in a wax paper and then I’d cover it with dirt and put little stones on, like I’d see my parents and grandparents in the graveyard do. I would leap over it or I would throw make believe salt over my shoulders and sing pieces of Hebrew prayers. “Adon olam, asber malak.”

I had a favorite doll of all my dolls. This one was crippled on the left side, one eye hanging out, was completely bald. I dressed her in rags and sometimes even put dirt on her. Her name was Lefty Louie, strangely named for my father. I would put the doll against the wall and then I would tell stories about the history of this lost abandoned, destroyed, unwanted object that I had saved, buried, sanctified, made holy.

One afternoon, suddenly, the window from the next-door house opened. I looked up. And there was a little face. I knew who it was it was. Leahala. She held up her hand. She had a wadded sock. She threw it. I caught it. I buried it. And then, when I was covering it up with dirt, putting little stones around it, she called out in a high-pitched voice, “Kaddosh, Kaddosh, Kaddosh.” Holy, holy, holy. We became best friends. We buried something every day. Our funerals were fabulous. But our entire friendship occurred with me on the ground and her at the window.

And Saturdays, the holy days, the Shabbats, when everybody in the neighborhood promenaded up and down our street in their best clothes, they would talk to each other politely in Yiddish, regardless of what they said about each other in their own languages at the kitchen table. And when my parents would meet Leahala’s parents, Leahala and I would look at each other, turn our backs, pretend we didn’t know each other. Our friendship was a secret. In fact, we had a secret mission; perhaps even a bit of secret to ourselves. When I looked back at it, I realized we were little priestesses; digging; burying; sanctifying; telling stories. We were burying all the dead whose stories were unspoken in our neighborhood. It wasn’t only Jews in the Holocaust. There were Christians, there were gay people, there were political activists and poets, they were gypsies, anyone considered different.

Then, we both turned 12 and our friendship just disappeared. Leahala went to Yeshiva, an all-Hebrew girls school. My mother told me that she was already betrothed to the rabbi’s son. That at her wedding, she would have her hair shaved, she would wear a wig, she would wear long sleeves in August. It’s unbelievable to me. I was obsessed with my hair. My hair hung low, long, curly down my back so I could dance to Elvis Presley and gyrate on my back porch. My skirts were getting shorter. I wasn’t devoted to religion. I gave up burying the dead. I was devoted to rock and roll.

But I grew up. I moved. Israel on the news, often. And I went back to my neighborhood. I had lived in an old farmhouse, the largest house on the street. It was gone. And there were five, three story buildings, with four families in each. My entire neighborhood had become Orthodox. It was like a shtetl, small village in eastern Europe. And the graveyard, I couldn’t find it anymore. It was buried. And I would look into the faces of people walking down the street. They never looked directly at me. After all I was not really a Jew. But I looked for Leahala. I could barely remember what she looked like.

But then one night, when the sun was going down, I was in an airport in London, about to come back home. And there were a group of religious Jews in their black medieval hats with fur and long, black coats of silk. And they were praying, rocking back and forth, facing the sun that was going down. And beside them were two African Muslim young men on prayer rugs. And I stared out the window at the sun. And it dawned on me.

That sometimes, sadly, history creates a gap that maybe, at another time, would not exist but that remains. Getting wider between the Leahala and Leah. But that place, we all pray to, regardless. And that underneath it all, my friendship with Leahala, always exists. And whenever I tell the story about her, there it is. Palpable and real. And I pray all the time that people only bury as we did. And that the constant burial of the dead from wars and racism, that should come to an end.

That Place Within Untarnished

by Storyteller Laura Simms

 

Story Summary:

 Laura befriends and, then, adopts a former child soldier from Sierra Leone. Years later, Ishmael Beah goes on to become a best-selling author. One day, while speaking on a panel together, she and her grown son hear of the genocide in Rwanda. A woman from Rwanda tells of a child who makes a difficult choice when he finds himself in the same room with the man who murdered his parents. Laura’s son, Ishmael, understands and applauds the child’s choice. He is glad the child will not have to define himself as a murderer and can keep in touch with the place within that Ishmael has once again found – the place within that is untouched by war, murderous alternatives and biases of any sort.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  That-Place-Within-Untarnished

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What surprised you the most about the story Laura and Ishmael heard about Rwanda?
  2. Do you think it is fair to have children fighting in wars?
  3. Most people want to know what are causes of war. What do you think are the causes of Peace?

Resources:

  • A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
  •  Making Peace in Times of War by Pema Chodron
  • The Trauma of Everyday Life by Mark Epstein MD
  • A Human Being Died That Night: A South African Story of Forgiveness by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela
  • The Way of Council by Jack Zimmerman

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Family and Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
  • War

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Laura Simms. In 1996, I was a facilitator at a UNICEF conference at the United Nations called Young Voices. There were 57 young people from 23 third world countries. They were there, actually, to create what later became a Children’s Bill of Rights. My very first day, I met two young boys; thin, wearing cotton shorts and T-shirts, who came from Sierra Leone, West Africa. I literally went home because it was mid-November, was snowing, they had never been in cold weather, and gave them my winter coats. The interesting thing is, of course, that years passed and I got these two boys out of the war in Africa. One of them became my son and reminded me often that first year that he would never wear a women’s winter coat again.

It was an amazing 10 days. And a lot of what happened during those 10 days was, these kids listening to each other’s stories. And these boys were so gentle, so sweet that I had met outside of UNICEF that day, who wore my coats, wrapped up, they told horrendous stories of having been child soldiers. Learning to be murderers. Believing that these murderers would take revenge on the death of their parents, who they had both seen killed, including family members and friends. A terrible civil war occurred in Sierra Leone.

So many things about Ishmael. One is that Ishmael wrote an amazing memoir. The publishers thought, well, a few people will like this but actually it became a bestseller A Long Way Gone. Twenty million copies sold. Everybody wanted to read this book. About a child’s experience in war. And Ishmael and I were invited to give a talk together (which in those years we did a lot) at a journalism school and university. And then, we were on a panel and one of the other panelists was a woman from Rwanda. Let me back up a minute, because people were always asking me how could you do this? How could you have a child who has murdered be your child, live in your house? But I’m a storyteller and I’ve been meditating for over 25 years. And I really understood, something I believed, that inside each of us there is a place that is untarnished by violence, untarnished by circumstances. And if we come back to that place, that’s the place at which we can transform. And that, basically, everybody is good. And I knew from Ishmael, at least, that he’d had enough violence to last ten lifetimes. The last thing he wanted to do was to be engaged with any conflict at all. And he was peaceful. He grew up in a traditional storytelling culture.

The woman from Rwanda. After Ishmael and I spoke, she spoke and, of course, she spoke about stories. It was her job in Rwanda, after the terrible genocide, to listen to young people’s stories. And she told a tale, true tale, that was harrowing but haunting. It was a story about a Tutsi boy who was caught in a horrible massacre. And his body along with the bodies of his family and all his neighbors were thrown into a ravine, assumed dead. And that night, he awoke under the bodies. Shocked. And made his way up out this sea…of misery and blood. He was a kid, so, what did he do? He wandered back to his house. He washed himself and he got under the sheets on his parents’ bed and went to sleep. In the middle of the night, a man came in, set his machete down next to the bed. He washed. Also seeking comfort, he climbed into the bed. He hadn’t seen the boy. But they both slept deeply and in the middle of the night seeking comfort, they rolled into each other’s arms and slept in the safety of embrace.

She described how early in the morning, the boy told her, he woke up and he was face to face with the man who had killed his family. And at first he thought, “I should kill him.” But he had enough violence and he had slept in that man’s arms as if that man was his parent. So, he got up out of the bed and wandered out into the bush, where he was eventually found and saved.

Ishmael and I listened to the story. And seated in the lobby of our hotel that night, we talked about. How it had moved us both. And Ishmael said, “That’s the place isn’t it? That, that’s that place. That untarnished place.”

And I said, “Yes, it was really remarkable to hear the story. Most people would probably say that boy should have killed that man.”

And Ishmael said, “No. If he had killed the man. He would have been a murderer as well.”

Those years, every so often, Ishmael and I would talk about that story. And then one morning, he got up, and knocked on my bedroom door. And he said, “It’s still there. It’s still there.”

And I said, “What? What is still there?”

And he said, “I know we heard that story. I know we were talking about this but I thought that place inside of me was gone. That the war had taken it away. So, but I woke up, I felt it. I felt the joy. It’s still there. That place is still there.”

I understood. He would more than survive. Which he did, going on to write the book To Marry As A Child. And for me it changed everything. I understood the goal of my story telling. That place where, regardless of race, of violence, of learned habits, of bias. That place exists in all of us. And sometimes, I weep for the world. But knowing that I can do something about it completely cheers me up.

The untarnished place. That’s true.

Close Encounters

by Storyteller Barbara Schutzgruber

 

Story Summary:

 Small town meets big city.  Boundaries are crossed and cultures collide when a Midwest family encounters the boys from New York City. Will they find common ground or confrontation?

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Close-Encounters

Discussion Questions:

  1. When you meet someone new or go somewhere new, what do you notice first – the similarities or the differences?
  2. Has someone ever made an assumption about you that was incorrect?  How did that make you feel?
  3. Have you ever changed a negative opinion about someone after you had gotten to know him or her better?

Resources:

  • Elementary:
    • Same, Same, but Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw
    • Everyday worlds might look different on the surface but with a closer look, they are actually similar.
  • Elementary & Middle School:
    • Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book) by Julie Falatko
    • Headed to the grocery store … or PROWLING the forest for defenseless birds and fuzzy bunnies – what’s the truth?
    • ‘What Was I Scared Of?’  from Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss
    • This classic story delivers a timeless message about fear and tolerance.
  • High School & Teenagers:
    • In 1964 the New York Times ran the headline “37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police”.  While it was true that some neighbors had heard Kitty Genovese’ cries for help, the portrayal of 37 witnesses standing by and doing nothing was not true and did not represent the facts of that night.
    • “How Headlines Change the Way We Think” 
    • Maria Konikova, The New Yorker, December 17, 2014
    • http://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/headlines-change-way-think

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

I’m Barb Schutzgruber. The summer of 1964, mom and dad packed the five of us kids, ranging in age from 14 down to 6, into the 9-passenger station wagon and we traveled east going from Michigan to New York City. Now there were some folks in the small town where we lived who thought mom and dad were nuts. Stories of gangs, crime plus all the wild reports that spring of how dozens of New Yorkers stood by and did nothing to stop the brutal murder of Kitty Genovese, who was a young woman simply walking home from work one night. Why would you even think of going to New York? New Yorkers are cold and heartless. They’ll take advantage of you or worse.

But for me, I was nine years old and all I knew was that we were going to stay with mom’s Uncle Ed in Brooklyn. We were gonna go to the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the United Nations and we were going to the 1964 New York World’s Fair. For three days, we explored the city because seven of us could not fit into one cab and taking two and, most likely, three was way too expensive, so out of the question!

All of us walked the streets of New York, miles and miles of cement, buildings that blotted out the sun and even the sky sometimes, noises and strange smells. People, saw many people rushing about, no one looking at anyone. And we rode the subway. Once we were huddled in a crowded subway car next to an older man and he took the time and told us all about how those subway tunnels were built. He even complimented us kids on how polite and well-behaved we were. As my sisters and I looked on, he handed my brothers each quarters because he had no sons. And then with a wink and a smile, he handed quarters to us girls too because how could he leave out such lovely young ladies.

The day we went to the World’s Fair, it was after midnight by the time we got back, much to Uncle Ed’s worry and apprehension. At $2 a ticket, mom was going to make sure that we saw every inch and got our money’s worth. So, we did see every inch of the over six-hundred-acre complex. We stayed right up till closing and barely caught the last ferry that would take us from Queens back to Brooklyn.

After a long day of heat, humidity, crowds, overstimulation, we made our way to the deserted upper deck of that ferry. It was so nice to be somewhere quiet and no one else around anywhere. My two older sisters and older brother collapsed, each on their own bench. My little brother fell asleep with his head on mom’s lap. Dad leaned against the rail, smoking a cigarette. I sat with my back against the bulkhead, the vibration of those heavy diesel… em… vi… ah, engines vibrating in my bones. There was the gentle rhythm and sway, comforting as that boat pulled out onto the water. The smell of sea water with just the faintest hint of diesel fuel was on the breeze. I looked out over the dark waters off in the distance, the city lights twinkled. New York City has its own set of stars.

The spell was broken, suddenly, by voices coming from below deck, loud and boisterous. Half dozen or so teenage guys, pushing and shoving, stumbled up the stairwell, spilling out onto the deck. They took one look at us and said, “Tourists.”

Slowly they divided, forming a half circle around dad. Forty, bald, wearing a Cornell University T-shirt and dark blue Bermuda shorts, arm in a brace, Dad was a contrast to those city boys with their slicked back hair, blue jeans, white T-shirts, cigarettes neatly rolled up in the sleeve, with a swagger. One of them stepped forward and as the others laughed, he taunted, “Hey, old man! All those kids yours?”

Dad exhaled slowly, stood up, turned and said with a smile, “Yeah, isn’t it great?”

The voice took a step back. “Well, yeah, I guess it is.”

Dad continued, “We’re from Michigan. New York is a great city. What borough are you fellows from?”

There was a moment of awkward silence and then those boys began to talk. I watched as Dad asked questions and listened intently to whoever was speaking, and the posture of those teenagers changed. They relaxed and soon they were shifting easily from one foot to another, interrupting each other to get a word in, laughing, gesturing as they spoke. Even the one who stood awkwardly at the back of the group was brought in and became part of that conversation.

A movement off to the side caught my attention. A crewman had come up on deck. He stopped dead in his tracks. He looked at mom, the five of us kids, dad leaning against the rail surrounded by a group of young men who were gesturing as they spoke. Without saying a word, he walked away. A few minutes later, he was back, this time, with some of the other crewmen. These men all looked like my uncles who worked construction, thick arms folded across broad chests. They stood like a wall with feet planted.

One of the teenagers noticed the men in the shadows watching them. He nudged the guy next to him. They both turned. They now stood taller, straighter. They planted their feet, eyes narrowed, fists clenched. Mom looked from the crewman to the teenagers and shifted where she sat. Dad looked, up over the heads, gave a nod to the crewman but did not move.

He stayed, leaning relaxed against that rail and continued his conversation with those teenagers. They talked the entire trip. Finally, the horn blew, which called the crewmen back to their stations because we were coming into the dock. Mom got us going with, uh,  “Get your stuff together! Come on, let’s go.”

Dad said, with a smile, “It was nice meeting all of you. You fellas take care.”

“Yeah, you too,” was the reply. And those teenagers headed down the stairwell and we made our way off the boat and back to Uncle Ed’s house. That summer of 1964, my family traveled east and we met really nice people. They’re called New Yorkers.

Escape to Freedom – Germany 1941

by Storyteller Judy Sima

 

Story Summary:

 Judy Sima tells the story of her mother, Elsa Mosbach. She relates the events leading to Elsa’s escape from Germany during WWII, her encounter with the Gestapo following Kristallnacht or the Night of the Broken Glass, and how she used her father’s WWI medals to gain her father’s release from Buchenwald Concentration Camp.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Escape-to-Freedom–Germany-1941

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What can you do to stop religious prejudice?
  2.  What would you do if a family member was imprisoned because of his or her religion?
  3.  What lessons have you gained from studying about the Holocaust?
  4.  Should America accept refugees who are persecuted for their religious beliefs? Does it make a difference what that religion is?

Resources:

 Themes:

  •  Immigration
  • Jewish Americans/Jewish
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • War

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Judy Sima. My mother’s name was Elsa Mosbach. She was born January 5th, 1912. This is her story and I’d like to share it with you as she may have told it.

I stood on the deck of the old German steamship looking back. As we pulled away from the busy Lisbon, Portugal Harbor, tears were streaming down my cheeks and there was a lump the size of an apple in my throat. And I felt as if my heart would break even though my husband’s warm, protective arms were wrapped around me. There was no one to wave goodbye to us. We left our families behind in Nazi Germany and I didn’t know if I’d ever see my mother or my father or my younger brother again.

It was summer of 1941. I was 29 years old and I had never been more than a couple of days journey from my hometown and here I was on a ship bound for America. And I didn’t even know a word of English. My husband, Paul, and I left our home in Cologne at the beginning of the summer. We couldn’t take much with us. Nothing of value. So, I packed our suitcases full of clothing and knickknacks and photo albums. We said goodbye to our parents. I was a seamstress and I made myself all new dresses and even hats to match. We said goodbye to our parents. And we boarded the train bound for Portugal. It was a long trip and it took many days. It was a very difficult trip.

The ship we were on was called the Nyassa. It was built in 1906 and carried over 2,000 passengers, most of them are immigrants like us. We traveled for a long time and I was seasick for most of that 10-day journey. But I didn’t care. I was just glad to be out of Germany. You see, we were Jews. German Jews. Jews had been in Germany since the middle ages. My parents, my grandparents, my great grandparents, were born in Germany. My father earned medals fighting on the side of Germany during the Great War of 1912, 1914 to 1918. He was proud of those medals. My husband and I couldn’t wait to raise our children in Germany. We thought of ourselves as Germans first and Jews second.

But when Adolf Hitler came to power in 19, 1933 he put an end to all of that. Laws were passed that took away our ability to earn a living, our right to own property, our citizenship, and our dignity. Jewish children couldn’t go to school with Christian children. And Christian doctors could not treat Jewish patients. We couldn’t even go to public places like the movies or the theatre or a beach or a park. We, things, every day, friends and neighbors disappeared and we never saw them again. And the words “Sarah” and “Israel” were stamped on our passports identifying us as Jews. We knew we had to leave but it wasn’t easy.

We had to put our names in a lottery and when our number came up, we would be allowed to apply for exit visa. And once we had that exit visa, we would have to find a country that was willing to take us in. We wanted to go to America, so, we had to find someone who could sign an affidavit proving that they had enough money in the bank to support us, if we couldn’t earn a living, if we couldn’t take care of ourselves. It took us five years and during that time came the most terrifying nights of our lives.

November 9th and 10th, 1938, Kristallnacht. Crystal Night in English sounds pretty but it means in German, the night of the broken glass. German thugs and hoodlums went on a rampage and they destroyed over seventy-five hundred Jewish businesses, schools, cemeteries, and hospitals. Hundreds of synagogues were burned down to the ground as the police and fire stood… firefighters stood by to make sure that only the Jewish buildings were destroyed. A hundred Jews were murdered and thirty thousand more were rounded up and sent to forced labor camps and concentration camps. My husband and I, we huddled in our small apartment, listening to the screams and the gunshots and the breaking glass and the police sirens.

And then, in the middle of the night, the phone rang. It was my mother. She was hysterical. The Nazis had made her and my father and the Jews of our village watch their synagogue burn down to the ground. And then, they took my papa away. I said, “But they’re making is mistake. Papa was a war hero,” and I promised my mother that I would come as soon as I could to my hometown and find papa and bring him home.

Early the next morning, after Kristallnacht, after Crystal Night, I boarded the train and headed for my hometown of Beuthen, Germany, which was near the Polish border. And all the time I thought about my papa. He was big and strong. He was my hero and a German hero too. Kaiser Wilhelm himself had given him the medals. And as a little girl, I used to wear them around our apartment. When I got off the train, at first, I didn’t notice anything unusual, but as I walked toward my neighborhood, I began to see the devastation. There was the kosher butcher; there was nothing but a gaping hole. The same with Mr. Rubenstein’s dress shop and the bakery where I used to get cookies from Mrs. Goldberg. And now the cookies were all trampled underground. And then I came to a huge pile of smoldering rubble. Our beautiful synagogue with the twin columns and the beautiful ornate arch and the Spanish mosaics was gone. Simply gone.

When I reached my street, I could see my papa’s shoe store. The glass was broken. Counters were overturned, shoes were strewn everywhere, and on the walls, in bright yellow paint were the words “Jude, Jude, Jude,” Jew, Jew, Jew. I climbed the stairs to our apartment above the, above the shoe store and let myself in. My beautiful Mutti, my mother, was huddled in the corner, a glazed look in her eyes. I put my arms around her and said, “Mutti, I will find papa and I will bring him home. I will bring him home.”

And then I went to their bedroom and pulled out the top drawer of my father’s dresser. And there were the two boxes just where I knew they would be. Inside was the Hindenberg Cross and the Iron Cross. I put the, I put the medals in my pocket. And then I straightened my shoulders, and put on a fresh coat of lipstick, adjusted my hat, and I walked down the stairs, and marched the three blocks to the Gestapo office. I pulled open the heavy wooden door. There at the end of the hall, stood a soldier at attention and as I came closer, he clicked his heels and raised his hand and said, “Heil, Hitler.”

I said, “There’s been a mistake. They took my papa last night. Please, I must see the Commandant.” The soldier looked at me up and down, but I didn’t waver. I just stared him straight in the eye until he finally opened the door behind me and let me into the Commandant’s office.

The Commandant was writing on some papers; he didn’t even look up. I said, “There’s been a mistake. Last night they took my papa, George Lachmann. He’s a good German soldier. He won these medals. Kaiser Wilhelm gave him these medals himself.”

The Commandant didn’t even look up he just said, “Rouse, rouse,” out, out.

I said, “But I’ve got money. I’ve got money.” I took money out of my pockets and I threw them at him.

Finally, he looked up and he said, “He’s been sent to Buchenwald but I’ll see what I can do. Come back in a week.”

I left the Gestapo office but was afraid to go home. I came back day after day and waited. And I don’t know how many days I waited. And finally, just when I was about to give up hope, the door to the Gestapo office opened and out came my papa. He was stooped over, he’d lost weight, he was haggard, he hadn’t shaved in days, his clothes were torn, he had a bruise on his face. But he was safe. At least, for now.

Soon we’ll be docked in New York City. So, I got up early and took my shower and came back and put on one of the new dresses I have made. The lavender, rayon dress with white box pleats that flared out at the bottom. My husband whistled. I looked fabulous. I was going to be very fashionable in my new country. We went down to breakfast but I couldn’t eat. I had just butterflies in my stomach because I was so nervous. We went down to the third-class passenger deck and people were milling around. And the sun was blazing down on the blue-black sea. And off of the distance, off in the horizon, we could see the tops of tall buildings. And then suddenly, someone pointed and shouted. And there, coming out of the sea, was a tiny gold flame. And as we got closer, we could see that flame was held aloft in a silvery green torch held by a magnificent woman with a crown of seven spikes, a green rock gown that flowed to the pedestal below. The Statue of Liberty. Everyone cheered. The fog horns blew and the seagulls welcomed us with their piercing calls. I looked at my husband, the tears in his eyes matched the ones that were streaming down my cheeks. We didn’t know then that we would never see our parents again. But we were free. We had escaped. We were truly free. And we were ready to begin a new life in America.

California’s Arts-In-Corrections: Hope in the Midst of Madness

by Storyteller Michael D. McCarty

 

Story Summary:

Michael joins a program to teach storytelling in a California prison. He learns much about the men there as well as the power of storytelling.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Californias-Arts-In-Corrections-Hope-in-the-Midst-of-Madness

Discussion Questions:

  1.  How can the arts improve the situation for inmates in prison?
  2. Why is it important for men who are imprisoned to know that their stories are important?
  3. What role might storytelling play in parole hearings?

Resource:

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

My name is Michael McCarty. Since September, I’ve been working in prisons in California’s Central Valley teaching storytelling to inmates. And it’s been an amazing education for me because all I knew about prisons was the Shawshank Redemption. Well, one of the things I found out in prisons is that the prisons in Level 4 are divided by race. And then, within race, by gang. So, one of the guys in my class, I called him, Big D, was a young guy, in a juvenile facility got transferred to a major prison, had a black cellmate. One day, he’s out in a yard, a group of skinheads, come up to him and say, “You got to get a white cellmate.”

He said, “Well, I don’t mind.”

They said “Well, we do. If you don’t have a white cellmate by tomorrow, we’re going to kill you.” And that’s the way that was. And he got himself a white cellmate.

Now, things are divided up. At the same time with this program, with this arson corrections program, things happen. So, I’ve got these guys in my class; four black guys, one Latino. And Latino guy sits a couple of chairs away from the black guys. They all acknowledge each other, but it’s clear that some separation. One day, when he’s telling his story, he tells the story, how his best friend growing up was black. Then things happen. He ended up in prison, this Latino gentleman. One day, he finds out there’s about to be a throwdown between the blacks and Latinos. And on that same day, his friend, his black friend, is in the prison. And he said, “I stopped believing in God, a long time ago. But I asked, ‘God, please don’t let my friend be here when this throwdown goes down.’” And the next day his friend was transferred. So, he told that story and the black guys in that class had a very positive reaction to him.

So, got another guy in my class doing 20 something to life. Been in prison for over 20 years, since he was a juvenile. Very frustrated. Feels he’s being judged still by what he had done over 20 years ago. And he says, “I’ve changed.” And he has issues with the corrections officers in general, but with the white corrections officers in particular. When it’s his turn to tell the story in my class, he rants. He’s angry. One day, we’re sitting around doing our talk story thing, and he remembers this corrections officer, white correction officer, that, he’d met when he first came into the prison system as a juvenile. And this guy would talk to him and say you need to stop this gang bang and then get away from all this. And in time he did it. Well, over his time in prison, he kept encountering this corrections officer and every time he encountered him, he’d pull him in on projects, positive things. And this guy, who I call WP, found out that when he would see his name, he would say, “I know this guy. He’s a good guy.” Well, that became a theme. One time he comes into a prison, finds out that this corrections officers, that he calls the men, and he pulls them into a program, that’s like Scared Straight without the scared. And. Again, he’s doing positive things. Once, he found this story, when it came his turn to tell a story he wasn’t rant’n.

And this was done. This video was done and put on the website of one of the organizations that I’m working with. This lieutenant in the prison had to view, to approve the video before it went on. Well, he was watching it and I watched him. I was there when he was going over it. And I watched him watching this video. He was looking out for gang signs or anything like that. And so initially, he was very stern as he watched, very serious. When this guy starts telling his story, all of a sudden it was, “Oh,” a leaning forward, story trance happening. And him saying, “Wow!” He connected with that story. That’s one of the things that happens with storytelling in general. But with the storytelling and the prisons, this has been an amazing thing.

But check this out. The young man, who was in the prison from the juvenile facility and told by the skinheads that he have, he had to have a white cellmate, well, he was in my class, a couple of times in the last few months. Now, he’s in a level two facility where all of that stuff is nonexistent. He’s in a gospel choir with a bunch of black guys. He’s in my class and he is telling stories and helping others to find their stories. This has been an amazing project. It’s been amazing education for me.

We’ll leave you with one last little story. Got a guy who’s also doing life for committing a murder. He did a breakdown, an analysis of his crime, and he developed a workshop. He broke down all the things in his life. Things that he had no control over, things that he brought into his own life. And he put together a workshop and he calls, These Sticks. And he has people either bring up a stick or he gets a stick depending on if it was something that came into his life beyond his control, or something that he had control over. And he puts the sticks in a spot, a pile. And he says how these sticks were the things that accumulated, that would become the fire, that was the murder he committed. And then he did a further analysis. What could have stopped this? What could have prevented this? And to his mind it was forgiveness. Forgiveness would have been a water that would have put out the fire or kept the fire from happening in the first place. And he does this workshop with perpetrators of crimes, and victims or the families of victims, to help them get further insight into understanding what happened to their loved ones. Story is so powerful! It’s so amazing that these things happen in a prison.

And I lied. I’m going to end with one more story. This guy sings and he sings beautifully. Sings gospel. These officers and inmates, he did a concert for. There were four officers who didn’t make it. The next day they came and they said, “Will you sing for us?” And he sang a couple of songs. And like I said, I heard this guy sing. He is amazing. The officers left. One came back later and said, “I got to thank you for what you did for me.”

He said, “I just sang some songs.”

“No, no. You don’t understand. I was going to commit suicide until I heard your songs.”

And I told him, “Think about this. You’re in prison and you saved a life. The life of an officer.” And that is the power of story. And that’s the end of that.

Small Town Silence

by Storyteller Scott Whitehair

 

Story Summary:

A wannabe comedian in the suburbs of Pittsburgh finally meets a professional comic who is willing to take him under his wing. However, stunned silence over the discovery of a small town’s nasty racial secret destroys a brand new friendship before it can even begin.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Small-Town-Silence

Discussion Questions:

  1.  When was a time when you remained silent when you should have spoken up about discrimination? What caused you to stay silent?
  2. How could this situation have turned out differently?  What effect could calling out the racism around us have on the people practicing it or on the people experiencing it?
  3. Have you ever observed the silence of others while you yourself were being treated poorly? How would you have wanted others to react or behave?

Resources:

  •  Silent Racism: How Well-Meaning White People Perpetuate the Racial Divide by Barbara Trepagnier
  • Film – Dear White People (2014), Directed By Justin Simien

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Scott Whitehair. Oddly enough, it all started in a place called the Freedom Inn. The Freedom Inn was a bar in my hometown, where my college improv troupe got to do a monthly show.  nd we were excited because we were ambitious and we thought we were hilarious. Um, so this was a great opportunity for us, not only because we got to go on stage, but we get to open for traveling comedians, who would come from around the country and do a show every month. Ah, now, the shows were OK. We, ah, we got paid in onion rings and bar food. And although the audience was surly, we got some laughs. And we felt that we were right on the right path. Now the… one the most exciting parts was we would approach these road comedians after they were done and we would ask them questions. Ah, we felt like we had access to the pros. We would say, you know, “Can we get you a sandwich? Can we get you something a drink?”

And then we felt that was the permission we needed then to pepper them with questions like, “What is this life like? How did you get into it? How did you get an agent? How do we all become rich and famous through this improv that we’re doing in bars?” And the comedians would mostly accept our drinks and food and they would speak to us.

But they weren’t into it and most of them, the advice they give us, would be things like, “Oh, do you want a happy healthy life? Don’t, don’t get into this.” Ah, they were pretty bitter. They were jaded. Um, they ate up the food, drink a lot of the drinks we get them and, basically, discourage us from following it any further.

But one month, there was a comedian named James. He was a younger African-American man who, immediately, when he got on stage just brought a different energy than had been in this bar in the times we’d been there before. And he, he just lit it up. He was getting laughs from a crowd that was often pretty surly. He shut down a heckler just with a disapproving glance and kind of, a, a kind nod of his head. nd he didn’t play down to this crowd like a lot of these comedians, he, he elevated them. And we were excited. So as soon as the show was over, we walked over and we said, “James, if it’s OK, we’d, we’d like to buy you a drink and some food.” And James took a look at us and said, “No…I know you guys get paid an onion rings. I’m, I’m buying the food.”

And he talked with us and he talked to us for an hour. And he answered our questions and for the first time, we felt like somebody was supporting us. Somebody who had made it as a comedian. Who was doing this with their, their lives was taking the time to encourage us. Letting us know the ins and outs, the practical stuff.  How he had gotten into it. Why he had gotten into it. Where he thought it would go. And we, we were so excited. And as my improv team started to filter out to go home, I hung out longer. And James and I got to know each other even better. And we were at the bar, regulars were still hanging out, and we started to, to throw back and forth and set each other up. You know, he would throw some up and I’d bad slam it home. It was like a two man, two man show at the bar. And it was probably better than most of the shows I had ever been in that people have asked me to do. And it was exciting and I, I felt like I was being taken seriously.

And so at the end of the night James and I were still sitting there having a great time. So as the bar began to, to close, he said, “This is a great time; what else is going on in town. Is there anything else for us to do? I’m still, still ready to make a night of it.”

I thought about it and I said, “Oh, yes, actually. Down the hill near the river, there’s, there’s a club. And it’s a private club so they are allowed to stay open past the 2 a.m. closing time in the Pittsburgh area. And they sell you a membership for the night. But that just means it’s kind of a, a cover charge and you get to hang out.  And James said “That sounds good. Let’s do that. I’m into it.”

And Bill, the bartender, had been standing there. Just quietly washing a glass said, “Scott, They’re not open tonight.”

I was like, “What, what are you talking about Bill? They’re open on Christmas Day. This place, I don’t think, they ever close. Of course they’re open.”

Bill said, “I’m telling you guys they’re closed.”

And I said, “Bill it’s Saturday night. There’s no way that place is closed.

He said, “Trust me, they’re closed.”

So James kind of shrugged and said, “I’m going to the bathroom; maybe we can figured something else out to do. I’m still, I, I get that energy from a show and I’m ready to do it.”

So he hits the restroom.  I kind of look at Bill.  And Bill says, “Scott, they don’t let black people in that club.”

And I started to protest and say, “Well, of course…” But then it kind of washed over me. I had never seen a person of color there. Even though it was located in a predominantly black neighborhood, I’d never seen a person of color in this club. And maybe it didn’t register because I had had a few drinks or it just didn’t hit me, but it hit me right in that moment.

Before I could say anything back to Bill, James came back and he said, “It’s a shame about that place, man.  Sounded like fun.” And I, I just didn’t say anything.

The bar closed and we decided to go down the hill. The other part of town to a diner that was open all night is get some food instead and James was into it. So we go and we continue the conversation. If I got to know him before as a comedian and a pro, I got to know him more as a person. He got to know me. We had conversations about what our childhoods were like, why comedy was so important to us, the way we had been raised, and that proceeded through life. Talked about deeper ambitions and goals and where we wanted this to go, not just as a career but what it would mean to our lives. And I, I again, I felt just so taken seriously and so engaged as a person. I felt like I was making a friend. So we’re sitting there we’re finishing our waffles and somebody comes in who had been at the show earlier. And they sit down in a booth next to us and they noticed us. And they say, “Hey, it’s the comedians. Hey, how come you guys didn’t go to the late night club?”

And James says, “Well, oh, they’re close tonight.”

A guy goes, “That place never closes. It’s Saturday night.” And then I think James understood that something was off. That he hadn’t been told the full truth.

And so we sat there and we finished our food. We finished our coffees and we didn’t say much else. Turned back into small talk. When the bill came, James grabbed it and paid. And we went outside to the parking lot.  Still I said nothing. And so we stood there…in silence. And instead of the hugs we’d shared all night, and the familiar language, James just stuck out his hand and said, “Good luck with everything.” And as I watched him drive out of the parking lot of the diner, and up the road and out of my life forever, I was ashamed. I was ashamed of my town. I was ashamed of the people in it that would let something like this exist. But, most of all, I was ashamed of my silence.

Hasan’s Story: Escaping the Bosnian-Serbian War 1994

by Storyteller Sue O’Halloran

 

Story Summary:

 When former Yugoslavia broke up in the early 1990s, war broke out across the region. Hasan, a Muslim, was a college student in 1992 when the siege against his city, Sarajevo, began. He joined the Army of Bosnia but would do anything to escape and live in peace and freedom. A few of his many adventures are detailed in this excerpt as well as his victory in studying Islam and rediscovering his identity when he came to the United States.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Hasans-Story-Escaping-the-Bosnian-Serbian-War-1994

Discussion Questions:

  1. What led to the break up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s?
  2. What would you do to escape a war? Could you leave your friends and family?
  3. What kept Hasan’s and his friend’s hopes alive?
  4. How has hardship helped you define who you are?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Family and Childhood
  • European Americans/Whites
  • Immigration
  • Interfaith
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Muslim Americans/Muslims
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Sue O’Halloran. I’m going to tell you a story that’s an excerpt of a longer story. A story about the war that broke out in former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. This is a story of my neighbor, Hasan. Now I’m going to say it as if Hassan were speaking to you in the first person. I do not do a Bosnian accent, believe me, but I want to get a little flavor of Hassan’s speech and most of all the spirit of my dear neighbor. So here’s a little bit of Hasan’s story.

I remember first day of siege. I was in college back then, 21 year old. It is March 4, 1992 and I wake up and I hear my father’s voice out in the living room. “What is going on?” I have to tell you, my father is the type, never late for work, never miss a day of work. He never call in to say he’s sick. I walk out to living room, sleepy and this is how my father greet me. “The whole city is blacked out. People are running around with machine gun. You can’t go anywhere.”

I sit down. I watch TV. We watch TV together. We watch our neighbors absolutely flipping out. Jus-just the night before, my friend, Christian, he was at our house. We are school friends, right. We are hanging out. And next morning he is in Serbian army whose job is to annihilate us Muslims. We listen to TV anchorperson say now our country, Bosnia, it is part of Greater Serbia and Greater Serbia must be cleansed of Muslims and Croats enemies. What, yesterday we are citizens, coworkers, neighbors, and today we are enemies? What has happened? What has changed? We still look the same. We have same skin, it is white. We have two eyes, we have mouth, we have legs, we have arms. What is different? What has changed?

Well, the shelling, it continued all day long. By us is a hospital for babies and one moment it is a hospital of dead babies. Who could do that? The children, of course, they don’t understand; to them, ah, it is day of school off, right? By us, across the street from our apartment, is a hill. The children are sledding on the hill and we hear screams. And we run to the window and there on our street is…is seven dead children in our street. The shelling, the sniper bullets could come out of nowhere. You’re standing line. Now there are lines for everything! Line to buy water, line to get some food, line to get some wood.  And all of sudden shelling or, or, or bullets come out of nowhere and suddenly the 20 people in front of you are dead. You are next in line but you, you are standing there spared, somehow. You understand, we cannot make sense of this.

It took us a while to understand what was going on. We thought it couldn’t happen to us. Finally, I join army of Bosnia. For three long winters, army of Bosnia, we, we hold our city, Sarajevo. Is mystery to me, how we hold that city. We are exhausted. We are, we are no food. We are, we are, we are hungry. We are, we are just tired.

In other unit, a story circulate. We hear a story of an unbelievable suicide. This other unit, they’re holding strategic mountain by Sarajevo. They, like us, no food, no water for days. They’re trudging up snowy mountain, getting up high in mountain. They’re covering, they’re carrying the little packs of things they have left. When a pack horse walks to the edge of the cliff and jumps. The soldiers stood there stunned. And finally, one of them say, “Even the horses can’t take it anymore.”

This is how I feel. This is what I try to tell my parents one Sunday night. I am 24 years old and I tell them my grand scheme. I am leaving. They have one comment for me. “You are out of your mind! How will you get out of here?” they say. “The whole region is at war and our own people could shoot you for deserting the army!”  “I don’t care,” I say. “I do not care. I have got to get rid of these pictures that are in my mind. These pictures that are driving me crazy. I have to leave!”

Long story, my friend, Dino, who is also in army, he leaves with me. We sneak out of tunnel. We get out of city, which is blocked. No way in, no way out. We find way out through tunnel and when we emerge from that tunnel, there before us like big, dark, black wall in the night is Mount Trebević, where just six years before Olympic athletes are skiing, the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics. Oh, so much joy on Mount Trebević! So much, much pride we have! The whole world is watching us host the Olympics and now Mount Trebević is surrounded by death.

Later, long in story, I tell you many more adventures. Almost caught, almost turned in, lying, hiding, cheating, whatever we can do to escape. And finally, we are crossing border.  Finally, months later, out of Bosnia into Croatia. We are trying to get to town of Split on the sea side. Maybe we can get out of area from there. We are going there at nightfall. And as we approached the city at nightfall, we see…lights…lights. We are without lights for over three years. We are without electricity. So, so, so long.  How I tell you? Speechless. Is like night stars fallen to the ground. Light exist. Light exist. I keep saying to myself, light exist. You see, it is like we are living in a cage in Sarajevo and you cannot believe. All existence has stopped outside that cage. You cannot think to yourself that out there somebody is going to eat normally in a restaurant or slept in beds or are going to the office or having a picnic in the park. But if light exists, see to me, that means if light exists that means life exists.

But the magic it start to fade, a bit. We get into Split and there are written on the buildings as graffiti, “Kill Muslims. Death to Muslims.” We are not at war anymore with Croatia but it’s still not a very safe place for us to be. But good luck. We find out that Dino, my friend, his cousin lived in Split.

We are able, long story again, to find our way to his apartment. We get there. It is covered with people. Wall to wall refugees, men, women, children. I do not care. I find a little piece of floor; I fall on it. I am going to sleep for days if I can. When this woman come next to me asked me where we been. I do not want to tell her whole story, months of escape, right? So I mumble a few words and then she asked me where we think we’re going. I don’t know where we’re going. Every step of the way, I didn’t know what comes next. I didn’t know where we were going but I say to her, “We go to United States.” Just to get rid of her, you know, so I could go to sleep. She said, “Oh, well that’s what I manage.” And I’m half asleep, now I’m thinking, what this woman manager store or something why is she telling me this? Why won’t she leave me alone? I want to sleep. And then she say, “I manage the office that sends Bosnian refugees to the United States.”

I am awake now. This is first person I meet in Split? The person who can get me legally to the United States?  And that’s how it worked. A Jewish organization sponsor me and Dino to come to America. You know, Jews and Muslims, we have had long history together. Like in 1400’s both of us pushed out of Spain. Well, during this war when the Serbian army set fire to libraries and other buildings, it is Muslims who run into the synagogue to save the sacred and priceless Jewish text. And now it is a Jewish organization sending me and Dino to America.

When I look back on it all now, over three years fighting a war, over three months escaping, I can’t say that good did not come out of it. I am here. My family is safe. We are in America and we are safe. And strangely enough, it is the haters who made me realize who I am. In Bosnia, I, I don’t know much about my village. I’m not that interested. But as the war and coming to the U.S. I start to get curious about my background. Why people hate me? Who are we anyway? And in U.S. I study Islam. And I find a mosque where I can study with other people, which is a good thing because Islam, I tell you, it is a religion of much discipline. It helps to help other people teaching, you practice with. And our mosque, our mosque join with Christian church and Jewish synagogue and we meet every week, six years now, to understand each other. We are becoming friends. And I can tell you it is better to live your life in community.

I…I am one of the lucky ones.

A Journey Story

by Storyteller Patricia Coffie

 

Story Summary:

 Storyteller, Patricia Coffie, learns that traveling to understanding is part of traveling from one physical place to another.  Understanding involves listening first.  Listen to what is said, to tone of voice, to body language and to the silences. Some colleagues of Pat’s give her feedback on a joke she told and help her realize that change, based on understanding, takes action.  Change for the better is always possible.

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

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Have you had the opportunity to examine your assumptions about race?  Have you taken the opportunity?
  2.  When you listen, do you listen for reaffirmation of what you already think you know or do you listen to learn something new?
  3.  Can learning take place all your life long?
  4.  Can you hear one thing while others hear something different?

Resources:

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Patricia Coffie. And in 2013 I took a journey that allowed me to travel much further than from one physical place to another.

It was Atlanta. I was going to Miami. I boarded my flight, I walked down, I sat down and while I’m putting my seat belt on, I said to my seatmate, “Looks like we’re going the same way for a while.” I like to be friendly but not overbearing.

And she said, “Well, yes, but I don’t know how many more times I’ll be doing this.”

I said, “Oh.”

She went on, “You know my husband and I bought this vacation home several years ago and we really enjoyed it. But, I just think I’m going to sell it. He’s been gone for a year now.” And I’m thinking, lonely. And then she continued, she said, “Yes…” She said, “So many of them are coming now.”

I said, “Are they?” And I begin to scroll through what groups might congregate in large numbers where people had vacation homes and be frightening to this woman.

And then she said, “And they bring their guns.” Now I’m revising my scrolling but not much because guns are a lot of places. But I’m going through things and then she said, “And they shoot small dogs.” I flash immediately to one of my grandfathers. He thought the only reason people had a dog was to bother him. The little, bitty, yappy ones belong to rich white people and the big attack dogs belong to the coloreds. And we were neither of them. None of those groups were just like us. And we were nervous about people who weren’t just like us. So this went through my mind.

And then I waited a couple of beats and I said to her, “Who are they?”

And she said, “The Canadians.” And I had to cover my mouth because I was startled and started laughing because she had just de-railed every group I had scrolled past. We didn’t talk anymore; we just traveled quietly to Miami. When I reached home, I told my friends and I told my family this little journey story and they found it was hilarious as I had.

And then I went to lunch with storytellers. It was a multicultural, multiracial group. And I told my little story; there was dead silence. Nobody laughed. And then the Cuban American story tellers said, “Thank you for that WASP point of view.” Now no one had ever called me a WASP before; certainly I am a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, but no one had called me that name before. I wasn’t really happy with their silence or with that reply but it gave me a lot to think about. And eventually I emailed that Cuban American storyteller and told her she had given me quite a bit to think about. She emailed back. She said she thought it was a wonderful thing that we could come together and share our stories and talk about what they meant to us.

I saw some more possibilities for that little journey story. And now I can bring a group together in a workshop or just a conversation. And I can tell that story but I don’t describe my seatmate. I don’t tell you where we’re coming from or where we’re going and I don’t answer the question, “Who are they?” Instead I ask you to jot your own answers down and then we talk about all the different answers. Some are race based, some are other groups. There’s quite a variety in who “they” might be but ultimately we come to understand that we are all “them” to somebody. It has given me a lot to think about and the opportunity to change attitude and action. As I think about the stories that I tell them what they might mean to others. I hope it gives you something to think about too.

The West Indies: Brer Rabbit Avoids Danger For A Black Family Traveling In America

by Storyteller Donna Washington

 

Story Summary:

 Donna’s father is quite a trickster, and one afternoon in the 1980’s, while her large family was traveling through the south, they ran into a potentially dangerous situation. Donna’s trickster father literally saved our lives.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  The-West-Indies-Brer-Rabbit-Avoids-Danger-For-A-Black-Family-Traveling-In-America

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever traveled to a new place and felt uncomfortable?
  2. Have you ever met a person who made you uncomfortable? What did they do?
  3. Have you ever seen another person being bullied because they are a different color or culture?
  4. Have you ever seen somebody use humor to get beyond an uncomfortable situation? Why do you think humor helps us through difficult situations?

 Resources:

 Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

My name is Donna Washington. This story is called the West Indies. It is a compilation of a piece of folklore and a personal narrative about traveling through America. It starts with a Brer Rabbit tale.

Now there came a day, when Brer Rabbit was tied up so tight you could only see his eyeballs movin’ and Brer Fox was makin’ rabbit stew. But Brer Rabbit was just laughin’ and Brer Bear said, “Why’s you laughin’?”

And Brer Rabbit said, “Wha…I can’t help it. I’m thinkin’ about my Laughin’ Place. And when I think about my Laughin’ Place, ha, ha, I gotta laugh.”

And Brer Bear said, “I want to see the Laughin’ Place. And so, they untied Brer Rabbit, and tied the rope around his neck. And he led him on into the forest until they got to a great, big ole tree and Brer Rabbit said, “Ha, hm, my Laughin’ Place is in the-yah. And Brer Bear dropped the rope and stuck his head into that hollow tree and he heard bzzzzz. He pulled his head out. There was a great, big, ole hornet’s nest right on the edge of it and on his nose. There was a great, big, ole hornet’s nest right on his nose.

And Brer Fox said, “Don’t move. I’ll git it.”

And he picked up a big stick, whacked it really hard, and broke it in half. Those hornets went up in the air and came back down and started stinging those critters all over. Well, Brer Bear and Brer Fox went running back up Cotchapie Hill.

And Brer Bear turned around and said, “Wait a minute! You said this was a Laughin’ Place and I ain’t laughin’.

And Brer Rabbit had rolled over on the grass, got that rope up of him, and he said, “Ha, ha! I said this was my Laughin’ Place and I sho’ am laughin’ haard!” And he ran off into the grass. Now that was the kind of story that I grew up with.

But what I didn’t know is that I lived with Brer Rabbit. My father was a very unusual man. Six four and one of the blackest human beings you’ll ever see in your life. He had black belts in judo, karate, hop ki do, tang su do, and taekwondo and he was in the Army. He knew how to use rifles, nunchakus, and swords. But he had a guilty secret. He didn’t know how to dress at all. When he wasn’t wearing a uniform, he had on black socks, sandals, ripped up shorts and a ratty t-shirt.

My mother is five foot two. She is always very well put together. She’s beautiful. She’s light skinned. She’s very, very lovely.

When I was a child, because my father was in the Army, we moved every three years. And my father had an attitude about America and it was this, “I fought for this country. You’re gonna see it.”

And so, we went across country in this giant van. Now we had two dogs, a toy poodle and an Alsatian Shepherd, which is sort of like a long-haired shepherd. They’re silver and black. They look like wolves.

And they’re seven children. And it was the 80s, so we always had these… we all had these big, giant Jheri curl afros. Now the way we traveled, my dad would get in the car, and he’d become Mr. Happy Drivin’ Man. “Ha, ah, look at that! Look at that! Look at that!”

And my mother would run roughshod over the children in the back. “Stop that. Sit down. Don’t talk to him. Move over.”

And the dogs would sleep in front, where we’d taken the seats out. Well, at one point in the 80s, we were moving from Oklahoma to Virginia by way of Florida. And we would get up at 0 dark 30, which is before the sun and we would travel. And my mother would hand out fruit. And then, when it got a little later, we’d stop and have breakfast. Well, at one point we got to our location so late, my mother couldn’t buy any fruit. Everything was closed. And we got up so early, she couldn’t buy fruit. Everything was still closed. None of us had combed those giant Jheri curl afros. They were twisted all over our heads.

My father came out of the hotel. “Huh, ha! Time to go.”

And my mother. She got out of the hotel. She was wrinkled. Aaaa! We get in the car; all the children fall asleep. Going across country, my father doesn’t care if anybody’s listening to him, “Look at that, look at that, look at that! Ha!”

My mother, “Keee! We must stop and get coffee.”

My father says, “Okay.”

Well, about an hour later, we all woke up and there was no food. And World War III broke out in the back of the van. “Mom, he’s touching me! Mom, he’s hitting me! Mom, he’s doing this! Mom!”

My mother says, “Shut up!” She turns to my father. “We must stop and get coffee.”

My father said, “Okay.”

And he turns off the road. Now, we were on this little two-lane highway somewhere in the south. He turns off, onto, like, a little… what was like a path, gravel road.

And my mother says, “Where are you going?”

He said, “It’s an adventure. Huh, ha!”

And off we go on this gravel road. All seven of us have are our, our faces braced against the… pressed against the windows, wondering where we are. We go up… we end up in front of what looks like a little hiker’s station, and the place is falling apart. The wood is really weathered. It looks like something out of a movie. And the shingles are all peeled up on the roof. And sitting there on the porch, two older white gentleman playing checkers.

Well, I can just imagine what they saw. This giant bus comes heaving up out of the undergrowth and then pulls up. This giant man gets out on one side. Little bitty lady, all wrinkled, gets out on the other side. And then out of the back, come one, two, three, four, five, six, seven heavily Afroed children with a wolf on a leash. By the time we finish walkin’ the dog, they were gone.

We went inside. And my mother took a lo… one look around and said, “Don’t get anything that isn’t in a wrapper,” which means we get to eat junk food for breakfast. And so, we go running to the hostess Twinkies and the hostess DingDongs. My mother gets a coke because she will not drink the coffee outa that place. My father, always, when with the local color, gets a big jar of pickled pigs’ feet. We go to the counter. We throw everything down.

The man behind the counter, his name is Sam. We know that; it’s on his pocket. He doesn’t start ringing anything up. He just looks at us. He reaches beneath the counter. And we hear a c-l-ick! And he says, “Y’all ain’t from around here, are ya?”

And my father looks at all of us and he looks at my mother and then he looks back at Sam. And he rises up to his full six foot four, and he says, “No. We are from the West Indies and we are traveling in your country.”

And Sam says, “Well, welcome to America,” and starts ringing up the food. And my father is talking about the “big sky, the big mountain.” And my mother is staring and the, the seven of us we’re trying so hard not to laugh. We are trying to keep it in, my father playing some trick on old Sam. And after everything was all rung up, we went back, and got in the car, and my father maneuvered that big old bus back down onto the road.

We ripped those Hostess Twinkies and Hostess cupcakes. We thought it was the most hysterical thing we’d ever seen. My father tricked old Sam.

And I realize, that at that point in my life, when we had all been in so much danger, and my father who has tried to kill you 25, 35 different kinds of ways could have made any choice in the world.

I had seen Brer Rabbit doin’ some of his finest work.

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.”

Expectations and Surprise: School Segregation and Tracking in the 1960s

by Storyteller Andy Offutt Irwin

 

Story Summary:

 Andy experienced school desegregation in the 1960s but students were “tracked” which led to a more subtle form of segregation. However, racial tracking led Andy to unexpected friendships.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Expectations-and-Surprise-School-Segregation-and-Tracking-in-the-1960s

Discussion Questions:

  1. How did legislation such as Brown v Board of Education bring about real social change?
  2. Do you think schools would have ever integrated without being forced to by law?
  3. How can tracking lower the expectations of students’ achievement?
  4. What legislation and school policies do you think are needed today?

Resources:

  • After “Brown”: The Rise and Retreat of School Desegregation by Charles T. Clotfelter
  • Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality by Jeannie Oakes
  • A list of popular books on segregation:https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/segregation

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Andy Offutt Irwin. In 1967, at the end of my third-grade year, Mrs. Smith, my teacher, wrote on teacher’s comments there in the spring, with Sheaffer blue washable ink, fountain pen ink because she didn’t believe in ballpoint pens even though they existed. She wrote, “Andy is just slow.”

Now this story isn’t about me but it is about how this white boy experienced some of the feelings that my black friends felt during desegregation. I’m not saying that I felt what they felt but I certainly felt. By the end of my fourth-grade year, I mean, my second fourth-grade year (you heard me), um, they closed the black school during that summer. So, when my fifth-grade year came along, um, the black kids from the black school moved into the white school and, therefore, they tracked us into five groups.

Group five were the smart kids; group one were the dumb kids. I was in group two. All of the black kids from the old school came into groups one and two. They had a short interview with some white person who I’m sure scared ’em. And that’s where they were put. That’s how they segregated the schools within the school.

Well, most of my friends were black because there were only a couple of white kids in group two and they’re both in prison. And we became friends. I became friends, in particular, with a guy named Johnny Norrington. And then in my fourth-grade year, I mean fifth grade year, uh, there was Cynthia Banks. Cindy and I both moved up to third group together and then she went on to group four. I could tell she was one of the smartest kids that I knew in those groups. She went on to be one of the smartest kids in high school and went on to be our class president in 1977.
And that’s kind of how desegregation worked – the legal integration of schools worked. When we came into the eighth grade, all of the kids in the same county from the eighth grade were in the same school. That school had been the old black high school and, therefore, half the faculty, at least, had taught at the all black high school. And desegregation and integration were working. I’m not saying we were plural yet but it was happening. And by the time we were seniors, my friend Terry Kelly (who’s black), he and I were the leads in “Bye, Bye Birdie.” I played Albert Peterson; he played Birdie. And by the time Terry and I went to college together (and we were roommates together all through school), we crammed four years of college into six years to get people to stop forgetting about that he was black and I was white.

And by the time “now” happens that people my age have grandchildren (not that I have grandchildren) but the people who got married when they were 10 years old, they have grandchildren. Those grandchildren don’t remember what it was like and don’t even really know what happened. In my town Covington, Georgia, we have a black Superior Court Judge; we have an African-American sheriff. We’ve had a black mayor, sitting mayor, when the previous mayor had to step down. And the mixed city council elected him mayor to fill out the term. And that’s what’s going on in my new South, thanks to legalized desegregation.

Everybody and Nobody: Racial Default Thinking

by Storyteller Andy Offutt Irwin

 

Story Summary:

 When Andy was a child living in the Deep South, he visited some of his family in Colorado. A woman out there told Andy, “Everybody in Georgia is a bigot.” This put him on the road to thinking about Racial Default Thinking. Every day this informs his storytelling.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Everybody-and-Nobody-Racial-Default-Thinking

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what ways may you be guilty of “racial default” thinking and conversation?
  2. What does an “all-American” person look like?
  3. What does it mean to be ethnocentric? What are ways we can rise above ethnocentrism?

Resources:

  •  Discrimination by Default: How Racism Becomes Routine by Lu-in Wang
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  • Report – Structural Racism and Community Building
  • The Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change
  • https://www.aspeninstitute.org/sites/default/files/content/docs/rcc/aspen_structural_racism2.pdf

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Andy Offutt Irwin and I call this little talk “Everybody and Nobody.” When I was, uh, uh, 12 years old in 1970, the summer that I was 12 years old, my adult cousin flew me out to Denver to spend a whole month with him and his wife. This is a very big deal for me and it was the very first time I was on an airplane. But, most importantly, it was the very first time I was ever out of the South. He had a lot of kids in his neighborhood and I played with those kids and we had a great time. And it was Kool-Aid time or whatever and we went into one of the kids’ house and we were all full of chatter and my accent really flew through. My accent was very, very thick when I was a kid. And one of the moms, the mom there in that house, looked at me and she said, “Where are you from?”

I said, “I’m from Georgia.”

And she said, “Everybody from Georgia is a bigot! Everybody from Georgia is a bigot!”

I didn’t have the tools to respond to her and I couldn’t go on and express how hurt that made me feel. But that “everybody” stuck with me. Everybody’s a bigot.

A lot of years later, I was talking to my very nice aunt, who is a very kind person and she and I, actually, are very close. And she was talking about the home that she and her husband had built in 1940, way out in the country, in Southeast Newton County and it was a rural area.

She said, “Well, when we built it, there were no suburbs around here that… like there are now. And there was only a black neighborhood. Nobody was out here.”

Nobody was out there. It was just a black neighborhood; they’re nobody. And that “everybody” and that “nobody” came together. Everybody’s a bigot. Nobody is out here!

And that set me to thinking about racial default thinking. Racial default thinking is a sociological term coined by the great sociologist of DeRee Univ… It’s sensible. All right. I made it up. Racial default thinking informs my main character, Marguerite Van Camp.  Now Marguerite is a white lady; she is 85 years old and only recently graduated from medical school. She named her hospital, “Southern White Old Lady Hospital” and she explains it like this.

“Well, when I was 40 years old, my girlfriends and I, we all decided to go to New York together. No husbands, no children, just the girls who were turning 40. And none of us had ever been north of Virginia. We had never been out of the South. And we got in my husband Charles’ Plymouth and we drove all the way up and we encountered nothing but nice people. Because if you go around the world expecting people to be nice to you, they’ll usually be nice to you. It’s true, young people. Anyway, we… everyone was nice until we went to the Broadway show that we were going to go see and I went to the box office and I talked to the lady at the box office. I said, “We’re here to see this play “Man of La Mancha.”

She said, “It’s not a play; it’s a musical!”

“Oh, bless you for telling me! Well, these ah in the name of Marguerite Van Camp.”

And she said, “Where are you from?”

I said, “We’h all from Georgia.”

She said, “Everybody from Georgia’s a bigot.”

“Oh,” I said, “Oh! Oh, do you mean the white people or everybody?”

And I get to have Marguerite do that for me. And she gets to do that for the 12-year-old kid in me. And that’s why she’s around. And that’s why she helps us all with understanding racial default thinking. Marguerite, being a recovering racist.

Learning at the Dinner Table

by Storyteller Bill Harley

 

Story Summary:

 Bill’s mother and father came from opposite ends of the political spectrum which meant that his mother and father’s family did as well. Bill’s father could not tolerate the biased language that was spoken at his in-law’s dinner table. Then, one Thanksgiving dinner, Bill’s father can take the bigotry no longer and speaks out. Bill learns a valuable lesson about the importance of taking a stand.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Learning-at-the-Dinner-Table

Discussion Questions:

  1. What lessons about race and other differences have you learned from your family? What spoken and unspoken beliefs are there?
  2. Are you aware of different racial and ethnic beliefs in your family? Are there examples of tolerance and intolerance clashing?
  3. Have you ever been in a situation where someone speaks outright prejudice and racism or speaks in coded intolerant language? What are different ways of approaching that language or belief when you hear it?

 Resource:

  • Racism Learned at an Early Age Through Racial Scripting by Robert Williams

 Themes:

  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Bill Harley. I have a theory that what’s honored at the table, at the dinner table, is who we become. I think about that, particularly, with my kids because, uh, they know that it’s their job to be funny so they’re always trying to make milk come out of someone’s nose. But more than that, there’s really questions about how we act in the world.

My dad, uh, was a New Deal Democrat. And his father had been a principal and the superintendent of schools and then he became a doctor and he died quite young. Uh, but he had married into… my grandfather married into this rock-ribbed Republican family and it was very conservative. Uh, there was all those changes that happened between Republicans and Democrats at that period. But there’s a lot of evidence that that side of the family was instrumental in founding the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana. And my grandfather was quite different from that. And my dad was a New Deal Democrat. He was the only person in his high school when the principal asked in a convocation, “Who here would vote for Franklin Delano Roosevelt?” In 1936, my father stood up and said, “I would.” And that’s the way he was.

I remember going to, uh, Sunday afternoon dinners at my great-grandmother’s house where all that side of the family came. All the Republicans and the business leaders and the more conservative people and then my dad would show up. And he would have to sit there in the living room, uh, with all those other folks, all the guys, while the women were in the kitchen and we would have to just sit there and take it. And the men would argue; they would argue politics. My grandmother would say, “I just hate politics!”

And my father would just kind of… have to bite his tongue through the whole thing. And then he married into a family that was just like that. His, his, uh, father-in-law, my grandfather, was a hardware salesman. He hated Franklin Delano Roosevelt ’til the day he died in 1973 and he was prejudiced. He was biased.

He did not use the “n” word all the time but I’d heard him use it. He, uh, favored the more polite term for the same meaning, which was colored. Um, he would talk about colored folks in an offhand way. There was a man named Bill (I don’t even know his last name) who did odd jobs around the house. And, uh, he referred to my grandfather as Mr. Wolf and my grandmother would bring him a plate, uh, and have him sit on the back porch when he was done with his chores to eat, to share a meal with him. So that was hard on my dad. And I think it was probably hard on my grandfather. None of this was spoken about though. It was just this, um, milieu,  this, this thing that you grow up in. And the truth is, uh, in Indianapolis where I grew up, we were surrounded by it too. The man next door to me was an incredible racist. And I knew that he was very kind to me but my dad didn’t like me to go over there but he just said, “Don’t go over there.” He didn’t explain why.

This is all unspoken, uh, or unclear to me until 1964. I remember sitting in the kitchen, uh, shortly after dinner on that night and the radio was on and the kitchen table and my dad turned it off and swore and walked out of the kitchen. And they just reported that Medgar Evers, who was a leader of the NAACP in Mississippi had been shot. And I knew that that was wrong and I knew that that was bad but I didn’t understand. My dad didn’t stop to explain it to me. It wasn’t for kids. There I was in fourth grade and it was, uh, the Freedom Summer when SNCC organizers (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), uh, had young black people and young white folks go door to door to register, end… endangering, endangering themselves, breaking the law so that they could change, though I really learned on Thanksgiving dinner.

Thanksgiving dinner is a time when everybody comes and shares and there’s all these rituals that we follow. And my grandparents, those conservative grandparents, uh, came to our house and they stayed at our house in my brother’s room and my brother had to sleep with me. And my other grandmother came, my father’s mother came, and the meal was prepared. And I look back on it now and I can imagine how hard it was for my father and his father-in-law, my grandfather, my mother’s father to sit at the table with each other. And I can imagine my grandfather who is very clear about the way the world was just saying things just to bait my father a little bit about all the unrest and turmoil that was going on. I don’t remember what was said until the very end of the meal. I remember my father was at the end of the table and my grandmother with my grandfather was across from me sitting next to my mom. And my grandfather made some offhand comment about, “Well, you know, you really can’t trust those colored people, you know. They’re the ones that are causin’ all the trouble; they’re the ones that are breakin’ all the laws.”

This is the kind of offhand thing as if we all agreed with this. He needed affirmation. And my father said, “That’s not true.”

So, it was a little bit of a throwing down the gauntlet. I never heard it spoken open like that and the table went quiet. And my grandfather said, Well, you know, it’s… they can’t help it. It’s just the way they are.” I see him chewing on a toothpick.

And my father said… and he swore and then he said, “Frank, that’s not true!” He called his father-in-law by the first name. He said, “That’s absolutely not true!”

And my mom said, “Max, Max!” And now all the women get up and they’re all flitting around trying to figure out how to calm the situation down. My mom says, “I’ll go get some more coffee” and my other grandmother says, “Does anybody want any more cookies?”

And my grandfather says, “Well, that’s just the way I see it.” Like it’s an opinion so I’m entitled to my opinion, whether it’s true or not.

And my father said, “For every black man that breaks the law, I can show you a dozen white men who do the same.”

And my grandfather said, “Well, that’s the way I see it.”

And he said, “Well you can’t…” My dad said, “You can’t speak like this at my table!”

And when he said that you could really feel something breaking. and I didn’t… There I was nine-years-old, 10-years-old and I didn’t really understand it except that I knew that the rules of civility and, uh, civility had been broken by my dad. Aah, now we weren’t getting along. And everybody flitted around and I don’t remember exactly what happened next. There’s that awkward silence. This is not going to get resolved. There’s no resolution to this story.

My dad went up…out of the front door and smoked a cigarette and tried to calm down. My grandfather went out the back door and chewed on a cigar and tried to calm down. And they went to bed that night and. I couldn’t hear them. No one said anything to us. I remember my brothers and I just looking down at the floor wishing we weren’t there.

My dad probably railed against his father-in-law to the daughter of the guy that he was mad at. My grandfather probably went in the bedroom with his wife and said, “I think we should leave tonight.”

So, I didn’t know what it meant then but meaning takes time. And I look back on it now and I think that as one of the most seminal, the most seminal moments in my moral education ’cause my father had broken some rule of civility to say what he thought was right at the dinner table. And after that moment, I saw my father differently and I saw the world differently. And I also saw myself differently because this was my dad and this is what’s at the table saying, “This is how things should be. We don’t talk like this.”

And so, when I heard some of my friends or teachers or anybody speak and say these out…, like, … right racist things or even the subtle coding, I knew that I was wrong if I didn’t say something. That I needed to speak up and I didn’t always because it’s hard to do. But I knew that that was something I carried with me.

That was something I learned at the dinner table and that was what was honored. So, the question I ask myself all the time is, “What’s honored at the table?”

I’m Gonna Let It Shine – It’s In All of Us

by Storyteller Bill Harley

 

Story Summary:

 Bill gathers a group of musicians together to record an album of Civil Rights freedom songs. However, they learn that they can’t assume they are all on the same page or that underlying emotions and biases aren’t in play.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Im-Gonna-Let-It-Shine–Its-In-All-of-Us

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Is it possible to separate ourselves from some of our beliefs? How do we create a dialogue in which we’re able to admit our mistakes?
  2.  What was it about Hollis Watkins that made him able to say things in a way that others could hear? Have you been in a situation where someone found a way to encourage dialogue and   admit our failings? How did they do it?
  3. Do you think we all have prejudice in us?
  4.  What made it difficult for the white musicians and the musicians of color to work together? What history and different life experiences stood between them?
  5.  What is it about music that breaks down barriers?

Resources:

  • Recording – “I’m Gonna Let it Shine – a Gathering of Voices for Freedom” available at Round River Records and www.billharley.com.
  • Sing for Freedom by Guy and Candie Carawan (SingOut Publications) was the sourcebook for the recording.
  • Everybody Say Freedom by Bob Reiser and Pete Seeger (Norton) tells the story of the songs used in the Civil Rights Movement
  • Parting the Waters by Taylor Branch (stirring accounts of how songs were used in Civil Rights demonstrations and rallies)

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Bill Harley. I’m a storyteller and a songwriter and an author now but before I was that, I was a community organizer and I was also a nonviolence trainer. I, uh, learned how to, uh, train people for, uh, demonstrations and, uh, civil disobedience and also work in the classroom.

Uh, and because of that, uh, when I was working with those organizations, American Friends Service Committee and other organizations, I had the opportunity to work with a lot of people who had been involved in the civil rights movement. Um, I was lucky enough to get to meet a lot of people who had worked with Dr. King:  Walter Fauntroy and Bernard Lafayette and John Lewis; uh, even lucky enough to meet Coretta Scott King and, uh, Dr. King’s father, Daddy King.

And along with that, during that process, uh, I learned a lot of freedom songs, uh, from the civil rights movement: “I’m Gonna Let It Shine,” “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around,” uh, “Hold On,” “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize.” All those songs and I began to sing them with people; I used them as organizing tools myself. Uh, and listening to Pete Seeger’s 1963 concert, to this great recording of freedom songs recorded in Carnegie Hall so I kind of cut my teeth on those songs. When Martin Luther King’s birthday became a national holiday, I was concerned, uh, because those songs and that movement of nonviolence and what his work was that had such a huge influence to me, that it was really a national holiday. It wasn’t parochialized into like, okay, this is the black holiday, ’cause I really want it to be our holiday. So, I decided I was going to have a freedom sing at my house. And we invited about 25, 30 people musicians, not musicians, people who like to sing and we sang songs for about two hours. And it was there in the middle of January, that the room was steamy and we were singing songs and it was just great. I felt like we raised the house off the foundations so we did that for year after year.

And then, um, a rabbi at a local synagogue asked us if we would do it there. And we ended up, for a number of years, having four or five hundred people come. And it was so good, it was so powerful, I decided that I wanted to make a recording of this… of these songs, not in a formal, uh, performance setting but just to put a bunch of people together and sing them so that they would be sing able for other people.

And I started to ask my friends if they would sing on this recording and they said, Of course,” uh, but I was concerned. I wanted it to be everybody. I wanted it to be black and white together not being black or white but also brown. There’s more and more Hispanic folks in our area. Um, and so, I started to call… reach out to people in my community of different, uh, different backgrounds.

And then I called up Guy Carawan. Guy, uh, just died, um, several months ago and he was a white guy from California but he came to the south and became, uh, involved in the movement. He was a music director for years and years at the, uh, Highlander Center where people came to learn how to organize. And Guy, along with Pete Seeger brought “We Shall Overcome” to the movement and “I’m Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table.” And so, I called Guy up and I said, “Guy, I’m thinking about doing this. I’m trying to figure out who to invite.

And he said, “Well, why don’t you just invite the original people.

And I said, “Really!”

He said, “Yeah, here’s a list of names. Here’s a… here’s a bunch of people. The Freedom Singers, this quartet of, of, uh, young black people that went around, traveled the country raising money for Freedom Summer and all those things. And here’s some people who were sneak organizers and here’s a woman who was very close to Dr. King. Why don’t you just call them up? They can all sing. Just ask them.”

Which was kind of overwhelming ’cause I really was a white… a young white guy from the south who had no business doing that, except that I thought it was important and I wanted them to make them our songs. So, I did. I just sucked it up and started to make one phone call after another and almost all of them said, “Yeah, we’ll come.”

I said, “We can pay your way. We’ll make sure you have good food. And they said they would come, which is quite a testament to them because there’s really an issue of cultural appropriation about these songs.

There’s a question about whose songs are these. And it’s a legitimate question but I wanted it…  to make it a bigger tent. And I talked WGBH in Boston into bringing their mobile recording unit down to this retreat center in Rhode Island. I got them to do it for free. I talked to all these people and we took a second mortgage out of our house to pay for this recording and I was way over my head. And I called Guy up. I said, “I’ve got all these people comin’.”

And he said, “You do?”

I said, Uh huh.”

He said, “Well, that’s going to be interesting!”

And I didn’t know exactly what he meant until everybody came there and I realized I had bitten off a lot more than I could chew. First of all, all these people who had been involved in the movement who I only heard of (and I done all my background work on them and gospel music and the history of the movement), they came with their own stories. And there were a lot of unresolved stories there. And then my friends, many of them from the north came and many of them were white and some were people of color – Hispanic and African-American or mixed, whatever, you know, te, whatever we all are.

And that first meal, the first rule in organizing is make sure the food is good. And I had a great caterer and that calmed that placed down. And we immediately had a problem with the recording area because what I wanted was wrong. And we decided we had to do it in a barn but the barn wasn’t heated so I had to go out and get all these heaters to bring in, to heat up the barn.

But everybody looked at each other because this was the past and the present meeting each other. And black and white meeting each other and north and south meeting each other and we were all nervous. Now I’ve been an organizer long enough to know I needed to int… to figure out a way to introduce this. And so, at the end of the meal, I had everybody sit on the floor. There’s probably maybe 30 of us all together including the engineers and everybody and I said, “I want to go around the circle. And I want you to introduce yourself and say one thing, uh, one of your hopes and one of your fears. And it was really awkward.

Uh, the, the white folks, um, were afraid of doing the wrong thing and saying the wrong thing and afraid of being misunderstood and, uh, the, the black folks were scoping people out. Was this just another, uh, incident in which white people were tryin ’to make ’em feel good about something’? And what are they going to do with these songs? Uh, and then I had some friends, uh, from the north, some African-American friends from the north, who were kind of in between, watching all of this go on. And none of us knew what was going to happen. And people were very polite when we are going around the circle and they were saying things to be safe. But that’s no way to sing freedom songs and trying to make sure that you didn’t make any mistakes is not the way to do what’s right. And we… I could feel the tension in the room rising and thinking, “This is beyond myself. This is beyon…; I can’t fix this.”

And then it was Hollis Watkins’ turn and Hollis, um, oh, he’s probably 50 then, I guess. And he was in his early 20s in the early 60s. He was a sneak organizer; he’s from southern Mississippi. Uh, he was one of the last people to see Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney, uh, before they drove off in a car and, uh, were killed by the Ku Klux Klan. And he said, uh, to me, “I told them not to go!”

And Hollis is to this day, an organizer, uh, in Jackson, Mississippi. Not the best singer but maybe the most moral person there. And when he came…, when it came to his time, he said, “Well, here’s my fear. My fear is that we’re not going to admit that we’re racist. And someone this weekend is going to say something that’s hurtful and has racism in it. And then when someone calls him on it, they’re going to deny it because they’re say, “I’m not a racist. And then we’re not going to get anywhere and we’re just going to draw lines and we won’t get through what we’ve got to get to. So, what I want us all to admit right now is that we are racist.” He said, “How could we not be. Look where we’ve been raised. Everybody in this room doesn’t want to be. We’re all here because we don’t want to be but we are. It’s not who we want to be but we need to admit it. And then when we admit it, we can get past it.”

And you could feel everyone in that room breathe. That, suddenly, the black folks who had brought so much and were… and their lives have been endangered. I realized later, that those people, really, in a sense, had post-traumatic shock that they had been through this cathartic moment in their lives when they’re very young and some of ’em had never… that was the moment of their lives. But that opened and there was this huge relief for us for, for someone like me, that I might make a mistake but that shouldn’t keep me from trying. And we did make mistakes. I made huge mistakes during that weekend but somebody said, “Bill, that’s not right.”

I remember every… somebody said in a recording, “That sounds like church!”

And I said, “This is not about church!”

And they all looked at me. Well, their understanding of what church was and mine was, you know, being raised a white Methodist in the, the, you know, white denomination. Those are two different things. Church meant yeah!

And it took us a long time but we got through it all. There was one moment because I had asked… It was during the anti-apartheid movement, I’d asked a South African poet to come and teach us a couple South African freedom songs. And there, it was like 9 o’clock on a Saturday night in this barn. He taught us “Senzenina,” which is, uh, why am I treated like… this way because of the color of my skin. It’s like a prayer. (Singing) Senzenina, senzenina, senzenina. Senzenina. And all of us there were working in this space together learning a new thing, learning a new way to be, learning a song that none of us know.

And that had a huge effect on me when I realized that I could drop this notion of I’m not racist. I can say, “I don’t want to be and I’m better at it but I don’t hold that up anymore.”

And as soon as we say that I’m not racist, we’re forced to defend our behavior. But what we can say is, “Yeah, I am. It’s in me but it’s not who I want to be. How are we going to get through this together?”

A Child’s Eye View

by Storyteller Cynthia Changaris

 

Story Summary:

 Growing up in Charleston, South Carolina during Jim Crow, Cynthia is baffled by why Black people get to ride in the “best part” of the bus, the back of the bus with the great view out the rear window. She plays with a young boy named Sammy when his mother comes to help Cynthia’s mother with the ironing. Cynthia doesn’t understand when her mother tells her that Sammy is dead and that he died because he couldn’t get to a “colored hospital” in time. When she was 12, Cynthia’s mother takes her to an integrated church service in Winston Salem. Cynthia is able to sense the danger but her heart feels full and happy to be in this circle of women.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: A-Childs-Eye-View

Discussion Questions:

  1.  How did white children in the Jim Crow South learn to treat people unfairly? As a young child what were Cynthia’s parents teaching her?
  2. When were you first aware of color? When did you first become aware of injustice? How did you learn who was supposed to be “superior” and who was “inferior”?
  3. Are transportation and health systems free of discrimination today?
  4. Why are churches and other places of worship still so segregated today?

Resources:

  • Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans Tell About Life in the Segregated South by William Henry Chafe and Raymond Gavins
  • Deluxe Jim Crow: Civil Rights and the American Health Policy, 1935-1954 by Karen Kruse Thomas

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

My name is Cynthia Changaris. I was born in 1948 in Charlotte, North Carolina in the deeply segregated South. And I have some memories from that childhood that I wanted to share with you today. One of my earliest memories, I was so excited because mother was taking me across the town of Charlotte by bus. I had never ridden the bus. And I know how short I was because when we sat down in those two front seats that face each other, my old feet didn’t reach the floor. I could kick the bus; you know, make good noise, which mother didn’t like. And I saw people getting on the bus and going to the back. And every time I saw someone get on the bus and go to the back, it was someone who was a black person and I said, “Mama, why do they get to sit in the back? I want to sit in the back.”

She said, “Shh! I don’t agree with it. Just hush!”

And a man overheard my conversation and he said, “Ma’am, I’ll take her to the back of the bus if you want me to.” So, I took his hand. I went to the back of the bus. He helped me stand up on the seat so I could look out the wide window and look at all the cars and the people and everything. Ah! He prevented me from falling down when the bus lurched and I was happy. But I kept that memory of who got to sit where and why did it happen.

And I knew my mom didn’t agree with it but she didn’t say anything straight out to me either. Now when I got a little bit older, six years old, I went to school. But before you go to school you have to go get new dresses. So, I got six brand new dresses that I twirled around in one evening. And then after the dresses, the health department. I had to go get typhoid shots and I was not happy about that. However, we had to sit a long time in that health department on these wooden benches. And on this side, there were two water fountains. One said colored, one said white. There were two women’s restrooms. One said colored. One said white.

I said, “Mama why are there two water fountains?”

She said, “I don’t agree with it but that’s the way things are.”

I said, “Mama, if I drink from the colored one, am I going to turn colored?” I just wanted to do things right, you know, but I never forgot that memory of thinking this is really not right and it’s not… it’s not the way I think things should be. Just a little girl but I was confused.

Now I… also around that time, had… my mom had a maid. Her name was Laura Ruth. Laura Ruth came to iron for my mama and to babysit for me when Mama couldn’t stand it anymore, which I expect was fairly regular. I don’t know, I was a pretty active kid. Now I didn’t like Laura Ruth because she was very strict and she would yell at me sometimes but I did love her boy. His name was Sammy. Me and Sammy used to get behind the bushes next to the house where we had this little fort. And we would trade off Crockett… Davy Crockett hats, you know, the kind with a raccoon tail on ’em and we would sing that old song that we heard on TV every night.

And we had our pistols in our holsters and we were protecting the world from everything. I loved Sammy and every time he came with his mama, I was happy but there was one day he didn’t come with his mama and I was still quite young. I think between five and six.

And, um, I said, “Mama, where’s Sammy?”

She said, “Honey, he died!”

I said, “Oh, Mama! Well, will he be here next week?”

She said, “No, honey! Died means he’s not going to be here again.”

I really couldn’t capture all that in my brain. I know I didn’t take it in but I do remember listening to everything. And I know I heard my mama talking to my aunt Bet on the phone and she said, “Oh, Bet, if that child would’ve had a good doctor, he wouldn’t have bled to death from getting his tonsils out.” Now my mother would never have told me that but I know I overheard it and something in my heart went “crack” about it. I knew it was wrong and I knew it was because Sammy was black and he didn’t get to have a good doctor.

Now I grew on up in the segregated South. I can remember lots of other strange feelings like if I saw a whole host of black boys walking toward me, I remember feeling nervous and wondering, “Why do I feel nervous? They’re just people.” But I was kind of going inside myself trying to figure all this out.

I was 12 years old when this incident occurred. Mama and I went up to Winston-Salem, North Carolina because my Aunt Sarah (we called her Sister), she had fixed it up so that the Presbyterian black women of the church and the Presbyterian white women of the church were going to hold a meeting in one of the biggest churches in Winston-Salem.

It was enormous and I remember walking in just being totally shocked how big it was. There must have been, oh, I don’t know, 20 rows of people and it was filled up but me and my mama and my Aunt Sarah were the only white people there. I noticed that I had never been in a minority before and I noticed that I kinda liked it. I kinda liked it. And I saw my mother lean over to sister and she said, “Oh, Sister, I’m so sorry that none of the women in your church came to see this and to be a part of this worship service.”

And Sister just sat while the worship service went on. I know there were prayers and songs and whatever but sister sang a solo; she had a high, high voice. It sounded like it could crack but it never did. And she sang the song from Ruth, “Entreat me not to leave thee nor to turn from following thee. Thy people will be my people. Thy God, my God.” I always loved that song; I heard it more than once.

And when that finished, we passed out candles. Mama and me and Sister on the front row – everybody else behind – so we were the last ones to leave but the first to get lit up and this was my favorite part. When the lights were turned down on the church and the lights flowed upward from our candles as they lit row to row to row to row, it was a glow that just touched my heart in every way. We marched out – the last ones to get out the door – and we were singing, “We are climbing Jacob’s Ladder. We are climbing higher, higher. We are climbing ever upward!”

And as we marched out the door, there were six police cars with their blue lights going like this and men milling around. And I said, “Mama, what is it?”

She said, “Shh! Keep singing!” And I did because she was firm and we sang all the way up on a hill and we made a huge circle and we looked inward. As we looked inward, every face there glowed. Those candles glowed all of us in a beauty I won’t ever forget. And we sang, “We are climbing Jacob’s Ladder. Soldiers of the Cross. Oh, may we go higher and higher!”

Seriously…WHAT DID YOU CALL ME?!

by Storyteller Onawumi Jean Moss

 

Story Summary:

 While getting a passport to prepare for a trip abroad, Onawumi Jean discovered that her name is not on her birth certificate. Her aunt is able to clear up the mystery by disclosing a concession Onawumi’s mother made to get along and keep her job in the Jim Crow South. As an adult, Onawumi arranges a naming ceremony where she is able to honor her past and celebrate her creative present and future.

 For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Seriously…WHAT-DID-YOU-CALL-ME

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why are names important? What do they say about our identity and the people who name us?
  2. How did Onawumi Jean’s mother’s concession help her “get along” in the Jim Crow South?
  3. If you were going to choose another name for yourself, what would it be and why?

Resources:

  •  American Nightmare: The History of Jim Crow by Jerrold M. Packard
  • The Name Book: Over 10,000 Names – Their Meanings Origins and Spiritual Significance by Dorothy Astoria

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Onawumi Jean Moss and I’m going to be doing a reading from a one woman play that I’m doing that’s actually inspired by my own life. It is inspired by the fact, well, let me just get started. This is a reading from, “Seriously, what did you call me?”

The year is 1998 and I have been invited to the Dunya Storytelling Festival in Rotterdam. Hello. You see, I’ve been dreaming of travelling abroad for years but the truth to be told, I’ve only travelled in the United States of America. I’m just saying. I decided I’d call my friend B.J. She has been trying to get me to go abroad for years. She wanted me to go to Africa one year. She just wanted me to go somewhere. So I give her a call.

“Hallelujah!” I knew she’d love it. “So you going abroad. My goodness.” She’s got a gravelly voice but that woman is known on three continents for helping poor people get over the forces that have held them down. She’s quite remarkable. B.J. stands for bold justice. “So you’re going abroad. Well, hurry up and don’t stop. I know you.  Get your passport. It’s pretty straight forward. Just go get it and keep me posted cause I do think I just felt the earth tremble. Could be coming to an end.”

I move quickly to do what B.J. has asked me to do. So, I go to the post office and I get all the forms that verify I say who I say I am. And then I start to completing them. I find out I need my birth certificate. I haven’t seen that in…ever. So I sent for it. It came and surprise, surprise… the name Jean, the name I have been called all my life, is not on my birth certificate. Whaaaat? Seriously? I think about calling my cousin Eloise. She is our family historian and she is very tight lipped. I know that as soon as I call her, here’s what I’m gonna hear. “Lord, Lord, child. Some words, if spoken, will make the wheels fall off the wagon.” But I still plead with her. And you know what she does? She says,  “You know, you haven’t flown home in a long time.” And then she starts bringing me up to date on who gave birth. Who got sick. Who recovered. And who died. That, I don’t know these folks is not here nor there. She is my cousin Eloise and she is my favorite, favorite elder.

So after she stops being the town crier I say,  “Cousin Eloise, how come Jean is not on my birth certificate?”

And she says, “Lord, Lord, Jeanie cat, that’s water under the bridge. Now why are you worried about this now?”

“Because I’ve been sitting here with my birth certificate and it says, ‘Carolyn Durham.’  It does not say Jean and I want to know why. If Mama was still with us, I would ask her why Jean is not on my birth certificate.” It was quiet in my office and quiet on the phone. And then we both just burst out laughing. (Laughing) Because we both knew that Mama would not tolerate being interrogated by anybody, let alone her children. But something in that moment caused my cousin Eloise, whom we learned to call cousin Weez, cause when we were children we couldn’t say Eloise. So she still calls me Jeannie cat. And I still call her cousin Weez.

Cousin Weez said, “Well, when Hon,” that’s what you call Mama. “When Hon went back to work for the Taylors a few weeks after you were born, the oldest daughter wanted to know why you were named Carolyn and not after her. Everybody thought the child was just being cute and they weren’t taking her seriously. But every time Hon went to work, the child just would fret something awful. So to keep the peace, Hon told her she’d call you Jean. Well, what your mama meant was she’d just call you Jean when she was at their house. But we all started calling you Jean not realizing that that would be the only name that you would come to know yourself by. We just weren’t thinking about the long run.”

Well, I was outdone. I felt my legs buckle. This is madness. I thought to myself, “I’m on the threshold of becoming a nationally, internationally known storyteller. Can you imagine it? And because my mother felt it was necessary to do because she wanted to keep her job. I am having to go through hoops because I, a little girl, a little white girl who felt entitled, had a “do what I say’ tantrum and when she got her way, I was given no more thought. I used to babysit for her. And she called my name with detachment only to tell me, “Fetch this, fetch that.”  My family’s attempt to mark what happened backfired.

And so they didn’t realize that I wouldn’t know my real name. But still they helped me get to where I am today, at one of the most prestigious institutions on the planet and with the tools I would need to be successful. The wisdom of knowing how to survive, is to know how to overcome Jim Crow rule. And that wisdom is hard earned. That scene in Roots, when Kunta Kinte was being beaten because he refused to be called by the name Toby, just stayed in my mind. But when he had the help he needed, he not only survived, he thrived. I want my name to reflect my African and American heritage.

Since miscegenation has erased my physical connection to Africa I thought. I need someone who really knows me, to name me. And I decided that that person is, Dr. Rowland Abiodun, professor of art history and black studies at Amherst College. When I ask Dr. Abiodun to name me, he got very quiet on the phone. And I thought, “Oh my!  He’s not interested in doing this.” Well, it turns out I was wrong.

When he spoke, he said these words, “I will have to pray about it.” And he hung up the phone. I couldn’t believe it. I never thought anybody would have to pray about naming you. Three days passed. I was a wreck but he called me back and he said that he would name me. And then he told me several foods that I had to come collect for the naming ceremony. My heart was racing. I collected all the foods. I invited my friends and my collaborators. Those of us who work for justice for a long time together and everybody came.

And when we gathered, Professor Abiodun stood and told us a story about naming that I will take with me for the rest of my days. He said when he was telling about the meaning of the foods I had collected. He said these words, “Omi. Omi means water. The water, which you are supposed to drink. The water that destiny has set for you to drink will never flow past you. Iyo. Salt. Maggots are never found in salt. May your body never harbor decay or disease. Oyin. Honey. No one refuses honey. That taste of honey will be in your mouth. Your presence will bring joy and happiness to all you meet.” I felt my spirit soar in a way that I never felt it before. On hearing all he told me, about the way the foods related to my name. And then he calmly guided us through the ancient and untitled ritual.

I remember singing to myself.  Amazing, amazing! This is amazing, amazing, amazing. This is amazing!

Then he said, “In Yoruba culture, one is a stranger until one is given a name. Your name gives you presence and beauty and power. With this name, you will no longer be a stranger. Onawumi, one who is creative and loves to create. Oshunokami, one whose deity is the great river goddess, Oshun. She is the one, who holds the mirror of truth. She is the one, who sits by the doors of the temple. She is the one who braids hair and speaks wisdom. Olyin, whose words are healing and sweet as honey.

Amazing. Amazing! This is amazing, amazing, amazing. This is amazing!

In keeping with Yoruba tradition those gathered were invited to speak my name several times so that my presence, my beauty, and my power would be undeniable. Looking back, using the rearview mirror that my cousin Eliose, Cousin Weez, was always famous for saying. When someone said, “I don’t look back.” She would say to me and to the children around her, “Just remember children, there’s a reason that a car has a rear, rearview mirror. When you going forward, don’t forget to look in the rearview mirror because what’s back there might help you get along further.”

And so, I have looked back on my own life. Because I found my name Jean was not on my birth certificate but now it is on everything. And it is my legal name but it is also my spiritual name. My name is Onawumi, one who creates and loves to create. Jean, the one, the name my mother gave me to keep the peace. It means gift of God and my mother said it means gifted by God. Moss, the name that I share with my two sons and my daughter. My name is Onawumi Jean Moss.  Amazing, amazing! I am amazing, amazing, amazing, amazing!  And so are you.

YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT THE END WILL BE

By Storyteller Diane Ferlatte

 

Story Summary:

 In 1972 Diane marries outside her race (as they say) and her mother-in-law refuses to attend the wedding, among other things. What happens to the family’s relationship afterward is anyone’s guess.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Since most cities and neighborhoods are not integrated in a balanced manner, or are, in fact, still segregated, what are the ramifications for an interracial couple and their children when they live in a non-integrated neighborhood, where the churches, schools, etc. are either predominantly one group or the other?
  2. In a Black/White marriage, for example, one or maybe both spouses may not feel totally comfortable in the social/cultural setting of the other spouse. For instance, the white spouse may feel ill at ease being the only white person at a Black party or in a Black church, or vise versa. Do you think this situation might apply more to one spouse than the other, and, if so, how might that affect their marriage and other choices they make?
  3. Many biracial or mixed race young people identify themselves as such, yet almost all Black/White biracial young people identify themselves as Black, period. Why do you think this is true? What historical forces encouraged this identification? What happens to the child who doesn’t look “Black”?

Resource:

 

Themes:

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

The Teacher as Learner

 

Story Summary:

Nancy shares some of her favorite teaching moments when students from different cultures turn the tables and teach her about stories from their cultures. Second grader, Luis, tries to be patient with his teacher, but despairs of ever getting Nancy to pronounce “pantalones” correctly. Nancy learns just how challenging it is to communicate in another language.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  The-Teacher-as-Learner

Discussion Questions:

  1. What happened when the second graders taught Nancy the Spanish version of The Little Old Lady Who Wasn’t Afraid of Anything? What were the benefits that for once the students were the language teachers instead of the language learners?
  2. What are some other ideas for reversing the roles of teacher and learner – particularly for students whose first language is not English?
  3. Why do you think the 7th graders were so eager to find and hear stories from their cultures of origin? How did telling The Story of Tam and Cam help the two Vietnamese students start telling stories about their life before coming to America?
  4. Does each group who comes to this country eventually lose its culture? What is gained and what is lost through assimilation or through holding on to one’s culture?

Resources:

  •  The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda William
  • La Viejecita Que No Le Tenia Miedo a Nada (The Little Old Lady Who Was not Afraid of Anything, Spanish Edition) by Linda Williams, translation by Yolanda Noda
  • The Oryx Multicultural Folktale Series – each book collects variants from many cultures of one tale type (Cinderella by Judy Sierra, Beauties and Beasts by Betsy Gould Hearn, Tom Thumb by Margaret Read MacDonald, A Knock at the Door by George Shannon)

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Identity

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name’s Nancy Donoval, and I’ve been a working storyteller for a lot of years. And I want to tell you about some adventures that I had as an artist in residence, in the state of Illinois.

I went to this one school for a week and they welcomed me. I’ve never been to a school like this before. I was gonna to do an assembly of stories for different grade levels; K-2, K-3, and then fourth, fifth, and sixth and then I was gonna to be in the reading teacher’s room. And each classroom was going to come to me for, for one little session on storytelling. And we talked about different things I would do with different classes and different grade levels. But when I got to the school, oh my goodness, they had prepared it so much. There were signs everywhere. “Welcome storyteller. Welcome to Nancy Donoval.” I went into the women’s bathroom and there were signs in there, welcoming me to the school. And the kids had made them all and they had laminated them. I felt like a wanted, special artist.

It was right around Halloween. So, I went in to do the assembly. It was one of those big cafetorium with the kids all spread out like a sea of them around me. And I’m standing there with the microphone and I start telling some ghost stories because it’s around Halloween. And everything is going great and then I start telling this story from a book by Linda Williams, called The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid Of Anything. Because this was the younger group of kids and I didn’t want to tell anything too scary. And as soon as I started the, this one group over in a corner, erupted. There was just noise, and commotion, and moving around, and then, and then the teacher saying, “Shh.”  I thought OK., is it the Linda Williams fan club? Is it people who really hate this? What is happening there? But I was just doing the story. I found out later, that was the second-grade ESL class and they had just put on The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid Of Anything, the Spanish version. So, as they were listening to all these stories that were in English and catching what they could or what they couldn’t. Suddenly, I was telling a story that they knew that was for them.

I had so many kids come in and, and do the different groups but the classroom, I remember is that group of kids coming in to be with me. They were so excited. I was so excited. I have no memory of what the teacher and I had planned to do. I do have a memory of thinking I don’t speak Spanish. And while I’ve worked with kids of second language in groups, where it was a lot of different languages, or most people spoke English but a few people. I never had a full-on group of seven year olds, they really mostly spoke Spanish. I was feeling a little out of my depth and what was I going to do for them. And I thought, hmm, let’s try instead of “oh I’m the teacher here to help you.” They loved that story so much in Spanish. Let’s have them teach it to me. And so, they started teaching me, The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid Of Anything, in Spanish.

I’m not very good with languages. I really struggled. It was fun because I knew the story. When we get to the sound effects like “clump, clump, clump, and, and snap, snap, snap,” I was like, OK, I know how to do those. But I had so much trouble with all the rest of it. They were so gentle and so patient. And they, sort of, broke themselves up into little groups of who was going to work on what, who was going to teach me what. And I started seeing them mirroring all the behaviors that people had used with them, trying to get them to speak another language.

The person who was very ferocious with me. “No, no. Like this, like this.” And then they would say it again, “Like this.” And I would feel a little like, “I’m trying. I’m doing my best. I mean I’m not faking that I’m not good at this to make them feel better. I am really trying to do it.”

And there was a boy named Luis who just attached himself to my left shoulder and somehow became the person who was determined that I would say the word pantalones correctly. He was so patient and so. (Sighs) He did that so many times. And he would say the word and I would say it. And to me I was saying it exactly like he said it. But I wasn’t. They were giggling. They were laughing. They were the teachers.

They were the experts and I started realizing, oh, they’re actually getting to see how hard it is to learn a new language. They’re getting to see me not be able to do it in a snap. And I was hoping that maybe that made them feel like, oh yeah it takes a while to do this. And really they are much better at English than I’m ever going to be in Spanish. I loved that group of kids. I’m always going to remember Luis and I still really don’t know how to pronounce pantalones very well. But you know, you can go to schools and be speaking a different language even when it seems like you’re both speaking English.

I grew up in Chicago and that’s where I was based at this time. And, and I was very comfortable in the urban environment. But I ended up doing residencies way out in farming country, in western Illinois. I remember working with a group of high school students and they were telling stories about hijinks their parents had been up to. And one of them started talking about when a group of his parents’ friends, when they were teenagers, had stolen a bunch of watermelons. And they had taken the watermelons and they put them in the river to keep them cold and hide them and then they could eat them the next day.  And I was horrified! Take fruit that you’re going to eat and soak it overnight in a river?! I’m from Chicago. We dye the river green and the rest of the year, when it’s not St. Patrick’s Day, it is a lot of colors but mostly not the color of anything you want to soak something in overnight. And we realized even the same word “river” meant something totally different to them than it meant to me.

I even ended up going into this hog farming community. I was the first artist that had ever been to their town, ever. Five hundred people in the town. All the kids who were in the school lived on hog farms all around. And when they were working on making up an adventure for an animal story, they did a story about what they knew and they created an amusement park for pigs. Everything pigs would like, troughs of food that the pigs when they pay their lunch ticket could swim in and open their mouths, and just everything would go in, and I would never have been able to think about what a pig would want for an amusement park. But they knew exactly what to do. It was the most homogenous community I’d ever been in. Everybody was white, everybody was a farmer. I think there was one Jewish family in town. People would tell me that to let me know that they did have diversity.

I was there for a month working with third graders. And the very last week a girl came into our class who had just been adopted from an orphanage in Russia. She had black hair. No one in the school had black hair. And her skin was darker and she was from this other country and she did speak English and we were kind of at the end of the residency and we’d done most of the work that they had to do. And every day I would tell them new story as part of our work and she came in. And I thought, hmm, hmm.  Russia, Russia. I knew a story about Baba Yaga. It wasn’t one I’d really performed but it was one I knew. And I told it. Not to say, “Hey little girl, I know all about Russia,” but just because I thought, in this room, where she looks so different from everybody, maybe she’s heard this story and I can give her something familiar.

She lit up. And then after the story, corrected me on how it should go. Because, of course, I got the story from a book and she’d actually heard it from someone. “No, no, no, that animal in the story that would have been a mouse not, not what you were saying.” And she drew these amazing pictures of Baba Yaga’s house. The house on chicken legs. And she had a detail I’d never known about, this chain around one of the chicken legs, keeping it to the ground so it couldn’t run away. I still have her pictures. And I helped welcome her in to that community and she helped me know that story a little bit better.

I have one last group I want to tell you about. It’s a group of seventh graders, not in rural community at all, right there in Chicago where I grew up. But it was an inner-city school. And when I went into work but the seventh graders, four classrooms of seventh graders, in a Chicago public school, it was almost all immigrants. They had 31 languages spoken in the room. At least a half to a third of the kids there were not born in this country and the vast majority of the rest of them, their parents were not born in this country. There were a couple of people that their grandparents had come from another country. But this was the United Nations in a classroom. And the principal had brought me in to say that in a week, which was one hour a day with each group of seventh graders, she wanted them to be able to tell a story from their life. That by seventh grade you should be able to get up in front of people and tell a story from your life.

And I went in to work with them. And one of the things I do when I work with kids is that, we go around the room and I have them say their name out loud, and then tell me something that they really like. And then, we come up with a gesture for it as a memory tool. Because I’ve learned my lesson, that kids really end up getting worried about doing it right. And if I’m trying to learn their names and come back the next day, and come back the next day, I always tell them, I’m not going to remember all your names. I’m going to get some wrong. By the end of the week, I’ll be better. But that doesn’t mean I don’t remember you. And I need you to really tell me something you care about and we’ll come up with a gesture to get it into my head.

And I remember this one kid, who his favorite thing was roller coasters. So, the gesture he came up with was, (makes downward gesture). When I went back the next day it was like, ahhh, OK. I remember that name. I remember that name. I remember that name. I got to him, I couldn’t remember his name. And it wasn’t like the kids were against me, I know we have you know things about junior high, they wanted me to do well. And suddenly, this charade show was going on, of, of everybody doing things that he kept doing this, (makes downward gesture). And I could not remember what that was. And finally, I went, “Roller coaster, roller coaster!” And then I still couldn’t remember his name and all of the kids started going, (makes stirring/tossing gestures) I’m totally lost. Totally lost. Yeah, his name was Caesar. And they were showing me mixing up a salad. And that’s part of why I asked them for their name so they say at least one thing to me and we have a relationship.

But then we started moving into them trying to tell stories from their lives, they were pretty much like, I don’t have a story.  I don’t know what you mean. And I started thinking about my grandfather who came from Czechoslovakia. And when I was a kid, I thought it was so amazing that he grew up in this other country and he knew this other language. And I try to get him to teach it to me. And he would say, “We are American. We speak American.” He would put his whole country aside. And I started thinking, I wonder if these kids know that they have stories that are from their country?

When I became a storyteller, I started hunting for stories from Czechoslovakia. Anything to make me feel connected to the homeland. And I got them all in books. And I remember going to the Museum of Science and Industry and telling for this Christmas thing. And, and, oh, I’d be all little kids, and being very, ahh, you know, high-powered participation, secular, holiday stories. And then my last group was two, two women; one in a wheelchair, and then the old one pushing it. And as soon as I started this story, just for them, a new story I was learning that was quiet, and not participatory, but from the country my grandfather came from, the woman in the wheelchair fell asleep. But the other woman just watched me and watched me and watched me. And afterwards, she came up and in that universal grandmother gesture, she curled three dollar bills into my hand, and said, “You just gave me back my childhood. You just gave me back my grandfather’s hands. When I was young and I grew up in Czechoslovakia and I would sit on the floor by the fire and he would sit on a stool. And he would tell me stories, including that story. And I would watch his hands.” And all I could think was these stories really come from the country? ‘Cause I’m just in the folktales section at the library. But the stories in the books really come from there.

And I’m looking at these kids who feel like they have no stories. And the next day, I brought in a huge crate of books, a whole bunch of folktale books. And I said, “I’m not giving these to you but I want you to actually have a chance to look at where you come from and all the stories that are connected to you.” And I just started grabbing them, “Who’s from India? Who’s from India? Stories from India?” handed it to them. “OK. Russia. OK.”  Just everything. “Who’s Buddhist. Let’s have that.” All the different collections and they drove into them. They were so hungry for them. And at lunchtime these two kids came up to me and said, “Did you have any books from Puerto Rico?” I said, “Oh, no, I don’t. I don’t have any books from Puerto Rico but I know a couple stories from Puerto Rico.” And they skipped lunch and sat there with me while I told them stories from where they came from, where their parents came from. Two girls from Vietnam had been very clear that they had no stories. They knew no stories. They had no stories. But I had a book of all these different versions of Cinderella from different countries. And I just started going through the Table of Contents, not reading the names of the stories, and what country they were from. And the very last one on the book is The Story of Tấm and Cám from Vietnam. And those two girls, (gasps), they knew that story. And then they wanted me to read it from the book. And I said, “Why should I read it from the book? You know the story.” They told it. And then they started telling us about the school they’d gone to in Vietnam and the bell that was rung to bring them into the school every day. And the cute boy who usually worked at the gate. They had story. They just needed to know where they came from.

I have to say pretty much every one of these experiences had a moment of me going, “I have no idea what to do now. I don’t speak these languages. I don’t know their cultures. I don’t want to.” And every time the right thing for me to do was instead of trying to teach them, let them teach me.

Summer Stories (Or at any time) : How educators can use storytelling to foster community and bridge differences

Story gathering & Storytelling ideal in summer programs
or marking special events during the summer.

As another school year comes to a close, students look forward to the lazy days of summer. But for many educators, as well as camp leaders and church organizers, summer can be an exceptionally busy time, especially for those charged with creating and/or leading summer programs and projects for young people or adults.  If you’re looking for new ideas for your summer program, storytelling might be a welcome addition — and a fun and effective way to bring people together, bridge differences and foster a sense of community.

Storytelling can be shaped into a part of your summer program with story-events taking place throughout your scheduled activities and at its conclusion.  Story gathering and storytelling can also mark special events, places or an anniversary. These narratives are sometimes called Legacy stories. A story- performance can be presented at the conclusion of a summer program, for your participants or for a wider public audience. 

Why storytelling?

Storytelling has always been a part of the human venture.  It allows us to connect with each other and to make meaning of our world. When we share our life stories with others, we open up opportunities for seeing new perspectives. By making storytelling part of your summer program, you can increase awareness of differences within your group and help build an environment of respect, compassion and understanding.

How to incorporate storytelling

Whether you use storytelling in a summer program or during the regular school year, it’s important to remember that some people may find it easy to talk about their lives while others will feel reluctant or shy to share their stories.

As soon as you say the words “storytelling,” some people will brace themselves for fear of being embarrassed or exposed.  As the leader or facilitator, you can simply assure everyone from the beginning that they will not be asked to share anything that they do not want to share.

Ideas to get you started

Wondering how to incorporate storytelling into your summer program? The educators at RaceBridges for Schools, a nonprofit initiative that offers free lesson plans on diversity and interracial understanding, offer the following ideas from their storytelling toolkit (available for free download here):

If you’d like to build community in a general way, ask your group to:

  • Tell a story of a time when you felt strong
  • Tell a story about a time when you surprised yourself

If you’d like to bridge differences of race or ethnicity, you might ask your group to tell stories about:

  • A time when you felt like you were on the outside
  • A special time with your family

If you’d like to get at issues of insider/outsider feelings, ask:

  • Tell me a story of a time when you were misunderstood
  • Tell me a story about a time when you were alone and then someone helped you

Or to get your group talking about their values and beliefs, ask them to:

  • Tell a story about a time when you stood up for something you believed in
  • Tell me a story of a time when you had faith

However you approach storytelling in your group, it’s important to remember that underneath it all, the exercise is ultimately about building relationships and listening to each other. And it should be a fun way to get to know each other!

For more ideas about how to incorporate storytelling into your classroom or summer program, or for more units on a variety of themes about diversity, visit: RaceBridges Studio.

The Power of Storytelling: 7 Reasons to Incorporate Stories in Your Classroom

Download “The Power of Storytelling” here

Stories do so much more than merely entertain; they can boost brainpower, build bridges, and even impart a little wisdom. If you need a reminder about the power and promise of storytelling, here are seven wonderful—and maybe even surprising—reasons to make stories part of your teaching toolbox: 

1.        Instill values.

We all know the phrase “the moral of the story.” That’s because it’s so much easier to convey values—anything from the virtues of hard work to the need to respect others—through stories. And this educational technique has been around forever—from the Bible to Aesop’s Fables to fairy tales and nursery rhymes.

2.        Make writing easier.

If students get in the habit of telling stories, which require a sort of composition in the brain, they are likely to find the act of writing easier. They will be used to searching their memories for relevant details, organizing the narrative, and thinking about how and what they want to communicate to their audience.

3.        Nurture empathy and understanding.

By sharing our individual stories and personal histories, we tell other people who we are. And by listening to others’ stories, we learn who they are. In the classroom, listening to each other’s stories helps us see each other in new ways, to understand where other people are coming from, and what makes us all unique or the same. In this way, stories have the power to foster empathy and new connections among different groups of students.

4.        Help them make mental connections—and maybe even do better in math?

There’s a reason we use “story problems” in math class. A new study suggests that preschool children’s early storytelling abilities are predictive of their mathematical ability two years later [http://www.nationalliteracytrust.net/Pubs/oneill.html]. This study echoes other recent research on the value of storytelling to teach the “whole brain” using the multiple intelligences and the integration of thinking in the left and right brain.

5.        Boost critical thinking.

We all know there are two sides to every story, and what better way to help students truly comprehend that than through storytelling. Just as one student’s version of an event may be quite different from another, so one nation’s perspective on history might be very different from ours. By exploring different versions of one event or story, you can open students’ minds to new ways of thinking.

6.        Pass on new language.

Just as they do in reading, listeners pick up new words and language patterns through stories. They learn new words or new contexts for already familiar words. The more stories they hear, the more they pick up on narrative patterns and start to make predictions about what will happen. That experience helps readers at all levels tackle new and challenging texts.

7.        Banish boredom.

It may seem obvious, but stories are simply so much more fun than lectures, workbooks, and the chalkboard. When students’ minds start to check out—or their bodies start to slump—reenergize the mood in the classroom with a storytelling lesson or activity.

For more ideas and resources on storytelling in the classroom,
check out the FREE resource available
Storytelling : A Toolkit for Bridging Differences & Building Community

 

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Passing for WASP

flip2

PASSING FOR WASP
By Carol Birch

 

 

Introduction:

Trying to assimilate into another culture is a difficult task. In an effort to fit in with the population in their inner city and later suburban city, storyteller Carol Birch recounts personal experiences she had with this difficult task. The desire to be American has everything to do with uniqueness and nothing to do with being just like everyone else. Listen as Carol shares how her father embraced all of his cultural heritages.

Summary:

Storyteller Carol Birch believes this statement: “To build a bridge from one culture into another and make pluralism a cause for celebration, we have to have one foot firmly planted in who we are.” However, in exploring her Polish and Scottish roots, Carol wonders if she’s really been living what she teaches. Join her as she recalls personal family stories of her cultural background, and celebrate as the family embraces their heritage.

Classroom Reflections & Activities:

  • Have students find out about their own cultural backgrounds, and then share these with the class.
  • Provide time for students to research what a WASP is, and why it is part of American history.
  • Give students an icebreaker activity that allows them to ask about the cultural heritages of the other students. Create a worksheet with a list of things for students to investigate about their fellow classmates, such as: find a student whose cultural heritage speaks Spanish, find a student whose cultural heritage practices a religion different from your own, find a student whose cultural heritage celebrates a holiday you are unfamiliar with, etc. This allows students the opportunity learn about others in a non-threatening way..

Watch the video now

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Explore our many other free storyteller-videos and
lessons for classroom, group or individual use :
RaceBridges Studio Videos

La’Ron Williams and his story ”From Flint, MI to Your Front Door: Tracing the Roots of Racism in America”

Professional storyteller La’Ron Williams grew up in an area of Flint, MI called “Elm Park.” It was an area that—from the 1940s to the 1960s—was transformed by a confluence of race, politics, and economics, from an all-White neighborhood into one that was all-Black. In his poignant and engaging story, “From Flint, Michigan to Your Front Door: Tracing the Roots of Racism in Working Class America,” Williams describes some of his earliest experiences with a growing awareness that he was receiving contradictory messages about himself as a Black person: although there was the nurturing support he got from his immediate community, there was also the shame he absorbed from the larger society’s portrayal of African-Americans in the mass market and the media.

Williams tells stories from the heart, and his stories tug at his listeners’ hearts too. With his engaging manner, Williams addresses an emotionally laden topic—racism—by combining an adult’s analysis and wisdom with the fully believable wonderment and confusion he felt as a child. Listeners of every color and background are drawn into his story precisely because it is suffused with a child’s sincerity and genuine bafflement that the reality he lived didn’t match the stories he was taught about himself on TV and at school.

Williams’s story begins in Chappy’s Barbershop in Flint at the end of the summer of 1955, when the author was only four years old. It was in Chappy’s that Williams first saw the cover of Jet magazine featuring a photograph of Emmett Till, an African-American teenager from Chicago who was murdered in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a White woman. It was a grotesque photo, taken after Till’s body was recovered from the Tallahatchie River. Two bullet wounds were visible on Till’s swollen head.

Although he was a young child, Williams describes the jarring impact of that photograph upon his life. With an adult’s vision, he gives language to his childhood feelings of confusion as he struggled to understand why the images of White people portrayed on TV didn’t match the treatment of which he knew them to be capable. Following Till’s death, his grandmother explained it by saying, “White folks hate Colored folks!”  But almost all of the characters Williams saw on TV were “White folks,” and while they were sometimes funny, wise, courageous or clever, they were never cruel.

Williams uses this feeling of disconnection to provide insight into the dynamics of “blockbusting” and his own “transitioning” neighborhood. He uses the insight provided by his “outsider” status to offer enlightening explanations about his personal experiences with racial hierarchy: From the time his well-meaning but racially unaware third-grade teacher forced him to use “flesh” colored paint, to the incident when he was slapped in the face and called a “Nigger” by an older boy who was a member of the school safety patrol.

In the final part of the story Williams recalls a time when he was the only Black student in his seventh-grade English class. His class was asked to write about something called “the Beatles.” Williams didn’t know who they were, and his classmates and teacher shared a laugh at his expense. Later, when he wrote about Emmett Till, he discovered that neither his teacher nor his classmates had ever heard of him. In this case though, no one felt deprived for not knowing. No one was deemed “stupid” and no one was laughed at.

Williams’s story is both entertaining and enlightening. As he reflects upon his youth, his listeners are given an opportunity to reflect upon their own upbringings, and everyone thinks a little harder about the continuing entrenchment of racism in American society.

HERE ARE SOME EXCERPTS FROM WILLIAMS’ STORY ‘FROM FLINT, MI  TO YOUR FRONT DOOR: TRACING THE ROOTS OF RACISM IN AMERICA”

“At the end of the summer, in 1955, I was four years old, sittin’ there in Chappy’s Barbershop on a hot, hot, hot Saturday afternoon – (the kind of hot that’s so hot it makes grownups sleepy) – and I was lookin’ over at the table where Chappy kept the newspapers, and the magazines, and the candy – like I always did – when I saw this picture on the front cover of “Jet” magazine. It was the sort of thing that, if you’re only four years old, you don’t know what it is you’re lookin’ at . . . But I must have kept on lookin’, because the grownups started talkin’ about it. They said that it was a photograph . . . A photograph of a dead boy’s body . . . The body of a boy named Emmett Till.

I was four years old. It was the year before I even started Kindergarten, and I saw him lying there. He had one eye gouged out, his skull had been bashed in, he had two bullet holes in his head, and his face was swollen up like some kind of giant sponge from hanging for days upside down in waters of the Tallahachie River.

Do you all know about Emmett Till? Emmett Till was a fourteen year old Black boy who went down from Chicago to a place called Money Mississippi to visit his Uncle, and he was dragged out of bed in the middle of the night and brutally beaten and killed by two White men, because he supposedly whistled at, or winked at, or said something flirtatious to a White female store clerk.

In my mind, when I was lookin’ at that picture, it might just as well have been goin’ on right then. ‘Cause in the same second that I was lookin’ at the picture and hearin’ those barbershop men talkin’ about what had happened to Emmet Till, I saw myself dead and beat up like he was. I saw myself lookin’ at myself dead. I saw that Emmett Till’s skin was Brown like my skin was – I mean brown like everybody’s in Chappy’s Barbershop – and I knew in a split minute why this horrible thing had happened to him. Remember, I was only four years old, but I had already heard this kind of thing talked about a thousand times, and I could hear a voice inside my head. It was my grandmother’s voice, speakin’ almost in slow motion, as she gave the answer that she always gave whenever she was mad or frustrated with the shape of the world in which she was livin’. I could hear her say it: “White Folks Hate Colored Folks!”

… In the seventh grade … I was the only Black student in my English class. The teacher had given us an assignment to write a paper about something she called “the Beatles.” Everybody else in class was laughing and having a good time, and seemed to know what the teacher was talking about. I thought it was a joke and wondered why she wanted us to do a paper about insects. Everybody was in a good mood. But when I raised my hand and I asked, “What kind of beetles?” everybody had an even bigger laugh – at my expense. So the teacher told me, in a very condescending tone, that it was alright for me to write on any subject I chose, as long as I did a good job.

. . . So I wrote about Emmett Till. My teacher and classmates had never heard of him.”

La’Ron Williams, Storyteller: LaRontalk@aol.com

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Our History is Our Strength : Women’s History Month

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Listen to these Women Stories
in your classroom . . .

Bearing witness to the heroic
actions and words of women

Telling inspiring stories
that are little known
and rarely told . . .

 

 Listen to these stories and use the lesson plans with your students
of moving stories of inclusion and exclusion, loss and hope, past
and present. Use these stories in your classroom to inspire and
challenge your students to reflect on their world-view and to broaden
their horizons.

Use these stories as discussion starters for a faculty in-service session
to prompt and animate discussion about race-relations and inclusion.

These lesson plans come with complete text as well as audio, teacher guides,
student activities and further resources on related themes.  You may also find
corresponding videos on our sister site, RaceBridgesVideos.com.

These units are also suitable for young adult group discussion as
springboards on the subjects of race and racism.

 

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Anne

Anne Shimojima

Japanese American Storyteller Anne Shimojima tells her original story Hidden Memory: Incarceration: Knowing Your Family’s Story and Why it Matters. About her family in the United States, especially during the time of World War II when some of her family were sent to the Japanese-American incarceration camps. Explores in an engaging way xenephobia, racism and being “unseen” in society.Courage and resiliance in a story that is rarely told.

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Watch videos

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Download lesson plan and audio story

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Olga Loya

Latina Storyteller Olga Loya tells excerpts from her original story: Being Mexican American : Caught Between Two Worlds – Nepantla. Growing up Mexican American in Los Angeles. Caught between the Latino and Anglo cultures, she realizes that she might belong to an even wider family and community and that perhaps there is a way to live with them all. Warm and spirited.

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Watch Videos

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Download lesson plan and audio story

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gene

Gene Tagaban

Native American storyteller Gene Tagaban remembers Elizabeth Peratrovich, Tlingit woman, of Petersburg, Alaska. She attended Western Washington State University. When she returned with a new husband to live in Juno, no one would rent her a home because she was native. This was the limit to Elizabeth. She said: “No more signs. We need better housing, good jobs and good education for the people. And the right to sit wherever we wanted.” Gene Tagaban lovingly remembers the life of Elizabeth Peratrovich through the stories told to him by his own grandmother. The story remembers the shining day, after much struggle and bigotry of the passage of the Alaskan Anti-Discrimination Bill in1945, 20 years before Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus. This account is part of Gene Tagaban’s longer story of identity and belonging : Search Across the Races : I Am Indopino … Or How to Answer the Question : “Who Are You?”.

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Download lesson plan and audio story

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dovie

Dovie Thomason

Native American storyteller Dovie Thomason tells her true story: The Spirit Survives: The American Indian Boarding School Experience: Then and Now. This story weaves together personal narrative and historical accounts about the Indian boarding schools to reveal how they were used to decimate native culture and how some Indians stood up to them. Shocking and Inspiring.

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Download lesson plan and audio story

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linda

Linda Gorham

African American storyteller Linda Gorham tells two stories. One is I Am Somebody : Story Poems for Pride and Power. This an upbeat and moving celebration of Linda’s family tree and heritage. The lesson plan guides teachers to invite “pride poems” from their students. In her story Rosa Parks : One of Many Who Sat Down to Stand Up Linda personalizes the words and actions in a story of the famed Rosa Parks. The lesson plan explores the many other heroes of the civil rights movement who “sat down’ to stand up for justice. Self-worth, dignity and courage come alive.

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Download lesson plans with audio stories

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Watch Videos

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Celebrating Women : Bridgebuilders and Storytellers

Ideas for bringing the universal subject of Women into your classroom.

RaceBridges honors Women’s History Month each year in the month of March. But gender equality is an important diversity issue that can be explored at any time. So we re-publish here our lesson plan for Women’s History Month in this Resource format. We remember that any time in the school year is a good time to explore the struggle for women’s equality and the ideals still not yet

fulfilled. We trust that these ideas, classroom activities and recommended links will be of help for you and your students in exploring this subject.

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STORYTELLING TO CELEBRATE SPECIAL EVENTS IN YOUR SCHOOL OR ORGANIZATION. PART 2

Please find initial ideas and suggestions in last week’s Part 1 of this Blog Text below.

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storytelling “A community needs a soul if it is to
become a true home for human beings.
You, the people must find this soul.”

– Pope John Paul II

“The more you praise and celebrate
your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”

– Oprah Winfrey

“Without a sense of caring, there
can be no sense of community.”

– Anthony Burgess

Here are some further ideas and steps in the process of using storytelling and stories to celebrate a special event in your school or organization. Here are some ideas to get started in the classroom.

Your special event will be grounded in stories collected from your students, stories from others at school, and possible members of the community.  Think about who has a story that you want to be sure to include and reach out to them.

You can develop these starter ideas as far as you like, depending on how much time you have and the type of event you’d like to create. 

  • Practice storytelling and listening by partnering students in pairs.  Give each pair six minutes (three minutes each) to tell each other a story that relates to the event.  When time is up, bring the group back together to discuss their experiences. What does it feel like to tell a story?  What is it like to listen?
  • Interview students outside of your class or other members of the community. Encourage students to be creative about how they offer story invitations.  Consider having your students document the stories with audio or video recorders.
  • Have students collect stories from others and then present them back to the class as first person monologues, that is, to tell the story as if it is their own story.  Have students pay attention to details, emotions, and qualities of the storyteller.  This exercise encourages empathy and builds public speaking skills.  These monologues could be performed at the event.
  • Have students work in pairs or small groups to improvise scenes based on stories they’ve collected.  Give them ten or fifteen minutes to develop a first pass at their idea and then have student groups perform their scenes for each other.  These scenes could be performed at the event.
  • After your students have identified the stories they want to share at the event and how they want to share them (read out loud, performed as monologues, or in improvised scenes) give them time to practice and build confidence.  A few times in front of their classmates and getting comfortable speaking in front of the group will help.
  • For other ideas check out this Storytelling Guide and this resource Theatre Games.

Here is a checklist you and your event planning group might consider :

✓ Consider Inviting the whole school or members of the community to participate.  Give people enough notice so that they can contribute stories and attend the event.

✓ Invite others to participate

✓ Determine where your event will take place

✓ Be sure to reserve your site well in advance.

✓ Stock up on supplies

✓ You will want to collect initial brainstorming ideas on the board or on large white sheets of paper.

✓ Also think about documentation of your work.  Are recorders or flip cameras available?

✓ Make space for stories in the classroom

✓ Consider establishing one part of the room for ongoing work with stories and event preparation.

✓ Model positive energy

These planning and storytelling activities may be unfamiliar to your students. 

Your confidence and enthusiasm will encourage them to keep an open mind.

Establish Group agreements

Group agreements build trust among students.  They are most effective when the group determines them together through a quick brainstorming exercise.  Some helpful agreements might be: Use “I statements”, no interrupting, and respect each other’s differences.  Your group may have other suggestions as well.  You can compose these together and keep them posted in the room as a reminder.

Use Safe Stories

Be sure to remind your students that this exercise is about stories that are safe and non- threatening.  If any issues or discomfort arises with your class, often a simple acknowledgment of feelings, fears or discoveries can put everyone at ease.  Remind the class that we build community as we get to know each other.

Explore the many ideas for nurturing stories and storytelling
in your school or class by considering our free Resource

The Power of Storytelling : 7 Reasons to Incorporate Stories in Your Classroom

USING STORYTELLING TO CELEBRATE SPECIAL EVENTS IN YOUR SCHOOL OR ORGANIZATION. PART 1

The stories of our lives are both the things that happen to us as well as the things that we make happen around us. What life story are you creating for yourself?

storytellingThe school year is full of landmark days that acknowledge important historical moments and people.  These days, like the Dr. King Holiday or International Women’s Day and even months, like Hispanic Heritage Month or Black History Month offer us valuable opportunities to learn more about our culture and history.

However, there are also important events taking place close to home and related to your particular school that you may want to acknowledge and celebrate with a special event.

Perhaps your school has an important anniversary coming up, a beloved teacher is retiring, or some leaders in your neighborhood are opening a new community center.  Taking the time to create a commemorative local event allows your students to celebrate their community while gaining a deeper connection to the individuals who make it unique. 

Consider using some of the ideas below for using stories as the foundation for creating a commemorative or celebratory event.  This RaceBridges for Schools website is full of stories and lesson plans about using Storytelling in the classroom that will help along the way.

 

These ideas are geared to get you started in planning a commemorative event for your classroom or school. They can can be adapted and enhanced to suit the needs of your class or organization.

(1)  First, identify the date, occasion, community place or person that you will be commemorating.  The idea may come from your students or perhaps you already have something in mind.

(2)  Form small working groups and ask students to brainstorm for ten minutes to list everything they already know about the subject.  Remind your students when brainstorming that everyone’s voice is important and no judgment is allowed.

(3)  When time is up, ask a representative from each group to present the group’s ideas and gather them on the board or on big sheets of paper so everyone can see.

Ask the entire class to add ideas to the big list along the lines of:

  • Feelings that people might have about the subject;
  • The historical importance of this event;
  • Who will be or has already been affected by the event.

 

Next, look at all of the lists together and ask your students the following questions:

  • Which ideas are the most interesting to you?
  • What draws you in and makes you curious?
  • What do you want to know more about?

 

4)  The ideas that generate your students’ curiosity could be the driving ideas for your event.  Now, turn these main points of interest into questions and invitations for stories.

For example, if you are celebrating the school founding, students might decide to focus on how contemporary students still reflect the founding values.  They might compose an invitation for other students like, “Tell me a story about a time when you acted like a leader”.

 

(5)  Or, as another example, if you are examining the impact of the new community center, compose a story invitation for parents and friends like “Tell me a story about an important life lesson you learned from someone in our community”.

Now, with your story invitations to lead the way, your students can begin to tell their own stories or interview others.  They could also use these story invitations as prompts to create drawings, paintings, personal essays, or a series of photographs.

(6)  Goals

Have your students set some goals for a successful event.

Ask them to compose one-sentence statements of what they hope will be accomplished by their event.

… “I hope people will be proud of their school”.

… “I hope I understand the community better”.

… “I want everyone to feel included in our school”.

Students can read these aloud to the class or post them on a bulletin board.

You could also save this step for after you’ve completed the event as collective reflections.  These might be:

… “Yes, we can learn from the past for today.”

… “This (event) (person) needs to be remembered and cherished.”

… “We all have roots”

 

Example of Stories woven around events:

This link http://education.goodmantheatre.org/opensystemsonwbez/ will take you to a project description and audio file of a story-based play commemorating five years since Hurricane Katrina made landfall in the Gulf Coast.  The project was developed through student research and writing in collaboration with a teaching artist at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, Chicago.   This project can serve as an example of the type of performance event you could create with your own students.

 

Read more Ideas for celebrating Special Events in your school or group in next week’s blog-text.

 

Explore the many ideas for nurturing stories and storytelling in your school or class by considering our free Resource The Power of Storytelling : 7 Reasons to Incorporate Stories in Your Classroom

This November Expose Your Students to New Perspectives on the Native American Experience

With November just around the corner, Americans are preparing to celebrate not only Thanksgiving but also National American Indian Heritage Month.

For educators, this is the perfect time to explore new perspectives on the history of indigenous peoples in the U.S., as well as to discover the history never heard.  One way to do that is to get students thinking critically about what they don’t know — and why they don’t know it.

Of course, students know some things about American Indians. At a young age, they probably learned about wigwams, teepees and other culturally obsolete trappings of early “Indian” society. And all of us were taught about the first Thanksgiving – how the Pilgrims dressed and the “friendly Indians” brought corn to this peaceful gathering of fellowship and gratitude.

But then most of us found out, at some point in our adult life, that the Thanksgiving story was highly mythologized, and that the real history of indigenous people in the U.S. was marked by removal, slaughter, and forced assimilation.

So why don’t we teach that in school? That disconnect between what we teach and what we ignore provides a golden opportunity to expand students’ understanding of the true, historical Native American experience.

Wondering how to spark this discussion in your classroom? Here are some creative ideas:

  • Start simply by asking students what they’ve been taught about American Indians — their history, their culture, perhaps even their role in the traditional Thanksgiving story. Depending on what you hear, you may want to probe further into their knowledge of Native American genocide.
  • Next, try exposing them to true stories from the Native American perspective. One you might consider: “The Spirit Survives“ by First Nations storyteller Dovie Thomason.   It’s a personal account (available in audio and text) of her family’s painful experience in the Indian boarding schools,to which many American Indian children were taken by force, away from their families, to be assimilated into white culture. Dovie’s story and the associated lesson plan, available free and printable by clicking, exposes students to historical events that aren’t taught in most schools. It also touches on themes of cultural identity, inclusion and exclusion, and the power of forced education to oppress people.
  • After the introduction of this new perspective, you can encourage students to think critically about what they haven’t been taught. Get them talking with these questions:
      • What did you learn from this story that you didn’t know about the history of indigenous people in the U.S.?
      • Why do you think you never learned this in school?
      • Why do we need to explore this neglected part of history?
      • Why bring up stories that are painful or hard to listen to? What good does that do?

Whether you simply engage in classroom discussion or facilitate small-group presentations, exercises like this enable your students to explore more fully the history and experience of Native Americans.  And as we prepare for Thanksgiving, that most American of holidays, lessons such as this will help students consider who’s been missing from the “American table” and how they can literally and metaphorically make a difference.

Download this lesson plan

Storytelling : A Toolkit for Bridging Differences and Creating Community

This Teacher-Educator Resource provides an easy to follow process in using storytelling to increase understanding across differences. It is a fun way to get to know each other, a comfortable way to address difficult topics and a simple and successful method for appreciating differences among group members. Sharing life stories allows us to see in new ways, grapple with new ideas, and grow into more respectful and compassionate people.

Use this resource with students from middle school through college or with members of your church or community group. The activities in the resource can be completed all at once or broken up over several meetings. A great way to build a team, handle issues associated with diversity, or discuss a recent conflict.

STORYTELLING: A TOOLKIT FOR BRIDGING DIFFERENCES AND CREATING COMMUNITY

This Resource provides an easy to follow process in using storytelling to increase understanding across differences and is:

  • a fun way to get to know one another
  • a comfortable way to address difficult topics
  • a simple and successful method for appreciating differences among group members

Sharing life stories allows us to see in new ways, grapple with new ideas, and grow into more respectful and compassionate people.

Use this resource with students from middle school through college or with members of your church or community group. The activities in the resource can be completed all at once or broken up over several meetings.

A great way to build a team, handle issues associated with diversity, or discuss a recent conflict.

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Download a free copy of the STORYTELLING – A TOOLKIT FOR BRIDGING DIFFERENCES AND CREATING COMMUNITY resource

Being Mexican-American : Caught Between Two Worlds–Nepantla

  smOlga_Lesson_Page_01by Latina Storyteller Olga Loya

In these warm and engaging story-excerpts professional Storyteller Olga Loya relates some of her life-story and her attempts to reconcile the two worlds and realities of ‘American’ and ‘Mexican American’. Audio-segments, story-text and classroom activities will engage students in exploring what it means be fluent in more than one culture at a time. The unit assists teachers to move beyond the Mexican-American experience to anyone who has been caught between two worlds and two identities. Use this unit to celebrate Hispanic Heritage month or to practice storytelling skills and to probe issues of difference and belonging.

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Storyteller Olga Loya tells of her experience growing up Mexican American in Los Angeles, trying to choose between the Latino and Anglo cultures, and realizing that she might belong to even more than two cultures and that perhaps there was a way to live with all of them.

This is a perfect lesson plan to use with students while talking about immigration, issues of being bicultural, or about how to use personal stories to address an issue.

A great lesson especially for Language Arts and Social Studies classrooms!

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Lesson Plan

Download the Nepantla: Between Worlds lesson plan (PDF)

Story Excerpts

The following MP3 tracks are story excerpts for use with the Nepantla: Between Worlds lesson plan. Please note that these excerpts are protected by copyright and are exclusively for educational use.

Story Excerpt #1 — Nepantla: Between Worlds2:35 minutes

Story Excerpt #2 — Spanish is Dangerous2:14 minutes

Story Excerpt #3 — Grandma Talk2:28 minutes

Story Excerpt #4 — Why Do You Want to Go to College? 3:26 minutes

Story Excerpt #5 — But You Don’t Look Mexican3:45 minutes

Story Excerpt #6 — What Does a Mexican Look Like?2:47 minutes

Story Excerpt #7 — My Own Rhythms – 1:41 minutes

Story Excerpt #8 — Mezcla: The Best of Both — 1:22 minutes

Story Excerpt #9 — Bridge Between Worlds — 1:46 minutes

(Need help to download the MP3 Story Excerpts? Click here for directions.)

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About Olga Loya

Storyteller Olga Loya was captivated by the vivid stories her Mexican grandmother and father would tll. Absorbing all of their secrets and following the tendrils of memory that bind people and families, Olga fashioned and invented herself, out of her own substance and imagination, a stirring universe of creation. Growing up in a up in the barrio of East L.A. where family rituals and traditions were the center of her emotional life, the young Latina, performing improvisation as a girl, has mastered the vocabulary of artful storytelling. With her poetic eloquence Olga’s stories are an impassioned quest to keep alive not only the fabric of her family but the larger Latino culture, richly robed in folktales, ancient myths, and history.

Bittersweet: A Chinese American Daughter’s Legacy

The stories offered here—Immigrant History and Mom’s Story—come from Chinese American storyteller, Nancy Wangs longer story Bittersweet: A Chinese American Daughter’s Legacy. In this story, Wang explores the history of her own family, beginning with the immigration of her great-great-grandparents from China to the United States in the mid-nineteenth century.

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This lesson plan uses two stories by Nancy Wang, a dancer, storyteller, playwright, and practicing psychotherapist. Wang studies ethnic dance and has written plays focused on Asian American themes. The stories offered here—Immigrant History and Mom’s Story—come from her longer story Bittersweet: A Chinese American Daughter’s Legacy. In this story, Wang explores the history of her own family, beginning with the immigration of her great-great-grandparents from China to the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. Through this story of her own family history, Wang uncovers the generations of discrimination against Chinese immigrants—both stealth and legally sanctioned—as she explores the relationship in her family, including her own relationship with her mother.

This unit comes with a teacher guide, text of stories & audio-download of stories as well as student activities.

Lesson Plan

PURPOSE

  • To expose students to the experience of Chinese immigrants in the 19th century.
  • To explore the little-known history of exclusion of and discrimination against Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans during the 19th and 20th centuries.
  • To examine the connections between family history and personal development.

OUTCOMES

By the end of this lesson, each student will:

  • Be familiar with the tension among immigrants in California in the 19th and early-20th century.
  • Understand why marginalized groups might exploit and oppress each other rather than working together to achieve their rights.
  • Respond to the issues and themes of the stories
  • Relate their own experiences to the stories

Download Bittersweet Lesson Plan (PDF)

Story Excerpts

The following MP3 tracks are story excerpts for use with the Bittersweet lesson plan. Please note that these excerpts are protected by copyright and are exclusively for educational use.

Excerpt #1 — Immigrant History– 9:16 minutes

Excerpt #2 — Mom’s Story– 14:27 minutes

Need help to download the MP3 Story Excerpts?  Click here for directions.

About Storyteller Nancy Wang

Nancy Wang, together with her storyteller husband Robert Kikuchi-Ynogo founded Eth-Noh-Tec in 1982. This is is a kinetic story theater company based in San Francisco, weaving [tec] together distinctive cultural elements of the East and West [eth] to create new possibilities [noh]. Eth-Noh-Tec produces and performs contemporary presentations of traditional folktales from the many countries and cultures of Asia through storytelling, theater, dance, and music.  Nancy Wang is available for performances in schools and colleges solo, or with her husband as Eth-NohTec.

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Full information : www.ethohtec.org.

A White Girl Looks at Race

superohStoryteller Susan O’Halloran weaves three short true stories of her life growing up in Chicago in the 1960s.

The three short stories offered here—“Davy Crockett,” “Us vs. Them,” and “The Dr. King March”—all explore Susan’s experience growing up in Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s when the relationship between blacks and whites in the United States were tense and changing quickly.

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The Story on Our Skin: Looking for Identity Beyond Appearance

 

Story Summary:

 From when we humans first became aware, we began to paint our skin with colors and symbols of who we are. Were we telling the world “look at my skin to see who I am”, or saying that since appearances can change, then true identity must lie deeper within us?

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-Story-on-Our-Skin

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why do you think that people have painted themselves since the beginning of human culture?
  2. Do people have different reasons for why they paint or mask themselves in different cultures?
  3. Is wearing makeup the same as painting a face? How do people paint themselves today?

Resources:

  • Transformations! The Story Behind the Painted Faces by Christopher Agostino
  • How Art Made the World: A Journey to the Origins of Human Creativity by Nigel Spivey
  • Tribes by Art Wolfe
  • Body Decorations: A World Survey of Body Art by Karl Gröning

Themes:

  • Identity

Full Transcript:

As we humans first became self-aware, we began to paint our skin. Aware of who we are. Aware of our place in the world. Why did we paint ourselves? The answers may be lost in the black charcoals and the white ash of our first fires. In the ochre colored earths where we first lived, these are materials that are still used as makeups. Was it in colors such as these that we first saw our skin as a vehicle of identity?

The color, red, signifies power and vitality, embodies our traditions around the world. From the faces of the heroes of the Chinese, the Japanese theater to the red ring that surrounds the face of the Masai warrior. How long has this been true?

When we first marked our skin, was it merely as a decoration or were they marks of identity? Were they meant to be read like the swirls of Maori tattoo or the iconic symbol worn like a name badge by the Plains Indian, Bull Buffalo? Were we saying, “Look at my skin to know who I am!”

In celebrations of who we are, we still paint ourselves today. From modern birthday parties to village festivals in the Omo River Valley of Ethiopia. The young men of the southeast Nuba would paint their full bodies every day in original designs, celebrating the beauty of the human form. For we are so beautiful, we deserve to be art. From ancient rituals and the theater born of them, to modern incarnations like Halloween and Hollywood movies, the makeup artist brings our dreams, our gods to life, and our nightmares, too, giving form to our aspirations, raising us beyond our identities into the supernatural.

As a modern face painter, I’ve learned that what I paint on someone’s face is not as important as how the painting makes them feel as people see them anew, transformed. Our skin is the edge of who we are, where we touch the world. When we mark our skin, we are changing the way the world sees us, to take control of our identity.

But there’s a duality of understanding in this transformation. For if we can change our identity by changing our appearance, then we should come to understand that all appearance is transitory, beautiful. Identity lies deeper. It’s a fundamental function of masks and body art in world cultures. To prove that forms are transitory, to prove that forms can change, then to understand the true nature of the world, we have to look deeper, to the spirit behind the mask.

No matter how many faces I’ve painted and what I’ve painted on them, one element always remains the same. The eyes. The human eyes that look back at me through the painted mask. And I’ve come to see that everyone’s eyes look the same, the way, I imagine, they’ve always looked since the very beginning when we first became aware.

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.

Just Hair: Finding Out the Importance of Your True Roots

 

Story Summary:

 A chance encounter is an unexpected blessing for a teenager, who discovers that true strength is rooted within, extending down into the roots of the ancestors.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Just-Hair-Finding-Out-the-Importance-of-Your-True-Roots

Discussion Questions:

  1. There are many forms of laughter: discomfort, joy, fear, amusement, sarcastic, etc. What type of laughter would you attribute to the students in the library? What dynamic did it set up between them and Diane? What are a few responses you would have had to the situation?
  2. Invisibility is a much-desired attribute among superheroes. However, there are times when we, too, search for the cloak of concealment. When have you ever wanted to be “invisible”? In what situation and for what purpose?
  3. The themes of belonging, identity, shame, and protecting one’s self can be found in the story of each human being. What other themes did you connect to in this story? Did the story help you to remember something that is or has happened to you?

Resources:

  • Every Tongue Got to Confess by Zora Neale Hurston
  •  African American Folk Tales for Young Readers by Richard Young and Judy Dockrey Young
  • Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Bullying
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Diane Macklin and this is a story, Just Hair.

If you’re driving down Route 82 in Hopewell Junction, New York in 199… in 1986, you would go past this ranch white house with green shutters, and you would think it was just a house. No indeed. This was the place where anyone with African roots could get their hair done by my mother. And that was me because we were the second black family to move into our neighborhood. My mother was the oldest of 12 children, and she did everyone’s hair. So, my hair was always done perfectly. There was no need in town for a Jet magazine or even anyone who could do anything with my hair. But it didn’t matter.

And as I grew up, well, things started to change a little bit. In high school, I no longer wanted the perfect parts, the braids, the ponytails. I watched this show on TV called The Facts of Life. My favorite show and there was this character Tootie. Now she would roll around on her rollerblades. She had these cute little pigtails and she had a brown complexion like me but she looked young. But then there was Blair and she had this flowing blond hair. And she was sophisticated; she was so much older. I wanted to be like Blair. So, one morning when my mom was doing my hair I said, “Mom, can you do my hair so it’s out. This is my ninth-grade year, Mom. I really want to wear my hair out.”

Now, my mom is from Mississippi. She’s from the South. She never says, “No.”

She goes on about her back. She goes on about this, that and the other until you’re saying, “No, Mom, that’s ok, that’s ok. Don’t, don’t worry about it.”

But she looked at me. “No.” I thought maybe she had a bad night at work. Maybe she woke up on the wrong side of the bed. That was okay because I could wait her out. I did wait a couple of weeks.

“Mom, I was thinking that maybe you could do my hair so it’s out today.”

But, again, she looked. “No.”

Now, I’m in high school, ninth grade and I ride a bus. It takes a while to get to school. I knew that if I took my hair out on the bus, and remembered where she had parted it, how she had braided it (whether it was over or under), I could take out my hair on the bus and put it back. She’ll never know.

So, one morning I got on the bus and I scooted down in the seat and started to take out my hair. Now, my friend across from me saw what I was doing and she just watched, and watched. And then we pulled up at our high school. Now always in high school, you did not go inside until the bell rang. Whether it was snow, sleet, hail, rain, everyone stood outside the building until the bell rang. But as soon as the bus pulled up and stopped, I stood up. And I heard, “Aah!” ’Cause back then no one had seen hair like mine, this rich hair, out because you didn’t even see it on TV. You didn’t even see it on commercials, and I felt like a million dollars.

I even had my own music playing, my own soundtrack, ’cause as I walked on the bus everyone just followed me. “Uuh!”

And I was going, “Oom, aah, and, Oom, aah!” I just felt… I had never felt like that before actually. And I struck a pose before I got off the bus, and they just sat there staring. They couldn’t believe it. I walked off the bus and then, who0om, everyone parted like the Red Sea and my friends came over.

“Can I touch your hair? Can I touch your hair?”

“Are your hands clean?”

And all day, I rode this cloud nine. And then, towards the end of the day, though, I had to go to the library to get a book out for research purposes, and I saw that there were some lower-class rooms from the middle school. They were visiting. They hadn’t seen my hair. So, I walked in, I struck a pose, and they no longer stared at their teacher. They stared at me.

“Yeah! They never saw hair like this.”

I walked in and then I heard, “Ah, whoo, whoo, whoo, ha!”

It wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Then the whole class broke out in laughter. Then I started to hear the words. “Afro Puff.  Brillo Pad.”

They were talking about my hair. And there were other names, that, even now, I don’t want to repeat.

I couldn’t remember what I went in that library for but I wasn’t going to care. I went to the shelf, picked up a book, checked it out, walked out, had my head up high, looked at them, so they knew they didn’t get me.

But as soon as I left that library, my head dropped. On that bus, I remembered how she parted it. I turned my head a little to the window because, you know, how you do sittin’ down, it’s easier.  A few tears fallin’ down. I went inside. It was as if I never took my hair out.

And I decided, I was going to wear an invisible armor and from that day on, I did. I pr… constructed an armor that you could not see me. Worked so well that, one day I was at the grocery store, and I was juggling more groceries than I needed to in my arms and there was a woman and her daughter. Her daughter looked, and young people can see past the invisible armor. They have a special vision. She saw that if she moved her groceries up, on the conveyor belt, I could put mine down. That’s what that young lady did. But the mother turned around and, well, I had my invisible armor on and she couldn’t see me, because she took her arm and she moved those groceries back in place, so I could not put my groceries down. The young lady, she turned beet red. She looked embarrassed. I tried to let her know it was okay because she didn’t know, I was wearing my armor. I wore it for many years and then one day, I was in that store and I heard someone comin’ up behind me. And this time I was smart; I did have a cart.

“Young lady, young lady.” But no one talked to me in the store.

“Young lady, young lady.” But no one talked to me in store.

“Young lady.”

I turned around. There was a woman with a rich, mahogany complexion like mine.

“Do you know where you’re from?”

“Hopewell Junction?”

“No! Where you’re from in Africa?”

My school didn’t teach us anything about Africa. And even during Black History Month, there was maybe a book in the library, on a shelf, but that was about it.

“You need to find out where you’re from ’cause when I saw you, I said, ‘She looks like a Mandingo warrior woman.’ Do you know that the Mandingo have warrior women?”

I didn’t know anything about Mandingo. I didn’t even know what to say. I was speechless.

“You need to find out where you’re from?”

And she turned the corner. And I stood there for a moment absorbing what she told me and then I went to find her ’cause, clearly, she knew more than I did. And she was gone. I couldn’t find her anywhere.

And to this day, I feel like she was a little angel, came to send me a message because now I could take off that invisible armor. And I now have as my defense, as my weapon of choice, to love, to love through story, as a storyteller.

The Immigration Process vs. Pre-Wedding Bliss

 

Story Summary:

 Listen and move as this spoken word piece takes your mind and body through an insider’s/outsider’s understanding of immigration, identity, and family. The story began when Arianna and her now husband wanted to get married and had to prove, with evidence, that their love for each other was real. Complexity arose as they entered the immigration process better known as: K-1 Non-Immigrant Visa. As they hit barrier after barrier, they quickly learned how unpredictable the U. S. was about immigration,

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-Immigration-Process

Discussion Questions:

  1. Where in your life have you had to navigate the U.S. government to solve a problem?
  2. How does Arianna manage the immigration process in the United States? What steps does Arianna take to manage the immigration process?
  3. What evidence does Arianna use to show she is “in love?” What evidence do you have that would show you love someone in your family?

Resources:

  •  http://madeintoamerica.org/  (A Collection of family stories)
  • Immigration Stories by David A. martin and Peter Schuck (Non-fiction)
  • Mama’s Nightingale: A story of Immigration and Separation, By Edwidge Danticat

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Immigration
  • Latino American/Latinos
  • Living and Traveling Abroad

Full Transcript:

My name is Arianna Ross. It was 2006. I was watching the sunset – the sky was a wash of purple and peach. I, I turned to face my boyfriend, Alexandre. He was smiling; there was a twinkle in his eye.

Right behind him was a statue of the Madonna holding baby Jesus, awash with the same colors as the sky. He looked at me, “Você quer você orar comigo? Do you want to pray with me?” We held hands and we took a deep breath in and were silent for a moment.

When I opened my eyes, he was looking at me hesitantly. And then he said to me in a very tentative voice unlike his normal voice, “Você quer ser meu noivo? Do you want to be my fiancé?”

“ABSOLUTELY!”

For the next 24 hours, we were in pure wedding bliss. We discussed where we were going to get married. The kind of food we were going to eat, the type of music we were going to have and, of course, the most important part for both of us – the ceremony. We decided that my parents would say prayers in Hebrew and that his parents would say a few prayers in Portuguese. And we would have a master of ceremonies run the entire event.

We were excited until we sat down in front of the computer. We decided that we were going to spend the first half of our life in the United States and the second half of our life in Brazil, which meant that we had to get married in both places. We turned on the computer, we loaded the USCIS website, the Immigration Services website, for the United States.

We looked up the K-1 fiancé visa. There were nine pages of instructions.

Step number 1, fill out the I-129F document in dark ink. Step 2, gather evidence that proves that you are planning on getting married and staying married. That proves, essentially, that you are in love. Evidence that proves that we are in love?

I called Immigration Naturalization Services. I asked them, “What exactly do you mean by evidence? What kind of evidence or what form of evidence? I mean, I recognize that there are people who try to dupe the system. We’re not one of those people so I would appreciate clarification?”

And the man over the telephone calmly explained to me, “Excuse me, you need, essentially, to provide simple evidence, simple evidence that proves that you are in love and you are truly planning on getting married and staying married.”

“Sir, I get that. It states that in the document, in the instructions. But what do you mean by ‘proves that we’re go… in love’ in evidence? What kind of evidence?”

“Anything you deem necessary.”

All right, I went home to the United States and I started to gather evidence. I gathered photographs, receipts, letters from my parents, letters from his parents, letters from all of our friends. I had two hundred and fifty pages of evidence when I turned in our application. I crossed my fingers and I waited.

Six months passed and we received a letter. They were telling us we had made it to the next step. We needed to turn in more documentation and more evidence. I mailed in 150 more pages and we crossed our fingers and we waited. One year and two months later, we received our interview date in Rio. I got on a plane. I met my now fiancé there and we arrived at 7:45 am at the consular office. Our appointment was not until 11:30 but I didn’t want to be late. We sat and we waited patiently. Eleven o’clock rolled around, 11:30 rolled around, 11:45 rolled around, 12:25. All of the couples had gone in and out, in and out. There was only one consular office left in the entire room when he motioned us in. We sat down and the first thing I noticed was that he was behind a Plexiglas bulletproof window and then he smiled. He had his hand…  a stack of papers.

“Here are three hundred and fifty of your four hundred pages of documentation. I would like to return them to you because I really don’t want them clogging up my filing cabinets. If you have more evidence with you, which I’m sure you do, please don’t give it to me. I believe that you are going to get married. I believe that you are in love. I would just love to know how the two of you met.”

“Ach! How the two of us mmmet?

I was ready to screech at the man! My hands actually balled into fists! And then, suddenly, I felt my normally nonverbal husband reach down and relax my fingers. He looked at me. He looked at the man and he began to tell our story. The story that we had documented in all those photographs and all those letters. By the time he was finished, I was surprised. He knew all those details.

The consular office reached underneath his desk. He grabbed his stamp and in one fell swoop, he stamped my husband’s passport.

“Welcome to the United States. I can’t give you your passport. I need to mail it to you. Do you have the self-addressed stamped envelope?”

“Yes.” We handed it to him.

He explained to us that it would arrive in five to six days and then he hoped my husband had an excellent journey. One year and six months later, my husband got off the plane. He looked at me and he smiled – a twinkle in his eye. He was wearing my favorite T-shirt. I knew that we were ready to bring joy into our world and to start our pre-wedding bliss.

A Link in the Circle: Learning to Lean on My Indonesian Family

 

Story Summary:

 What is it like to be so immersed in a culture that a lady on the bus becomes your adopted “Aunt” and a bus driver your “Brother? While Arianna Ross travelled alone through Indonesia, she discovered that sometimes family is defined by a connection and not blood. Many days Arianna lived with only the support of total strangers. Witness the similarities and differences between Arianna’s culture and theirs.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  A-Link-in-the-Circle-Learning-to-Lean-on-My-Indonesian-Family

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Where in your life have strangers become family?
  2. How do the people in the island of Banda Aceh, Indonesia define family?
  3. When the police stopped the bus that Arianna was on and searched people, what were they looking for and how did “strangers” protect Arianna?

Resources:  

  • Folk Tales From Bali and Lombok by Margaret Alibasah
  • Folk Tales from Indonesia by Dra Aman

Themes:

  • Asian American/Asians
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Identity
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

My name is Arianna Ross and I am a storyteller who has lived all over the world. During this journey, this story, I was living in Indonesia. It was two o’clock in the morning and I was exhausted.

The police officers had been getting on our bus every 30 minutes on the dot. I was taking the bus from Banda Aceh all the way to Medan and every 30 minutes the bus would stop. The doors were open. A police officer would get on the bus. He would walk up the bus. He would walk down the bus with his AK 47 in his hands and then he would walk off the bus… and the bus would begin again.

Usually the bus driver, he would check the people on the bus to make sure that we were OK. He would smile. He would nod his head as if to say, “Are you ok?”

I always responded with a nod back, “I’m fine.”

At two o’clock in the morning, I pulled my sarong over my hand and I leaned up against the Plexiglas window and I fell asleep for one hour.

Suddenly I felt this stabbing sensation in my arm. I heard the sound of my name being shouted and I heard the sound of a man speaking to me in a language I didn’t understand Acehnese. (I spoke Indonesian). Then suddenly, a soft voice broke through the screams. It was the woman sitting in front of me; she was saying, “It’s ok, my child. He just wants to see your passport.”

I took the sarong off my head. I reached inside my money belt and I handed my passport to the man. He swung his AK 47 in front of my face and he reached out to grab my passport, flipping through it, reading out names of countries I’ve been to and then he threw my passport back at me and turned and walked off the bus.

The bus driver, before sticking keys in the engine, he turned and he looked at me. “Are you OK?”

And I responded, “I’m fine.”

All of the people on the bus, they all seemed to be looking at me asking me with their eyes and their smiles, “Are you OK?”

And I responded, “I’m fine.”

The woman sitting in front of me, she was in full burka, black from head to toe. She smiled, her eyes peeking through her face, masked by the black. “It’s ok, my child, your Indonesian family is here to protect you.”

I reached inside my money belt and I took out a tiny turtle, one that was made out of seashell and coconut shell and I held it in my hand. I closed my fingers around it and I took a deep breath in… and I let it out…

I remembered what my adopted brother had told me. You see, I had been living on the island of Pulau Weh, just north of the city of Banda Aceh. I had been living in a home right next to my adopted little brother. He became my adopted little brother because his mother used to feed me on a daily basis. She invited me to their home for breakfast, lunch or dinner and the last night I was there, she cooked all of my favorite foods.

She made coconut soup, pumpkin curry and a special sticky rice dessert. And at the end of the meal, he took me out to the beach and he handed me that turtle. “Look down! What do you see?”

“A turtle?”

“Uh, uh. Family! A connection! If you ever need anything at all, just think of us. Hold that turtle in your hand and take a deep breath in and let it out.”

I held that turtle in my hand all night long as I packed, even as I walked the next day to the docks where I was taking the boat to Banda Aceh to catch the bus. I sat down in my seat and I thought to myself, “Saya mau sendirian. I wish to be alone.”

I managed to be alone for approximately 30 seconds before I felt this soft tapping sensation on my arm. I turned and I looked. It was this woman, she was in full burka, head to toe, in black. She held in her hand a dragon’s egg. Not a real dragon’s egg. It’s a type of fruit from Indonesia. The outside is a thick, hot pink leather and the inside, a delicious white fruit. “kau mau mau makan,” she said to me.

“No. Saya mau sendirian. I wish to be alone.”

“Kau mau mau makan. you wish to eat!” I realized that there was no arguing with her so I began to share her fruit. And before I knew it, we were talking. And then she looked at me. “You look exactly like my daughter.”

Huh! I was wearing khaki pants and a tie-dyed T-shirt. “How did I look like her daughter?”

“My daughter, she’s the first one in her family, in my family to go to Banda Aceh University. She is now an English teacher.” Before I knew it, we had actually reached the city of Banda Aceh.

We stepped off of the boat and I reached down to grab my bags and say goodbye. When I felt this hand on my arm, this grip on my wrist. “Come, I take you to the bus stop!”

“No, it’s okay. I can go by myself.”

“T, t, t, t, t, t, t, t, I take you!”

I followed her down this long maze of roads through the marketplace. We stopped in a sarong shop. She needed to buy something for her daughter. In the end, she just bought one item… for me. It was a beautiful sarong with flowers all over it and then she handed it to me. She told me, “It’s for your daughter.”

“I don’t have a daughter, Auntie!”

“You will; one day you will have a daughter! This sarong is blessed by the imam, the highest of holy men in the mosque. He does not care that your child is not Muslim. He blesses all children.”

I packed that sarong neatly in my backpack and I followed her out the marketplace to the big bus stop to the ticket shop where I bought my ticket. The woman, Auntie, she explained to the man selling the tickets that I was her daughter and it was his responsibility to sell me the correct bus ticket. He explained to me that for his sister, he would do anything. He also explained that the bus wasn’t leaving for another four hours and if I so desired, I could sit next to him and wait. I didn’t have an opportunity to respond.

Auntie, she grabbed my hand and said, “Come, you eat dinner with me!”

Huh?” I found myself being dragged onto a little bus. I found myself getting off the little bus in what seemed like the middle of nowhere and there appeared to be a group of houses to the right and jungle to the left. The houses didn’t even look like they were complete. Auntie, she explained to me that her husband’s job was security. He watched all of the houses and when they were finished, they would move to a new location where he would protect the rest of the unfinished houses in Banda Aceh.

I had to duck in order to enter her house.

I noticed that there were no pictures on the walls. Just one poster in Arabic. I asked her what it said and she smiled. “It is a phrase about family, that strangers should be family and always welcome in your home.”

I asked her where exactly all the photographs were. I was used to my mother’s house where there are photographs everywhere. She pointed underneath the bed. There was a box. I took the box out and I started looking through the photographs and I found one of her daughter at her daughter’s graduation.

I asked her how her daughter was doing today and she grinned. “My daughter is perfect. You keep that photo.”

“Why would I keep this photo, it’s yours?”

“T, t, t, t, t, t! You keep the photo. I have the memory.”

I put that photo in my money belt. Before I knew it was time to catch the small bus back to the big bus stop.

She waved down a small bus and she explained to the small bus driver that I was her daughter. He nodded his head and said for his niece he would do anything and he did. He, actually stopped his bus at the big bus stop, something I never seen before. He got off the bus explaining to all the passengers that they would have to wait as he escorted me to the big bus stop.

He explained to my bus driver that I was his niece and that he, my new bus driver, was to make certain I arrived in Medan safely. The big bus driver nodded his head and explained to me that for his grandchild, he would do anything. Just before the bus leaved, just before he stuck the keys in the engine, he turned and… me… looked at me. Without any words, he seemed to ask me, “Are you okay?”

And I responded, “I’m fine.”

About three years later, I was sitting on my grandparents’ bed in Florida – Tampa, Florida, to be exact, when a news flash came on the television. News flash –  tsunami hit Banda Aceh. I wrote down immediately the phone number at the bottom of the news flash.

I ran to the telephone and I began to call and call and call and call until, finally, I made it through. And when I did, the woman’s response was, “We have no idea if the island of Pulau Weh (that tiny island I lived on just north of Banda Aceh), if it even existed anymore.” And in terms of Auntie and Uncle, unless I had their address, there was no way that she could help me. I simply had to wait.

I couldn’t, wouldn’t be able to know what happened to Auntie. I didn’t have any way of communicating with her. No cell phone number, no nothing. But I did send an e-mail to my friends at Pulau Weh and I waited.

I finally received an email one month later. When the ground began to shake, the people in Pulau Weh ran up to the highest point on their island. Only one man died. He was trying to rescue his fishing boat. The rest survived. I went into my keepsake box and I found the turtle and the photograph. I put them together in my hands. I took a deep breath in… and I remembered and I had hope that Auntie was okay.

Martin and Me – A Coming of Age Story

 

Story Summary:

 Growing up, Steven was involved in Boy Scouts and his church and as a teen he advocated for community development in his New Jersey neighborhood. But could he get involved in the rising black militancy of the late 1960s?

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Martin-and-Me

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why was Steven called “too white” by some of his friends? What is “acting white” and how has racism perpetuated these no-win choices of how white or black someone is?
  2. Steven’s neighborhood didn’t have comparable city services such as garbage pickup and water and sewer service. How did the city justify this uneven treatment and what was Steven’s Youth group able to do in the face of this discrimination?
  3. If you were African American in the 1960s would you have become involved with the Black Power movement? In what ways might you show your pride in your African American heritage? For what reasons might you become involved in peaceful protests such as school walkouts or be tempted to participate in more militant actions?
  4. Do you think Steven made the right decision to go to school after Dr. King was assassinated in 1968? How did Steven’s family influence his decisions?
  5. In what ways are we still reaching for Dr. King’s “beloved community”? Do you think it’s an attainable ideal?

Resources:

  •  Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party by Joshua Bloom and Waldo Martin
  • Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Final Year by Tavis Smiley and David Ritz
  • A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Bullying
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Housing
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Stephen Hobbs. I’d like to share a part of a story about growing up in Bridgewater, New Jersey. Right down the highway from Newark.  In the 1960s, at a time when there was great political, cultural racial and social changes.

I blame it on James Brown. In 1967, he came out with a song, “Say it Loud! I’m Black and I’m Proud!” That could have been the theme song for the black consciousness movement of the 60s. When we black people were really in love with the color of our skin. We grew our hair out afro style and we wore dashikis from the motherland. But was I really ready to jump fully into the black consciousness movement? I mean, they were talking about revolution. Already people were frustrated with the slow progress. Even with Dr. King’s great movement of nonviolent resistance. Cities like New York and Cleveland and Detroit erupted in flames of riots during the 1967 summer.

But, as a young teenager, I was involved in community development work. I was a member of a civic organization called The Somerville Manor Youth Association. Somerville Manor was the black neighborhood that I grew up in. It was the only black community in Bridgewater. We advocated for sewer lines and water lines in our community. Most of us, most of the families, had outhouses and some even had wells outside and they used to have to work with hand-pump. We also tried to get trash collection and a place for us to play.  But was I really ready for that liberation stuff? I mean, how could I be a radical? My grandmother didn’t like that term. She thought, she thought, one summer when I grew out a beard, she wouldn’t let me into her house because I looked too much like those militants in her, in her our community. And I always wanted to please my grandmother and be a good boy.

Still some of my black friends thought I was trying to act white. Like I was not black enough. Whatever that means. I mean, was it mean, I was an Oreo or because I had too many friends like my buddy, Lougoo Gueotto, who was Italian kid who lived up the street from me? It probably didn’t help my cause, the fact that I was I had a white girlfriend named Elizabeth, with her beautiful blue eyes. In the fall of 1967, I entered high school. And I was elected freshman class president, which is a pretty good thing, considering of the twelve hundred students in my high school, only 26 were black. And I got good grades and made the honor roll.

But still that militancy stuff really got me worried. And then, on April 4th , 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis. Oh, President Lyndon Johnson asked for calm throughout the country. But the voices of anger, rippled across the land. “No justice, no peace! No justice, no peace!” And cities all across America erupted in riots and flames. We kids and some of old men are still around street corners wondering what we should do. Somebody suggested we should go to the nearby mall and trash some of those stores. But at a meeting of the Somerville Manor Youth Association, it was decided that we would boycott school the day after Dr. King’s funeral. Well, I was at the meeting but I really wasn’t feeling it. Skip school? What would my grandmother say?

Well, the day of the boycott I went to school, in part, because as freshman class president, I was invited to participate in an in-school memorial service for Dr. King. Speaking to the entire student body over the intercom, I read a poem that I had composed in memory of Dr. King the night before. The poem went like this:

It’s not how long you live, it’s how well.

Did you give forth your best effort every day?

It’s not how long you live but how well.

Did you travel along the honest way?

It’s not how long you live but how well.

Did you lend a hand to another?

It’s not how long you live but how well.

Did you love all of your brothers?

It’s not how long you live but how well.

After that, Somerville Manor Youth Association met quite a bit. We talked about our dreams and what our positive response would be. We decided that we would build a youth center where we would have recreational activities and afterschool programs. And a place where we can get mentoring for college and career planning. And, most importantly, we would build it ourselves. We would raise the money. And we, we had car washes and fish fries and barbecues. Someone came up with the idea of having a musical review. We called it The Soul Show. In which everyone would participate if they could, playing Motown music. People who can sing or dance or play instruments, auditioned. I couldn’t sing and I didn’t have any rhythm, so I didn’t get a part in the show. I had to watch from the sidelines. But the show was successful nonetheless. It raised a number, a bit of money, and more importantly, we raised some friends. Our minister Reverend Hodge, he started inviting white clergy to our meetings. And soon we were telling our story at some of those, those pastors’ churches, getting more support.

Then we, we figured we could organize a nonprofit corporation to build the center. At the first official meeting of the nonprofit, I didn’t want to go because it was at the Plukemin Presbyterian Church and I guess my tail feathers were still a little ruffled about not being in the Soul Show. But my girlfriend, Elizabeth, encouraged me to go. And I was elected youth representative for the Executive Board. Oh, we had dozens and dozens of meetings. And I worked closely with the president of the organization, Mr. Richard Theale, a white lawyer who inspired me and showed me how lawyers could use their skills to work for social justice.

By the time I left to go to college in the fall of 1971, the plans had already been made. The architectural drawings rendered and the construction schedule set for the spring of 1972. By the fall of ’72, the doors of the youth center opened with volunteer programs for the kids in the area. On April 8th, 1973, we have the official dedication ceremony of the Martin Luther King Youth Center. I was asked to speak and I read the poem I had written five years earlier. Someone read a letter from Mrs. Coretta Scott King. We had a crowd there of people from 23 churches and synagogues in the area. It truly was the embodiment of the vision Dr. King had in his dream of blacks and whites, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Christians, holding hands, singing the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last!  Free at last!  Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” Now that was revolutionary.

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.

Name Calling at Masonville Elementary: Hurtful Words Forgiven

 

Story Summary:

As a 4th grader, Sheila was given a new nickname – the “N” word – and that nickname led to an unlikely friendship, and down the road, led to forgiveness and reconciliation.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Name-Calling-at-Masonville-Elementary-Hurtful-Words-Forgiven

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever been called a derogatory name?  How did it make you feel? What did you do when called that name?
  2. Have you ever called someone a derogatory name?  How did that make you feel then?  How do you feel about what you said after hearing this story?
  3. Finish this statement:  Forgiveness is…   Explain your answer.
  4. How can you make someone new to your school, church, club or organization feel welcome and at ease?

Resources:

Themes:

  • African American/Blacks
  • Bullying
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family & Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hello. My name is Sheila Arnold. And when I was in third grade, in 1972, I integrated my elementary school, Masonville Elementary, over in Annandale, Virginia. It wasn’t a difficult integration. We didn’t have protest outside of our doors. And even the teachers that didn’t like me, well they soon were got rid of. One of my teachers didn’t want me to be in the spelling bee because I was black but she didn’t last longer than the year. And my parents also covered so much for me. Actually, the classmates that I had and I got along very well. We were really good friends. And we all liked each other…except Lea.

Now, Lea, well Lea, was not liked by any of us as classmates because she was different. And we didn’t really like different. Lea… Lea didn’t have the, the right clothes because they would be a little bit too small on her and sometimes she would wear things that that didn’t fit or she didn’t, didn’t always look the best. And sometimes, I just have to be honest, she didn’t even have a real lunch box like the rest of us had. So, she was different and that was just Lea. You know, it wasn’t really kind of us at all. And we treated her different and we joked on her and teased her. But all of us did it, including me.

By the time we got to my fourth grade year, we had become such good friends, that we made nicknames for each other. I loved the nicknames. One day, we all gathered outside at recess and Jimmy, one of my friends, said he had a new nickname for me. I was thrilled. So we gathered everybody together and then he told me my new nickname. He said, Shelia, your new nickname is…” the “n” word. You know, the one that rappers say sometimes. I was delighted. It was a great name because I didn’t know what it meant. And so I was excited about it. I couldn’t wait to go home and tell my mom about this new nickname. I got on with it, “Mom, I have a new nickname. It is…” the “n” word. (You know, the one that rapper say.) And my mom went, “Oh, baby.”  And then she told me what it meant. She told me it meant that you were lower than the dirt underneath someone’s feet. I, I couldn’t understand. I couldn’t understand why Jimmy, my friend, why would he call me that name!

The next day I went back to school.  Recess came and Jimmy gathered everybody around again to call me my nickname. This time I knew what it meant. And I also realized Jimmy knew what it meant as well. So when he called me that nickname, I ran away from the group, ran into the side door of the building and into the bathroom and closed myself in the stall. And I just cried, “No one will ever be my friend. No one will ever be my friend. No one ever will like me.”

And then I heard something. Someone said, “I’ll be your friend, Sheila.” It was Lea, the very Lea I had teased and joked. She said, “I’ll be your friend.” And I came out of that bathroom stall.

Well, it was four years later that I was at Poe Middle School and I was with some of the same classmates I had before. I’d been gone for a while with my father to Germany and Rhode Island (my father was in the military) and I was finally back home. I was really excited to be back with some of my classmates, back in the middle school. And, though, I did really learn, truthfully, I learned really quickly that, although I was back in school with the same people, some of them were not the same way and we weren’t necessarily friends anymore. I learned in middle school that most of us were just trying to impress each other. And others us, and others of us, we were just trying to survive.

I didn’t really know where I fit, having been gone for a little while, so I decided to become everybody’s friend. That’s kind of how I was referred to. I wasn’t real popular but at least I knew everybody. Jimmy… Jimmy on the other hand, he was one of those just trying to survive life.

Jimmy had made some unwise decisions and those unwise decisions came because of what his life at home was like. You see, Jimmy’s family was going through a divorce. And in a, in the community I lived in, the suburbs I lived in… with two parent families and always together. The kid going through a divorce, they weren’t really appreciated. And they were looked at as, “Don’t get close to that one there.” Plus Jimmy was starting to smoke and “No one like them,” quote, unquote. And then he was even seen drinking beer. Those wise, unwise decisions made him one of those kids that people stopped hanging around. He went into that “other group” of kids. The ones, kind of, going down, “Going down,” as they would say. But Jim was trying to, trying to make some decisions.

In the beginning of our eighth grade year, we decided, well, we ran for student council. And some of you may have done that. So, we ran for student council and I decided I would run for treasurer. Jimmy decided he would run for president. It didn’t take me long to figure out that this was a popularity contest. And I was not a popular one but I hung in there. On that day that we gave our speeches… the presidents went first. Jimmy was the last to stand up to go. You should have seen him. He was dressed with his slacks on, his nice button-down shirt, his hair slicked back. He looked nice. He started to walk up, head up, going to give his speech. But the moment he started walking, all the kids booed him. His head, immediately went down. I knew, I knew what that felt like and I knew the look that went on his face. I remembered it from elementary school. And I stood up and I said, “Leave him alone! Give him a chance to talk!” Everybody was quiet for a minute but it was only a minute and then all that laughter and all their teasing turned right back to me.

I stood there and I said, “Everyone has a cha… everyone should have a chance to be heard. Everyone! Let him talk!” Well, the students gave him a look and they quieted a bit. But Jimmy gave me a look. I remembered that look. It was the same look I gave Lea so long ago. Well, Jimmy and I did not win in the student council. But we did win our friendship through forgiveness.

Taming the Fire: A Black Heritage Search

 

Story Summary:

One day an angry black teenage girl – Sheila – stormed into her History Class and demanded to know why she had never heard about black inventors. Her favorite teacher, who happened to be white, was faced with a decision, but in making that decision an entire classroom of students was changed and history was given more relevance.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:   Taming-the-Fire-A-Black-Heritage-Search

Discussion Questions:

  1. Was Sheila right in demanding to be taught more about people in her heritage?  Why or why not?  Should her teacher have changed her curriculum?  Why or why not?
  2. What is an activist?  How do you think you can be an activist in your community?
  3. Have you ever read a book that made you want to learn more about its subject, or moved you to make a difference?  What was that book and what did it encourage you to do?
  4. What is your heritage?  Make a list of the people from your heritage that you have learned about in school.  Compare your list with other students.  Who do you know on their list?  Choose someone from another student’s list who you do not recognize and research them.

 Resources:

  •  Lazarus and the Hurricane:  The Freeing of Rubin ‘Hurricane Carter by Sam Chalton and Terry Swinton.  About a young man who finds a book that “calls” out to him, and through a series of letters and visits helps to free a wrongly jailed man.
  •  The Black Book by Middleton A. Harris, Morris Levitt, Roger Furman, Ernest Smith and Bill Cosby.  This is the actual book that Sheila read and is available in bookstores.
  •  50 American Heroes Every Kid Should Meet by Dennis Denenberg

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family & Childhood
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Sheila Arnold. I have to give you two names: Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.  Those were the only two people, the only two black people I ever learned about in my elementary and middle school years in the 1970s and 1980s. How was it! But somewhere around the beginning of my high school years, in 1979 or so, I began to look for my people. I don’t really, know truthfully, why that, was the trigger for that but I think it’s because I started paying attention to the news.

I can remember sometime early in my 10th grade year, I think about 1980 or so, I went over to the March on Washington to ask for Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday to be a national holiday. I remember that myself and some of my classmates we skipped school, got on some buses, and some subways, (I lived in Annandale, Virginia, which is a suburb of Washington D.C.) and we got over to Washington D.C. I remember that, that the mall, the Washington National Mall, was just filled with all these black people. I’ve never seen anything like that before. And I, I heard every word, every speech; I felt it does come all into me. It was wonderful. And then Stevie Wonder got up and started singing. We all sing with them. “Happy Birthday to ‘im. Happy Birthday to ‘im. Happy Birthday. Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to ’im. Happy Birthday.” We loved it.

Well, I started learning more and more around that time of my life. I remember, that there were times that I started looking at other parts of African-American history. One of the things that was happening is my mom was introducing me to other arts and plays and things like that. That was when I found “For Colored Girls That Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf” into Ntozake Shange, the play that was in Washington D.C.. Oh! She got me a copy of that script. And then we went to go see “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” And we went to go see “Bubblin’ Brown Sugar,” about the Harlem Renaissance artist and the musicians. And I was in love with learning more. I had been working as a library school assistant since I started high school and I worked in one of my classes at study hall and then whenever I had a free moment, I was in that library. And while I was working in the library, I began to come across other African-American writers I never knew anything about. I already knew about poet, the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar and, of course, I knew about God’s Trombones writer, James Weldon Johnson, because we presented their pieces at the church that I went to. But when I came across The Anthology by Arnold Adolph, I was introduced to Gwendolyn Brooks. And I met, I, I met Nikki Giovanni, Cotton Candy On A Rainy Day. Ah, that was one of my favorites. And James Baldwin…that one even got banned from my high school and my mom went and bought it for me. It was great.

So I started learning all of these things but it was like a, a quiet learning. And although a fire begun, it was a quiet fire. One that, one that had to do with just reading and maybe sharing with people at the black church that I attended. And sometimes doing some pieces for my forensics team at school but very quiet. Well, one day I was bored and I was looking for something to read because that’s what I do, when I’m bored. I was looking for something to read and I usually do. I started looking to my parents’ things. Went through my mom’s stash, ya, nothing. Went to my dad’s always cluttered, never clean, room but always filled with books.  And I started looking. And I came across a book. I came across a book that shocked me. The Black Book. I started looking at it and I could put it down. First, I was disgusted and just appalled at some of the images that were there. They were, they were pictures of, of black bodies hanging from trees, of men smiling as they saw what was being, a person that was beaten on the back, the welts on their back. A group of white gentlemen posing for the picture proudly as they surrounded the smoldering body of a black man that had been burnt.  As visceral as those pictures were and as disgusting, in the book I also found great amusement and delight.  Colorful ads for skin lightening. Cures, using voodoo charms and Hexis. That was kind of cool, some of the things they used to do. I was amazed by this book and I couldn’t put it down.

Then, I got to the middle of the book and I found patents. P-A-T-E-N-T-S. Patents. Yes, patents. And patents, I knew, I knew what patents were. Patents were what you did if you made something. If you were an inventor.  And I looked at them. Patents. You mean, black people have been inventors? Oh, I was hot now. Mm, hmm.  All that fire that was a small little campfire, it rose up with me and it was a bonfire, wildfire. I was angry and I went back to the beginning of the black book and I started looking through it again. But I had new eyes this time. My eyes were feeding. What information I had not learned?!

Well, the next day that fire had not gone away at all. I arrived at school with the book in my hand. I couldn’t wait to get to my favorite class, history class. And I couldn’t wait to be able to talk to my teacher, my favorite teacher, Mrs. Elliott, she was my history class teacher. She also happened to be a white teacher. I walked into the classroom. I was the epitome of mad, black, teenage girl. Most people hadn’t even seen nothing like that in my school. There were 13 blacks at my school out of 2,000 students. I walked in that classroom. Other classmates would just walk in along with me. But I walked in. I had that book clasped around my chest. I walked in, walked right up to her desk, slammed the book down on her desk, and said “Why aren’t you teaching us this?”

All the air went out of the room. My classmates were completely quiet. They had never seen anything like this. I was angry and I demanded an answer. I had no idea what to say but I knew somebody better tell me something. Well, unbeknownst to me, Mrs. Elliott had been taking black history classes every summer for the last few summers. She was fascinated with black history. And she had a deep desire to teach it at the school but she had no clue how she, a white teacher, was going to teach black history at a predominantly white school when she would only see black students every once in a while. And so, she looked at me and she said, “Do you really want to learn this?”

“Yes I do.”

“OK then.” And right then, right then, at that very moment, Miss Elliott changed everything in her classroom and she began to teach black history. She brought in videos and images. And she had us look through all kinds of books and hear different things. This was completely different. Everybody in my class was excited because they had never heard it either. I was the only black student in that class but we all were learning. Miss Elliott even brought my mother in, and my mom talked about segregation. She talked about how she had to drink from a colored fountain. The kids looked at my mom, my mom who most of them knew, they couldn’t believe that she’d had to do that. That she’d had to go all the way into Washington D.C. just to go to an all black school. That she had had to go to the bathrooms, colored only bathrooms.

It changed all of us. But Miss Elliott didn’t just stop there. She started teaching all kinds of cross-cultural things. We learned more about other cultures than we had ever learned before. And we were a group that was eager. And as classmates, we couldn’t wait to learn more about diversity. It was amazing. Well, one of the girls came in and she had found out that they were killing chimpanzees in one of the countries in Africa. Immediately, we all got on board. We contacted the World, World…I can’t remember it…WWF and World Wide Wildlife Federation…I think it was World Wildlife Federation. We contacted them immediately and we said, “Can we do something?” Well, right then we started a fundraiser, we went and visited with the head offices in, in Washington D.C.  It was exciting and we became burgeoning activists. Wow! It as an incredible year but Miss Elliott didn’t stop with our year. She kept right on teaching for as long as I knew her. Teaching all that she could about all cultures.

I have to tell you, I was a raging fire when I walked into that room. I had been a campfire and I turned into wild wildfire and I was ready to burn everything in my path and hurt as many people as I could along with it. But Miss Elliot, she was a great teacher and she tended that fire. And she, she helped that fire to grow in the right places. And she made sure that the fire could live but that it wouldn’t burn wildly. Most of all, she ensured the fire would never go out.

A Black American Son’s Survival Lessons

 

Story Summary

A frantic call from Sheila Arnold’s son during his freshmen year in college turns into a moment to remember all that she had to teach him about growing up black, and, in turn, all he had also learned about crossing bridges in spite of people’s perceptions.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: A-Black-American-Sons-Survival-Lessons

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Have you ever had someone treat you differently because of your color, sex, or religion?  How did it feel and how did you respond?
  2. Why do you think that people treat people differently because of color, sex or religion?  How do we help people to change?  Can legislation change the way we treat others?  Why or why not?
  3. Have you ever read a book that made you want to learn more about its subject, or moved you to make a difference?  What was that book and what did it encourage you to do?
  4. Do different groups sit together in the cafeteria at your workplace or school?  Do different people interact with each other?  If not, do you think people should mix at least part of the time? What can you do about it?

Resources:

Themes:

  • African American/Blacks
  • Bullying
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family & Childhood
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Sheila Arnold. One day I got a phone call. “I want to come home!” It was my son.

“What’s going on? What’s going on, Chris? Talk to me!”

“I want to come home. I want to come home now.”

Now this was my mild-mannered son, the year 2004, and he was a freshman attending DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. He never got flustered. “What’s going on, Chris? Talk to me!”

“I want to come home! I want to come home now!”

And we stay on the phone a little bit longer but then he wouldn’t give me any more details. And he had to get off the phone. And I called his grandparents and I said… told them what was happening and they said, “Ah, just give it a day or so. It’ll be all right.”

The next day, he called. “Mom, I want to come home! I want to come home now! Can you bring me home? Why can’t you just bring me home?”

I said, “Baby, just talk to me! What’s going on? Just talk to me!”

“But. Mom, I just want to come home! I hate it here! You just don’t understand! I just want to go home! I know, I know things there.”

“Chris. I just need you to talk to me. What’s going on, baby?”

“I just want to come home!”

Again, the phone hung up and he hadn’t told me what was going on. I started preparing for things to get ready to come home, trying to work some things out. The next day he called again and this time he wanted to come home still but he gave me a little more information.

He said, “Mom, people here – they’re racists and I know what racists are. I’m from the South. I know that! Mom, they’re racists here; they’re prejudiced! I just want to come home.”

“Hmm!” And then he began to tell me what had led up to this moment. First off, he had a roommate and his roommate was a true Irish boy all the way down from this head to his toe. It was Danny! And Danny readily admitted on the first day that they met that he had never said more than hello or goodbye to an African-American.

They got along wonderfully and became the best of friends and were always together. But Chris began to notice things, you see, when Danny and him would go into the Greek neighborhood that was around DePaul University and they would buy in the stores that were there. The words that were thrown at them became more and more unkind to both him and to Danny.

And then Chris began to notice that when he went through the lunch line that the ladies behind the counter would laugh and smile and joke with him and double his portions on his tray, which was a delight. But when Danny came, often right behind him, they wouldn’t smile. They only put on there what he was required to get. It changed.

Then another incident! Both boys, Danny and Chris, run the track team together and one of the… some of the kids were running and practicing early and my son was up in the stands waiting for his turn to practice or to run. And he was sitting with some students and he looked down and someone on the team had done something good that was down practicing and he got up and he cheered for them. All of the students he was sitting with, which just happened to be all black athletes, and… and teammates that he was sitting with went, “Why are you cheering for him? He’s white!”

But the last straw was the last incident. He had gone into a local drug store that was right there; he had been in the store often before. And he’d gone in looking for an alarm clock. And being a true young man, he didn’t ask directions to where the alarm clock was.

He just logged up and down the aisles and he wasn’t in a hurry so he just kind of slowly went up and down each aisle. At some point in time, a police officer came in; he noticed him but it didn’t… wasn’t a big deal. After a while, he realized that there was no alarm clock sold in that store and so, he went and bought a pack of gum and went out the store. The moment he walked out the store, the police officer came out right behind him and told him to stop immediately, show identification and empty his pockets. And Chris did. And he took his I.D. out. He was flustered and took out the piece of gum. He was demanded that the receipt be shown. He showed the receipt and the officer said, “Well, we had a report there… that someone was stealing from the store.”

That was said to Chris while white people who had been walking in and out of the store went right by him. That was all he could take!

As my son relayed the story to me, it brought me back to when he was born. When my son was born in 1986, the statistic was that for an African-American born in a single parent-led home he had a 51 percent chance of being dead by the age of 21. And there were even higher statistics of him being either in jail, on drugs, and addicted and/or having a child out of wedlock. That statistic determined in my mind that I was, not only going to make sure that my son was educationally just ahead of the game and achieved, but I was going to teach him everything he needed so he could survive.

And so, I made sure he could read early. And I can tell you my son’s ability to articulate and negotiate were clearly formed by the time that he was in fifth grade and he did very well in school, particularly in mathematics.

But I also taught him how to live on the streets. I said, I told him, “You don’t go running down, and exercising and jogging on some street with your hoodie over your head. You don’t do that! And you don’t worry about the fact that you might get stopped and pulled over if you’re driving a car, even if that car is your grandfather’s brand new Mustang and he bought it with flat cash.” I told him that when a police officer says stop, you stop! “He says, ‘Show you his I.D.’  then you do. But you make sure when you show him your I.D., you tell him everything you’re doing when that wallet comes out. ‘Sir, I am taking the wallet out of my left pocket. I am pulling the wallet up with my right hand. I am bringing my left hand down to now take the wallet so I can then take my right hand and take out this I.D. to show you.’ ” And that may sound funny but I knew that’s what he had to do.

I made sure to tell him not to worry about when people look at you funny when you go to a store.

Just keep your hands out of your pocket and where others could see them. I told them that there were times that he was going to be stopped for driving, walking and just flat being black. That’s the way it was. He didn’t react to it.

I told him that when he got to college, he was going to meet all kinds of women. And because he was an athlete, he was going to have all kinds of women of many cultures trying to date him. And others were going to be upset that he dated anybody outside of his own people and they might try to set him up. He was to be careful.

I talked to him about survival and staying alive as much as I talked to about English and math and history and biology. This was important for his life. And all those talks I had, everything I ever did, I still couldn’t prepare him for what would happen in his heart when it would be so blatant. I couldn’t help him when that racism hit him full frontal.

I couldn’t prepare him for the anger and the bitterness and the confusion. Now I had to sit and watch and hope he would make a decision that was good on how to deal with this. I wondered…  I wondered how he was going to react. I really did!

I wondered if he was going to be like some of the men I know… some of the people I know that are just bitter at the white man, the Man. Are we taking our jobs, are we taking our things… bitter and angry and, truly, just as racist in return. Or was he going to be the stereotypical black activist that only do for your own. Don’t help nobody else! Take care of your own. It’s all about you; it’s all about us! We are one people. Don’t worry about anybody else!

Or was he going to be like his… like his great grandfather who was called “boy” by young men much younger than him when he was an old man but he still became the vice president of a large insurance company. Or was he going to be like his grandfather who joined the Army and when he was young as an officer in the Army, he still couldn’t eat in certain restaurants unless he went to the back door. But his grandfather still became a general officer.

Or was he going to be like his grandmother who oft times was looked at as the maid coming to work in someone’s house as she visited other officers’ homes. Or was he going to be like his mom, like me, who became the first black student body president at her high school where there were more others than there were blacks. And set a precedent for years to come! What would he do?

I began to make preparations. Then on day four, he called me back. He said, “I don’t need to come home!”

“All right. What happened?”

He said, “I don’t need to come home. I got this! I decided I’m not going to let them change me. I know who I am and I don’t have to be what they want me to be. I don’t even think, Mom, they know that they are prejudiced and it’s not just blacks and whites. They don’t like where people come from even if they’re the same color skin! Jamaicans versus African-Americans. Irish versus Italians. Oh, my goodness! Even Cubans and Puerto Ricans!”

He said, “Nah, I’m going to be better than that. Hey, I’m from the South. I got this.” And then he said, “I love you, Mom!”

I hung up! I hung up the phone, and smiled and I called his grandparents.

Too Crazy to Know Better

 

Story Summary:

 Jay O’Callahan shares storyteller Sandra Harris’s story of her involvement in the Civil Rights struggle in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Too-Crazy-to-Know-Better

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do people get involved in the cause of justice?
  2. Who do you know who has taken a risk for justice?
  3. When has the government taken the side of injustice? Why would this happen and what actions have people taken to change the government’s position? What causes are people fighting for today?

Resources:

  •  Miracle in Birmingham, a Civil Rights Memoir – 1954-1965 by W. Edward Harris,
  • Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years 1954-1965, Public Television

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

I’m Jay O’Callahan. I’m going to tell a story that Sandra Harris, a storyteller from Indianapolis, has given me permission to tell. It takes place in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963. I tell it in the voice of Sandra Harris.

I’m Sandra Harris. Nineteen sixty-three, I was living in Birmingham, Alabama. I had two children. I was pregnant. My husband, Ed, was away and I read in the newspaper Dr. Martin Luther King was, he was going to be speaking at the 16th Street Baptist Church downtown Birmingham. So, I got a babysitter and went down to the church. And I felt so welcome. Here I was pregnant, only white person in this whole church and I squeezed in. And it was so crowded, people were standing around the back and talkin’.

Dr. Martin Luther King, he stood…and there was presence. And I wrote down what he said at the end and I’m going to read that. He said, “I don’t need to tell anyone here tonight, what a long struggle this has been and it’s not nearly over. But brothers and sisters, let all who oppose us know this. We will stand in the face of poll taxes and we will cry ‘Freedom!’ We’ll stand in the face a job description, discrimination, and we’ll cry ‘Freedom!’” And by then everybody knew that every sentence was going to end with “we’ll cry Freedom!’”

He said, “We’ll stand in the face of hatred, we’ll cry ‘Freedom!’” On and on he went. “Because we’re children of a living God and citizens of this great country. And we will stand and cry ‘Freedom!’”

But by that time everyone is crying, “Freedom, freedom, freedom!” I’m not exaggerating. It seemed like the walls of that church were vibrating. And I knew this was not a movement. This was a revolution. And it was going to succeed, no matter what the cost. Course, I didn’t know the cost was going to be five years later, Dr. Martin Luther King was going to be murdered. I didn’t know just a few months later, there would be a bomb placed inside of that church, 16th Street Baptist Church, four girls are going to, were going to die. Those girls, I always carry, this. Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Cynthia (Carole) Robertson, that was the cost.

Well, I didn’t get involved in the march all the way from Selma to Montgomery. I didn’t face the hoses. But I did get a call just a few weeks after Dr. Martin Luther King was there, from a friend of mine, Jan Tomasack, from the Unitarian church, to go down to the superintendent’s office. You see, Dr. King had asked the students to come out and join the demonstrations. All of them were arrested. And the superintendent had expelled them. Some of these students were seniors and it was not fair. So, I went down, six white women, went into the office superintendent. I waddled in, eight months pregnant. And the superintendent was furious. We would, we would dare to challenge his, his decision. And he kept saying over and over, “I told those children, if they participated in demonstrations, they would be expelled and I’m true to my word!”

Well, he went on and on and on. There was no meeting place. And so finally I said, “Dr. Stow, Do the students read? Do they read the Declaration of Independence?”

“Course, they do.”

“Do they read the Bill of Rights and the Constitution? And do they read…”

“They read all of that stuff and we give them a test.”

And I said, “Well, that’s good and maybe they learned a little more than you expected them to learn.” Well, he was furious. He went on and on. We left.

My husband, Ed, and I, we joined something called Alabama Council of Human Relations. And this is blacks and whites talking about the future. We decided the thing to do was to go to one another’s homes, talk things over. So, we had a black couple, one Sunday, come, and after that the phone calls began, threatening us and our children. We’re staggered, we’re terrified. So, Ed and I decided to call my mother in Nashville, Tennessee, 200 miles away. I said, “Mother, Ed and I need to talk. Can you take the children for a few days?”

She said, “Fine.”

I was working so Ed took the children 200 miles. The moment he stepped into my mother’s house, the phone rang. He picked it up and a voice said, “You don’t deserve to live!” Oh, we were shocked. Nobody knew we were going to Nashville. Not even our best friends. We had heard about the phone being bugged. But now we knew. It was bugged. We didn’t know for sure, but it was it was said that there was a state committee that bugged the phones of people they didn’t like, like us. Now we’re worried about the life of our children. We knew what they could do. These people with violence.

We know because back in 1956, Ed and I were in college in Birmingham and Nat “King” Cole was in town. He was going to be singing at the Birmingham auditorium. And that was wonderful because most artists wouldn’t come because of segregation. In those days the blacks have to sit up, upstairs balcony, white folks downstairs. So my, so, Nat “King” Cole said, “I will come. Two concerts; one for whites, one for blacks.”

So Ed and I go to the white concert and Nat “King” Cole is singing. Then we heard this commotion and turned. Six men were running down the aisle and they were shouting, “Get him!’

Those men jumped up on the stage and they started beating Nat “King” Cole. Kicking him and knocking him down. Finally, band members got up and they pulled them off. Security members come. Nat “King” Cole was hurt, he was taken off stage. The band began to play “This Land of Liberty.” Then Nat “King” Cole came out on the stage and stood there…and he started singing. So, we left with all those memories of those songs but we left with the memory of that violence. That stupid meaningless violence. And now that violence was turned towards us and our children.

Well, Ed was accepted to graduate school in Boston. So, we left for the frozen north. At least our children safe.

Now, I like to tell that story because it reminds me of the courage of all those black people, all those white people who fought for freedom.

Miss No Name: Struggles for Justice

[youtuber  youtube=’https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b4YwSPffb9c’]

 

Story Summary:

 Jay shares storyteller Brother Blue’s (Dr. Hugh Morgan Hill) experience as an African American soldier in World War II in the Jim Crow South.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Miss-No-Name-Struggles-for-Justice

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you experienced injustice?
  2. Tell of a time someone helped you when you were treated unfairly.
  3. What are the injustices in American society today?

Resources:

  •  Sayin’ Somethin’ Stories from the National Association of Black Storytellers, Copyright 2006.
  • The Autobiography of Malcom X, Random House Publishing

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Jay O’Callahan. Ruth Hill has given me permission to tell this story written by her husband Brother Blue, who is also Dr. Hugh Morgan Hill. I’m going to read this story called “Miss No Name,” and this is about the time World War II, Brother Blue is an Army officer about to go overseas. And I’m going to read it to try to capture some of the, some of the cadence and the beauty of his words.

Miss No-Name, blue-eyed soul sister wrapped in snow. What’s your name? I’m Brother Blue, that’s my name. I’m a street cat. I like it like that. What’s your name? What’s your name inside? Your name? I got a story for you, a poem, a song, a dance, I do all over the world. I’m telling stories in the street to heal the broken world. To heal broken hearts, broken hands, broken bodies, all over the world. What’s your name, Miss No Name? I want to know your name inside. Your name.”

Once upon a time ago, long ago, a song ago, when I was a young man in the United States Army, I fell in love with you, Miss No Name. What’s your name? Long ago, a song ago, a blues ago, we got the news that we were going overseas. So, I went home, said hello to my folks, and I went back to my unit down South.

This was a sad time, bad time, this was time of segregation in the southern states of America the Beautiful. One morning, I woke up and thought, “What if I have to die, now? This is a beautiful day to die for America the Beautiful.” America the Beautiful did not think black soldiers could be brave warriors. I am, I always will be a black soldier. Early in the morning in the Southland, just before we’re to go overseas, I saw a wild bird. And I thought, “This is a day to die, to die for America the Beautiful. So, I bathed. I prayed. I put on my officer’s uniform and walked under the bus station, where it was against the law in the Southland for white people and black people to sit together on the bus. In those sad days, those bad days, black people had to sit in the back of the bus, white people in the front of the bus.

So, I walked to the bus station. The bus is waiting for me. I looked up at the sky; this is a lovely day to die for America the Beautiful. Bus is waiting for me. I looked up at the blue sky. I heard that voice, “This is a day to die.” So, I’ve got on the bus. Black people in the back only two seats empty, right behind the driver. “Whoo, haaa. They’re waiting for me. This is a lovely day to die, die.”

So, I sat down right behind the bus driver. The bus driver, he looked in the mirror. I saw his eyes were blue and they were burning in the mine, they were daggers. But he could see my eyes in the mirror and he saw something, the eyes of a crazy man, ready to die. Don’t want nobody to grab a crazy man who’s died to fear. So, I’m waiting for the military police, civilian police. And then, oooh, haaa, here comes a lady on the bus. A lady on the bus. She’s like music in the early morning. She got skin like snow, blue sky in her eye, golden fire in her hair and she sits down beside me. I don’t know why. Why does the sun, why does the sun shine in the morning? I don’t know why. Young man got up. He was sittin’ behind. A gallant son of the South, most courteous. He said to this lady sitting beside me, “You don’t have to sit beside this…” (I’m not going to say that word. I can’t say that word.)

And the sweet lady beside me, she said most sweetly, softly, softly, “No. This is perfectly all right.”

Well, my heart began to dance and shout but I couldn’t let it out. Something inside me was falling in love with this lady, this sweet lady. The bus is now making a sound. It’s moving, its coughin’, it’s lurching and crying and moaning and groaning. And we’re going through the South. And I’m waiting. I’m waiting. Military police. Civilian police. Ever stop, waiting, waiting.

Finally, the sweet lady, I don’t know her name, she got up and she got off the bus. She smiled at me without looking at me, for something inside both of us was past skin, past color. Past all. All names. I wanted to say, “Sweet lady, what’s your name?” I wanted to say, “Thank you, sweet lady. Thank you for seeing me, beyond color, beyond visible. You taught me something, sweet lady. You taught me, you can’t judge a person by the way they look. Up till the bright moment, I didn’t believe a person, white like snow, could make a move for a man of my color. I didn’t believe it could happen. But then you came along like a song. You opened my eyes so I could see past the skin we’re wrapped in.”

Oh, Miss No Name, I’m a wandering storyteller. I went to war overseas. I didn’t die. Many of my brothers did. Now I’m a wanderer, like a leaf in the wind, a fool for love. Traveling around this round, where you awaken me. You opened my eyes. I could see past the color we’re born in, past the accident of the birth, past the body we wear…past the given name.

Miss No Name, I know your name. Inside your name, it’s something like Love, something like Truth, something like Beauty, something like God. I can’t speak it, I’m trying to live it. I pray someday, before I fly from this world, as I travel through the streets, the subways, the prisons, the broken fields, broken city, I can make a move for somebody that don’t look like me. Like you did for Brother Blue, long, long ago.

 

The Bus: Traveling from England to India, with the Hells Angels

 

Story Summary:

 As the new Protestant Chaplain at the largest men’s prison in Maryland, Geraldine quickly realizes that the midweek Bible service has been overrun by the Crips – a violent, largely African-American gang – and that if something isn’t done quickly the Correctional Officers will close down the service. Going to the root of the problem, Geraldine meets with the head of Crips in her office, but she soon sees that as the two of them are so completely different she will have to establish some common ground before asking for his help with the problem. Will telling him a story of a thug-filled six-week bus trip from London, UK to Delhi, India, that she took decades before, be enough to win his trust? Can the midweek Bible service be saved?

For a print friend version of the transcript, click here:  The-Bus-Traveling-from-England-to-India-with-the-Hells-Angels

Discussion Questions:

  1.  America has more people incarcerated than any other nation in the world (both in number and per capita).  Why do you think this is?
  2. According to an FBI report, in 2011 there were approximately 1.4 million people who were part of gangs, and more than 33,000 gangs were active in the United State.  These numbers have since grown rapidly. What do you think has happened in this country to allow gangs to flourish?
  3. What do you think that you as an individual can do about both of these problems? What do you think that we as a nation can do about both of these problems?

Resources:

  • The Outsiders by E. F. Hutton
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Geraldine. Geraldine Buckley. And in 2007, it never crossed my mind, when I was training to be the chaplain, at the largest men’s prison in Maryland, that after just a few weeks on the job, I would be sitting in my office, across my desk from the leader of the Crips, which is a largely African-American violent gang. And that I would be asking the head of the Crips for his help with a problem.

Well, when that day came, I did what I do best in those situations. After all, you’ve probably realized by now, that I was born and brought up in England. Well, I made him a cup of tea. But I really did have a problem. The midweek Bible service that had about 240 men and…, it had become a meeting place for the gangs, particularly the Crips. Now, the front of the service was fine. That’s where men were opening themselves up to the love and forgiveness of God. And so, they were able to extend that love and forgiveness to other people. Incredible things were happening. But it was just at the back of the chapel that I had such a problem. That’s where the gang members, particularly the Crips, were passing things and they were talking loudly. Well, goodness knows what they were plotting. But they were disturbing the service and I couldn’t have that. And there was another level to this problem, and that is, if the correctional officers realized what a serious gang problem we actually had, they’d close down the service and we might not get it back for months.

Well, I went to the, the head of the, the inmate leaders of the chapel. Ah, we had a church of 600 people behind the walls. And, ah, the leaders, many of them, had theological degrees and I asked them for their input and they suggested that I take all those Crip leaders off the list. In other words, ban them from the service. But I didn’t want to do that, because to my mind, unless they sat under the Word of God, what hope would they have of changing? So, that’s why I decided to go to the root of the problem, which is how I find myself in my office, across my desk from the head of the Crips. Let’s call him El Jefe. Well, he was about thirty-three years of age. He was African-American. He came from Baltimore. And I knew, I only had him in my office for 20 minutes because he’d arrived at half past two and he had to leave by 2:50 in order to get back to his cell in time for count. And if he wasn’t there, he’d be taken off to the segregation unit in chains. I thought, how am I going to establish any common ground, any mutual understanding, or any hope of cooperation, in such a short amount of time.

After all, we were so different. I mean, for a start, he was a man and I’m a woman. He’d been incarcerated for years and he’s got years to go. And I’m relatively new at all this. And then, he was a Crip and I’m a Pentecostal. And then, I had an idea. And I said, “Jefe, let me tell you a story.” I have, but first of all, I said to him, “Jefe, I think I have a really soft spot for gangs.” Well he was, at the time, he was slumped in his chair and he was gently tapping his fingers on the edge of my desk. And he was looking at me through half-closed eyes and I knew then that he was not buying it. So that’s when I said, “Jefe, let me tell you a story.”

“When I was 21, I went on a bus trip from North Finchley tube station in London to Delhi, India. It was called Budget Bus. It was bright pink. It was decrepit. It was held together with duct tape. But it was cheap. Now, I went for two reasons. First of all, I wanted something on my resume the following year, that would make me really stand out from my, my fellow graduates. And the other thing is I really wanted to irritate my mother.”

“Now, I was really concerned about who my fellow travelling companions were going to be because we would be travelling together for six weeks. We would be eating together by the side of the road. We’d be sleeping in tents together. So, we would in effect, be a mobile travelling capsule. And so, I was very concerned when I first stepped on the bus, and my immediate impression was one of a strong smell of unwashed bodies. Well, I tried hard to not let that show on my face but I looked to see where it was coming from. And it was a small group of men who were very thin, they had hollow eyes, and they had track marks up and down their arms. These were drug addicts. And one of them was going to die on a beach in Sri Lanka.”

Well, I looked over at Jefe, and I’d noticed that he’d stopped drumming his fingers, and he was sitting up straight. Good. I had his attention, so I carried on. “So,” I said, “of the other 25 or 30 other men and women on that bus, there was another man who immediately, I immediately, noticed. he was a small man. He was in his mid-20’s. He had shifty eyes. And he sat right at the back of the bus. And I knew straight away, he was Australian because of his accent, And I found out later that his name was Wayne. Well, from that very first moment of getting on the bus, he kept up a loud, continuous monologue of the filthiest language I have ever heard before or since.”

“And then, there was another group of men who stood out to me. They were wearing denim and leather and chains. They had shaved heads. They were covered in tattoos, and they had a really hard look on their faces. These were the Hell’s Angels. Now, it must be said, that these were English Hell’s Angels, so they were a little more refined than their American counterparts. But they were still Hell’s Angels, and they terrified me. Particularly, their leader who was called Grila. Now, Grila was an enormous man. He couldn’t read or write. He had his name tattooed on his knuckles. G-R-I-L-A. And he had this huge tattoo on his arm of a gravestone with the names of men in it. And I looked at those names and I thought, ‘Are they the names of the men he’s killed?’ Oh, that man, Grilla, absolutely terrified me!”

“Well, that bus was far worse than I could have ever imagined on that first day. Wayne and his new group of friends discovered that down the aisle of the bus, there was a trap door that went down to the road. And when the bus was moving, they would have urinating contests. And if anybody objected, they would turn the flow on them. And then, for some reason, Wayne thought it would be great fun to pick on me. And so, for hour after hour, he kept up another loud monologue describing, in vivid detail, what he imagined I did as extracurricular activity.”

“Well, I was only 21 and this went on for day, after day, after day. Well, one of those days, I was sitting near the back of the blus… back of the bus, playing Scrabble with Wayne’s new girlfriend. She and I shared a tent for the first few days of the bus. Well, he said something really crass to her. Really revolting. And, stupidly, I defended her. So, he pushed me back in my seat. And then, he picked up his big fist to hit me. When all of a sudden, over my shoulder, came an enormous hand and it grabbed Wayne’s wrist. And a voice said, ‘No, you don’t. You’re not hitting women. Not on my turf!’”

And Wayne just crumbled and he said, ‘No!’ He said, ‘Don’t hurt me! Don’t, don’t hurt me! Don’t hurt me.’”

“Well, I looked around to see who he was, who’d come to my help. It was Grilla! Grilla had come to help me. Well, that night I was sitting on the bus by myself. All the others were setting up the camp and, and Grilla came to find me. And he was shuffling his feet a bit, and he had his cap in his hand, and he was twisting it, and he kept his eyes on the ground, And he said, ‘Geraldine, I’m really sorry I didn’t do more to help you on that bus today.’ He said, ‘But if we men start eating each other, someone’s going to get killed.’”

“Well, several things happened from that incident. The first thing, was that Wayne kept really quiet at the back of the bus, which was wonderful. And then, that was the first time that I realized that, although it’s best for men and women to work together, sometimes you need a man to stand up and do what’s right. And when that happens, it’s like a key turns in a lock and evil turns to good. And then the other thing that happened was, that Grilla and his group of Hell’s Angels friends, they took me under their wing. And I became the little sister the gang. All very innocent.”

Well, at that moment I looked over at, ah, at Jefe and his eyes were as big as the bottom of s… of buckets. And I said, “I know, isn’t that incredible, Jefe, that a woman who was not long out of a convent boarding school, would end up being the little sister of a gang of hens… Hell’s Angels. But what that meant was, that I got to spend time with them. I got to see who they really were. And I saw that they, they really cared for each other. They had each other’s backs. They were family.”

“So, one day I asked Grilla about that enormous tattoo on his arm, the one of the gravestone with the R.I.P. and the names of men. And he said, “Oh, Geraldine.’ He said, he said, ‘They’re my fallen comrades. They’re my dead friends. If we don’t look out for each other, who will?’”

Well, at that moment, a shadow came across the glass in my office door. It was the correctional officer. And he opened the door. He said, “Chaplain, you’ve got three more minutes with this man, and then he’s got to get back to his cell in time for count.”

I said, “Thank you, officer.” Three minutes. How was I going to get my last point across in such a short amount of time? Tick…tick…tick…And then, I had another idea. I said, “Jefe, you and your, your Hell’s Angels, your, you and your, your Crips friends. You’ve been teaching me such a lot since I’ve been here. You’ve been teaching me about gang warfare and streets and, and gangs. Now, tell me if this is right or not, but from what I understand, you’d never let another gang come in and take your street corner. Is that right?”

He said, “Oh, that’s right, Chaplain.” And he said, “That’s never gonna happen. Never gonna happen.”

I said, “Well, Jefe, this mid-week Bible service, this is our land. The leader of these, this chaplain and mine. And if you continue what you’re doing with your Crip friends, you’re going to draw the attention of the correctional officers. And if you carry on doing it, they’re going to take it away from us. Now, it would break my heart to take you and your fellow gang members off the list. In other words, ban you from the service. But if that’s what I’ve got to do, I’ll do it. Because no one is taking this land away from me.”

And we just stared at each other. Tick, tick. A shadow came across the door in the office and then, and then, Jefe said, “It’s all right, Chaplain.” He said, he said, “I get it. There’ll be no more trouble. I give you my word.”

And you know something? Jefe kept his word from that moment ’til the time I left, two and a half years later. There was no more gang trouble in the Protestant chapel. No more trouble on my turf.

1966 Caracas, Venezuela: Day One of Junior High For An American Girl

 

Story Summary:

 Moving to Junior High school opens Angela’s eyes to a society and culture that she had been living in (Caracas, Venezuela), and yet one from which she was separate. Angela’s story tells a universal truth: we think we are the only ones telling ourselves “ We do not belong here.” That statement is what we have in common.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Were there times at school when you felt out of place?
  2. Who helped you and what specifically did they do? What kinds of things did you do to help yourself?
  3. How could you help others at your school, workplace, place of worship, neighborhood and so on feel that they belong?

 

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Living and Traveling Abroad

Tipping the Scales

 

Story Summary:

 When camp started, tension was high between the Chinese kids and Black and Latino kids in Robin’s group. But over the summer, the children began to let their defenses down and make new friends. That is, until Daniela returned.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Tipping-the-Scales

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever been bullied? What happened?  How did you feel?  What did you do?
  2. Have you ever stood up for someone who has been bullied? What happened?
  3. Have you ever been a person who bullied others? Why?  What was going on for you?
  4. How would you handle a situation like the one in the story? Where would you stand?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Bullying
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family & Childhood
  • Stereotypes & Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hello, I’m Robin Bady. So, it was a couple of summers ago… maybe, many, that, ah, I was going to my first day of my first summer job in New York City. It was to be the head counselor of the Hamilton Madison Day Care Center in Chinatown, in New York. I was excited because I did not have to be a waitress like my friends. So, I arrived there and I go straight to the cafeteria and there are the children. They’re sitting at two tables, two very distinct tables. At one table were the Chinese children and the other table where all the black and Puerto Rican children. Distinct. Separate.

Well, my supervisor, Mrs. Louie, she had told me, “They don’t get along. They’re like oil and water. They don’t mix. The Chinese children live in Chinatown. The black and Puerto Rican children live ah, in like, all the new projects around Chinatown and they don’t talk to each other. But you shouldn’t worry. Your main problem, Daniella, who likes to upset things, she won’t be here for the summer.

Well, I thought, now I had just moved from Chicago where I had worked with really, really tough kids who had been in gangs. Teaching theater, for goodness sake. How difficult could a group of 11 and 12-year-olds be?  So, I jumped right in. And I did whatever it is you do when you have an underfunded program in, an underserved neighborhood. I made do.

And I’ll tell you, we had fun! And little by little things started to change. It started to shift and, I mean, first it started with the girls just putting their head on me and, you know, slipping their arms through mine. And then the boys, you know, let’s go and do an arm wrestle, which I always, for real, lost. And then the table started to mix and the groups of children started to make friends in the other groups. And, and we were one, big group.

Now, I know, and I’m sure all of you know, we’re not supposed to have favorites, but Elizabeth. Now Elizabeth was a new immigrant to this country as many of the Chinese children were. She had just come over six, eight months ago and, within no time at all, she was speaking English fluently, and she was reading almost as fluently.  One day she said to me, “Miss Robin do you know Shakespeare?” Well, hey, I was going to acting school; of course, I knew Shakespeare. The next day, I brought her one of my Shakespeare copies of Folger’s edition of “Julius Caesar.” She opened it up randomly and she looked at it; she went to sit down. The children gathered around, and with her finger, she began to read out loud.

“Why…man…he doth bestride the very world like a Colossus.” She had chosen my favorite speech! “And we petty men walk under his huge legs and peep about and find ourselves dishonorable graves. Men at some time are masters of their fate. The fault, dear Brutus, the fault lies not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings.” This this was the BEST SUMMER EVER!

Well, the, the first day of the last week, I arrived at the facility with all the circus equipment because I was going to do a whole circus week and we were going to end with a big circus day. And I got there, and the boys were all fooling around in the back as they had been doing for a while, and at the two tables in front of me, were the girls. On one side were the Chinese girls and on the other side were the black and Latino girls. Two distinct groups.

And sitting at the head of the table with the black and Latino girls, was a girl I’d never seen before. Her back was straight, her head was straight, her arms were crossed. And all the girls sitting at the table with her, my girls, were sitting exactly like her, with that same hard look in their eyes. Okay. I took my hand and I stuck it out because I’m a friendly kind of person and I said, “Hi. Hey, Daniella, I know it…wel… welcome back. I’m Robyn.” And she looked at my hand and she looked away. And all the girls looked at my hand and looked away.

I had heard about Daniella. She was the kind of girl who’d like to upset things and make things difficult. Only her, her old teacher, whom I had replaced, could handle her. I got it. What had been going so well had now turned into a war, which…I realized I was going to lose. And so the next bunch of days went exactly like that.  If I wanted to do something, I had to go through Daniella, and then it would happen. You know, I looked at her. What was it about this child? She was a child. She was 12 years old. Nothing special jumped out but there was something that she had that made a group of girls follow her blindly. And it’s not like she was even nice to them, even. She was cruel and they were cruel too. I didn’t get it. I didn’t.

Well, Thursday, couple of days had gone by, Thursday, I, I went in and, uh, had my morning… I ran out to lunch. I was delighted. And slowly and regretfully, I started back after lunch was over.  I was crossing Catherine Street when the door to the facility slammed open, and out came a counselor holding Elizabeth in his arms.  Holding her, and her arm was straight up and around it was wrapped a white cloth that was dirty. And then a cab screeched to a halt, they got in, they screeched away. Mrs. Louie came to the door, “You better get into your classroom.” And so I ran. And when I got there, the door was open, there was glass on the floor. It was glass from the one glass panel in the wooden door. And my kids, my kids were standing there in shock. I walked towards them.

And that’s when Sandra broke, “Oh, Miss Robin! Elizabeth, Elizabeth stood up for Mary. Daniella was picking on her and, and Daniella pushed her down. So, so Mary said, ‘Stop!’ And then Daniella pushed down, pushed Elizabeth down. And then, and then…” And then, the other kids joined in.

“Right. And then, and then, Daniella and her group of girls, those mean girls, they, they went out.  And they, they pulled the door shut. And Elizabeth started to open it, so we could get out.”

And, apparently what had happened, it had been back and forth between the girls. Pushing and pulling one way, and the other, and the other way, until finally, Elizabeth’s hand went through the door. I looked around. Where was Daniella? And where were her girls? And then, Miss. Louie came in and told me that they had, they had run away. They had left and that everybody was looking for them out and I should take the children outside, which I did.

And so, we sat there not knowing quite what to do. We were in the playground. Some kids got on the swings but had no energy. Some were on the benches next to me and some went on to the see-saw. Up and down, and up and down. And finally, when it was time to go in, we went in and who followed behind us? Daniella and her posse. And they came, and they left. As I was about to leave, Miss Louie told me that the girls had been going through the area and had been ripping off candy from the stores.

Well, the next day Daniella and Elizabeth were both not there. And what had begun so, so beautifully ended with a whisper.

Well, I’ll tell you, it happened a while ago, but I still think of that time. Of what one person did. How did that one child have so much power? You know, it was kind of like a see-saw in the playground; up and down, and up and down. Like the scales of justice; up and down. Black, white, red, brown, yellow, and all the rest; up and down. Good and bad. And sometimes balance or not.  “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings.”

What is it you do, we do, with our power? Do we use it to push people apart or to bring them together?

Who Knows What Children Make of These Things?

[youtuber  youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFv1EzIzTxg’]

 

Story Summary:

 In three short anecdotes, the teller (Milbre as a child) and her small daughter, Elizabeth, try to make sense of a world in which we are taught to fear “the Other”.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Who-Knows-What-Children-Make-of-These-Things

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why did Milbre’s mother think that Milbre had put her friend, Debbie, in danger?
  2. Have you ever had to tell a younger child about the realities of racism and violence? How did you balance the concern for wanting to protect their innocence and the need to prepare them for some of the harsh realities of life?
  3.  What do you think of Elizabeth’s comment: “Even the bad guys and bullies can be painted on the mailbox”? Do you think this is just childish well wishing or is it possible to include everyone in our definition of family?

Resources:

  • Starting Small: Teaching Tolerance in Preschool and the Early Grades by Teaching Tolerance Project and Vivian Gussin Paley
  • Raising the Rainbow Generation: Teaching Your Children to Be Successful in a Multicultural Society by Dr. Darlene Hopson
  •  www.MulticulturalKidBlogs.com
  •  Milbre used these folktale collections to work on her longer show from which this video excerpt is a part:
  •  Peace Tales – World Folktales to Talk about by Margaret Read MacDonald
  • Tales from Afghanistan by Amina Shah
  • Arab Folktales translated and edited by Inea Bushnaq

Themes:

  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

My name is Milbre Burch. These stories are from, In the Family Way and Making the Heart Whole Again: Stories For A Wounded World.

I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, born in 1953, but I left home and I married another southern expatriate in Providence, Rhode Island. Our children were born in California, in the 90s. And since then, we’ve lived in the southeast and the Midwest. Though we all grew up in America, my children and I were born into different worlds. In the 60s, the light brown woman who cleaned our house had a dark brown daughter about my age. And in the summer of 1963, I played with Debbie when she came to work with her mother. I was 10 and that meant that we could walk around the neighborhood on our own. And so, I suggested we walk up to the drugstore, lured by the soda fountain, and there I ordered two limeades. The counterman served us, as we stood and slurped down our drinks, put them on my family’s tab, and headed home. When I got there and my mother realized what I’d done, she scolded me, telling me that the counterman could have refused to serve Debbie because of the color of her skin. She said nothing more than that. Just that I had put Debbie and our friendship in a perilous position. Now, my mother had immigrated from Canada and grown up in southern California. And she remembered that the woman who lived across the street would let her play in the yard with her children. But wouldn’t let her in the house because she was from a foreign country. I didn’t hear that story until my mother was in her 90s. But even if you don’t talk about your past, still it shapes your life. And perhaps that’s why she never spoke to me of people as others. So, it was not until that day in 1963, because of white privilege, that I even heard of the Jim Crow laws. But Debbie and her family had to live with them every day. What did her mother tell her about how to navigate hostile world? And what children make of these things?

In 2002, my husband and I and our family lived in Chapel Hill. And I set out one Thanksgiving holiday, to take our girls by car to the hills of north Georgia for a Thanksgiving celebration with my brother. My husband, Berkeley, stayed behind, he was working on his dissertation and would join us in a few days. Now, whenever we went on a road trip we would always play songs and stories on tape in the car. And this day we were listening to, “I’m to let it shine,” a collection of songs from the freedom struggles and during the civil rights movement. It’s an acapella album and I defy you not to burst into song if you’re listening to it. So, we drove down the road, singing at the top of our lungs. And then we’d come to a line like, “If you miss me at the back of the bus, you can’t find me nowhere, come on up to the front of the bus, I’ll be sitting right there,” and my children said, “Mom, what’s that mean?”

Now my kids had friends of many colors and they were too young to have studied the civil rights movement in America yet. So, I told them for the first time what it was like growing up in the segregated South and they said, “Oh.” We played some more music and came to a line like, “You’re gonna go my bail.”

And they said, “Mom what’s that mean?” And I told them for the first time about how if you believe all laws unjust you might participate in a civil disobedience and you might get arrested. And your friends would collect money to bail you out so you could go back to your demonstration.

And they said, “Oh.” And we start singing again. Who knows what children make of these things?

A week later, we were back home at our own supper table. It was early December and now the sun set at 4:30 or 5. We were having dinner and I realized that Elizabeth, age 6, was going to a birthday party right after school the next day and we hadn’t gotten a present. So, I said, “Honey, let’s run over to the bookstore at the mall and pick up a gift card.” Because books are our favorite gift to give or to get.

She said, “OK, Mom.” And we did just that. Drove over to the mall, went to the bookstore, came out with our card. We’re headed back, in the parking lot, in the night sky, and I was aware of a stranger coming toward me. And I turned and I saw it was a woman and she was carrying a big, stuffed bear. So, I wasn’t afraid. It was another mom getting a gift for another child. And she asked me if I might take her to the bus stop by the university because she just missed her bus there at the mall.

When she spoke, it was clear that English was not her first language. She had a very heavy accent. Now, I’d never picked up a stranger with my child in tow. And Elizabeth doesn’t like surprises. So, I said, “Honey, we’re going to help this gal get to the bus by the university.”

She said, “OK, Mom,” and climbed in the backseat. And woman and the bear got in the front. And we drove up to Franklin Street and dropped her off. But I thought I should put this unusual happenstance into a context for my little girl and so I said, “Well, Honey, I just did my good deed for the day.”

And in the backseat Elizabeth thought for a minute said, “Why do you have to do a good deed for the day, Mom?”

Well, I said, “I guess I think it’s what makes the world go ’round.”

She thought for a minute and then she said, “Some people wouldn’t help another person with a different accent or a different skin color.”

And I said, “That’s right, Honey.”

And she said, “And that makes the world stop.”

I said, “I think you must be right.”

She thought for another minute. She said, “And then when the world starts again you have to keep jumping over that person every time you get to him.”

I said, “Yeah.”

And then she said, “And after a while it gets to be a great big pile because it’s all of us.”

I said, “Elizabeth you’re a philosopher.”

And she said, “What’s that, Mom?” And we drove up the driveway and we’re home.

Now, Elizabeth had started sharing her big ideas the year before when she was five. September 11th, 2001, my girls were both at the Montessori community school when my husband came in to tell me that a plane had just run into the World Trade Center. A few minutes later, he came back to tell me that a second plane had flown into the second tower. We were stunned by news of this attack. And we stayed close by each other all day long. We got an e-mail from the school saying that no one would talk about the incident until the parents had had a chance to speak to their children that night. But that the next day, the teachers would be prepared to answer any questions that children might have. Now, when my girls were young, I had Mommy Day with each one of them, one day a week. And that meant, when I went to school I’d only pick up, the one girl, leave the other at the child care center a little while longer, and go have a small adventure with one of my daughters. And that Tuesday, it was Elizabeth’s turn for a Mommy Day. But Berkeley and I didn’t want to leave each other’s sides, so I took him with me. And we went to the mall with Elizabeth to get some ice cream.

Now, Elizabeth doesn’t like surprises. She stood there for a moment and then she said, “I don’t know what Daddy’s doing here. What’s a Daddy doing on a Mommy Day?”

And I said, “Honey, something really bad and sad happened today. Some bad guys, some bullies, they hurt a lot of people. Daddy and I just wanted to stay close by each other.”

And she accepted that. When our ice cream was done, we went back to the school to pick up her sister. And Elizabeth ran into the child care center and said, “Katie, some bad guys and bullies, they really hurt a lot of people.” And I grabbed her hand and I pulled her out of the childcare center before the other children could hear any more. And on the way home we talked a little more specifically about what had happened that day. But who knows what children make of these things?

Fast forward to New Year’s Day, 2002. We had been invited by our friend, Louise Amotel-Kecil to her house for an open house. Now Louise was Japanese-Jewish so she was a multicultural experience all to herself. And she and her husband, Holmes, adopted a baby boy whose skin color was different from theirs. And this open house was a chance to introduce him to his community, over latkes and sushi. So, my family went and celebrated the new family. When it was time to go home, we got back in the car and we drove down the long driveway at their farm and before we turned onto the highway, we saw their mailbox. Now, their farm is called “Clapping Hands Farm” and the whole mailbox is covered with bright, colored imprints of hands, all different colors. Elizabeth saw it. And in the backseat, as we turned on the road, she said, “Idea, idea, idea!”

I said, “What’s your idea, Elizabeth?”

She said, “We could get a mailbox and paint it like all the peoples of the world. And then, we could paint our house like all the peoples of the world. And then, we could get clothes like all the peoples of the world. And that way, no harm will ever come to us.” And she thought for a minute and she said, “Even the bad guys and bullies can be on the mailboxes.”

“May it be so, Elizabeth. May it be so.”

Undocumented Journey: An Educational Dream Realized for Illegal Immigrants

 

Story Summary:

In 1972, Marsha worked for the Peace Corp in Jamaica. She became friendly with a neighbor woman named Yvonne. By casually mentioning the town she lived near – Montclair, New Jersey – Marsha set in motion a dream that Yvonne would sacrifice everything to fulfill. Although some would call her an “illegal immigrant” Yvonne accomplished the impossible.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Undocumented-Journey

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why do you think Yvonne latched on to the idea of the importance of education for her children?
  2. One of Yvonne’s children went on to study medicine at Harvard. Do you think Yvonne and her husband felt their sacrifices were worth it? What did the U.S. gain by having Yvonne’s children well educated?
  3. Does the outcome of this story influence your thinking about “illegal immigration”?

Resources:

  •  One Hand Does Not Catch a Buffalo: 50 Years of Amazing Peace Corps Stories by Aaron Barlow
  •  The Dead Yard: A Story of Modern Jamaica by Ian Thomson

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Immigration
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Marsha Wong.

In 1972, I was in the Peace Corps, assigned to the island of Jamaica. I lived in a town discovered by Christopher Columbus and he named the town Discovery Bay. I lived on the top of a cliff, overlooking the Caribbean, in a tiny prefab, concrete house. Most of my neighbors were Jamaican families. The couple that lived right next door to me was named Seymour and Yvonne. Yvonne and I were both 23, but that’s pretty much where the similarities ended. Yvonne had had a totally different life then I do. She had dropped out of high school when she was 15, when she gave birth to her first child. And now she had three children with a fourth one on its way. But nevertheless, we quickly became friends.

Yvonne and I would spend most of our time, not all of our time but most of our time, out in the yard by the concrete trough where we would wash our clothes. Now I wasn’t quite used to washing my clothes in water that wasn’t hot. So, Yvonne, kind of, schooled me in the proper method of washing clothes. And during that time, we would talk about our family and our lives. And Yvonne would tell me about how she regretted not going to high school and hopes and dreams that she had for her family. And she asked me, what was the best thing that she could do for her children? See, she believed that the United States was the answer to everything. The United States was far superior to living a life in a third world country. So, when she asked me what was the best thing she could do for her children, I told her. Since, especially, I was a teacher, the best thing that she could do for her children was to get them an education. And she thought about that as she was pounding her clothes into the concrete trough and trying to wash ’em.

And she said to me, “You know, I have always regretted my decision not to go back to school. But tell me, where is the best place I could get this education for my children?” Well, I had taught in East Orange, New Jersey, which is a town right next to Newark, New Jersey and very, very close to Montclair which was an affluent community. So, I told her being 23, that the best place in the entire United States to get an education was Montclair, New Jersey.

And she told me, “Me goin’ to go there one day, you know. Me goin’ to go there.”

Well, eventually, I married a Jamaican and I moved to Kingston. And in time, we would go up to the north coast and we would visit Yvonne and her family because we had become friends. And during that time, we would reminisce and we would talk about… in fact, she even came to my wedding. But in time, my husband and I had decided to move up to New York, where he was going to do another degree at Columbia. So, over the course of several years, I hadn’t seen Yvonne, but every time we had gone back to Jamaica to visit relatives, I would call her. In fact, there were times, not only would I call her, but we would drive up to the north coast to Discovery Bay. And I would go into the community and found out her family was still living there but that she and I, our paths never seemed to cross. So, it had been 14 years till I saw her again. And while I was up on the north coast, I called her, late one evening… really, late. And I said, “Yvonne is this you?”

And she said, “Oh, my gosh, Marsha, me can’t believe it’s you!” And we proceeded to talk about everything that had happened in the last 14 years.

And she said, “Me got a story to tell ya. Ya won’t believe this story.” And she proceeded to tell it to me. Apparently, she and Seymour had discussed, over the years, of how they can get their children this incredible opportunity to go to Montclair, New Jersey.

And Seymour and her, she said, “Seymour and me discussed, man. We over it and over it and we thought and we thought and we thought. Until one day, I said, ‘Seymour, my children must have this opportunity, you know.’ And he said to me, ‘Yvonne, there is no way, no way we’re going to do it.’ But you know what? I come up with a plan and I said, ‘Seymour I can go to the United States. Me can go and work as a domestic illegally, you know, but me can do it.’”

And so that was the plan. See, everybody that everyone knew when she got to the United States was illegal. The organization, believe it or not, was an organization that only hired illegal aliens, illegal immigrants. Her friends were all illegal. And she said to me, “You know, in time me get Seymour and him tell me all the time, ‘Yvonne, me can’t stand it you are away from me.’

And I said, “Seymour, you don’t remember what Marsha Wong told us?”

And him said, “Marsha Wong! Mystic of Marsha Wong!” But in time Seymour brought all five of his children up one at a time. All five of them, you know.”

“Well, I live in, out rent, a small, apartment; two rooms and a small, little, little kitchen. And in the kitchen, we have a hot plate and on the hot plate we cooked meals. Well, every morning me wake up, me get the children, we come on the bus, and we go to Montclair, New Jersey because all five of them are in this school in Montclair.”

“Believe it or not, I had gotten my mommy and my daddy. They came up illegally, of course. Me got my brother and my sister and their families. I got all of them up in Montclair. Except for Seymour because he has to stay back and work in Jamaica. But while we’re riding on a bus one time, the truant officers saw us. And the truant officer said, ‘What are you doing man?’”

“And I said to him, ‘Me taking my five children to school in Montclair.’ ”

“He said, ‘You can’t do that. You can’t do that. If you want to go to school here, you must live here. You don’t live here. So, if you do live here, you can go to school here.’

“Me have no choice. Me have no choice. Imma call Seymour. I say, ‘Seymour, I must move into Montclair.’ ”

“And he said, “Please Yvonne, come home to me.’ ”

“And she said, ‘You know, Seymour, I can’t come home. I told you before, Marsha Wong told us the best place to go for an education is Montclair and that’s what we have to do.’ ”

“So, I rent one room, really and truly, I rent one room. I have a big bed and I have all five children lay horizontally on the bed to go to sleep. Now, I don’t sleep at night because I work at night. But all of five children, they wear ragged jeans to school. You know, it’s expensive in Montclair. They wear the ragged jeans, they wear sneakers. I can’t afford the brands that are in Montclair. I can’t. But all five of my children, they know that the best thing that’s going to happen them, is they’re going to get an education in Montclair, New Jersey. Well, believe it or not. Seymour said, ‘Please,’ him call the time. ‘Please, Yvonne, you must come home darling.’”

“And I say, ‘Seymour, Me can’t come. This is what we’re getting. All the children are going to go to school. Me want you. I’ve been away from you all these years. My children don’t have their daddy. Everybody is suffering. But we’re going to have something in the end. It would be foolish if I didn’t follow this through.’”

“Well in time, Marsha, you know what happened?”

I said, “What?”

She said, “In time, my oldest graduated from high school and then, Andrea, my second daughter my second daughter. She win a scholarship to Harvard University. Harvard man! You know, she can’t accept this scholarship if she is illegal. And I’m thinking what am I going to do? I tell everybody that she win a scholarship. I mean what am I going to do?”

“Well, I tell you at that particular time, President Clinton had an amnesty program. And if you had paid all of your taxes, which I did, or you didn’t do anything wrong, and you did everything on the list, man, everything, you could get a green card. So, I told my whole family. I told my family, I told my friends, and I told Seymore. ‘I’ve got to go down to the immigration. Nima… Newark Immigration and Naturalization Service.’”

“And he said, ‘Don’t go, Yvonne. You can’t go! You can’t go! Him to deport you. You can’t trust the government.’ ”

“And I said, ‘I have no choice. I have no choice, man. What is my choice? My child worked so hard to get into Harvard. So hard.’”

“So I kiss mommy and daddy. I kiss my children. I kiss my brother and his family. I kiss my sister. I kiss all of my friends. And I say goodbye because I don’t know if they’re going to deport me. Is this a trick? I go down to the Newark Immigration and Naturalization Service. I’m right there and I’m so frightened. Imagine the trepidation I have, Marsha. With so much trepidation, I go in there and I take a deep breath. And you know what? I pass! I get to everything, right? Man, I got everything right. And I get a green card and Andrea can go to Harvard. And she did and all my family, all my family, man, gets a green card.”

Well, just at that moment you could hear somebody coming in through the door and it must have been Seymour. And Seymour said it was really late at night. He said, “Who ya talkin’ on the phone wit?”

“Me tell him, ‘Guess, Seymour, guess who’s on the phone?’”

He said, “Yvonne, I’m too tired to guess.”

“Guess, man. Guess, who’s on the phone.

“I don’t know.”

“Guess.”

He said, “I don’t know. Marsha Wong?”

“Yes, man. Marsha Wong.”

Now regardless of what you think of whether Yvonne did the right thing by entering this country illegally and she did. I know that words are so powerful and it could set someone on a trajectory that can transform their lives. And given what is happening in our country at this particular time with illegal immigration, tell me what you think?

Not By the Sword: How a Cantor and His Family Transformed a Klansman

 

Story Summary:

 In 1991 in Lincoln, Nebraska, a Jewish Cantor and his family were threatened and harassed by the Grand Dragon of the state Ku Klux Klan. Here is the remarkable story of how they dealt with the hatred and bigotry, and, in the process, redeemed a life. Based on the book, Not By the Sword: How a Cantor and His Family Transformed a Klansman, by Kathryn Watterson.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Not-By-the-Sword-How-a-Cantor-and-His-Family-Transformed-a-Klansman

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is this a story about religious transformation or about how isolated people need caring relationships?
  2. What does this story say about the power of words and the means of spreading those words? How does anonymity protect the speaker? How do the cantor’s ‘public’ words spread his message?
  3. Would you have considered inviting the former KKK member to live in your home? How was the family able to open their door and their hearts to a man who had hurt so many?

Resource:

  •  Not By the Sword by Kathryn Waterson, Simon & Schuster, 1995; University of Nebraska Press, 2012.

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Interfaith
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

My name is Pippa White. The story I have for you is a true story. It’s about an incident that happened in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1991. Actually, it’s a much truncated version of a wonderful book called Not By the Sword: How a Cantor and His Family Transformed a Klansman. That book was written by Kathryn Watterson. And I’m very grateful to Kathryn for letting me tell this story. Actually, there are two people in the story, Michael and Julie, who I know. So I’m grateful to them too. And I’m going to tell the story from Julie’s point of view. I am now going to become Julie.

We had encountered anti-Semitism before. My husband was a Jewish cantor, he had had other appointments in other synagogues in other cities. Anti-semitism was not something we were unfamiliar with but this was different and especially upsetting. We had just moved into a new home in Lincoln, Nebraska after two years of renting. And one afternoon, my husband answered the phone to hear this harsh, hate-filled voice saying, “You’re going to be sorry you ever moved into 5810 Randolph Street, Jew boy!” Two days later we received a package in the mail. On the outside it said, “The KKK is watching you.” Inside there were all these flyers, dozens of brochures and flyers, with ugly caricatures of Jews with hooked noses, African-Americans-race traitors, all of them being shot or hanged. And another message, “Your time is up and the Holo-hoax was nothing compared to what’s going to happen to you!” This was too much. We called the police.

The police came and said they were 98% sure it was the work of one Larry Trapp, the state leader and Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. Larry and his Klansmen had terrorized many Jews, blacks, and Vietnamese in Nebraska and Iowa. And said the police, “He’s dangerous. We know he has explosives.” Now they explained that he was in a wheelchair. He had lost both legs to diabetes but they said he had firebombed four or five African-American homes in Lincoln and the Indochinese Refugee Assistance Center in Omaha. And, unbeknownst to us, the police felt Larry Trapp was planning to bomb the very synagogue where my husband was the spiritual leader. Last thing the police said was, “So lock your doors and don’t open any more unlabeled packages.”

Well, we didn’t get any more packages nor did we get any more phone calls. But Larry Trapp had done his work very well. We had been terrorized. We couldn’t open the mailbox without wondering if there was a letter bomb in there. We worried about our three children and every time a car drove slowly by the house, we had a little panic attack. Larry Trapp had done his work very well. Perhaps because of this, I couldn’t get him out of my mind. But it wasn’t just the fear, I was also fascinated. I kept asking myself what makes someone like that? I found out his address and I used to drive by his apartment every afternoon after work and wonder, what makes someone like that? And how lonely he must be isolated in all that hatred?

Not long after this we found out that Larry Trapp was on television. He’d gotten himself on some local cable access channel and he would sit there spewing all these white supremacist hate. It made Michael so mad that he said, “He called us.  I’m calling him.”

So he called this, Vigilante Voices. All he got was an answering machine but he said, “Larry, why do you hate me? You don’t even know me. So how can you hate me?” Next day it was, “Larry, don’t you know that you’re going to have to answer to God someday for all this hatred?” The third day it was, “Larry, why do you love Hitler so much? Don’t you know that in Hitler’s Germany, one of the first laws the Nazis passed was against people like you, people with disabilities? Don’t you know that in Hitler’s Germany, you’d have been one of the first to go?” Every day Michael left a message. One day Michael said to me, “I wonder if he’ll ever pick up?”

I said, “If he does, offer to do something nice for him. You watch, it’ll throw him completely off guard.”

One day in the midst of this message, “Larry, when you can get rid of all the hate, there’s a world of love waiting for ya,” Larry Trapp picked up, “What #@&%* do you want?!”

“I just want to talk to you, Larry.”

“Why #@&%* are you harassing me? You’re harassing me! Stop harassing me!”

“I’m not harassing you, Larry. I just want to talk to you.”

“Are you black? You sound black.”

“No I’m, Jewish.”

“Well, what do you want? Make it quick!”

And then my husband took my advice, “Well, Larry, we know you’re in a wheelchair. We wondered if we could help you in any way? Take you to the grocery store, that kind of thing.”

Long pause. Michael says when Larry spoke again his voice was different. “That’s OK. That’s nice. That’s been covered. Thanks anyway. Don’t call this number again.”

“We’ll be in touch,” was the last thing Michael said. I think it must have been Larry Trapp’s time in life to be bombarded with love.

A nurse wrote him a letter, and because of his very poor health he was in and out of doctors’ offices all the time, and she said, “Larry, if you could embrace God the way you’ve embraced the KKK, He would heal you of all that hurt, anger, hatred, and bitterness in ways you won’t believe.”

And one day when Larry was leaving the eye doctor’s office, he felt his wheelchair being pushed from behind. He turned around and there was a beautiful young woman.  And she said, “I help you. I help you. In elevator.” A Vietnamese woman. And Larry and his followers had been brutal to the Vietnamese community in Lincoln Nebraska.

Michael kept leaving messages and one day, mid message again, Larry picked up. “I’m rethinking a few things.”

“Good,” said Michael, “Good.” Two days later, there he was on television, on the cable access channel, ranting and raving about…well, using every horrible, racial epithet you can think of. Made Michael so mad that he called and say, “You’re not rethinking anything and I want an explanation.”

“I’m sorry,” said Larry. “I’m sorry. I’ve, I’ve, ah, I’ve talked this way all my life. I can’t help it. I’ll, I’ll apologize.”

That night, at the synagogue, Michael asked the congregation to pray for someone who is sick with the illness of hatred and bigotry. “Pray that he can be healed.”

And across town, Lenore Letcher, an African-American woman who had been on the receiving end of Larry’s hatred, prayed, “Dear God, let him find you in his heart.”  And that night, the skin on Larry Trapp’s fingers burned and itched and stung so badly he had to take his Nazi rings off.

The next night, Michael and I were just sitting down to dinner when the phone rang. “I want out and I don’t know how.” Michael suggested we get together and break bread together. Larry hesitated and then he agreed.  We were rushing around, packing up the food, and I thought to myself, we should take him a gift. And I found a ring of Michael’s that he never wore.

It was a silver friendship ring. All the silver strands wound together. Michael said, “That’s a good choice. It’s always reminded me of all the different kinds of people in the world.” To me, it represented something twisted could become something beautiful. The last thing we did before we left the house was to call a neighbor and say if we’re not back in a reasonable amount of time call the police.

We got to Larry Trapp’s apartment knocked on the door, the door swung slowly open. There he sat. In his wheel chair, bearded. On the door handle on his side, hung an automatic weapon, behind him was a huge Nazi flag. Michael reached forward and touched Larry’s hand. He winced as though a jolt of electricity had gone through him. And then he began to cry. “Here!” he said. “Take these! take these! I don’t want ‘em anymore!”  And he put the Nazi rings in Michael’s.

We were speechless but not for long. I remembered my gift. I got down on my knees and slid the ring on his finger saying, “Here Larry, look, we brought you a ring.” He began to sob and sob, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry, for all the things I have done.”

We hugged him and pretty soon there were three people crying. We left Larry Trapp’s apartment four hours later, with the Nazi rings, the Nazi flag, all his KKK paraphernalia including the hood and the beret. And we left with all his guns.

Over the next few weeks, Larry Trapp’s transformation was so complete that the KKK began harassing him. He began to write personal letters of apology to many of the people that he had threatened. He joined the NAACP. He began to go to schools to talk to school children about tolerance. And he and my husband, Michael, were interviewed by Time magazine.

On the very last day of the year, Larry learned from his doctors that he had less than a year to live. We asked him if he wouldn’t like to move in with us. He agreed. Now this was not easy. We had three teenage children, a dog, a cat. I gave up my job to stay home and take care of Larry. But we all chipped in and, and made it work. As Larry grew weaker, he would listen to books on tape. He listened to books about Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Malcolm X, and he began to read and study Judaism.

And one day he surprised Michael and me when he announced that he wanted to convert to Judaism. We said we thought it was wonderful that he wanted to embrace a faith tradition at this time of his life. But if he wanted to embrace a faith tradition closer to his own roots we would understand that. “No. Judaism.” So in June of 1992, in a beautiful ceremony, Larry Trapp converted to Judaism in the very synagogue that a year earlier he had planned to blow up.

In September of 1992, Larry Trapp died in our home. Michael and I were with him, each holding a hand.  Before he got too weak, Larry was asked to speak at a celebration for Martin Luther King Jr. This is what he had to say, “I wasted the first 40 years of my life bringing harm to other people. But I believe that God sent Cantor Weisser to me to show me that I could receive love and I could also give love. I’ve learned now that we’re all the same. White, black, brown, there’s no difference. We’re all one race.”  Larry Trapp, the former Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan said there is only one race.

My Long Hair

 

Story Summary:

 Motoko tells a story about her own experience of sexual harassment in Japan, how she was trapped into silence imposed by her culture, and how storytelling helped her break the silence and heal herself.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  My-Long-Hair

Discussion Questions:

  1.  As a teenager in Japan, Motoko had times when she did not feel safe. What kept her from feeling safe?
  2. Do you feel safe? What precautions do you take for your own safety?
  3. What can each of us do to help others feel safe and live safely?

Resources:

  • Like a Lotus Flower: Girlhood Tales from Japan by Motoko. (Audio CD,www.folktales.net; 2009)
  • Unbroken Thread: An Anthology of Plays by Asian American Women edited by Roberto Uno

Themes:

  •  Asian American/Asians
  • Bullying
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Motoko. As a teenager growing up in Osaka, Japan, I was not pretty or popular but my hair was. Yes. I used to have this long, shiny, silky, black hair, straight down to my waist. So much of it I would obsessively brush it to an arresting sign. During the school day, the rules dictated that I had to keep it in a single long braid. As soon as the school let out, I would untie my braid and the shake it loose into a simmering cascade. What a glorious feeling!

I was a good, studious, student. By the time I was in the 10th grade, I was attending what we call, juku, a cram school. After the regular high school, three nights a week, for extra math and English lessons to prepare myself for the college entrance exams. On those days, I did not get to let my hair down until much later because those classes did not finish until 9 o’clock at night. Then I would take the commuter train home, get home about 10 o’clock, eat dinner, and do my homework. One night I was on my way home, as usual the commuter train was jam packed with business men and laborers, some drunken and boisterous, others tired and sullen. A few of them leered at me, a girl in the school uniform with long hair in a single braid. I sat with my knees together with a heavy book bag on my lap.

By the time I finally got off the train, the crowd had thinned a little. I walked toward the bicycle lot at the back of the station away from the blaring music and the neon signs of karaoke bars and pachinko parlors. I found my bike and dropped my heavy bag in the red wire basket attached in front of me. With relief, I untied my braid and swung my head letting the spring breeze cool down my scalp. “Nice hair,” a man’s guttural voice from right behind, startled me. I spun around into reeky fumes, so hot, drunk breath. A stranger’s sneering too close, sallow cheeks and a stubby chin, a dark green shirt. The next thing he was grabbing my waist pulling me hard against him. No, I did not scream. I was too stunned to even make a sound. The whole thing seemed somehow not so real, like a scene from a silent movie. I struggled to free myself and the man suddenly let loose. I staggered back and bumped into my bike. The bike fell and I fell on top of it, scraping my leg against the pedal. My books are scattered everywhere. Then the man suddenly started to laugh hysterically as if he had never seen anything so funny. I ride at my bike and without looking back pedaled as fast as I could. When I finally reached my house, I realized that I had not breathed the whole time. I got off my bike and bent down to breath as if I had just sprinted a mile. My heart was beating so fast, in my head, I could not hear anything else. No, the man did not follow me. I only had two bruises and a long scratch on my leg. My blouse had come untucked, so I tucked it in.

I was OK. Nothing happened. I opened the door. The glaring fluorescent light and the smell of the dinner and the loud noise from the TV in the living room overwhelmed me. “Tadaima, I’m home,” I said softly, suddenly realizing that my throat was tight.

My mother came out of the kitchen and said, “What happened to you?!”

I suddenly realized that, I remembered that, I had left all my books scattered around in the bicycle lot. With trembling voice, I said, “Oh, some weird guy tried to grab me and I ran away. I’m ok,” as nonchalantly I could.

My mother looked on me and said, “Look at your leg! You are bleeding! Otōsan, please come here.” Now Otōsan literally means, father, but that’s how my mother used to address her husband.

My father came hurrying out of the living room. “What happened?”

“Some man attacked her on the way home,” my mother explained.

“Yeah, but I’m ok. Nothing happened. I just have a scratch. See!” And as I was showing him, tears came to my eyes. I hastily wiped them away.

My mother looked anxious, “Should we call the police?”

“No, we don’t call the police,” my father said with a grim expression on his face.

“But why not? He might have followed her. It’s very dangerous.”

“No. She’s ok. If you call the police, people will talk.” He looked angry. Was he angry at me? He looked at me and said, “Motoko, you should have been more careful. It’s your fault, coming home this late, swinging your long hair.” I blinked. Was he saying that I was to blame? My father scuffled back into the living room and turned the volume up on TV. My mother sighed, fussed over me, gave me some bandages to put on my leg. Then I went upstairs to the bathroom and I wrenched. No one ever spoke of this incident again.

The next day I went and got a haircut. I never wore my hair long again. I never forgave my father either until a few years ago when I started telling this story. After that incident, there was a long period of time when he and I just did not talk much. Then I moved away to go to college and eventually immigrated to the United States. When I became a storyteller and started sharing my life stories, I discovered that many women in the United States have had a similar experience to mine. By listening to those women, I learned how sharing helps us heal. And it takes honesty, courage, and wisdom to speak up for ourselves and not be cowed into silence. Telling this story also made me realize that, my father’s gruff voice directed at me, was actually his way of acting out his anger at the man in the green shirt. And his frustration for not being able to protect me. In any culture, storytelling is what breaks the silence.

Cost of Racism

 

Story Summary:

 As Motoko raises her Japanese son in the U.S., she is reminded of prejudice against Koreans in her own country, and discovers the importance of the language we use to create the world we live in.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Cost-of-Racism

Discussion Questions:

  1.  How do prejudice and stereotypes affect your everyday life?
  2. Name instances when each of us can be both a victim and a victimizer.
  3. In what ways does language shape the way we think of others?

Resources:

  •  Tales of Now & Zen by Motoko. (Audio CD, www.folktales.net; 2006)
  • Diaspora without Homeland: Being Korean in Japan edited by Sonia Ryang (University of California Press; 2009)

Themes:

  •  Asian American/Asians
  • Bullying
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Motoko. My son, Charlie was born in 1987. As I raised him in western Massachusetts, I have always spoken to him only in Japanese. It is important to me that my son speaks my native language. When you think about it, you realize that parents have great power and responsibility to shape their children’s world by teaching them meanings of words. For example, I once took my son to his friend’s birthday party and on the way home, I said, Sore wa tanoshikatta, that was fun, wasn’t it?”

And my son would say, “Yeah, that was fun.” You see, that way I was teaching him the meaning of the word fun. Or when his best friend at the daycare moved to another city, I said, “Now don’t be sad; we can visit him over the summer and stay in touch.” See that way, I was teaching him what it meant to be sad and I was glad to be there to make him feel better. But as my son grew older, there were naturally fewer and fewer occasions for me to define his feelings and experiences. And that started me worrying. Maybe some of you have a mother or father who worries too much. Maybe some of you are parents who worry too much.

All my son’s life, I have tried hard to teach him not just Japanese language, but also Japanese ways of life. By saying things like, “Don’t forget to take off your shoes in the house because we’re Japanese.” Or, “Always bow to your grandparents because we are Japanese.” Or, “Eat this rice with pickled seaweed and fermented soybeans and stop complaining because that’s the Japanese way.” But whenever I said things like that, my son would giggle and, to my consternation, answer in English.

“No, I’m an American. I was born here.” Actually, he had turned out to be quite contrary to most of my expectations. I know next to nothing about sports but my son turned out to be a jock. He loved playing soccer. When he was in second grade, he came to me with this revelation mom, “Soccer is life. The rest is details.”

I said, “What about your homework?”

So, when my son was in fifth grade he applied to and was accepted to participate in a week long advanced boys soccer camp at the University of Massachusetts. Now, my son had never stayed away from home for an entire week before this. And all the other boys will be sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. Never mind I live only two miles away from the campus. I was beside myself with worry. So, when my son finally came home that Saturday afternoon, I was waiting in the doorway to welcome him home and to ask him all the motherly questions. “How did it go?”

“Fine.”

“Did you have a good time?”

“Yeah.”

“Did you play well?”

“Sure.” And as I followed my son into the dining room, I even marveled at his monosyllabic responses to female questioning. A true sign of a Japanese manhood. But wait… something seemed to be bothering him. I looked at him, his short-cropped black hair and his beautiful face, tanned to perfect brown. His usually dreamy eyes were cast down as he sat at my dining room table.

I said, “Is there something wrong?”

Reluctantly my son said, “Well, some kids at that camp from South River made weird noises and laughed at me.”

“What weird noises?”

“Ching-cho, Japanese. Hi-a Ussel.”

“What does that mean?”

“You know, Mom, they were making fun of me because I’m Japanese.” In a flash, all my blood boiled up to my face. Words I did not know I had in my English vocabulary, exploded in my head. Then suddenly, I realized that what shocked me the most was not the fact that those boys made fun of my son, but the fact that it was my very first time to hear my son identify himself as Japanese. Then, I had an experience that I had never had before. A flashback, I was engulfed by a childhood memory, back in Osaka, Japan, in the 1970s.

In my third-grade class, there was a boy named Akita. He was tall and strong and fast, really good at baseball. I had the biggest crush on him. One winter day, Akita missed school. So when the teacher asked for someone to bring him the math homework, I volunteered. I had never been to Akita’s house before. So, the teacher drew a little map for me and wrote down his address. Akita lived in the section in the city that I had never been to. So, I went home first to drop off my bag, I told my grandma where I was going, and I headed out. I had to cross a big metal bridge with lots of traffic. And coming to an old dilapidated section of the city, all the houses were made of dark wood predating the World War II. The houses were built without any space in between. So, it was hard for me to tell where one house ended and another started. I got turned around a, bit. It took me about an hour to find Akita’s home. By then early dusk was failing. I rang the doorbell but nobody answered. I tried again, maybe Akita was sick and his mother had taken him to the doctor. Maybe I should leave the math homework in between the two sliding front doors. Just then I heard light footsteps behind me and turned around and saw a little boy standing there. This little boy was about 5 years old, maybe in kindergarten. But his face was so much like Akita’s that it was obvious to me that he was Akita’s bl, brother.

I said, “Hi, I’m Akita’s classmate. I brought him his homework.” But the boy looked at me as if he had not heard me. So, I looked at him and I realized that the boy had been crying. His face was dirty with tears and grim. His shirt was rumpled and I saw some mud on his pants. Maybe he had been in a fight. Maybe some older kids had been picking on him. I said, “Are you all right? Did you have a fight?  Where is your mom?”

And I reached out to touch his shoulder when suddenly the boy glared, shoved my hand away and yelled, “Go away, you stupid Korean!” I actually did not know what he meant but he felt as if he had slapped me across the face. I dropped my math homework and ran, tears blurring my sight.

When I finally got home my grandma said, “What happened to you?”

“Grandma, this little boy called me a stupid Korean. Why? Am I Korean?” And I told her the whole story between sobs. My grandma listened quietly and she looked thoughtful.

Finally, she said, “No, Motoko you are not Korean but that little boy is and his family. But that little boy does not know what the word means. People are prejudiced around here. And kids make fun of him. So, he thinks Korean is a bad word. He’s angry at everyone. He thought he was calling you a name.”

“Mom, are you ok?” My son was staring at me strangely as I came out of this momentary reverie.

And I looked on my son and thought about saying something like, “You know we live in this college town where people tend to be more diverse and open minded. But in a little surrounding town like South River, people can be ignorant and full of prejudice.” I also thought about saying something like, “Just tell me those kids names and I’ll find out where they live. Rip them to pieces.” But what I really wanted to say was, “Don’t internalize the hurt you feel, the way that little boy did. Just know in your heart that you are as good as any and better than many. If I can come with you every time you leave my house to protect you, I would.” But I didn’t say any of those things. I just said, “Do you want me to write a letter of complaint to your coach?”

“Nah, that’s OK,” my son said. “I can handle it. Me and my buddies beat those guys at scrimmage, anyway.” He had the biggest grin on his face and said, “You know, Mom, though what you could do to make me feel a lot better?”

“What? I’ll do anything. Oh, I know. Let me give you a hug.”

“No,” he laughed as he ducked out of my embrace and said, “You know, there’s these new Gameboy games that just came out in Japan. No one in the United States has them yet. So, if you could call Uncle Minoru,” (that’s my brother in Japan) “Uncle Minoru, and give him some money so he will send them to me, that would make me the coolest kid among my friends.”

I said, “How much are they?”

“$50 a seat and there are three I want.”

“That’s $150!” I scream in my head. Then I just said, “I’ll call him right now.” All I can say is, it is expensive to fight racism.

Loving Someone Tall: A Conversation With My Father About Race

 

Story Summary:

When Laura fell in love with Kevin, she was certain her liberal family would love him, too. After all, he was smart, handsome, educated and kind; that his skin was a different color didn’t matter, right? Imagine her surprise when Laura and her father needed to negotiate his discomfort with her sweetheart’s differences.

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

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think Laura’s Dad felt during their conversation? What do you think Laura’s Mom thought?
  2. Do you think things are any easier for bi-racial couples today?
  3. What do you think Laura should have done when her parents were upset about the German man she was dating? Do you think her dad had a point?
  4. How would you feel if your child married someone of a different race or religion?
  5. Do you think Laura should have told Kevin about the conversation?

Resources:

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

My name is Laura Packer.

I was born in 1967, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to a nice, liberal, middle-class, Jewish family. I was raised to believe that you judge people based on their actions not on the color of their skin. My mom, she always said that people are the same inside. So, when I brought home my elementary school best friend, Carla, she’s African-American, my parents treated her just like their own daughter. It was great. Everything was fine until I was an adolescent. And then, on top of all of the usual adolescent woes, I was dating. And then I brought home the German guy. For my parents, who were born during World War II, American Jews, this was really hard. After a while, they asked if I would stop dating him. And in my adolescent angst, I stomped my feet and I said, “No, he’s not like that.”

Honestly, I think we all were relieved when the relationship just kind of petered out. They didn’t have to keep biting their tongues and I didn’t have to feel defensive. I think, it’s really hard for parents. You raise your kid you, love them, you want the best for them, and you try and teach them everything that you know is right about the world. It can be kind of a problem when they actually listen to you.

When I was in my early thirties I started dating Kevin. Kevin is funny. He’s smart, he’s tall, he’s handsome, he’s well educated. He has a doctorate from MIT. He was everything I could want in a man. It didn’t matter to me that he was African-American. And it certainly wouldn’t matter to my parents. Right?

Well, maybe six or seven months into our relationship, I went home to visit my family. By now, it was clear that things with Kevin were really pretty serious. It was a good visit, although I could tell there was something in the air a day or two before I was supposed to leave.

My father said to me, “Laura, I’d like you to run some errands with me.” Now, in my family, that’s code. My father and I sometimes have a, kind of, difficult relationship and I’ll do something, inadvertently, offending him. He will have his feelings hurt and he needs to talk to me about it. He needs to let me know and describe everything in great detail until I apologize.

I thought, “Oh, great. What did I do now? Sure, Dad, let’s run some errands.”

So, we went out and we ran an obligatory errand or two. And then he pulled the car into the Denny’s parking lot and I braced myself. “Okay. Here it comes. I’m going to hear what I did wrong and I’ll apologize. We’ll get it over with. It’ll be fine. This happens every month or two.”

Instead, my dad was quiet. He just sat there looking out the window of the car. I glanced over at him. He wouldn’t look at me. Then he took a deep breath. Then he took a deep breath. “Laura,” he said, “your mother and I are concerned.”

“Concerned? What are you concerned about, Dad?”

He glanced over at me. I could see all this shame and love in his eyes. “Laura, we are concerned about Kevin.” How could they be concerned about Kevin? He was smart. He was a good man…Oh…I felt this churning in the pit of my stomach. I began to grind my teeth and I waited. “Yes,” My father said. “We’re concerned about Kevin.”

I looked at my dad. “Dad, why could you be concerned about?” I said. “Is that the Ph.D. from MIT? I mean, I know that’s a big educational gap between us but he respects my mind. Oh, oh, I know, is it, is it that it’s a doctorate in science not in medicine? I think science is pretty cool. Or maybe, maybe,” I said to my father. “Is it because he’s so tall?” I know that when we look up at him we do get kind of a crick in our neck.”

“Laura,” said my father his face turning red. “Laura, that’s not what I mean, and you know it. I’m concerned about the racial difference between the two of you.”

Ah…I have been foolish many, many times in my life, over and over again, I react when, maybe, I shouldn’t. I get angrier than I really need to be. And every once in a while, there is this moment of clarity. And I listen to it. I reached over and I took my father’s hand, “Dad,” I said. “I know that you were concerned that Kevin’s African-American and that I’m not. But I love him and he loves me. Honestly, Dad, I think that you should be proud. You should be proud that you raised a daughter who can love someone regardless of their education or their height or the color of their skin.”

He was quiet and then he glanced over at me and said, “He is awfully tall, isn’t he?

“Yeah, Dad he is. Honestly, I think he gives us all something to look up to.”

We went home. And honestly, I can’t say that being in a biracial relationship has not had an impact on my life. But every relationship has had an impact on my life. Kevin and I, eventually, got married and my father he loves Kevin. When we come and visit, my dad beams with pride as he introduces his handsome, smart, funny, kind, educated, tall, African-American son-in-law to his friends. And honestly, why shouldn’t he be him? After all, what parent doesn’t want their daughter to marry a doctor?

No Aguantara

Story Summary:

The differences were easy to see, Catholic/Jewish, Brown/White, Spanish-Speaking/English-Speaking, Mexican/American, rural/urban. When Carrie Sue and her fiancé decided to marry there were many who thought their relationship would not last long – including the representative from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico who was handling their Visa.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: No-Aguantara

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What do you judge people on when you first meet them? Have you ever made a judgment about a person only to realize when you get to know them better that you were completely wrong about them? If so, did you discover anything about yourself?
  2. Do you think that we learn things about ourselves when we meet people who are different from us? Why do you think that?
  3. Many people, including the American Visa Clerk objected to Carrie Sue and Facundo’s relationship. Why do you think it mattered to the other people?
  4. Why do you think many were surprised that their families did not disapprove of the relationship?

Resources:

  •  In Their Own Words: Drama with Young English Language Learners by Dan Kelin – a resource for anyone working with 2nd language learners
  • The Earth Mass by Joseph Pintauro and Alicia Bay Laurel (Carrie Sue and her husband used a poem from this collection in their wedding ceremony and still try to follow its advice.)

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Immigration
  • Languages
  • Latino American/Latinos
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

My name is Carrie Sue Ayvar and just after I graduated high school, I went from Pittsburgh, PA to Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico. (No aguantará) It’ll never last! That’s what they said! (No aguantará) It’ll never last! They were like wisps of rumors, never said to us directly but rumors that wisped around and spoken always in concerned tones, mostly to our families and friends.

It was 1973. I was only 17 when I met Facundo but there could hardly have been a more romantic setting. It was a warm, sunny day that January morning and it was on a small island just off the west coast of southern Mexico. The air was filled with (breathing in fragrance) mango and coconut oil, salt sea breezes and pheromones.

I watched as a muscular, strong young man, probably about 20 years old, carried several scuba tanks up onto the beach. Oo! The salt water and the sweat made his coppery skin glisten and his long dark hair had streaks of red and gold in it from days in the sun. Oh ho… I had never seen a more beautiful, gorgeous human being in my entire life! Like an Aztec Adonis emerging from the waters! When I could finally catch my breath again, I remember thinking, “The guy’s gotta be a jerk! I mean, no one is that good looking and nice too!”

But (como dice el dicho) as the saying goes, (caras vemos el corazón no sabemos) we see the faces but we do not know the hearts. Now on the surface, Facundo and I had very little in common. He was a Spanish-speaking, Catholic, indigenous, brown-skinned Mexican from a very small fishing village and he lived on a beach while I was a fair-haired, green-eyed, English-speaking, Jewish, white American who lived in a three-story brick building in a very large city.

And our experiences growing up were completely different. I mean, while I watched Tarzan’s adventures on TV, he lived them slicing green hanging vines for cauldrons of water, climbing tall palm trees to gather coconuts, diving off cliffs into beautiful blue tropical waters. I mean, while I went ice skating, he was free diving. From my father, I learned how to make flower arrangements. From his father, he learned how to build dugout canoes.

Para cemos conocemos! But we did get to know each other. And we got to know each other’s stories and each other’s hearts. (E descubrimos) We discovered (las dos querer) that we both loved (el mar) the ocean and the feeling of weightlessness during those underwater dives. (El savor) the taste of salt on our tongues when we came up for air. (El sonido) The sound of the waves drumming against the sands. (E también descubrimos) We also discovered (los dos querer) that we both cherished (familia y mis les) family and friends (mas que) more than everything. (Nos conocíamos) we got to know each other (e nos enamoramos) and we fell in love.

Now it was amazing how many people were there to tell us, “No aguantará, it will never last!” From both sides of the border, there were so many people who disapproved. They would say things like, “Oh, you know he’s only using you to get a green card.” Or (Ay, esos gringos de como de es sabe) You know how those gringos are, man! (rico e consentido) They are rich and spoiled, (ya sabes) you know! Or “Ah, what a shame! She couldn’t find a nice Jewish doctor?”

But all of those things didn’t really phase us! Even when we finally announced our engagement and, to our surprise, we heard rumors of a pregnancy that we knew nothing about! But, as I said, all those doubts and criticisms didn’t really bother us. I mean, we were happy and, to the surprise of many, so were our families. I mean, Facundo had actually met my parents a year before I ever met him; they’re the ones who actually introduced us to each other there on the island. Jesus, his papa and his parents –  (madre tomas su propia hija) they treated me like their very own daughter. Dona Christina, his mother, used to say ,”(Tenemos que cuidado de ella)  We have to take good care of her.  (Sus propios padres están tan lejos) Her own parents are so far away.”

So really, what did it matter to us what other people thought? I didn’t think it mattered at all… but sometimes it does. Since it was hard for my grandparents and other elderly relatives to travel to southern Mexico where we lived, we decided that we would have the wedding in my home town of Pittsburgh, PA.

Now after a 12-hour overnight bus trip, we finally arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. Under a smoggy, gray sky, we waited for hours and hours to finally speak to an American visa clerk. And when we finally did, instead of helping us, instead of telling us what kind of visas we were eligible for, this unfriendly, unhelpful, unhappy little bureaucrat of a man lied to us. Lied to us repeatedly and began to make things up. Let me ask you, do you know how hard it is to get a copy of a form that doesn’t actually exist? Oh, yeah, he knew that he controlled the information and the situation.

But much to his dismay, we did not give up and go home like he wanted us to. Ah, ah, every time we went back, he looked more put out, like, like he was sucking on sour lemons or smelled something foul in the air. I mean, he was, quite frankly, openly disapproving of us. He told us that we were too different and finally, he dismissed us with an arrogant look! “Just go back to your own kind! You are young, poor, powerless and you don’t even realize that I’m doing you a favor!”

(Sigh) Well, (pobres) We were poor; we had little money. (E jóvenes) We were young! Powerless? (Las caras vemos corazones no sabe) You see the faces but you do not know the hearts! His attitude only strengthened our determination – pulled us together! Facundo and I, we found our voices and our power! We did not give up; we went back to that embassy again and again until, at last, we found someone who would listen. Though I will admit, it did take months, a career ambassador, a 3-star general and a United States senator to finally resolve our case!

But we did get a visa and we did get married. Now maybe we were naïve, I don’t know. I know as it was pointed out to us again and again, we looked different and we sounded different. We had different religions and we came from very different cultures and experiences. And (nunca sabes) you never know; there are no guarantees in life anyways. But I do know that we just celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary and, yeah, we’re still happy! (Como dice el dicho) As the saying goes, “Look at the faces and see the hearts!”

Will You Please NOT Marry Me? – Adventures In Cross-Cultural Dating

 

Story Summary:

 When a single girl from Eastern Europe goes to the USA to study, she has to face certain assumptions made about green cards, marriages of convenience, and other things no one prepared her for. Culture shock comes in many shapes and sizes, and graduate school orientations never tell you what “the L word” really stands for…

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Will-You-Please-NOT-Marry-Me-Adventures-In-Cross-Cultural-Dating

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is a ‘marriage of convenience’ and why do people think it is beneficial for an immigrant?
  2. How would you describe marriage in your own culture? List marriage customs and traditions from other cultures that are different from yours and speculate about the reasons for these differences.
  3. What do we find out about the definition of ‘love’ from the story? What other definitions can you think of?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Identity
  • Immigration
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Csenge Zalka. When you are an Eastern European girl studying in the USA, especially if you are single and, uh, you are in your early twenties, a lot of people automatically assume that you are here to marry an American guy for a Green Card. And they never tell you that at the orientations.

The first time I was in the United States, that was in 2007, I had to go through a series of orientations. One before I arrived (back in Hungary) and then two after I arrived. And they tell you a lot of important things at these orientations. They tell you, um, about the education system, about taxes, about driving in the USA, about drinking or not drinking in the USA and, most of all, they always, always tell you about culture shock. What they usually say is, “You are going to have it. You will go to the USA and there shall be culture shock. You are going to be there with a lot of people who speak a different language, listen to different music, eat different food. And you will feel lonely, and you will feel homesick, and you will feel depressed. And then you will know that you are having culture shock.” Everybody does, except I didn’t.

I had been studying English for about 20 years and I never had a problem with people speaking it around me. And people were listening to different music and eating different food but that was part of the fun. And I never even felt homesick. It felt like a year-long vacation that was exciting and new, and there were things to explore. And every time somebody brought up the topic of culture shock, I just said, “No, I never had it!”

And then, I started dating. They don’t tell you a lot about dating at the orientations. What they usually say is, “Use protection” and “Going Dutch means that the guy is not going to pay for your food.” And the rest, I just had to figure out for myself.

So, I had been dating this guy for about a month and then questions started coming up in conversations with people. Questions that I didn’t expect but they kept coming up over and over again. And the first one was always, “So, what’s going to happen when the semester’s over?” meaning that my visa was going to expire and my scholarship was over and I had to go back home.

“That’s what international students do” and that’s what I always answered.

And then came the second question, “But you could stay here if you married him, right?” And, at first, I just laughed at that because I’ve, I’ve never seen American students ask American students if they were going to marry their boyfriend of four weeks. But it kept happening and I always answered that legally, if I had an American husband, I would still have to go back to Hungary when my visa expires.

And then the conversations usually went on and then they circled back and came the next question, which usually was, “But do you think you would marry him if you could stay?” And that was the point when I started realizing what culture shock was. It was the feeling of being treated differently just because you were not from around here. Of course, when I go to France, they never ask these questions or, if they did once, they’d never ask again.

Um, but the situation got worse when some people started asking my boyfriend the same question. They started asking him if he would be willing to marry me so I could stay here. And imagine a guy in his early twenties having to face that question. I started to feel like those pop-up windows on the internet that say, “Find your beautiful Russian brides today,” or “Eastern European beauties waiting for rich American men.” And it just got really annoying.

But, interestingly enough, the brunt of the culture shock did not come from the Green Card questions. It came from one single word.

I had been dating this American guy for about 2 months and we were out on a date. It was a really nice day. We were happy; we were silly. And he did something romantic, I don’t even remember what it was. Maybe he bought me a flower or he said something nice. And I laughed and I just said, “See, that’s why I love you!”

And he just froze up! I watched his face go blank and I didn’t know what was wrong. And two days later, he broke up with me. And I was heartbroken and I was sad and I was upset but, most of all, I was very confused. “What have I done?”

So, a few days later, one of my friends took me out for lunch and he was a guy, so I asked him for his perspective on what just happened. And I told him about the date and about the weird reaction of my ex-boyfriend to that particular, uh, thing that I said. And my friend just froze up the same way and he said, “You said the “L” word?”

Here’s the thing. In Hungarian, “I like you” and “I love you” are the same phrase. And, of course, I’d seen American movies, romantic comedies where “I love you” is always said in pouring rain with flowers and a full orchestra playing in the background. And I always thought that was a movie cliché.

And it took my American friends a while to explain to me how “I love you” in English is a lot more serious than “szeretlek” in Hungarian. Here I was, Eastern European, in the United States. It was okay to ask me if I was going to marry the guy that I had known for a month but it was not okay for me to say that I loved him. And that was the culture shock!

So, the next time I started dating an American guy, I did two things. One, on the very first date, I looked him in the eye and I said, “Listen to me because I will only say this once. I do not need to marry you for a Green Card.” And, two, I waited ’til he said, “I love you” first.

And these days, I am one of those people doing the orientations and I still talk about the education system, and taxes, and driving in the USA. But when it comes to talking about culture shock, now I have a lot more to say.

Taylor Made Family: An Aunts Tale of Transracial Adoption

 

Story Summary:

When Nancy’s sister adopts seven-year-old Taylor, aunt and niece find kindred spirits in each other. This story explores what makes us family and when the color of one’s skin does and doesn’t matter.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Taylor-Made-Family-An-Aunts-Tale-of

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Transracial adoption, while becoming more common, remains controversial. What issues can you imagine experiencing (or have you experienced) if you were adopted into a family that doesn’t look like you? How might it be different in an urban area vs. a rural area? How might it be different if the adoption is in infancy or as an older child? What are potential problems? What are potential benefits?
  2. How would you want your differences acknowledged and handled by your adoptive family? How could they support you, make you feel welcome, and find the balance of becoming part of the family while honoring the culture(s) of your birth? How can you imagine asking for what you need and want? What can you imagine a supportive, productive family meeting looking like?
  3. How would you want your friends/classmates to support you if you are (or were to be) part of a transracial, biracial or multiracial family? What are things they might say or do that would be helpful? What are things they might say or do that would be hurtful? How would you want them to ask you what you need/want in way that feel supportive? How could you bring it up to them?

Resources:

  •  In Their Own Voices, Transracial Adoptees Tell Their Stories by Rita J. Simon and Rhonda M. Roorda
  • Inside Transracial Adoption, by Gail Steinberg and Beth Hall

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name’s Nancy Donoval and I want to tell you a story about the best present my sister ever got from me.

I was looking into her eyes and she was looking straight into my mine, clinging to them like I was her life raft. And if I looked away, she would drown. Splinters are painful at any age. I knew that personally. But when you’re 8 years old and one’s been festering in your foot for two days, it’s excruciating. And the fear of the pain getting worse when you take it out is even more so. It was Christmas and my sister said, “This is coming out.” And then she came up to me and said, “I can’t get her to let me take it out. Help me.”  And I went, and took Taylor, eight years old, sat her on the couch, and said, “Honey ,when I was your age I got so many splinters and it was so hard. And this is going to hurt but it’s going to be better after. When I was a kid, the only way they could get me to sit still to take the splinter out was, it took three people to do it. My dad would take the needle and he would do the digging. My mom would hold my hand and my brother, your uncle Jack, he would sing to me.

That’s what family does. And that’s what we’re going to do right now. We’ve got three people. Your mom’s going to get the needle. Roy’s going to hold your hand and I’m going to sing to you.” And I did what my brother had sung to me. “Hush, little baby, don’t say a word. Papa’s going to buy you a mocking bird.” Ah, she was so brave. And it took forever but the splinter came out. And in that moment of the echo from this memory of my childhood, I knew she was fully, completely my niece.

And I remembered that day my sister had called me the year before, (Taylor’s 15 now so, this is about eight years ago), my sister called me, the day Taylor moved in with her. They’d been having visits but this was the day Taylor moved in. And she said, “Oh my, I’m adopting you!” Well, my sister is nine years older than I am. She’s the oldest. I’m the youngest. She has a Masters in Business Administration. I have a Masters in Fine Arts. We are different people. And she had adopted me and she really had. Taylor and I are so much alike. It’s amazing to me. We both are theater nerds and she loves the arts. And all her emotions are right on the surface. And my sister is pretty much driven by logic, probably not as much as she thinks she is, but still pretty much driven by logic. And Taylor and I are both driven by emotion. And, oh, we just chatter away to each other. Sometimes I feel like her aunt and sometimes, because her mom was a little bit like a second mom to me, I kind of feel like we’re the two sisters goofing off in front of our mom.

Taylor said to me one day, “Aunt Nancy, I feel so lucky. I don’t think a lot of adopted kids end up in a family where there’s somebody who’s so much like them. Somebody who actually gets them.”

And I said, “Taylor, sweetie, I know for you that’s about being adopted, but I gotta tell ya, it’s pretty rare for somebody who was born into the family to have somebody who really gets them. Who really sees them. I’m just as lucky to have you.” I was really lucky to have her. My mom was always the one who really saw me, understood me, loved my storytelling, was emotional like I was. But my mom had Alzheimer’s and she was disappearing in tiny degrees. And life is so funny, the day I moved our mom, in an emergency move to a nursing home from assisted living, was the day Taylor’s adoption was final. As one who had gotten me came out of the family, one who got me – the one I got – who was like me, came in.

Now, of course, Taylor and I are not the same person and we’re different from each other. She has moved a little bit away from performing. She loves story like I do but she writes and writes and writes and writes. She told me that she feels like “writer” is the key to her identity and it has been the thing that has formed her since she was in sixth grade. She’s about to start sophomore year of high school. She has seven books she’s written. And she writes them and rewrites them in composition books. And then she types them and then she edits them. I would never have that. I tell stories out loud. I don’t write them down. Oh, we both love story.

She is taller than I am. She makes friends in grade school easier than I did. And we don’t really look alike. She’s tall and thin like the boys in our family are. The girls in our family are a little bit more, um, round. And also, we do not have the same skin color. I have to tell you, I make my sister, well…Let’s put it this way, my sister makes me look deeply tan. And Taylor is a rich, rich brown. And again, she makes friends so easily. She is in a grade school where there are kids of every color in the world. My grade school, oh sure, we had people who were German and Italian but the big difference between us and the rest of the world was we were Catholic. And there were other people who were public.  I didn’t really think about black and white. Probably because there weren’t really any black people in my family. And here’s Taylor. Not in my family, in my neighborhood, in my school, in my life, they just weren’t. And here’s Taylor, who’s in this school with all these different colors. And I’m seeing pictures with her with all her friends. And, oh, she’s dating this boy and she’s dating that boy. Well, I’m not quite sure what that means in sixth grade, but she’s dating this one and dating that one. And they’re white, they’re black, they’re Asian, their everything. And I asked her if she ever got any flack from the kids in school about, you know, being with somebody of a different race.

Because when I was in high school, I ended up having this guy I met at Junior Achievement camp and he was black. And we weren’t really dating, but we enjoyed each other. And he asked me to his homecoming dance and I was excited to go. I liked Cal. And his parents said, “No, you can’t go! You can’t go to the dance with her.” Because they were afraid for him that if he brought a white girl, now this was the 70s, but still if he brought a white girl, they thought he would be in danger.

And here’s Taylor with all these different people mixing around colors and I asked her if she ever got any flack. And she said, “Well, not like that.” She said, “But every now and then, people will be like, ‘No, no, no, no, you two don’t look good together. You would look better with him and she would look better with him,’ and that seems to be about what color people are.”

We have most of our really good talks in the car. I live in Minnesota now, she lives in Chicago, we talk on the phone, we do Facebook, we do messaging, we text. But our deep talks are in the car or at slumber parties at my friend’s house in Chicago. Taylor comes over and we have a big party. But in the car, somehow facing outward, we talk about hard stuff. And I told her once that I was thinking about doing a story about her because I tell stories. And I tell stories from my life and she’s so important to it. And I asked her what it was like to have been adopted into our family? And what it was like to be the one black person in a really white family?

I remember her first Christmas with us, just looking around the room, our a little clump of people, maybe only 8, 10 people in the room. And she just looked up and said, “All right, we need more black people in this family.” And, ah, she wasn’t wrong but it wasn’t like we could mail order someone for her. I was already dating someone, the other ones were already married, we didn’t have an opening. But most of the time, we don’t talk about race. But I asked her and we had, just had this big Christmas party at my cousins’. And my cousins, there’s thousands of them, and that seems like an exaggeration but when I’m in the room with them it feels true. My first cousins, four them, had 22 kids. There’s all these grandkids. I can’t keep track of them. They all live in the same neighborhood. They all go to the same school. They all know each other so well. I go to that party, I feel out of place and I’m related all of them. I’ve known them since I was a kid, since they were kids. But they have such a family dynamic. And I remember when Taylor was little and first going to those parties. She just ran around playing with all the other kids. But as she’s gotten older, she’s ended up being a little more separate. She doesn’t feel comfortable at the parties anymore. And I asked her about it and she said, “Well, I think as you get older, your heart gets smaller. I think you get more judgmental. Not everybody but some people do. And you see the differences more, nobody really says anything. But I just feel really different there all the time.” And I asked her if she felt that way with us and just our small family. She said, “No. No, not with you guys. But there I always know I’m different.”

And we talked about how much of that was her color being different, and how much of that was her being adopted, and how much of that was just simply the family dynamic of all these kids who go to school together and know each other really well and they don’t know her. But it turned out people do say things sometimes. She had one person at the party she really liked. She’s great with the kids, and she has one second cousin something or other removed, Claire, who she loves playing with and watches at the party. And they were going to play princess. And Claire said, “OK. I’m going to be the princess and you’ll be my servant.”

And Taylor said, “Ummm. I would like us both to be princesses.”

And Claire said, “Umm hmm, not how it works. I’m the princess because I’m white and you’re the servant because your black.” Claire didn’t mean anything by it. She was going from what she’d absorbed from TV, from movies; you look at the casting. She loves Taylor. But Taylor went in the bathroom and cried.

And then she came back out and said, “Claire, we are living in a castle with no servants at all. We are in a castle where the princesses take care of themselves.” But it’s harder for her to go to those parties because, though she still loves Claire, Claire was her safe zone, and her zone doesn’t feel safe anymore.

My sister tries so hard. It’s trans-racial adoption, how do I make her feel like she can fit in? Taylor told me my sister was asking her, “Do you want to celebrate Kwanzaa? We could celebrate Kwanzaa. I could look up how to do it.” And Taylor’s like, “None of my black friends in school celebrate Kwanzaa. No, I don’t care about celebrating Kwanzaa.”

You know, “Do you want to go to a traditionally black African-American school? Do you want to, we can go to all the museums?”

And Taylor’s like, “Thank you. I appreciate it.”  And she does appreciate it. But she’s like, “You know, mom doesn’t force it on me, which is great. It’s not like, ‘No, you must be African-American.’” Taylor said, “I don’t really think about color that much, unless somebody brings it up. I mean, I know, I know I’m black. But I don’t think about it. I don’t really see color very much. I just…I’m just me.” She’s so good at being just her and it’s how I am. I know I’m white but I don’t think about it very much. Except, I really worry that there’s going to come a time in her life, because she’s black, she is going to have to think about it. And I want to protect her from that. And I want a world where we really cannot be color blind because her color is beautiful. But where we can be like Taylor and I try to be. People who see the inside. People who just enjoy people and make friends easy.

I asked Taylor if she had any advice that she would give to someone who was going to be adopted into a family of a different race. And she said, “Hmm. I don’t know. I guess I would tell ‘em, keep an open mind because no matter what color they are, they’re gonna be your family.” And Taylor…Taylor has connected me to my family so much more deeply. She really is the best present my sister ever gave me.

Hamlet Goes to Jail: Life Changing Experiences that Occurred in 1959

 

Story Summary:

 The Chicago Public Schools were almost totally segregated in the 1950’s when Gwen’s participated in an accelerated English program and first integrated a South Side High School. She succeeded in getting an “A” in the class but had an encounter with the police that threatened to overshadow her academic accomplishments.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Hamlet-Goes-to-Jail-Life-Changing-Experiences-in-1959

Discussion Questions:

  1. What were some of the factors that kept the city of Chicago from integrating its schools before the 1960s?
  2. Discuss some reasons why many young people endured hostility and violence to integrate schools and other facilities. How were they were able to overcome their fears?
  3. Why did Gwendolyn feel that she was representing her race when she attended the all white high school? Have you ever felt this kind of pressure?
  4. Have you, like Gwendolyn, made a decision to do something you know is not what you should? What were the consequences?

Resources:

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Gwen Hillary.

Now, when I was growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, in Chicago, Chicago had been labeled as the most segregated northern city in the United States. Children in black neighborhoods often went to school in double shifts. Some in the same family would go at different times. Some would go early in the wee hours of the morning, and the second child might go starting his school day mid-afternoon. Other children were educated in mobile units that were housed on the playgrounds. All to keep the school segregated in those overcrowded communities. In 1957, something happened that changed the whole educational system in the United States. The Soviet Union successfully launched the first Earth orbiting artificial satellite into space.

It was October 1957. There was a fierce competition that ensued between the Soviets and the United States. There was an increased emphasis on scientific research, space exploration, and the schools had to step up. Now, between 1956 and ’60, I was a student at Englewood High School, an all-black school on the southside. And in spite of the school being totally segregated, I had caring, nurturing and totally competent teachers. A new program was devised at my high school, a college preparatory high school, and I was placed in that program. Boy, oh, boy! No longer could I take typing and sewing and cooking and home economics and sewing, all those classes that supposedly would prepare me for life. Huh. I was programmed into chemistry, physics, foreign languages, and there weren’t those easy A’s. Now was also an important time in my high school career, when in 1959, I was going into my senior year. A special program was created that would be conducted at an all-white high school, South Shore High School 76th and Constance.

Now, any participating school could send two of their promising students to attend this enrichment summer program. We were going to study a fall semester of college literature and get credit for it too, in that 8 weeks. We were going to read many works by Shakespeare, Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey, among other works. It was going to be very intensive and I knew that I, not only was representing my school, proving myself academically cable… capable, but I was representing my own race. And so, I went there, determined to do my best and to excel. It seemed that the first day we walked into the school, that there was such a big shock to see us. There were four black students. No black student had ever set foot in that school. There were no black cooks. There were no black custodians. Everyone was shocked, but that was the first day.

The next day, the shock was on us. You see, when we left that building at the end of the school day, there were boys waiting for us on the corner. And they had rocks in their hands and they began to throw rocks at us. And I actually ran, scared to the bus stop. I did that Day 2, which was Tuesday. Day 3, Day 4, and by Day 5, on Friday, huh, I had had enough. So, when Monday came, and we left school, and those guys were standing there ready to pelt us with those rocks, I ran with my companions, and they got on their respective buses but not me. I had had enough. And so, I watched and I saw that they went into a school store, near the school, where everyone would congregate. Guess you could buy ice cream and school supplies. I boldly walked into that store. I found the guys I was looking for, and I walked up to them and I said, “I’m here now. What are you going to do, face to face?”

They were so shocked and embarrassed, the whole store got quiet. And each one said, “What are you talking about? I don’t know you.”

I said, “Oh, you know. But it’s going to stop today!” And guess what? There were no more rock throwing incidents. I thought the summer was gonna go pretty smoothly. But back on the home front, in my own neighborhood, huh, something else happened.

You see, it was a sunny afternoon and I had been out selling Avon products. My mother would let me keep all of the money I earned to buy my clothes and other incidentals. And I had money in this pocket, and in my other pocket, I had a paperback copy of Hamlet. We had to study hours and hours each night to keep up with the amount of work we had to do. And as I was standing there, some friends came up and they said, “Gwen, we’re going to go riding on the back of some motor scooters. Want to come?”

Now I knew. I knew there was no way I should have gotten on the back of those motor scooters. What would my mother think, sailing down South Park Avenue with my arms wrapped around some boy? And no helmet either! Huh! I was tired of always being the good one. So, I said, “Okay, I’ll do it.”

I thought we’d be back in time and my mother would never know. Oh, I climbed on the back, and wrapped my arms around, and it was wonderful, the wind blowing. All of a sudden, a police officer pulled over the young man on the first motor scooter and said, “You don’t have a license plate on your bike, young man. And you’re going to have to come down to the station.”

Well, the other guys started protesting, trying to help him. And he said, “I tell you what. All of you would go down to the police station.”

Now that’s when I got off and I said, “Sir, I’ve got my carfare in my pocket, and I’ll just get on the bus and I’ll…”

“Nah, huh. No, young lady, you are with them and you going to go down to the station with them.” Me? Going to jail? I couldn’t imagine! What was my mother going to say?! What was she going to do?! My mother did not spare the rod. And so, I cried, I pleaded, I begged.

But he said, “You’re going with the rest of them.”

We got to the station. And at first, I would not even give him my mother’s phone number. But I did. And when he called, I could just imagine her on the other end of that line.

And finally, she said, “I don’t drive, but I’ll send someone to get her.”

Oh, I cried, I cried. I was just so upset with myself. But then I realized, I had homework to do. So, I took out my copy of Hamlet, and I started to read. Police officer noticed that I was reading this book, and he said, “What are you doing?”

And I told him all about the course, and all about the work, and how exciting it was. He said, “What are you doing with these other guys? You don’t belong with them. What are you doing with them?”

I didn’t answer. But I did question what was I doing with them. You know, Hamlet had to get himself together in that book, you know, “to be or not to be.” Well, I’ve made some decisions about how my life was going to be from that point on.

My mother sent my aunt. When we get home, oh, I was so afraid. What was she going to do to me once she opened that door? But the mother I saw when I entered, was one I had never seen before. Her eyes were so sad, and she was silent. She looked so tired. And it upset me so much, that I vowed I never wanted to cause this much pain to my mother again. My mother didn’t speak to me. Not then, not that night, not the next morning. But after school the next day, she did say to me, “I hope you will reflect upon that incident yesterday and what changes or decisions you’re going to make in your life.”

One decision I made was that I was going to get an “A” out of that course. I had worked and worked, and I can say, that I was one of the few students who received it that summer. You see, that’s what I wanted my mother to remember. And not that it was the summer that I and Hamlet went to jail.

When Summer Came: Summer Vacations in the Segregated South

 

Story Summary:

 During the 1950s, Gwen’s mother, like many African American parents, ritually sent their children down south for the summer. Gwen remembers the rich experiences with her grandparents on the farm but also many painful and dangerous racist encounters which greatly impacted her.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: When-Summer-Came-Summer-Vacations-in-the-Segregated-South

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why would African Americans send their children back down South in the summertime, after they had left behind the discrimination and mistreatment they often endured while living there?
  2. Have you ever experienced or seen others experience racism or discrimination of any kind?  Describe the experience and how you reacted or coped with it.
  3. What are some ways that people can become advocates or builders of acceptance of others who are discriminated against in our society?

Resources:

  •  The Gold Cadillac By Taylor, Mildred (Ages 10 And Up.)
  • Born Colored: Life Before Bloody Sunday By Erin Goseer Mitchell. (High School)
  •  The Rosa Parks Story – DVD (2002)

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

My name is Gwen Hilary.

When summer came to Chicago, when I was a student in elementary school, I never got a chance to spend summers there. Each summer I was sent South to be with my grandparents and to spare… experience life on the farm. Now, during those years, when summer came, my mama worked from midnight until 8 o’clock in the morning. She would get home in time to see us off to school, and then get up again at 12 o’clock to fix lunch, and again at 3 o’clock to spend some quality time with us, from 3 until 7. That meant that she rarely got more than five consecutive hours during those working days.

So, when summer came, my mama got a chance to rest. She would prepare us a big shoebox full of food; chicken, bread, and cookies, and other things to take with us. But we didn’t know it was because she knew there would be no place along the route where we could purchase something to eat. I remember, one summer, when we were going South, that my sister and I had ridden the Greyhound bus for so many hours that we had to go to the bathroom, desperately. We bolted off the bus and rushed into a waiting room so we could get something to drink after going to the bathroom.

Now, we noticed that as we walked through, the men lowered their papers and some looked over the top of their glasses. When we got into the bathroom, the women stepped aside to let us go in, we thought that was quite nice. And then, we went to the bathroom, and we went to the stalls, and we washed our hands, and fixed the hair. Thought we looked kind of cute, as a matter of fact. And then, we walked through to where we could get something to eat and drink.

When we got to the counter, the waitress looked at us as we approached and said, “We don’t serve your kind here.”

Your kind? And we looked around and realized we had gone into the white only waiting room. We were so embarrassed and a bit afraid and we asked, “Where do we go to get something to drink?”

“The colored waiting room was around the back, over yonder.” And we walked out and saw an old dilapidated waiting room that said “Colored only.” And that’s where we purchased our beverage.

When summer came, we experienced racism in the South that we had never known. But there were wonderful days. You see, we went to school all year long. Black children in the South didn’t get out of school during the summer. Their school day ended or their school year ended, at the end of September maybe in October. It was then, that they would harvest the crops, pick cotton, and help the family raise money. My grandmama was a teacher in one of those schools down South. A one-room schoolhouse that housed students from grades 1 through 8. There were long benches and each grade was assigned a bench. And there was a potbellied stove that would keep the students warm in the winter. And over in the corner, was a table that held a bucket full of nice cold water and you could get a dip if you needed it. Now, there was also something else in that room.

There was a switch. Now that switch would make sure there was no disorder. But it also made sure that you attended to getting those lessons done. The worst time was when you were called to the front to spell those words that you had to learn each night. If you missed a word, you got a lick, smack, right in your hand. There were some mighty good spellers coming out of that school. When integration came, that one-room school was closed and all of the black children boarded yellow school buses each day, to ride to the brick, large schools in town.

When summer came, racism occurred in a way that I never knew existed in the South. I remember, that Emmett Till went down South with me. We were in the same school. Now, I don’t know if we were in the same homeroom, but we had classes such as art or music together. My name was Tarpley and his was Till. And as we sat in alphabetical order, he would have sat behind me in the seats that were bolted down. Six rows of eight seats, in each class room. I remember his eyes. Oh! Beautiful, beautiful brown, light brown eyes and a big smile. And he was jovial, always happy. Everyone liked him. But, you see, he had never gone South before and didn’t really understand what the South was like and the rules, that were very strict, for black child growing up in the South. His mama didn’t want him to go, but he begged because all of us were going. This was a ritual for many black families who had come North from the Great Migration to make a better living for themselves. They would send their children back to the farm, back to the family, to experience life. And so, Emmett Till went to Mississippi. I was in Arkansas that summer.

Now, while I was in Arkansas, my grandmother had sent me inside of the drugstore to purchase some items for her AND told us we could get some ice cream. Oh! It was so exciting! My sister went to purchase the items and I sat on a little, red stool, spinning around. And I said, “Black walnut, please.”

The young, white boy looked at me and he didn’t serve me. So, I spun around and I said it again, “Black walnut, please.”

Just then the door burst open and my grandmother rushed in and took both of us by the arm and she said, “She didn’t know any better. She didn’t know any better. We’re leaving, now.”

I couldn’t imagine why my dignified grandmother, who was a teacher, would give such respect to this white, teenage boy. She told me when we get outside, “Baby, baby, I should have told you. You can buy your ice cream in that store but you can’t sit down in there. You have to eat it outside.”

I remember we would go down to Mr. Tucker’s store on the corner. Mr. Tucker was a nice white man. But Mr. Tucker did not understand why we would not say “Sir” to him when he spoke to us. And I would say, “Mr. Tucker, I want a whining ball. Give me a red one.” Those were big, hard candies.

He said, “And?”

And I would say, “And, please?”

“And!” But I would never say “Sir” but he would always give me my whining balls.

When summer came, we had a chance to spend so much time with our eight cousins in our big frame house. We would make mud pies, roll car tires down the road. We could race each other and they’d look like big black donuts. We would grab the branches of the weeping willow trees, and swing out onto the water, and fall in with a splash. We would take lightning bugs, and put them on our ears, and we also would play with frogs. But when that lightning and thunder came, we children were told to sit absolutely still on the enclosed sunporch. My grandmamma said God was doing his work.

Well, those days are long gone, but will never be forgotten. The black community in the South was a special, nurturing place. It was a place where the wealthy and the poor, the highly educated and the illiterate, and those who were pillars of society and the derelicts, lived together in a community that nurtured and took care of each other. Now, the houses are gone. The barns have been torn down, and the land has been divided among the heirs. And we now rent that land out, and people raise soybeans and other crops on it. I’ll never ever forget those special days in the South when summer came.

Soul Food in a Southern Swamp: Bumming Fish and Crossing Boundaries

 

Story Summary:

 After fishermen in the Okefenokee Swamp give Elliott two fierce looking mudfish, he finds himself on a hilarious cross cultural journey learning how to cook the fish, and later meets a number of challenges learning how to tell the tale.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Soul-Food-in-a-Southern-Swamp-Bumming-Fish-and-Crossing-Boundaries

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Is “good ole boy” an ethnic slur?
  2. What does food and traditional cuisine mean to people in different cultures?
  3. What is soul food?  What is a favorite food from your ethnic background?

Resource:

  •  Everybody’s Fishin’- A Cross-Cultural Fishing Extravaganza   CD by Doug Elliott

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name’s Doug Elliott and I’m a freelance naturalist and herbalist and storyteller and I’m interested in cultural diversity. I’m interested in how different people relate to the natural world and different cultures. But, you know, sometimes it’s a challenge to tell a story that celebrates cultural diversity without being culturally insensitive even though that’s not what I want to do.

Well, I want to tell you a kind of a fishing story. And, uh, and then, I’ll tell ya how I came to tell it the way I did.

Well, I was down in the Okefenokee Swamp. And I’m, I’m a kind of naturalist. I love to get out in the swamp and I’m always kind of sc… foraging and scavenging and trying to, and trying to keep my budget low. And, and, you know, I’m not always that good at fishing.

But, but, um, but I love to talk to the fishermen and, inadvertently, over the years, I’ve learned, uh, that I can often get a fish dinner if I just kind of lay a few hints out there, and just sort of say, say, “You know, if you get too many fish, let me know.” And a lot of times fishermen are glad to share a little of their catch with them, eh.

And so, one day, we were out there. We were, we were paddling out in the Okefenokee swamp. And it’s this mysterious watery wilderness, you know, swamps and cypress trees and water and wading birds. And a lot of people fish there; you know, we were paddling out. We’d paddled out all day and I was coming back. And I see these two, these two, two white guys sittin’ in a boat. And they’re, uh… they looked like they were local boys. And they looked like they knew what they were doin’. They were dropping their fishin’ lines in among the bonnet waterlilies there.

And I said, “You fellers catchin’ any fish?”

And they, “Wo, we gittin’ a few.

“Well, now, if you git too many now, lemme know.”

And these, one of these fellers says, “Well, we got these old mud fish. Now, you know, you don’t want dem, do ya?”

“Mud fish? Are they any good to eat?”

He said, “Well, a black folks eat them but we don’t.”

I thought to myself, “Soul food? You know, we’re talking about cornbread, collard greens, fish, chicken. I, I eat soul food all the time. I thought, “Well, yeah, I’ll, I’ll take those fish!”

And so, I pulled the canoe up there and let me tell you. He flopped these two fish in there. One… the biggest one was about a foot and a half long.

And, let me tell you, this was a beast to be reckoned with. It looked like the, it looked like the essence of swamp, congealed and personified, right there. I mean, this fish had a big fan shaped tail. It had, it had this, this, this shaped like a, like a wood splitting wedge. And it had, had thick armor-like scales and a huge mouth – big, wide mouth like a catfish ’cept this, uh, this mouth had just jaggly, snaggly teeth in it. Had these two little tentacles sticking out, from out of his nose. I mean, this was a creature to be reckoned with.

I said, “Oh, it is quite a fish here.” I said, I said, “You guys don’t know how to cook them?”

“No, black folks eat them but, but, but now we, we, we don’t, we don’t.” And then the guy out in the back of the boat says, “Well, actually, you know, Daddy had a recipe for mudfish.”

And the guy looked around, he says, “He did?”

“Yeah, yeah,” he said.

I said, “Can you tell me?”

He said, “Yeah, but it’s kind of complicated. C… You got a good memory?”

I said, “Here, I’ll write it down.” I reached in my, in my backpack there and I pulled out my sched… my, my notebook and I started, I started writin’.

And he said, “Well, now what ya do is you get ya a nice, soft pine board. And ya just cover it with barbecue sauce and ya lay a bunch of onion rings all over the top of it. Sprinkle it with some garlic and some herbs. And take that fish, you split that fish open. You lay ’im out there on the board, and you put some, put some more barbecue sauce on top of that. More onions, more garlic, pick some herbs. Oregano is really a good herb to put on there, and then, and then some… and a little mustard, a little ketchup. And you put ’im right there against the fire and then you just cook it. And, and you just let it cook ’im ’til he’s really crisp. Then you scrape that fish off and eat the board.”

“Oh, ha, you guys!”

They started laughing.

I said, “Ha, well, thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate that recipe. I’m a go hunt me a board. I’ll go see if I can cook these fish, you know.”

And I’m paddling off, down in a canoe, down there, kinda embarrassed, you know.

I hear them guys. They’re just still laughing. “Ha, ha, did ya see that? He’s writin’ it down, ah, ha, ha!”

So. So, finally, finally, I get down, I get down. and I’m thinking, “Well, man, I’ve got these fish. I want to cook these fish but th… I gotta figure, I gotta find someone who will know how to cook these fish. And I’m going into the dock there and there’s boats going in and out. And there’s people in the concession there selling tickets and things.

And I’m thinking, thinking, “Wha…who is going to know how to cook these fish? Who would tell me, you know?”

And then, all of a sudden, I look. An over on this little, this little spot of land there, there, she is, that wise woman we’ve all been wanting to talk to – a large African-American woman. She’s sittin’ there in a folding chair. She had her fish bucket on one side and her cooler on the other side. She had three fishing poles, I think. Oh, there she is, that wise woman! She has been way… been sitting there in solid, focused contemplation all day. Been contemplatin’ this vast, watery wilderness before her. Those fishing poles, like sensitive antennas, reaching down, probing the depths, bringing home food and sustenance for her family. Oh, she is that wise woman! She would know how to cook a f… a mudfish but can I get her to tell me?

Well, only thing I do is just go over and ask, you know. And she’s a fair distance away there, you know. I start walkin’ over and this… I just go over and talk to her and see what, see what she will tell me, you know.

I see her lookin’ over at me, ya know, kinda lookin’ like, I can almost hear her thinking, “Uh, what’s this white boy want with me?”

Ha…and, ha…and I just kept walkin’ over there and then I see her look back.

“Oh, Lord, he’s still coming.”

She’s adjustin’ her fishing poles, you know, adjustin’ her fish… I came up to her respectfully as I could and I said, “’Scuse me, ma’am. Can you tell me how to cook a mudfish?”

She looked up from under that broad-brimmed straw hat of hers, ah, ha, ha, kinda suspiciously, and she says, “How? Ha, ha, huh, huh, huh, huh, ah, huh! huh, huh, huh!”

I can just see her thinkin’, “This white boy wants a tell ya how to cook a, cook a mudfish.”

You just laugh. Let him tell ya, ya know.”

I said, “No, ma’am. Uh, these fellers gave me mud fish and I don’t know how to cook them. I thought you might tell me.”

And she warmed right up. She said, “Well, honey lamb, they aren’t hard to cook. Now you can’t scale ’em. You have to skin ’em like a catfish. And you take ’em, you put ‘em in a pot and you steam ’em for a while and that meat’ll come off the bones. You take yo fork and you take de meat off de bones. She said, “And then you take and git you some, git you some corn meal and some aig, a little bit a pepper, a little bit a onion. Ya chop ’em up. You make fish balls, fish patties outa ’em and you fry ’em.” She says, “They good!” She said, “They good as a mullet.”

And I thanked her so much. And, you know, we went back to camp. We did that, you know; we made these fish cakes. They were better than any sa… salmon croquettes, better than any crab, fancy crab cakes, I ever had. It was some of the best fish I ever had.

And I was so glad that I had just been brave enough to just go talk and… to this wise woman. And she gave me that good advice. And, you know, I got ta… and I’m thinkin’ about tellin’ this story. And I’m thinking about how some people, you know, these, these white guys, they were, they was, they really kinda thought that this food was, like, beneath them, you know. And of course, of course, that’s, uh, interesting because different cultures have different relationships on that.

And, um, we… later on, that same trip, you know, I was down on the, down on the coast. And I see these two guys fishin’ and they, they had the big, the big surf castin’ rods. Two young black guys. And, and I see ’em castin’ out there and, and these guys knew what they were doin’. Now,  I…well, I gotta go talk to the fishermen. So, I went over and talked to ’em and, ha, one a ’em catches a fish.

Oh! I love to be there when someone catches the fish. And he starts, he starts winding this fish in and in comes a big ole catfish, big ocean catfish. Big elegant, long, long fins and, and, uh, long whiskers. And he takes it, takes it off there. Just tosses it down there in the surf like… it, it starts swimmin’ back.

I said, “Don’t you want your catfish?”

He says, “No, we’re fishin’ for sea trout.”

And, uh, and then next he’ll catch another fish. “

“Yes, see that! That’s what we’re looking for.”

And he took that up, put it in his cooler. And he catches another one, another catfish.

“Ah, can I have your catfish?”

“Yeah.”

You know, and I took those catfish back and I was cooking them. And as we ate those catfish, I kept thinking what if someone asked those, asked those black guys, “You know, are those, those catfish any good ta eat?”

And he goin’ say, “Oh, them ole, white hippies, they eat ’em but they ain’t no good. Ha, ha”

So, okay, so, I’ve been trying to tell that story and I’m been trying to just figure out, figure out how to tell it in the most culturally sensitive way, you know. And I remember one time asking an African-American buddy of mine (he was, he was a storyteller) and asked him what… I was just trying the story out.

And I just said there’s these two guys sitting in a boat when I describe the first two guys. And later on, he said, he said, “Well, you know, you white folks seem to think of yourselves as normal, you know. And that anybody you describe, unless you describe them with an adjective, we just assume is normal, you know, and as white.” “And, uh, and,” he said, “You know, you know, that’s really, you know you just have, to have to think about that. You didn’t give those first guys accents.”

Well, you know, when I tell the story now I give ’em an accent because they were southern. They were southern, southern Georgia good ole boys.

And, and, and um, and, and, um. And so. So, I thought, “Well, how… you know, I don’t want to describe them just southern rural white guys sittin’ in a boat. Uh, you know, it just, it just doesn’t seem like a natural way to talk, you know.”

So, so, I was thinking, “I was just remembering talkin’ to one, one ole b… one ye…one ole fa… ole Georgia, Georgia guy and he was saying, ‘Well, you know, I bone ’n raised ‘round here.’ He says, ‘My granddaddy came down here with a mule and a ba… and a wagon. Law, he’s crackin’ a whip the whole way. You know, I’m jus’ a ole Georgia cracker.’ And lot of people from so… north Georgia, and south Georgia, and north Florida, they call themselves “crackers” because that’s how their… that’s with their ancestry.

And so, the next time I told the story, I said, “Well, there’s these two Georgia crackers; they’re sittin’ in their boats there, you know.”

And, and I always kind of check out the audience and, particularly, if I’m going to tell racially based stories. I want to just make sure I’m not offending anybody. I see. I see this, uh, this one, one black woman in the crowd and I sought her out later on.

And I said, I said, “Did anything, put… anything bothering you about that story? Is that all right?”

And she said, “We need to talk.”

And I said, “Oh, yeah?”

And she said, “Yeah. Yeah.” She said, you call those white guys “crackers.”

“Um, uh, uh.”

She, she said, “Well, you know when I realized it, in the north “crackers” kind of like a, like an, like a racial epithet used by blacks against whites.”

And she didn’t like me callin’, callin’ anyone by a racial epithet.

And, uh, I thought, “Well, uh.”

So, we talked about it a little bit and she said… I said, “What can I call ’em? I just don’t want to say white guys, and, you know.”

And she… I… She… well…

I said, “Well, how about good ole boys.”

She said, “Yeah, I think good old boys would work.

So, next time I told it, I told it, you know… “These two good ole boys sitting there, uh, and in the boat and, uh…”

And then some people say, “Well, good ole boys sort of, sort of implies that these are southerners, sort of a stereotype that applies to certain southerners that has kind of racist overtones.”

Now I don’t know if I agree with that but you know it’s one of those processes that we’re just trying to work on, you know. And so, so, um, so, so, you know, and, and, one of the, one of the things that kinda, kinda gets me sorta realizin’, realizin’ in the course of following this thing, how much privilege I have because I’m white.

And I realized, I realized, sp… especially the kind of livin’… the way I make my, make my livin’ and, you know, I’m always kinda sneakin’ around somewhere, you know. And I look for some fruit trees or, or going someplace I’m not exactly sure.

“Oh, sorry, Officer! I didn’t realize that the fruit orchard there was posted. I didn’t realize there’s no trespassing there. You know, I’m sorry, uh, you know, uh.”

And I realize I can get away with that. What if I was black or what if I was Hispanic and I was caught somewhere like that? It would be a whole different experience. And so, you know, and I realize even, even, like, like when my son, my teenaged son, he’s going, “I’m going to go out,” with one of his black buddies and goin’ out at night, you know.

I said, “Well, just be careful. It’s a whole ‘nother level of prejudice you’ve got to deal with.”

And, uh, and so, so, um, so I’ve been trying to work on this all the time and sometimes I’ll mess the story up.

And, and, uh, and, and, you know, it…but what I realize is that, is that, is that…one, one, one of my, one of my, my African-American coaches says to me, he says, “Look, the main things, man, is that you care.”

And, you know, that’s where everybody’s at. Just the main thing is that we care. So that’s what I’d like to leave you with. So, thanks.

An African Native American Story

 

Story Summary:

 Many Africans and First Nations People bonded together during and after slavery in the Americas and in the Caribbean for protection, acceptance, friendship and love. As a result, many African descendants in these countries also share Native American ancestries. Mama Edie learns while watching old Westerns on TV with her grandmother, Nonnie Dear, a new perception of who the “good guys” or “bad guys” were.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: An-African-Native-American-Story

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why does it matter that we learn to know and to love all of who and what we are?  What often happens to people who don’t?
  2. Does it really matter what we call ourselves?  If so, why?
  3. State two potentially lifelong benefits of knowing the history of your ancestors.  Can you feel or experience any of these benefits at work in your life today?  If so, which one(s)?

Resources:

  • Circular Thought: An African Native American Traditional Understanding by Nomad Winterhawk
  • Medicine Cards by David Carson and Jamie Sams (A non-fiction book explaining the wisdom that First Nations people have gained by the observation of animals, insects and other creatures of the North American continent.)
  • Tell the World!  Storytelling Across Language Barriers by Margaret Read MacDonald

Themes:

  • African American/Blacks
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family & Childhood
  • First Nations/Native Americans
  • Stereotypes & Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Edith McLoud Armstrong but most people simply call me Mama Edie. You know, when you are identified as someone other than from a European heritage, sometimes the way your people can be presented in history, can make you feel categorically small or flawed or ugly or useless and even invisible. And when you’re a child, your childhood perceptions when blended with images from your history as that has unfolded can actually haunt you and can leave you feeling mentally in bondage forever if you allow that to happen. And what becomes important is for us to then realize that there is some healing that needs to be done. I have had my healing to be done and I continue to do so.

I remember, though, one of my first recognitions of how people can perceive things differently (I mean, the same event! They can see the same event. They can all be there but they see it differently.) was with my grandmother, my paternal grandmother. Her name was Estella Hunt McLoud. And she was born around 1890 and her people were from the Seminole, Cherokee and Blackfoot tribes. And so she is, actually, our most familiar branch to those lineages. And she taught us many things. Now, her people were from Florida and she married my grandfather Quilla McCloud from Georgia somewhere between those borders. Now, although she did die when I was young, I do remember her and I cherish the relationship that we had.

I can remember her firmly set square jaw. I remember her thin lips as she talked. I remember her eyes, her large warm eyes, and, you know, it was almost as though she could look straight through you with those eyes. And, you know how, oftentimes, people talk about how mothers and grandmas have eyes in the backs of their heads. Well, my grandmother also had eyes in the back of her head. She saw everything.

We loved her very much. We called her Nonnie Dear. Now Nonnie Dear was kind of quiet even though she was firm but when she spoke, she ended up saying something that most people were going to long remember.

And she also did some things that were pretty memorable as well. I can remember a particular time when I had gone over… (I must have been about five years old or so, so this must have been… say about 1956) and I’d gone over to spend the night. I used to enjoy spending the night with my grandmother and we would watch television together for a while. But this one particular day, this was the first time I had ever had this experience with her. We were watching an old western on TV. Now keep in mind that these were the programs that depicted the U.S. Cavalry and also the invading frontiersmen as the good guys. And the Indians or the Native Americans who were fighting to keep their homes and their lives were depicted as the bad guys. Well, now, needless to say, Nonnie Dear didn’t care for that particular percept… perception or portrayal that she offered… that she saw there. And what she would do sometimes? Once the soldiers and the frontiersmen came charging in and they were shooting up everybody and they were setting fires to the village and you saw young children scattering, looking and calling for their parents, my grandmother Nonnie Dear would get so upset she would take off a house slipper and she’d throw it at the television set. And she’d say, “Leave ‘em alone! Leave ‘em alone, you dirty rascals! Leave ‘em alone!” I wasn’t quite sure what was going on and I’d thought it was a little strange. It was kind of funny and I wondered if maybe Nonnie Dear had been out in the sun a little bit too long. But as time passed, I came to understand what made her so angry. And those things started to make me angry too.

And, in fact, I can even remember when I was younger and I had gone to St. Elizabeth, the Catholic Elementary School in Chicago where I grew up. And also, later at St. Carthage. And while there, the nuns always seemed to have a ready arsenal of patriotic music to arm us with and to teach us. Well, one of the songs that they taught us was the one that repeatedly states, “This land is your land. This land is my land, from California to the New York Island. This land was made for you and me.” But as I got older and as I started to experience the responses from different people simply to my presence and as I began to see how the country really functioned and what was important and who was important and who was not, I wasn’t really so inspired to sing that song because I didn’t feel like this land was made for me. But actually the whole world is made for you and me, isn’t it.

I mean that it is intended for us to share it and to honor the humanity in all of us. But that’s, that’s not the way it happened here. That wasn’t the way it happened so I came to understand my grandmother’s anger.

And sometimes as I’m driving across beautiful rolling meadows in my car, when I look out in the distance across those hills, it’s as though I can almost see horses running free across land that at one point had no gates, no fences. People understood how to honor each other’s boundaries. And I can almost see the shadows of young children at play, running to and fro. I can see fathers talking with their sons and explaining to them what it means to be a man. I can see mothers talking with their daughters, teaching them how to weave blankets and how to braid hair. And how to cook and just laughing and giggling and having a good time being girls.

But I’m also haunted by the image of my ancestors who crossed too many trails of tears. I understand that even though I still feel the pain, I still feel the wounds of my African ancestors, of my Native American ancestors, somehow, through it all, I’ve come to appreciate and to embrace the totality (or as much of it that I know) that I happen to be.

Don’t know too much about our rather obscure relative, Bezhati, who was from Italy but who apparently really, really loved my great-great grandmother and bore many children.

But I think that the important thing is to continue this story on because I’m a part of this continuum. And, as such, I will continue to tell the story. And I’ll continue to try to heal my wounds. And I will continue to try to encourage my daughter Aiyana and anybody else – anybody else’s children, even grown folks, to try to heal those wounds that we hold inside and to try to see a little bit of God in each and every one in all of God’s creation.

And I think that this would be our greatest achievement. This would be our greatest gift that we can give back to those ancestors who loved us. We need to remember that we’ve got the strength to do it because we are the children of those who survived.

Hauntings: Journey of an African American Teenager to a Southern Plantation

 

Story Summary:

 This is a true story of the writer and the haunting experience she had at age 13 on a southern plantation near an old tree by the side of the road.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Hauntings-Journey-of-an-African-American-Teenager-to-a-Southern-Plantation

Discussion Questions:

  1. Imagine ways by which the existence of slavery, with all of its imposed conditions and traditions legally ending over 150 years ago, might still be culturally, socially, politically and spiritually impacting the lives of Black people today.  Please describe.
  2. What are some of the differences and similarities of how slavery and colonialism in general affected the lives of Black people in the US as compared to enslaved people in places such as Cuba, Brazil, Haiti, Trinidad, Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico… and Africa itself, even to this day?
  3.  How can being a descendant of enslaved Africans – born in ANY country – affect the ways in which Black people see themselves and others outside of their cultures today?
  4.  How do you think Black people might feel when repeatedly over the years they hear, “Slavery?  Oh, that was so long ago.  Why don’t you people just get over it?”
  5.  Have you ever felt moved, affected or “haunted” by a person or situation that existed before you were even born?  If so, please describe this experience and how it affected or even continues to affect you to this day.

Resources:

  • The Book of Negroes, a novel by Lawrence Hill that describes the life of a young girl born into a Muslim family, living happily in a West African village.  While enjoying a walk with her father through the forest, showing off her ability to balance the Qur’an on her head, they come upon people who looked quite different than they do.  Little Aminata Diallo’s life was forever changed…
  • Pre-Colonial Black Africa, by Cheikh Anta Diop.  This book provides a comparison of the political and social systems of Europe and Black Africa from antiquity, demonstrating the African contributions to the formation of modern states and to the development of Western civilization.
  •  They Came Before Columbus, by Professor Ivan Van Sertima.  A journey through hard evidence reveals an African presence in North, South and Central America describing how Africans from the ancient empire of Mali came to these locations as merchants as early as 1311, prior to European arrivals and the slave trade.
  • When I Was a Slave: Memoirs from the Slave Narrative Collection, edited by Norman Yetman.
  •  The Souls of Black Folk, by WEB DuBois.  An inside look at how the spiritual tendencies of Black people have often contributed to both their strength and wisdom – before, throughout and beyond slavery – and yet a naiveté and trust in human nature that allowed for conquest.

Themes:

  • African American/Blacks
  • Family & Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Edith McLoud Armstrong but most people just call me Mama Edie. You know, we can be haunted by many things but ‘hauntings’ are not bad. We can be haunted by a love that we once had that we will always, always remember. We can be haunted by the melody of a song that just won’t seem to go away. We can be haunted by many things. Let me tell you about a time when I was 13 years old and took my first trip to the Big Apple, New York City.

My sister Diane, who we now call Deanna based on her Spanish influence, she was living there with my aunt Bill, (Wilhemenia), and we stayed in Harlem on 156th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam. Not too far from St. Nicholas Place where my grandfather, my maternal grandfather, used to live and participated in the Harlem Renaissance. So, this was a time where I got a chance to connect with not only my sister but the spirit of my grandfather.

And I got to go to Harlem. I had heard so much about Harlem. I’d heard some scary, scary things about Harlem but when I got there, I loved it. I mean, the kids were great. They knew where all the best comic books were; we got all the best Superman and Archie comic books. And we got all the wonderful records. And even when I got back to Chicago, my friends thought I was hot stuff because in the east, in those days, the music hit those areas before they came to Chicago. So, I had music that hadn’t even hit our charts yet. So, I was really popular, you know. Well, New York was great. But then, after a couple of days, my Aunt Bill decided to take me to D.C. She offered to, “You wanta go to Washington?”

“Yeah, I would love to go to Washington.” Where the president lives and all these wonderful monuments I had only heard of or seen on TV.

So, we took a train and when we got there to the station, I had never been on a train ride before. And the sound the vibrations of the engines, thundering, just vibrated all through my body, and hearing the bells, and whistles, and everything. It was so exciting. And, and hearing people laughing and chattering and seeing little children pulling their little suitcases behind them. It was the cutest thing. And I was having a ball just being there. Well, we got to D.C. and we went to visit Aunt Bill’s friends. And they were very nice and they were very accommodating. And then the next day, Aunt Bill took me on a bus tour and with this bus tour, we went all around D.C. and saw all the different monuments and what have you. And then, we started leaving the city and going into Maryland and Virginia and we started coming upon these beautiful, arrogantly, sprawling plantations.

And there was one particular plantation though, that we went to, where we were going to stop and get off the bus and go inside. And everyone was going to look around. So, while we had pulled up there near the entry way, the bus driver was giving us a bit of a history about it. And he was talking about the flowers, and most of the people on the bus happened to be older white women. And I think they must have been from some organization or something. They all seemed to know each other and they were excitedly chattering and talking about the beautiful gardens. And they couldn’t wait to get off the of, of the bus to just, kind of, walk around the grounds and see. So, they began to make their descent from the bus. And Aunt Bill also got up. She was sitting in an aisle seat right beside me so she got up and she started going towards the door to also get off. When suddenly, she turned and realized that I had not moved. I was still sitting there in my seat.

So, she came back to me and she said, “Come on Edith. Don’t you want to get off and go see the grounds?” And I couldn’t. I told her that I couldn’t go.

And she said, “Why, what’s the matter?” And she sat down beside me. And all of a sudden, I just began to cry. These quiet tears just began to come down. What had happened was that, just beyond my window there was a tree that looked so sad. And it had branches that seemed to extend upward and outwards as those longing for something. And I knew as I had been looking at that tree even before Aunt Bill got up to get off the bus. And I’m looking at this tree and everything within me told me that someone had been hung from that tree. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that people were often hung from trees on the sides of the road as a warning to the other blacks and Native Americans who would dare to consider escape. So as Aunt Bill was sitting beside me, I couldn’t, at 13, explain to her what I had been feeling but it was as though she knew. She put her arm around me and as I cried, she just rocked me. And we simply sat there in silence. I realized that day that…sometimes when people share a history some things just don’t need to be explained.

Hot Chili and Crackers: A Racial Stew with Danger

 

Story Summary:

Mama Edie’s Black Theater Ensemble is invited to perform her original composition called “Metamorphosis” at a university in Iowa in 1970. After what had been a peaceful and joyful journey along the way, the ensemble members come to realize that Civil Rights had not yet fully taken root, not even in the north.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Hot-Chili-and-Crackers-A-Racial-Stew-with-Danger

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Have you or has anyone in your family ever been in a situation where you felt not only unwelcome but in danger just because of the color of your skin?  If so, what was the situation and what was it like?
  2. If someone was being mistreated because of their so-called race, gender, religion or ethnic heritage, do you think that you could speak up for them?  If so, how would you go about it?  If not, why not?
  3. How can we turn the anger of a painful past into something life giving and productive?  What is the likely end result if we do not, if we don’t find within ourselves a place of peace?

Resources:

  • The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (A fictional tale of the mysterious journey into the experience of invisibility of an entire race of people.)
  • Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin – a non-fiction book, also produced as a film, that reflects on the experiences of a European/white American who disguises himself as an African American.
  • Of Water and the Spirit by Malidoma Patrice Some’

Themes:

  • African American/Blacks
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Stereotypes & Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Edith McLeod Armstrong but most people just call me Mama Edie.

You know, growing up as a child in the 50s and the 60s was a very, very exciting and stimulating time for many reasons. Some of them weren’t so pleasant but some of them were great. Oh, we had some of the best music and some of the best dances. And whereas at one point in time people, many people who were not of African-American culture, would shun our music and say, “Oh those are bad dances.” All of a sudden, Dick Clark came along and, honey, everybody was doing our dances. And everybody was trying to sing our songs and we came to a place of sharing that we had never been before.

Well, along came the time that I needed to go to college and I wanted to go to college. I was excitedly looking forward to it. I went off to Northern Illinois University, in DeKalb, Illinois, in 1969. And during that summer, there was an orientation weekend. And I got a chance to meet some really, really great kids and the campus was beautiful. And I frequently went to my favorite area by the lagoon, where we had these great weeping willow trees and swans swimming all over the place. It was really great. Well, this one particular day, a friend and I, a new friend, his name was Corky, went to town. Well, in those days we didn’t have the buses so we walked everywhere we needed to go. But of course, I stayed streamlined in those days. But in any case, Corky was a great guy. One of the things that I appreciated about him was that he had such an intelligent conversation without really sounding highbrow. I mean he had something to talk about. So, we talked about everything from soup to nuts. And so, we went to town and on our way back, I remember we were crossing the bridge of the lagoon, going back onto the campus. And he had started asking me some serious things. And all of a sudden, he asked me, “Edie, what do you think about the establishment?”

I said, “What establishment?” Well, I had been raised in Catholic elementary schools and I had good upbringing and we had social studies. But nobody ever asked me of the establishment. And so, I said, “I don’t know what are you talking about.”

He said, “You know the way the country is run. What do you think about that?”

I said, “I don’t know. I guess it’s all right.”

“Well,” he said, “But what about the civil rights movement and what about the people who still can’t vote, especially down in the south? And what do you think about Affirmative Action? And what do you think about reparations and do you think we’re really free?”

Holy moly! My head was spinning. I didn’t know what to say. And so, he said… I tell you what, he did make me feel stupid as I felt. He was very kind.

And he said, “I tell you what, I got some books you need read.”

I said, “OK. Lay them on me.” I loved reading anyway. And he gave me a book by a man whose name at that time, his birth name, was Don Lee. But he is now known as Haki Madhubuti. And this is a book of his poetry. He was on fire. He was angry with the way things were going for our people, for African-Americans, for Latinos, for Asians. He was angry about the inequities about the injustices, all across the board. He was a little bit disappointed. No, he was a big bit disappointed. He was downright disgusted, as a matter of fact, with how frequently African-Americans would seem to forgive too quickly and then forget. And then we’d be right back into the same situation that we were in before. So, as I read his material, his poetry, it shocked me into consciousness. It prompted me to read more. I read everything I could get my hands on. And suddenly, I wanted to make a difference in the world. I wanted to help make things better not only for my people but for everybody.

So, I wrote a piece, I don’t know what you call it, I guess it was kind of an essay, called “Metamorphosis.” And it was spoken from the voice of a black woman directed to her black man. Now, this was actually a piece that you would say that was directed towards all black men who were moving from their colored boyhood into their black manhood. Well, a friend of mine Mac Jones who was at the university working on his master’s in theater. Both of us were involved with black theater at the time of the university. And he decided he was going to get nosy and went through my notebook that was laying on my desk and saw some of the poetry and the other pieces that I had written.

When I came back into the room, he said, “Edie, girl, this stuff is good! We need to do something with this!”

And I said, “Oh go on.” I said, “What are you doing in my notebook anyway?”

And so, after we got serious and we talked about it, we ended up combining some of his material with some of my material and we developed a Reader’s Theater Production. And we got the support of the university to do the production there. And then, there were some people from a university in Iowa who saw it and everybody responded so well to it, that we were invited to do the production in Iowa. Well, we were so excited. This was our first road trip. And we had gotten the support of the university to get a bus and we had food. People had fried some chicken and you know what I’m saying. We had some potato salad and lemonade and fruit and we were even playing Bid Whist on the back of the bus. We had drummers and so we used the skins of the drums as the Bid Whist table, a very popular card game among African-Americans. And everything was going well. Some people were just sitting quietly reading in the bus. Some people were having quiet conversations. But then, as we approached the wide-open countryside and the cornfields, all of a sudden, our bus driver, who happened to be a white American, said to us, he said, “You know, you guys, might want to put your heads down during this particular stretch of the road.”

We said, “What did you say?”

He said, “You need to put your heads down for about another mile or two down the stretch of the road.”

And we said, “Well, what are you talking about? Why?”

And he said, “Well, people have been taking pot shots at blacks, and Latinos, and Asians down the strip of road and a couple of people have gotten killed. And they don’t know who’s doing it. And quite frankly, I’m not sure that the local law enforcement is really looking very carefully. So, you may want to put your heads down.”

Didn’t have to tell us again, we put our heads down. We went into a stony silence and we continued that way until our bus driver said, “OK, you can come back up now.”

And when we did, we remained in silence. Each one, I’m sure sharing the same thoughts, all the way, almost to the town, where we got to a little side cafe restaurant, where we went inside to get some food. And then my friend, Mac Jones, decides he’s going to be a little bit devilish. So, he goes inside. We’re all inside. And of course, the people are, they turned and stared at us coming in the door. We did not feel like the welcome wagon was there. And everybody was ordering their food and were going in very carefully, very carefully, because we weren’t feeling a sense of being welcome there.

And Mac, who’s a very tall, husky guy with a big beard, he looks dead at the waitress and says, “Hi. Do ya’ll have any chili? I’d like some chili.” And he looked at me.

And she said, “Yeah, we had chili.”

And so he looked at me and he said, “Yeah, that’s fine. That’s fine. Well, tell me, do you have any crackers? Cause I’d like to have some crackers with my chili?”

And he looked at me again and I said, “Oh, we’re going to die.” Because you know the term crackers, when it was used by African-Americans, was actually a derogatory term to refer to white folks who were poor and disenfranchised as we were. And I’m sure that everybody in that restaurant knew it.

I said, “Oh my, this man is going to get us killed.” Well, as it happened we didn’t die because I’m here to tell the story. And we were able to leave. We continued on our way. I blasted Mac when we got outside of the restaurant but we laughed it off. We continued on to the University of Iowa. We had another great show and we came back with a lot of memories.

My Brother’s Keeper: A Teenager Works to Free Manuel Salazar from Death Row

 

Story Summary:

 Can a teenager make an impact in a world full of injustice? Jasmin looks back at the roots of her involvement in social justice issues when she joined the cause to free the young Mexican-American artist, Manuel Salazar, who sat on death row falsely accused of killing a police officer.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  My-Brothers-Keeper-A-Teenager-Works-to-Free-Manuel-Salazar-from-Death-Row

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What forces in Jasmin’s life caused her to care about the young prisoner on Death Row named Manuel Salazar? Who played an important role in helping her to volunteer in the ways she did? Why did she choose Art and Theater as her vehicle for action?
  2. The play Jasmin and her group created encouraged people to sign a petition to support Manuel’s Freedom. What technical advancements exist today that were not available in the 1990’s that could help in creating civic action and discourse?
  3. This legal case had two clearly different narratives depending on whose perspective was being considered. Can you compare and contrast these different perspectives? How do we decide what’s “true”?

Themes:

  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Latino Americans/Latinos
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Jasmin Cardenas.

“He shot a cop!”

“No, he didn’t. It says the gun was in the officer’s hands when it went off. Some forensics test shows that.”

“Then why did he run, Jazz?”

This was my friend Mari and me going back and forth about this young Mexican-American guy. His name was Manuel Salazar and it was 1993. He was on death row and we were sophomores in high school. We were trying to decide if we should tell his story at this young Latino leadership event. Mari wanted to do a merengue dance.

“Come on, Jazz! I think we have enough guys to do a bomb-diggety-sexy merengue!”

“I know, but this guy’s innocent and he’s on death row! We should tell his story. Besides, this would be totally different from anything everybody else is gonna do.”

Our friend and fellow club member, Ali, had met Manuel’s lawyer. She told Ali, that he had international support for his freedom. That there was people from all the world behind him. And that, and that he had been represented by a shady lawyer. This guy who had totally rigged his first trial.

“C’mon, you guys, we should do this. We could, we could tell his story and, and people would be amazed.  He was just driving in a car with other Latino and black kids, minding his own business. The cops stopped him for no reason. And then they beat him.  And, and now he’s on death row! I mean, we should interview the lawyer. Tell his story.”

“That’s such a downer, Jazz. Why don’t we tell the story of the Taino Indians and we could dance and get costumes! That’s awesome!”

“You guys, this could have been any one of us in the car with our friends.”

Just that summer before, my brother, Favian, and I had been driving down the street and I saw a friend of mine walking down the road. And I laid on the horn to get her attention. When we got through intersection, this car in front of us, a white Caddy, stopped, all crazy about it. And his older white guy, in slacks and a white shirt, came out and was yelling at us, raging mad. He was F this, and F that. You stupid Mexicans, (we’re actually Colombian), Favian started opening the window to explain. And the guy was having none of it. He punched my brother in the nose. Broke his nose. I couldn’t believe it. We, we, we put out a police report. And my parents took him to the Chicago Children’s Hospital and they did nothing. He got away with it.

“This could have been ANY one of US!” I told my girlfriends.

I got them to agree that at least, at least we’d go talk to the lawyer and learn a little more. So, we went to her office.

It was in the Pilsen neighborhood, in Chicago, 18th Street and, uh, Blue Island. There was a big sign, this banner that said, “For the defense of Manuel Salazar,” hanging outside. We got inside and the room was full of people working the phones, doing paperwork. The lawyer, Marlene Kamish, told us all about the case. She told us about how the official police report had stated that the car was suspicious because there were Negroes and Hispanics in the car together. How the, the, the, Manuel had a, a, a gun in his gym bag and, and he was nervous because it was unregistered but he had been target practicing that day. So, he ran from the car with the gym bag. And how the officer chased him. And when he realized he had nowhere to go, he threw the gym bag, with a gun still inside, over the fence so that the cop wouldn’t get the wrong idea. And turned around and surrendered. But then the cops started to beat him. Even as Manuel was saying, “I give, I give!”

And how Manuel had acted in self-defense. The autopsy report shows that there was gunpowder in the officer’s hands, proving that the gun was in his hands when it went off. It was starting to feel like a movie. My friends and I were sitting on the edge of our seats, listening silently. Then, Manuel ran after the gun went off. He ended up at his friend’s house. He was unrecognizable from the beating. They said he looked like Frankenstein. Then the police department, put a “shoot to kill” order out on his life. Manuel was just 18 years old and scared. He ran to Mexico. And in Mexico, he was sleeping one night, when these masked men came and kidnapped him. They dragged him back to Illinois and couldn’t, put him on trial. This violated an extradition treaty between the United States and Mexico. But still, he was put on trial. Meanwhile, he had no idea that his lawyer had been working for the same police department of the officer who had died.

That lawyer failed to represent him and bring in witnesses and even, he didn’t even show that critical evidence of the toxicologist report that showed that the officer had a high blood alcohol level, proving that he was drunk. Manuel was convicted and sentenced to death. And while on death row, he found out that that shady lawyer had been disbarred. No longer allowed to practice. Marlene said that the British parliament, Amnesty International, even the Pope, was behind the support to free Manuel Salazar.

She showed us paintings. He had started painting while in prison. He had been doing all of this self-taught. And he painted this beautiful piece called, “My Brother’s Keeper.” My friends and I all were teary eyed. We were convinced we would tell his story.

We decided to use the facts of his case and we created a play. That and his paintings and his poetry. And we used our bodies as, as characters like the police officers and, and, and the narrator, and, like, the prison bars. And we created a dream sequence where we would show how he ended up on death row. The final line in the play, the last line, was from his poetry his paintings. “Let us stop blinding ourselves to the suffering from others and take the time to care.  For I ask you, to ask yourself; Acabo no soy yo el guardian de mi hermano?..Am I or am I not the keeper of my brother?”

The Latino youth leadership organization loved it. We got a standing ovation. Better yet, Marlene Kamish, the lawyer, loved it. She organized new performances for us and we went everywhere with his paintings. We toured public events, private events, Latino events, youth events. We even marched in the Mexican Independence Day Parade with Manuel’s mom.

I got more involved. I started volunteering for his case, making phone calls, stuffing fliers. I became pen pals with Manuel. And over the course of a year and a half, we toured his, his production, “Reflections: the story of Manuel Salazar,” everywhere his paintings went. And I even got to know him. I visited him in the Pontiac Correctional Center with Marlene. But as things go, senior year hit, and with school, homework, after school clubs, practice for basketball and soccer, and then college applications, I just kind of lost track with Marleen and with Manuel’s case.

But then, my junior year in college, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, a high school predominantly Mexican-American, on the southwest side of the city, in Pilsen, contacted my university. They were looking to add an afterschool drama program. And my professor said that I should take it on as a project. The kids were fantastic. We had so much fun together and when we were nearing the end of the afterschool program, they wanted to perform. So, I suggested “Reflections” and they loved what it was about. It got me thinking, what had happened to Manuel?

My mom helped me locate Marlene, the lawyer. She was so surprised to hear from me. She said that Manuel had gotten his second trial and he had won and he was, in fact, free. She gave me his phone number. I called him right away. His voice was so soft spoken. He was so calm. He was so happy to hear from me. He told me that he was still living with his mom in Joliet but that the police department was harassing him and his family. They were angry that he’d been released. They, uh, they were harassing so much, that he was thinking of moving out of state. He also told me that his paintings were, were being looked at by people from the Art Institute. I told him about the play. I invited him to come see the show he had never gotten to see. He didn’t hesitate. My insides were exploding!

The day of the performance, I sat in the audience – super anxious, feeling like a teenager again. But afterwards, Manuel’s eyes were so warm and inviting. He was telling me about how much it meant to him, all that we had done. I couldn’t believe it. He was sitting there in the seats of my university with a buttoned-up collar shirt and a big sweater, hiding his muscular body from working out in prison all those years. And yet, his presence was so quiet. “Gracias, Jasmin. I can’t believe you did all this. This is something else. Something else.”

I might not be the British Parliament and I might not be the Pope but I know that what we did mattered. And to Manuel, while he was standing behind prison bars, what we all did to support him made all the difference. So, yeah, I am my brother’s keeper.

To Live or Not to Live in La Villita, Chicago: A Latina Struggles with Civic Responsibility

 

Story Summary:

 Jasmin struggles with the decision of where to live: a culturally vibrant Mexican-American community that struggles with safety or a picturesque middle class neighborhood where her son might be the only brown boy on the block. How does this educated Latina seek out community? And how, as we grow older, do we stay true to our values of making a difference in the world?

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  To-Live-or-Not-to-Live-in-La-Villita-Chicago-A-Latina-Struggles-with-Civic-Responsibility

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What are the pros and cons to Jasmin moving back to the La Villita neighborhood?
  2. Do you believe we have a responsibility to offer role models to others?
  3. How and why are Jasmin’s and her husband’s perception of the Mexican American neighborhood different? How do couple’s negotiate their cultural and other differences in respectful ways?

Resource:

  • Famous People of Hispanic Heritage: Contemporary Role Models for Minority Youth
  • by Barbara J. Marvis

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Housing
  • Latino American/Latinos
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Jasmin Cardenas. And this life struggle is part of a larger story.

I am Latina, first generation Columbiana-Americana, and my husband is a first-generation Mexicano-Americano. He was born and raised in La Villita, a vibrant Mexican community on the southwest side of Chicago. He’d still live there if it wasn’t for me. His family is there and all his friends are there. I, on the other hand, was born on the north side of the city in a very mixed community of Asians, Latinos, whites. And I wasn’t allowed to go to La Villita. When we were younger and we drive into La Villita to visit a mon… one of my mom’s friends, she would reach over to us, over our bodies, to manually lock the car doors of our station wagon, when we drove into that community. So, when Jesus insisted that we live there for our first year of marriage, I was very resistant. We lived there for six years and for most of that time, I didn’t want to live there. I wanted to move. But then, the charm of the community started to grow on me. And then I started to relax into it. But then I got pregnant. And so, we moved two months before Mateo was born.

But still, as an artist, an educator, and an activist, I still do meaningful work there in La Villita. So, the discussion has come up several times. Should we move back? I don’t know. I’m not sure what to do. So, I make two columns. Plus: We move back. Minus: No way, we stay put.

Minus: My familia doesn’t want me to move there. “Eso esta muy peligroso por alla!” My mom and dad thinks it’s too dangerous.

Plus: Years ago, I used to work with these teen girls and they’d say to me, “Hmm, must be nice to drive in your SUV and then go home while we got to deal with your ideas of peaceful conflict resolution on the streets. What a joke!” They were right. It was totally unfair to the girls. Commitment means being in it for the long haul.

Another plus: My neighbors. My first summer there, I met David. Baggy pants, big white T-shirt, gold chain, beer can in one hand. “You plantin’ plants?”

I was on all fours, weeding my front garden. “Yeah. Do you go to school?”

“Nah. Not since I got shot. School’s stupid.” Major minus, right? But then, Snowmagedon happened. And what happened, I was out there shoveling, and David showed up with his gangbanger, tattooed brother, or no, cousin. They pulled out shovels and shoveled right alongside me. I had assumed the worst, but when I got to know my neighbors, who they really were, I realized, they were amazing. They were a great reason to stay in the neighborhood.

But minus: Pow, pow, pow. Gunshots. A car speeds by, shouts, silence, the air conditioners buzzing. “Jesus, did you hear that?”

“What?” my husband yells from the living room.

“The gunshots. Did you hear that?”

“No, Babe. Those are just fireworks.”

“No, I know what I heard.” I can’t go back to that.

But then another minus: I’m on all hands and knees, all fours, and this big, hairy rat darts across my fingers. Rats the size of cats! And they’re everywhere. You can’t go outside and hang out in a relaxed summer night without seeing them. I knew that city services weren’t the same but was this is an example, they just don’t bait the same in La Villita as other parts of the city? I don’t know. I wanna fight for equality in city services but I could, could I move back to living with rats? Funny thing is, I left the rats on the south side but on the north side we have snakes. Another plus: My neighbor, my neighbor kids, they couldn’t believe that I was 28 years old and still didn’t have kids. It hits me. I can be an example that you don’t have to be 18 with kids. I mean, when I was growing up, didn’t I have examples of, of people that helped me make it? When I was in high school, I had a 4.0 GPA. But when I went to my African-American counselor to tell her that I wanted to apply to colleges, she suggested that I apply to one city college.

“Set realistic expectations,” she told me.

This Latina, from a youth leadership organization, she told me to apply to as many colleges as I could. And she even gave me vouchers to, to, so that I didn’t have to deal with the application fees. My neighbor kids, they’re just like me. I should live there. I should stand up for them.

But the minus: I have this friend who lives a block over from our old house in La Villita. Her brother was sitting on the front porch. He’s, he was college bound, college, a college student and now he was in rehab. He got shot while sitting on his front porch. It scares me to think that I could be walking down the block with Mateo in a stroller and bullets might fly. I mean, that’s not safe for him but it’s also not safe for my neighbor kids. But what’s safe?

Growing up in a nice, safe, middle-class neighborhood, my friend Socarri got shot. He was college bound and he lit up the hallways of Lane Tech with his smile. And now he’s gone, mistaken for a gangbanger. So, what’s safe? Is there just safer? What if Old Irving Park, where I live now, is safer but it’s not safe enough?

But Plus: I want Mateo to speak Spanish. I want him to be surrounded by our culturo, Español, in the smells and sounds of Latino life. La Villita, you can buy tamales on the street for a buck. Kids grow up with their cousins, surrounded by familia. I want him to be just one of the brown kids on the block. Not the only brown kid on the block.

Minus: No, no. Plus: I don’t know. You decide. One of my neighbors in La Villita, a friend of ours, Rob. He almost had his house firebombed. These gangbangers threw a firebomb on his front porch and instinctively, he went outside to confront them. He told them that this was his house and his block and he wasn’t going anywhere and they couldn’t scare him. And him and his wife, they didn’t run away. Instead they started a mentorship sports program that reclaimed city parks and gave it, and returned it back to the neighborhood. I should do that. I should be like him.

The thing is, I tried. One summer, while I was living in La Villita. I ran a summer theatre arts camp. But the minus is that nobody showed up. Well, not nobody. None of the kids that I ran the camp for, my neighbor kids, not a single family showed up. But the plus is that all the kids who did show up loved it and they loved learning about being green and performing. With the minuses is that I ran the camp two blocks over from my house. And I didn’t know that when you pass Central Park, you pass gang territory. But the plus is that now I lived there, so I know that. If I hadn’t lived there, I wouldn’t have that. And now I could plan around that. So, I don’t know.

I tried dividing my decision into two columns. But it’s, it’s, it’s mind boggling. And my mind, it’s spinning. Both neighborhoods have pluses and minuses and maybe I should move back to the old neighborhood. We have great friends, doing hard work towards change. But I’ve gotten to know some of my new neighbors and they’re really nice. And it’s so peaceful here. But…I should be a person that works towards the betterment of our community. How do I make choices so that I’m doing what is best for my family and keeping us safe but also living up to my expectations for life, my values? How do I change the world without being a sellout? Ultimately, I’m left with questions. Bigger and better questions.

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.

A Voting Booth Built for Two: Election Enthusiasm from a Cuban-American Mom

 

Story Summary:

 The small Southern town where Carmen’s parents live is a-buzz with political acrimony. Carmen’s mother, Esther, a spunky octogenarian–– and Cuban refugee–– regards her right to vote a hard-won, American privilege. As she finishes casting her vote, she is more than happy to remind her husband, Carlos, of “their views” on local elections. Carlos’ reaction to his wife’s enthusiasm is a hysterical and poignant civics lesson for all who are lucky enough to be casting their vote at Rocky Springs Elementary School that day.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: A-Voting-Booth-Built-for-Two-Election-Enthusiasm-From-a-Cuban-American-Mom

Discussion Questions:

  1.  How does a family’s history contribute to their daily lives?  What made this family so interested in voting?
  2. What are some of the choices this Cuban American couple made about how to live their lives?
  3. How does the humor in the story help us think about social justice?

Resources:

Themes:

  •  Immigration
  • Latino Americans/Latinos
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name’s Carmen Agra Deedy. And this story is called “A Voting Booth Built for Two.”

The morning did not get off to a promising start. The phone rang and I answered it. Sleepy, almost knocking it off the dresser, “Hello.” “Carmita, it’s your mother.” Oh my goodness! Nobody calls me before seven o’clock in the morning! Not if they have a well-refined sense of survival …anyone except Esther, my mother.

“Mami, what’s going on? Is everything ok?”

“Everything is ok. I just want to remind you that today is voting day!” Today is voting day. How could I not know? She put it on my calendar, she called me the evening before, she sent smoke signals up like at dusk. The only thing I didn’t have were carrier pigeons!

“Mami, I know. Nine o’clock.”

“No, listen! 9 o’clock is no good for me.” And before I could say another word, my husband, (sigh) who lay beside me chuckling, plucked the phone from my hand and saved me from something I or my mother might regret. By saying, “Mami,” (oh, you should’ve heard him cooing into the phone), “No…everything…she’ll be there… no, everything’s fine…I’m making her coffee right now.” I elbowed him. “No, no…Oh…Of course…I will tell her. Love you too, Mami.” He hung up and grinned. “She said 9 o’clock no work for her. She’s going to be ready in 20 minutes. You better get moving.”

I sat bolt upright, “Twenty minutes! I haven’t even showered!”

“Come on, Sleeping Beauty, get up and save us both a heap of misery. I’ll make the coffee. Nineteen minutes.” (She snarls.)

By the time I picked up my mother, I was in a lather. They were on the front porch looking freshly washed. There’s something about that generation that just always looks so dapper. My father was wearing his best shirt, starched. I gave him a kiss on the cheek and he smelled like Ammen’s, it’s a deodorant powder, and the cologne of my childhood – Old Spice. Ah, still makes me shudder. My mother, of course, looks at me and says, “You are late. You don’t got no kiss for your mama?”

“I don’t kiss people who wake me up before seven o’clock in the morning!” And then I leaned over and gave her a buss on the cheek. I can’t help it. I’m like a sucker for old ladies in polyester. Well, I walked them to the car. We made it over to their voting station, which was a local elementary school. (Sigh) And she was right. She was saying all along the drive that the line would be around the block. And, dad gummit, wasn’t she right! It was snaking along the side of the building and disappeared.

“What I say to you?”

It is not easy being the daughter of Cassandra, a Cuban Cassandra. In case you don’t remember, children, that would be the Greek goddess of myth who told the truth and no one believed her. Boy, I believed her now.

“Ay, mami, por favor. We’re gonna be here all day.”

“It does not matter. Today is voting day.”

Let me tell you something. You don’t know someone until you know their backstory. You know when you read a book, and you’re reading about a character and reading about a character and they don’t make any sense and then suddenly you get to chapter 17 and you learn the rest of the story? Well, Esther and Carlos, they were in Cuba from the time they were born, of course.

1931, 1924. They lived through Fulgencio Batista. President Batista, when faced with the re-election that he knew he was going to lose, pulled a coup. Cancelled elections indefinitely. The Cuban Revolution was not about literacy. In fact, by the 50’s, Cuba had the sixth largest literacy rate in Central and South America. It wasn’t about socialized medicine. Batista figured out that one of the things he could pacify, do anyway, to pacify people was to pass socialized medicine. It was brilliant. It worked beautifully but still no elections. And then Fidel came. Fidel Castro. A young revolutionary and he promised democracy. He promised an end to brutality and he promised elections. The country swept him into Havana on their shoulders. And the streets were strewn with flowers, many tossed by my own mother and about 90% of Cubans. Four years of brutality and no elections later, my parents decided maybe it was time to try another place. They were heart-broken when they left their country behind. But when my mother arrived here, the first thing she wanted to know was how she could vote. Well, she wasn’t a citizen. When she became a citizen, the first thing she did was vote!

This may seem very sweet. It isn’t! She drives us nuts! Any, any election, it doesn’t matter how inconsequential, the woman is there. I mean, we’re talking, we’re going through K-Mart and they want you to figure out, they want to vote on something that has nothing to do with any of us. This particular election, this day, this wasn’t a national election. She didn’t wake me up at 6:45 to vote in the president. It was some lousy, dodgy water project and a new superintendent. (Ok, maybe that was important.) She even, I’m telling you, she even worked over our postmaster.

We had a young postmaster at the time, who innocently told her that he didn’t really vote, that he hadn’t voted in years. And he became her mission. She, I’m tell’n ya, she would make trips to the post office with nothing to post.

“Oye, Frankie come here. No, we are not finished. Look you an official, ay, you work for the government and you no going to vote, honey? What’s the matter with you? Don’t… well, you see the post office, you see how few peoples are here? Nobody write letters no more. When they shut this place down, you got nothing to complain about, ok.”

He would look at me and I’m like, “You’re on your own, pal!”

Imagine the day when we walked in and old Frankie was waving, I mean from the door we saw him, waving his absentee ballot. Because one of the reasons he didn’t vote was because he usually couldn’t get away.

I tell you that so you understand what she is like but why it mattered. And as we stood in that line, that snaking line, my father with his cane because he wouldn’t bring his walker. I had given him a walker. He turned it into a tomato trellis. That’s another story; we don’t have the time. A young poll worker saw us, and among all the septuagenarians and octogenarians, my mother and father were clearly the oldest and the most frail. And she offered to walk us ahead of the line. And this group of people (almost all of them old, by the way) ‘cause I wondered, who comes to these dinky elections that nobody ever hears about. Ah…Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation. That’s who goes… because they know what it means. And as they inched along, most of them waved or smiled as we went to the front of the line.

We got to the room, the voting room, and there were new machines. That’s all we needed! Throw something new at Esther. She adapts at glacial speed. “What is this? Where are the little paper things?”

I said, “Ma, give me five seconds; they’re gonna teach me how to use them. You and Dad just sit, just, just for a minute. I found two chairs. You know those plastic chairs, those ergonomically made chairs made for maximum… discomfort, I think would be the word. And then they explained how to use the machines. It was really fairly simple. It was a sliding mechanism so I left my father, figuring that my mother would be the diciest, and walked her to the little, you know, sorta, little booth with the curtains, took her inside. And she’s a quick study; in five seconds, she was confident and she shooed me out. I sat next to my pop who seemed to be enjoying the blessed silence. And then… the silence was broken. And we’re not the only ones in this room, mind you; people are voting all around us.

When we hear, “Carlos, Carmita, come here; it’s your turn!” The woman could punch a hole in an eardrum at 20 paces.

My father looked at me, “Do something!”

I jumped up (whispering), “Mami, por favor. Please, shhhh. Other people are voting.”

“What and you cannot talk?”

“Please, I’m begging you.” I hooked her by the arm and nearly took her…made her airborne as I propelled her across the room. Sat her gently down next to my father and said, “Please just stay here for like two minutes. Let me explain it to Pop, I’ll come back and sit with you.

I walked my dad across the room. I opened the curtains, I took him through the same tutorial. He looked at me and he, again, is quick as can be. He’s got a mind like a Cuban machete, it can cut through anything. He said, “I have it.” I stepped outside but to my, well, confusion, someone passed me. As I was going out, someone was pushing their way into the voting booth to join my father. I whipped around to see my mother’s face for a split second before (swish) she closed the curtains. Now other people had noticed too and were turning to look.

And the next thing we heard was, “Ok, Carlos, listen! This water project, here, we don’t like that, ok? And this superintendent we no voting for him. Better say, no. He’s a Philistine. Remember what he…”

On the word Philistine, the most remarkable and beautiful thing happened. The curtain went “swish!” My father, a little Cuban man, was bringing my mother, a little Cuban woman, who was resisting every step, out of the voting booth. He leaned over, everyone (I mean you couldn’t hear anyone breathe) watched riveted as if they were passing an incredible car accident that you want to look away from but you just can’t tear yourself from. And he said, “Estercita, I love you but I did not leave communist Cuba to come to the United States of America to have you follow me into a voting booth and tell me how to vote!” And the room broke into thunderous applause.

I love this story!

My Father the Whiz: A Cuban Refugee’s Response to Jim Crow

 

Story Summary:

 In 1964, Carmen’s father, a Cuban refugee, went to work at a steel manufacturing plant near Atlanta, Georgia. When, on the first day of work, he asked to take a bathroom break, he was faced with two choices: before him was a “white” bathroom . . . and a “colored” bathroom. Carmen’s father’s solution would foreshadow how this inventive man would ultimately teach his Cuban-American daughters that, in matters of conscience, we need not accept the only choices placed before us.

 For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  My-Father-the-Whiz-A-Cuban-Refugee-Response-to-Jim-Crow

Discussion Questions:

  1.  In 1964 ‘white only’ and ‘colored only’ signs designated Southern public restrooms, water fountains, etc., and these divisions were legal. When Papi confronts the signs, he doesn’t protest their legality, but chooses a creative response.  When he says, “I did what any decent man would do,” what does he mean?
  2. How do you think the factory workers viewed their new colleague before the incident and after the incident? Do you think he continued to ‘whiz’ outside?
  3. How does the use of humor in this story help us look at a difficult social issue?

 Resource:

  • Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America by Juan Gonzalez

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Immigration
  • Latino American/Latinos
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Carmen Agra Deedy. The story I’m going to tell you is called, “My Father the Whiz.”

I grew up hearing stories everywhere I went. It was inevitable, really. I grew up a Cuban refugee in a small southern town. My family came to this country when I was three years old and the little town that embraced us was called, and is called, Decatur, Georgia. Now, back then you couldn’t go three steps without stumbling into a story. You see, turned out, Cubans and Southerners were not all that different. They worship their ancestors, they gathered around food and they were unrepentant, chronic talkers. And so, the stories that I learned told me more about the people than anything I was ever taught. One of my favorite stories ever is about my own father. Now by the time I was 16 or 17 years old, I thought I‘d heard every story my father had to tell. Oh, the hubris of the young. But one afternoon my mother called me to the kitchen and said, “Carmita, take this cafecito to the men outside. They’re playing Dominoes; they’re gonna be out there for the next five hundred years. And then come back inside ‘cause you gotta help me with the dishes.” Which insured I was staying out with the men. Well, I walked out, (screech), opened the screen door, and saw all these Cuban men in their crisp guayaberas, tightly gathered in a circle around an old folding table littered with domino tiles. They were not under a banyan tree or a mango tree but a Southern Magnolia. Life is just weird when you’re a refugee.

I started to walk towards them through the miasma of cigar smoke, when I heard my father begin a story. Like I said, I thought I knew every story my papá had ever told. But you see, stories are funny. Stories are like, well, sometimes, they are like a fine wine. You don’t uncork them until the person who’s going to drink, is going to be able to really savor it and know how good it is. My dad must have decided I was ready. But first he called out, “Do I smell coffee or would it be that I am so light-headed from thirst that I am hallucinating?” Now, the Irish may have saved civilization but I assure you the Cuban gave you irony and sarcasm. I plunge towards the men and then they all said, Niña, cómo estás?” And I kissed everyone, it is the way of my people. And as the coffee was passed around, my father continued his story, as though I was not there. I wasn’t going anywhere.

I leaned into the tree, and he said, “And so you know, we had only been here for a few weeks,” less than a month, it turned out before my father finally found work. His English was cursory. He had been an accountant in Cuba. Now he came here with little understanding of the language. He was so grateful to have found work. Well, the first job he found was at a steel manufacturing plant. He was so eager the first day of work that he showed up an hour early and so nervous he drank nearly an entire carafe of coffee before he walked in. Now he was coupled with a man who was supposed to teach him welding—basic welding. (Google, figure it out. It’s a verb.) As he was learning to weld, Big D, a big African-American man, and my father found a way of communicating. Using hand signals and a few words my father knew in English. My father knew, like I said, not only little English, he knew almost no Southern black English. Big D didn’t speak Spanish. And yet, they soldiered on…or soldered on. In any event, within a small space of time, an hour or two, my father said he was starting to get the hang of things, And then, BAM! Like a hammer on an anvil, his bladder just felt like it was gonna burst—all that Cuban coffee he had! Well, he tried to ask Big D…well…This is how he said it went. “Ah, por favor, uh, please, Mr. Big D….ay….ti, ti ti…Cómo se dice? Dónde está baño?”

“What’s that you say, Mr. Carlos?”

“Ay, ay, ay…El baño?…Ah…,” my father unscrewed his thermos, and then he tipped it upside down to show it was empty now. Big D seemed relieved, “Hold on, Mr. Carlos.” And then disappeared around the corner. When he came back, he brought his own large, green thermos, which he unscrewed, and he began to pour my father another cup. “No, no, no!” My father looked like he had just been offered a live rattlesnake. And Big D, thinking that it was he that had offended him, ‘Well, if you don’t want to drink from my cup…” “No, Señor, no, no, no!” My father also increasingly frustrated being thus misunderstood, said, “No, eh, Señor, por favor,…Cómo se dice?” And then he realized, he knew just what to do. He unzipped, an imaginary zipper, fly, and then he made the international symbol, um…for emptying the male bladder. And Big D started to laugh out loud. And then he stopped. And he cocked his head, sort of like the RCA Victor dog and mumbled something to himself. Which my father said to this day that he’s not sure of the words. But it sounded something like, “not my problem, not my problem.” And finally said to my father, pulling him by the shirt, pointing, “Right there.” And he pointed down a long row of men, machinists at work at their stations. At the very end of the corridor, there was what looked like a hallway or corridor. My father thanked Big D and he gunned it. He started, at a clip, down that line of men and as he passed them,..now remember this is the first Latin man in this all black and white factory, the year was 1964, the men started shutting down their machines. And it got quieter and quieter except for the footsteps of the men behind him. Now, my poor father had only been in this country for a short amount of time. He was learning the customs. He wasn’t sure. This thing was uniformly odd. Where he came from men took care of this sort of business by themselves without spectators. When he reached the hallway, however, the crowd began to swell. And it looked like they were everything from laborers to two supervisors, black men, white men. And then he found himself confronted with a conundrum. A puzzlement. At the end of the hallway were two doors. Some of you know where this story is going. One said white and one said colored. And though his own tragic and troubled country had had many problems, this was not one that my father was familiar with, not in this way and he didn’t know what to do. And at this point he heard in the back, someone begin to laugh. And a man called out, “Hey, Mr. New Man, you pick whichever one you want but when you pick one, you stick with it.” My father looked at the men, looked at the doors. And he caught sight of Big D’s face in the very back watching him curiously, studying him. Now this the point in the story where I interrupted. Remember the tree…me leaning against it. I couldn’t stay there anymore. “Papi, what did you do?! I mean, did you quit, did you…”

“Carmen, just a moment, when you have to go you have to go. But, you know, I had come from a country where I had learned sometimes you have to follow your conscience. You cannot go left, you cannot go right. You have to find your own way.”

“Pop what does that mean…”

“Uno momento!” Now the men had leaned forward too.

“Carlos, what you did you do?”

“Can I please finish my story?” And he said, “I did the only thing a decent man with a full bladder could do. I push my way through that crowd of men, I go outside and I whiz in the woods!”… Si!

Fond Memories and The Jane Addams Project

 

Story Summary:

This story is a piece of history from the 1950’s.  It tells of affordable housing and living in a particular neighborhood and gives some insight into the different ethnic groups that make up some of our communities.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Fond-Memories-and-The-Jane-Addams-Project

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does living among different ethnic groups affect individuals?
  2. When you hear the word housing projects who or what comes across your mind?
  3. Does this story give new insight into what living in the projects was like? Cite examples.

Resources:

  • Project Girl by Janet McDonald
  • Blue Print for Disaster: The Unraveling of Chicago Public Housing by D. Bradford Hunt
  • American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass by Douglas S. Massey and Nancy A. Denton

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Family and Childhood
  • Housing
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

“Fond Memories and the Jane Addams Project” is the name of my story. A long, long time ago, the Fain family moved from the South Side of Chicago to the west side. My mom and dad separated. And, so we moved to a kitchenette apartment. Before those fancy words, studio apartments, were ever thought of, there were kitchenettes. We moved to a basement apartment and later, around 1952, we moved to a two-room kitchenette at 2150 West Madison Street. My siblings and I shared a bedroom. The girls, my sister and I, slept on the lower bunk bed and my three brothers slept on the top bunk bed. Mom’s room was kitchen, living room and bedroom. Mom slept on the couch. Outside of our apartment was the community bathroom where all the other tenants use, as well as we did.

One day, we received a letter from the Chicago Housing Authority. We were so excited. Back before those famous words by George Jefferson on TV, “Moving on up to the east side,” we were moving to the projects. We moved to 1249 West Hill. You see, they had taken two one-bedroom apartments and made them together for a large family. So, the girls had a bedroom and the boys had a bedroom. And the girls had a bathroom and the boys had a bathroom. We had two kitchens. We even had a terrace, believe it or not! We had a hall that adjoined those apartments. Now my mom, she took that… what should have been her bedroom and she made it a formal dining room. And she slept in what would have been that second kitchen. We loved living there. The Chicago Housing Authority and the Jane Addams Projects. Now that neighborhood was a mixture of different ethnics. Back then, projects had all types of people from all backgrounds living there. There was an older Italian couple who lived next door to us. We grew to like them and they grew to like us. Now there was a little tension among the ethnic groups. Now there was the Taylor Street Dukes and the Taylor Street Nobles. A gang, Italian gangs. There was also the Blue Flames, as colored basketball team. Now technically, they weren’t a gang but when there was any trouble, they came and they supported and rallied around us, the colored people.

Well, my brother Anderson remembers an incident. When it was hot one day (like any Chicago day) and the fire hydrants were open and everyone was playing under the hydrants, he got into an argument with one of the Nobles and a fight started. And, uh, several of the other Nobles jumped in and tried to drown him under the hydrant. But there was an older Italian gentleman passing by and he called out, “Leave him alone, leave him alone! He’s one of the good guys.”

Wow! Could you believe that! My brother developed friendship with one of the guys in the neighborhood. Dominick, you see, we… they’d had art classes together in school and they found that they had something in common. Mr. Florio was an Italian teacher at Reed School and Mr. Lonzocram was my first African-American teacher. Mr. Florio lived down the street in the greystones and, you know what, we all moved together and lived together there.

There was Dick. Richard was his name but we called him Dick. He owned the corner grocery store back in the day when your word was your bond and an index card got you credit. Yes, you signed on the dotted line and Dick extended merchandise to you. You see, there were many poor families in the Jane Addams Projects along with us. And he did many of us great favors by extending credit to us and, you know, living in that neighborhood. But so many memories, you see, the projects were different then. People were, uh… it was a privilege to live in public housing back then. We mopped the landings and, and we swept the floors. And we became one big happy family. We looked out for each other. It was a time and a different era. It was the 50s and the 60s and people just did different things for one another. It was in that neighborhood, the Italian neighborhood, that I learned and developed a fondness for Italian foods. And Italian lemonade is one of my favorites today, as well as other dishes. Down memory lane and Jane Addams Projects and Reed School, I developed many friendships. From the projects, as well as the school, Taylor Street and Jane Addams Projects and Reed School were some of the happiest and the fondest memories of my life.

Listening to My Neighborhood: A White Woman, Gentrification, and Belonging

 

Story Summary:

 A white woman moves into a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood with, initially, very little curiosity about the community that resides there. Her assumptions about what it means to belong are challenged.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Listening-to-My-Neighborhood-A-White-Woman-Gentrification-and-Belonging

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What does the storyteller’s phrase “understanding begins in misunderstanding” mean?
  2. Have you ever been in a situation where you were the only person who looked like you?  What did you do and what happened?
  3. What supports were needed in Julie’s neighborhood so that the long-standing residents didn’t feel misplaced or overrun and the new residents understood how they were perceived? What might everyone do to build bridges and create community?

Resource:

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Housing
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

My name is Julie Ganey. And this story I’m going to tell you is an excerpt from a longer solo show, I have called, “Love Thy Neighbor…Till It Hurts.”

My husband and I first moved to our current neighborhood, Rogers Park, about 15 years ago in 1999. Rogers Park is, literally, one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the world, in terms of culture, ethnicity, socioeconomic, gender, age, everything. So, we were looking for a condo we could afford near public transportation, and we just happened to find one in the north of Howard area which just happened to be in Rogers Park.

So, the first week that we moved in there, it was Halloween. And I was driving home from Evanston, where I’d been teaching six and seven-year-olds drama. And I was dressed like a duck. So, when coming into my new neighborhood from the back, and taking a shortcut, and on the sidewalks, there are kids and moms. Kids are in costumes, moms are pushing strollers. And as I turned from this one little street onto another, I hear or maybe feel something go, thump. I stop the car. I’m not sure what’s happened. Had I hit something or run over something? But it actually, it felt like something had hit the car. So, on the sidewalk across the street, a group of kids and moms are staring at me.

I opened the door and get out and I’m hit on the hip with a raw egg. And I say, Oooh, what’s going on?” dumbly. And another egg hits me, this time on my face. And this egg is running down my face, I say, “Look why are you doing this?” You know.

And this little boy, in some kind of costume, maybe a pirate costume, he yells, “Go on back to your own neighborhood!”

And I say, “No, no. This is my neighborhood. I live here.”

And another kid yells, “Yeah, you don’t belong here.”

And I say, “No, no. I do. I live here.”

And I’m standing there and I’m realizing I’m making the situation worse by not just getting in the car and driving away. But I don’t understand why nobody is telling these kids to stop. And then, this little girl in a princess costume, she, kind of, yells like, “What’s that costume? What are you supposed to be?”

And another egg hits the car. So, sometimes they hit the car, sometimes right at my feet. And I say, “Oh, I’m a duck.”

And pirate boy yells back, “You’re not a duck. That’s not a duck costume!”

And I say, “Oh, well, I’m a mallard. You know, I have a duck bill in my car.”

Somebody else, “Screw you, duck!”

And finally, I’ve had enough and I got back in the car and I drove away. And in the rearview mirror, everybody on the sidewalk was just staring at me.

And when I got home, I was upset. And my husband Brad, right away, he wants me to describe the kids. “Which way were they walking? What did the tall kid look like?”

And I keep saying, “No, no. I’m not hurt. You’re missing the point.”

But he didn’t listen. He and the local beat cops ended up questioning a bunch of random kids on the block for a couple hours.

So fast forward a year and a half. I’m now teaching a summer drama camp for 25 kids in the neighborhood at the local school, a block away from our condo. It’s hot, it is hard, (my learning curve is very steep), and I’m eight months pregnant. So, my co-teachers and I spent the first couple of weeks negotiating discipline, figuring out how to meet these kids where they were. But finally, around week four, everything started clicking. And it started seemed like we’re really going to get some kids onstage to do a show, you know. Every day, we would spend some free time outdoors after lunch. And the younger kids would play on the playground and the older kids would shoot hoops with some of the counselors on the small court next to the school. I would always plant myself on the stairs and listen to the older girls talk about the boys.

And this one day, I remember, Jessica was emptying Hot Tamales into my palm and I look across the playground and I see this group of adults, mostly men, about 10, gathered on the sidewalk next to the little kids, about maybe 25 yards away. Two of the men in the center of the group, dive at each other and start fighting, in this tight, snarling knot. And the folks are eggin’ them on. And before I can think anything, I’m up. I’m waddling across the grass and I’m yelling, “Hey, hey, stop it! You can’t do this here!” You know, and they’re paying no attention.

You know, all the kids are noticing. All of a sudden, they realize something exciting is about to happen. But I continue and I’m yelling, “Get away from here!”

And finally, one woman in the crowd notices me, and she yells, you know, “Mind your own business! This ain’t got nothing to do with you!”

And I say, “No, it does. I’m in charge of these kids. Move away from here!”

And meanwhile these men are fighting and it’s very violent. They’re banging against cars and they’re rolling on the sidewalk. There’s grunting. And I noticed that one of the men in the onlooking crowd is carrying a bat or a big stick.

And I yell, “Get away from here or I’m calling the police!” and I feel this wave of dizziness.

You know, maybe it’s adrenaline or a familiar deja vu of realizing myself to be ineffectual, in a situation that I’m making worse, probably. So, I start fumbling, 9-1-1 and the woman sees this. And she says, “I said, mind own business, fat butt!”

And then from right over my, my left shoulder, I hear Jessica yelling back, “She ain’t fat, she’s pregnant!”

And then I realize all the camp kids are, like, right next to me. And I start shooing them back inside. I’m just desperate to get them inside before something really horrible happens in front of them. But Deja, another one of my teenage girls, is reaching over me and she’s yelling, “Don’t you talk to Miss Julie that way!”

And other kids are joining in. “Yeah, she ain’t done nothing to you! Leave her alone!”

And then somebody in the crowd yells back, “Shut up, Deja!”

And all of a sudden, it feels really dangerous. The energy outside the fences changed. And I say, “Come on,” and I get everybody inside as fast as I can.

Once we’re back inside, you know, the kids are revved up. They’re excited. Some of the younger kids are re-enacting the fight on the stage. The older kids are talking about who knows who in the group of fighters. And who they’ve seen around the neighborhood before.

Deja takes my arm protectively, she says, “Are you all right, Miss Julie? You know, your face is all red. Don’t worry, my cousin knows that Gigi, I’ma gonna tell him to fix her.”

They’re all revved up but I am exhausted. You know, I, I’m not up for any kind of teaching moment with these kids, who know infinitely more about violence than I do. And then this boy, Anthony, one of the older kids that everybody looks up to, shuffles over and he sits down in a folding chair near me. And he says, “You can’t do that.” He’s kind of looking at his gym shoes. “You can’t do that. It’s stupid. People around here don’t want some white woman telling them what to do.”

And I, and I say, “But, but I would have told them to stop it if I was white or Chinese or Hispanic or whatever.”

And it kind of shakes his head and he says, “You just shouldn’t get in people’s face, like, you know a better way for everything.”

I felt myself flush a little bit because, yes, I did think I knew a better way. I didn’t want me or these kids living in the middle of violence. But these kids, some of whom might have thrown eggs at me a year and a half earlier, who knows, they saw what I didn’t. They saw this woman who had moved into a neighborhood, with very little understanding or curiosity about the community that lived there, or the social disruptions and gentrification taking place there. They felt ownership over the neighborhood. It was theirs to defend. You know, maybe they weren’t moving into the fancy new condos but they were growing up on the same blocks their parents had. And they knew about the boundaries that have to be worn away not just painted over.

I think, now, maybe you have to let a neighborhood teach you how to be a good neighbor there. Across all the chasms that divide us and there are chasms that divide us, skin color and money, where we’re from, and what we have, and what we don’t have. Understanding begins in misunderstanding. With one awkward step after another, stumbling forward and surrendering and listening and listening and listening. Until one day, you realize, you’re walking around a place that finally feels like home.

My Father’s Race Against Discrimination: Anti-Semitism in the 1930s Track and Field

 

Story Summary:

 Carol’s father is told he is not permitted to run on his college track team at the University of Pennsylvania. Two Jewish runners in the 1936 Berlin Olympics are not permitted to participate in the 400 relays. All three are Jewish and all three have the same coach.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: My-Fathers-Race-Against-Discrimination-Anti-Semitism-in-the-1930s-Track-and-Field

Discussion Questions:

  1. In the story, Jesse Owens spoke up and told the coach, “Coach, I’ve won my 3 gold medals, I’m tired. Let Marty and Sam run.”  The coach pointed a finger at him and said, “You’ll do as you’re told.”  Why do you think the coach wanted the Black men to run in the Olympics but not the Jewish athletes? By deciding not to let Marty and Sam run, of what do you think Coach Robertson was afraid or resisting?
  2. What could Stanley’s teammates have said or done to enable Stanley to race in all the track meets in which he was not allowed to run? Would you have been willing to stand up against discrimination even if it meant not running for the team?
  3. The ending quote in the story by William Lloyd Garrison was important to Stanley.  How do you think its importance related to the discrimination he encountered?
  4. Do you think what happened to Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller could ever happen again in today’s Olympics?

Resources:

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Identity
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Carol Kaufman-Kerman. It was 1927 when my father was nicknamed Speedy. Speedy Stan. Now he got tagged Speedy for being the slowest runner at Camp Lenox. Camp Lenox is a boys’ camp in the Berkshire Mountains in Western Massachusetts. Oh, it could have been worse. He could have been nicknamed “Wizzy” or “Leaky.” He peed in his bed every night. I mean, he was five years old. And so, every morning his counselor would wash out his sheets, hang ’em out to dry on the front porch, then drag out that mattress for everybody to see in camp. My father was humiliated. He was humiliated; he wanted to keep this a secret. He just wanted his parents to come, take him back home to Brooklyn. I mean, gosh, eight weeks at summer camp for a five-year old. It’s like a sentence.

Now my dad didn’t know it at the time that he’d be feeling, later on in his life, these same icky feelings of feeling different. Back in the 1930s and the 1940s, anti-Semitism was on the rise, not just in Europe. It was also on the rise in America as well. Now this was 12 years after my father was nicknamed Speedy for being so slow. He actually had earned a spot on the track team of the University of Pennsylvania. But unlike the other player… unlike the other runners, he was relegated to the bench. He was never put in any meets at all and it wasn’t because he was slow. It was actually… he was very, very fast and everybody knew it. His coach knew it, his teammates knew it. He more than proved himself during practice. But it was because he was Jewish. Now his coach knew that he was fast but his coach didn’t want this Jewish boy to shine.

His coach was none other than Lawson Robertson. Now Lawson Robertson was the United States Olympic track coach. The one that took the track team to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. It was a very controversial Olympics. It was where Hitler had grandstanded his, his strong Aryan German athletes. And we had two runners, the American team had two Jewish runners on their track team. There was Marty Glickman and there was Sam Stoller and, uh, they were slated to run in the 400-relay. A day before the race, Coach Lawson Robertson and the other coaches, well, pulled all the kids in.

And he said, “Ah, there’s going to be a change. We have to pull out Marty and Sam; they can’t run in the 400. We, we ha… we’re doing this because we heard reports from the Germans. They said that they are practicing in secret and that they’re saving their top, top sprinters for this 400-race so we, we have to pull out Marty and Sam. I mean, the reasoning just… it didn’t make sense. I mean, Jesse Owens and Ra… Ralph Metcalfe were put in instead of Sam and Marty. And, granted, we all know that Jesse Owens, I mean, he ordered… already won at that point, the gold for the 100 and the gold for the 200 so he was fast. Nobody could be faster than that. But there was another reason he, he wanted to put in this other player from the team. But this runner clocked consistently slower times than Glickman and Stoller. So, the whole thing didn’t make sense.

Now Jesse Owens, at the meeting, he spoke up. He said, “Ah, come on, coaches. Let them run. They’ve been working at this for over a month. I mean, I’ve already gotten three golds. I’m tired. Let them have their chance.”

And the coach said to him, “You’ll do as you’re told.”

And so, Glickman and Stoller, they didn’t run. And, of course, the, uh, the Americans came in first. And, well, Glickman and Stoller, they knew why they weren’t running because they were Jews and they knew that Coach Robertson wanted to spare the fear or the embarrassment of having two Jewish boys up on the winning podium. Now if my father hadn’t told me about his experience at University of Pennsylvania, I may not even have known about Coach Robertson during the 1936 Olympics or maybe what I would have thought that it was just a one-shot deal and that he had redeemed himself afterwards.

But three years later, my father was on the team and he wasn’t allowed to one… run in one meet. It was the day of the Penn Relays, the big, big race and the coach’s star runner got injured. Coach looked at my father. He said, “All right, Kaufman, off the bench. You’re running today.”

My father, he knew what opportunity this was. He knew that this was a, a moment that he could prove himself. And I have to think that he was also running, not just for himself, but he was running for Glickman; he was running for Stoller. He was, he was running for all those Jewish athletes that had qualified for the 1936 Olympics but it had boycotted them. Now none of the students or the community knew who my father was. He was, he was a benchwarmer and they were baffled why the… they would even, eh, let him run. But there he was and he had his chance and he got set on the mark. And when that gun went off, my father shot out of there.

He was fast; he was a sprinter. He was really good. And he took off and he was in the lead and all he wanted to do is win that race. I mean, his fraternity brothers showed up to encourage him… and the ladies from the sorority. But he wasn’t thinkin ’about them; he wasn’t thinkin’ about the coach. He was just thinkin’ about winning. He was thinking about beating the best time and he was thinking about breaking racial barriers. And so, his biggest contender was another guy from an Ivy League school. And as they were coming into the finish line, they were neck and neck. And then at the finish line, against the Harvard resentment of Coach Robert Lawson (Lawson Robertson), my father won. And all the reporters from the Philadelphia papers, they came running up to him and they said, “Who are you? Where did you come from? What’s your name?”

And then they went over to coach Lawson Robertson and they said, “How come you never played this Kaufman kid before?”

And he looked at them. He stared at them and then he stammered out a bold-faced lie and he said, “Ah, he’s been sick.”

His excuses never got any better than the 1936 Olympics. But after that, my father, well, there were articles in the paper. I mean, the coach had to play him. There was too much pressure from the alumni, from the community. They wanted to see my father run. Now the coach never really did mentor him like the other players.

And my father said, “He never acknowledged me.”

I’d like to end this story with a quote. It’s a quote that my father had taken to memory and he used in his life when he was up against an obstacle or he wanted to encourage us kids. And he’s… he said, “Well, I want to tell you, it’s a, it’s a quote by an American abolitionist. His name is William Lloyd Garrison. And my dad would laugh and say, “That guy, he was really a stubborn guy like your old dad.”

My father’s right. He is stubborn. He’s stubborn and determined to take a nickname like Speedy given to him because he was so slow and to turn it around to be called Speedy because he was so fast. And he’s stubborn and determined and patient to wait for his opportunity to run against discrimination. The quote, “I am in earnest, I will not equivocate, I will not excuse, I will not retreat a single inch and I will be heard.”

Worn Out Blinders: A Soldiers Story After D-day in Normandy, France

 

Story Summary:

Talking about World War ll was hard for Carol’s father.  As a recipient of three Purple Hearts, he shares his story of anti-Semitism at boot camp, his sense of Jewish identity with a stranger in Paris and how he mentally stayed strong and survived the front lines by wearing “blinders.”

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Worn-Out-Blinders-A-Soldiers-Story-After-D-Day-in-Normandy-France

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why do you think Carol’s father, and soldiers today may not want to talk about their experience during war?  Should we respect their silence or encourage them to talk?
  2. Carol’s father talked about wearing “blinders” to get through the hard times.  Have you ever had a time in your life when in order to move ahead, you had to “wear blinders?”
  3. The Red Cross volunteer handed out Mezuzahs and Crosses to the injured soldiers.  What comfort was she hoping to bring them from these objects?
  4. Carol’s father shares that his Sargent asked him to take off his helmet so he could see his horns.  Many commentators say that this myth of Jews having horns started with a mistranslation in the Bible.  Why do you think rumors and anti-Semitic myths are perpetuated today?
  5. St. Lo was flattened in one night and the writer Samuel Becker described it as “The Capital of the Ruins.”  Besides the physical city being destroyed, what other type of ruins exists from war?

  Resources:

 Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Identity
  • Interfaith
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • War

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Carol Kaufman-Kerman. My dad didn’t talk much about being in World War II growing up. I mean, when I was a child I actually thought it was because he was invincible. I just… I saw the scars but I wanted him to be my superhero, my superman. And I felt so protected behind his fortified walls. Now I think, he also enjoyed me adoring him, looking up to him, but at what price. He had this knobby, sunken scar on his left shoulder. He said that that’s where they had removed a lot of the shrapnel. But he told me that they couldn’t get it all until they would be still some left in his body forever and I thought well that’s a heck of a souvenir.

My whole life I remember my dad saying, “Talk to me in my good ear, my good ear, Carol.”

Well, sometime during the war, his first, second or third injury, he had lost the hearing in his ear. Now as far as his emotional scars, those were harder to see. He had gotten three purple medals for being injured three times and he kept these medals in a box, in a drawer, in a room that hardly anybody ever used. I asked him once, “Dad, did you ever encounter anti-Semitism during the war?”

“I don’t know. Not rea… yeah, there was this one time at Fort Benning, Georgia. My commanding sergeant said, ‘Jew boy, take off your helmet. I want to see your horns.’ But, you know, he was from Arkansas and he had never met a Jewish person. It wasn’t really his fault.”

And I said Dad, “What about sensing your Jewish identity, feeling it over in Europe. I mean you were fighting Hitler. He exterminated six million Jews.”

That’s when he told me about his bold escape going AWOL, absence without leave.”

“Wait, Dad. AWOL, isn’t that illegal? Why did you do that?”

He said, “Well, to tell you the truth, Carol, I had been released from a hospital in Paris. They were scheduling me to go back out onto the frontlines. I didn’t know if I’d ever live to see Paris. It was Rosh Hashana and the first place I went was Rothschild’s Synagogue. It was closed but the Shammas was there. The Shammas is the person that takes care of the synagogue and he let me in and you know it felt good. I was missing family and he was there for me.”

Well, many years later, after I’d been married, my father told my husband and I both, he said, “You know, I remember when I was in a bunker. There were shells and fire all around and my buddy was sitting next to me. We were just inches apart. And I looked back over at him and his head was blown off.”

I looked at my father. I mean he said it so nonchalantly. But you know he would have had to have been holding back details and emotions.

He said, “Carol, this is the way I survived World War II. I just had to put on my blinders and keep ’em on. There was a time my captain and I, we were lying next to each other on our bellies and I had the radio strapped on my back. It was my job to radio back to our artillery the captain’s orders of where to aim the fire. And I believed that as long as I had that radio strapped to my back that I would be okay. You had to think like that, Carol, or else you’d crack.”

Well, about two and a half, three years ago, my dad and I were talking and he said, “Carol, I remember when I was in a hospital in France. We were four men and five legs.”

And that image just seared into my mind and I realized how impenetrable his blinders had to have been. I mean it was easier for him to talk about the good times, like the time that he was on a hospital train. There was a Red Cross volunteer. She was a famous actress from England. She was Alfred Hitchcock’s first icy blonde. Her name was Madeleine Carroll. And she was beautiful. Now she had made a radical change in his… in her career. She actually had stopped acting after her sister was killed in the London Blitz. And she just wanted to help the wounded soldiers.

My father said that he had seen all her movies and that he was madly in love with her. So, can you imagine, she’s walking down the aisle. I mean my mom… my father must have thought it was an apparition. It was an angel from heaven or something. She had in one hand crosses and she had in the other hand mezuzahs. A mezuzah is a casing with a Jewish prayer inside. And she came walking down; she stopped where my father was. She took a mezuzah and gave it to him and then she kissed him on the forehead. Oh, my gosh! He must have thought he died and went to heaven. He told me, he said, “I needed family and she was there.”

Well, now my dad fights a different kind of battle. He has prostate cancer. He’s softer now, more gentle. His blinders don’t work anymore and he can’t protect his fortress. His fortress that had kept our family so safe with his belief that if we all stayed inside the fortress, nothing could penetrate and hurt us.

Well, those weren’t on anymore, the blinders or the fortress. and last November my husband and I went to Normandy. We went and we saw all the things that he had lived through.

We would call him every single day and we’d compare the sights we had seen with what he saw. And we said, “Dad, today we went to see the beaches of, of D-Day. We saw the bunkers, the German bunkers. And my husband even called him from the American Cemetery. “Dad, tomorrow we’re going to go to St. Lo, the place where you got injured the second time.”

Now St. Lo was taken over by the Germans and totally destroyed. In fact, the writer Samuel Becker describes it as “The Capital of the Ruins.” It was that decimated and devastated.

When we got to St. Lo, we went right to the information tourist office and we asked, “Are there any World War II memorials?”

She told us that they were all closed for the season. We told her all about my father and how he had been injured in St. Lo. And she said, “Come back at five o’clock. I’m going to take you there myself.”

And so, we did. We came back at five and she introduced us to this small, little, French elderly man. His name was Mr. Letribot. And he introduced himself and said, “I am the curator of the World War II memorial. I would like to take you there myself.”

It was beautiful. It was in a 12th century chapel, La Chapelle de la Madeleine. He told us that it was the first time in his life he had ever had a piece of gum, given to him by an American soldier. It was the first time he ever had an Americ… eh, had a cigarette too. Also given to him by a soldier. And we told him about my father. He told us about the 29th. We had learned a little bit about how the 29th American Military Division had come in and they had liberated St. Lo during that July of 1944. And we told them how my father was in the 28th and they came in afterwards to relieve them. He smiled. He said, “It was your father’s division that had liberated my sister’s village not far from here. What your father did for us.”

And it made me think, “Did my… was my father ever thanked by anybody or soldiers ever thanked?”

And I looked over at my husband and there he was dialing my father in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. He said, “Stanley, we’re here in a World War II memorial and there’s someone that would like to talk to you.”

Monsieur Letribot got on the phone and he said, “Thank you so much for what you did for me and for my people. You came all the way over from America and you didn’t even know me. Thank you.”

And my father, oh, my father said, “You’re welcome. It was my pleasure. I did what I thought was right. Nobody has ever thanked me before.”

68 years later this conversation took place, 68 years after my father left France. Inside of a chapel whose walls are adorned with the military… American military flags with American medals with the… with the pictures of photographs of American fallen soldiers. And here was a liberated Frenchman saying, “Thank you” to a Jewish American soldier. And my father, well, he wore no blinders to protect his feelings… and he cried.

Mattie’s Story: From Darkness into the Light

 

Story Summary:

After dreading spending the summer with her strong willed grandmother, a young Earliana learns the true strength in “black beauty”. She finds that no matter how different we may look, we all have the capacity to feel and, more importantly, be kind to one another.

 For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Matties-Story-From-Darkness-into-the-Light

Discussion Questions:

  1. Within a family, how do the (significant) adults teach a child to ‘look at’ or ‘see’ the world?  In this family how did the grandmother teach the child?  How did Miss Mattie teach the child?  Might the understanding have a different outcome?
  2. In the story there was emphasis on the color of the child’s face and neck, and on the contrasting colors of Miss Mattie’s skin. Is this a story about perceptions of skin color and race or is this a story about family?

Resources:

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Earliana McLaurin. And this is an excerpt from a st… uh, a larger story entitled Miss Mattie’s Story: From Darkness into the Light.

Uh, the story takes place in Lockport, Illinois circa 1995, so that would make me 11 at the time. Uh, I was staying with my grandmother during the day because my mom, she worked. She worked during the day. My grandmother, at the time, was knocking about, I dunno, 65, strong as an ox and mean as a bull if you got on her bad side.

I remember that day was a hot June morning. I know… I remember it was hot because we’d been outside all morning.

First, we put the laundry “on the line” complete with old school wooden clothes pins. Then we cleaned off the lot next to her house that she owned. And then we were weeding the garden behind hers house… her house when I just, I had to stop.

“I, I’m getting thirsty, I said, then I handed her the shovel.

She had on this big, uh, sunhat and I remember she looked up and she said, “Well, I suppose it is getting’ hot. And it is about lunchtime,” and she walked in the house.

“Thank you,” I whispered and I followed behind her.

Now at my granny’s house, you couldn’t sit down for a meal until you “washed up” and this wasn’t just like washing your hands. You had to wash your hands, you had to wash your face and you had to wash your neck, which was a big bone of contention with both my mother and my grandmother, like, my entire life.

If you can’t tell, my, uh, skin on my neck is a little darker than the rest of my body. My grandmother, however, interpreted this as dirt and has been —- bent on lightening the skin around my neck. So much so that every time we would get into it, I’d just say, “Maybe it’s just that way.”

You know, ha, as a kid, I never thought about, oh, this is darker. It must be bad. I gotta get rid of it, you know. You know, I’d always considered my skin to be brown – beautiful shades of light and dark brown. Yet that day, before my butt even hit the chair, my granny checked the back of my neck.

“Oh, after we eat, I think we’re gonna walk on down at Thelma’s to see how her tulips are doing.” My grandmother said, making her famous tuna salad sandwiches.

Now this was good news. Miss Thelma was my… one of my grandmother’s friends. She lived down the street and she had converted her garage into a candy store. So, naturally, I was excited to go.

“Well, you know, we got to swing on past Mattie’s first.”

Uh, Miss Mattie. Miss Mattie’s house, I was not excited to visit. Miss Mattie was my grandmother’s best friend, who lived, uh, directly across the street. Earlier that year, Miss Mattie had suffered a stroke. And so, one side of her face was kinda, kinda droopy. And so much so, that when she smiled, only one side of her face moved. And, uh, to an 11-year-old, I’m sorry, that was just kinda creepy, like Halloween mask creepy. So, I did my best and I tried not to stare. — forbid, I get caught by my grandmother, starin’. So that day, uh, we, you know, finished up lunch, and my grandmother grabbed Miss Mattie’s plate, which she always did. I never understood it. Miss Mattie could walk; she could use her hands so I didn’t understand why we had to always take her a plate.

But, you know, like we did almost every day, we make a short trip across the street to her house. My granny calls for her, she comes to the door, and I remember looking up and looking  at the left side of her face and thinking, “Man, she’s dark but kinda pretty.”

Because, see, on the left side, Miss Mattie’s face was this smooth unblemished dark chocolate color. And it was always a little shiny, not like greasy, but like, like the chocolate swirls you see in candy bar ads on TV. But I also remember that day, looking up at the right side of Miss Mattie’s face and all I could see was the droopy Halloween mask. So, of course, I immediately put my face down. You know, we were almost to Miss Thelma’s. You know, it’s just right down the street.

And I hear my grandmother say, “Oh, we got tuna today with some tomatoes from my garden.”

I’m thinking, “Why is she’s so happy?”

And I look up, I chance a look, and she has this great, big smile on her face. Now this was sayin’ sumpin’ for my grandma. She only reserved this big smile for, like, Christmas and birthdays. So,  I was confused. But, you know, I just kept my head down. She, you know, bid her goodbye and off we went down the street.

We walked about ten steps before my grandmother said, “Earliana LaTish McLaurin. You were starin’ again.

“I’m sorry!” I said, trying to keep up with her. “She just looks so weird.”

“Weird? Earliana, Mattie’s sick. She can’t help the way she look. It’s part of her sickness. Mattie’s, wha… still same old Mattie, uh, laughin’ and smilin’. As I recall, changed quite a few of your diapers when you were a baby.”

“But will she always look like that, I said.

“Well, it’s affecting her whole body now and her medicine is so expensive.”

“Oh, but her family helps her, right,” I said, because, you know, back then that’s what you did. Even if you weren’t related. Black families helped other black families.

And my grandmother, at this time… by this time, we had gotten to Miss Thelma’s and we were right in front of her gate. And she looked at me and she said, “Mattie ain’t got no family, baby. You know her. What little money she gets has to cover her medicine and all her bills. Don’t you worry about old Mattie. She got plenty of family. Me, you, de folks at church. Mattie goin’ be just fine.”

She handed me a dollar and went on around back to Miss Thelma’s flower garden. I went over to candy store and I remember just standing there, you know. Normally, I’d be poring over each candy. But that day, I remember just standing there, and thinkin’ about Miss Mattie because, see, you know, as an 11-year-old, huh, I couldn’t imagine being so sick and alone all the time. Every day. Every night. I remember going back and handin’ my, my grandmother the dollar and just tellin’ her I didn’t feel much like any candy.

Later that night, we were eatin’ dinner and Miss Mattie was still on my mind. My grandmother could tell because I was just pushing around my mashed potatoes.

And she said, “You, you okay, baby?”

And I said, “Yeah, I’m just thinking.”

And she said, “Well, when you done thinking, uh, you want to watch some Wheel of Fortune?”

And she started clearing up the dishes and the food. And I remember sitting up and droppin’ to the floor. I was like, “We, we’re not going to take Miss Mattie a plate?”

And she said, “Well, you know, I try to give Miss Mattie her space.”

“But, Granny! What if she’s hungry right now!”

You know, in my mind, how did I knew this information. It was like, if Miss Mattie didn’t have any family, then we were her people and, and we had to help. We had to.

“Well, you know, if Mattie was hungry, she’d call and.”

“What if she’s too sick to call, Granny? Why, she’s all by herself. I can take it over there. Let’s just take her plate.”

And I get up and I start to get a plate down from the cabinet. Now, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t too happy about walkin’ in the dark in Lockport, Illinois in the mid-90s but I felt like Miss Mattie needed us more. So, you know, we get the plate and off we go. Mis…she called for her.  Miss Mattie comes to the door. And this time, I remember looking her right in her face, right in her other worldly, chocolate, slightly droopy, chocolate face.

And I said, “Here you go, Miss Mattie. It’s meatloaf, mashed potatoes and green beans. I made sure Granny put some meat… some gravy on the meatloaf and the mashed potatoes because that’s the best. Ha, ha.”

Miss Mattie, not used to me sp… actually speaking, heh, sorta chuckled. And, you know, she said, “Why thank you, baby,” and turned to my grandmother.

You know, up until that moment, I had never even thought about it but I realized that beauty, beauty had to be more than just the color of my skin, you know. That as crazy as it sounds, Miss Mattie’s face was kind of like my neck. A little dark, maybe weird to some but it certainly didn’t need to be scrubbed away or hidden. Miss Mattie had always been perfectly nice to me. And after knowing how she struggled, and what she was going through, I could no more deny her beauty than I could her dignity as a human being.

The last thing I remember was handing her the plate, and puttin’ my head down, kinda looking at my granny ’cause I was just waitin’ for her to chastise me because, you know, you supposed to let the adults talk first. And I remember looking up, and all I saw was this great, big smile on her face. That same, big birthday smile. Except this time, it was just for me.

Guatemala 1993: When Hope Is Rekindled

 

Story Summary:

Susan takes her young adult sons to Guatemala to be inspired by the Catholic clergy, religious and lay people working for justice there. Her own idealism is challenged as she hears stories of the atrocities people are suffering because of Guatemala’s civil war. A moment of grace and wisdom from the Mother Superior restores her sense of hope and dedication.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Guatemala-1993-When-Hope-is-Rekindled

Discussion Questions:

  1. What role do private agencies, such as churches, play in advancing the cause of social justice?  How much of their work is about poverty, how much about justice, how much about evangelism or are these ideas/situations completely enmeshed?
  2. When the nun says the children’s “future is very bright” and “We are doing something about the causes,” to what is she referring and do you agree?
  3. What cultural differences made this Guatemalan journey seem initially “hopeless” to this American storyteller? How did her perceptions change?

Resource:

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Latino American/Latinos
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi! My name is Sue O’Halloran and this is an excerpt from a longer story called “Moments of Grace.” In 1993 I took my two sons Terry and Preston to Central America, to Guatemala. They were young adults at the time and we were going to visit the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging (CFCA). It was a group to which I had donated for many years. Now when we arrived in Guatemala, they had already been involved in a civil war for 33 years. It was a war between the government (partially imposed by U.S. intervention) and so-called rebels who were fighting to get their democratic government back. So this is an excerpt from that longer story.

Day 3 – The first sighting of the village we were going to visit was a steel windmill all shot up. It looked like somebody had used it for target practice. Oh, the villagers, they were so great to us! They sang songs; they fed us tamales! They sent us home with huge baskets of colorful vegetables even though they had very little to eat themselves.

And on the way home, I asked Bob, the director of CFCA about that shot-up windmill. And he told me that the Christmas before, the government had come in looking for a Communist rebel, they said, shooting, and just to make sure they got the right man! And (at) that village we had just visited and a nearby village, 22 of the fathers had been killed!

Day 4 – Instead of a field trip, we went down the hill to work on the addition to the orphanage. We were joined by men from neighboring mountain villages, some who had walked 7 hours through the night to get there! The men had come to work on that orphanage, their one day off, knowing full well that one day their own children might live there.

Day 5 – We went to visit the teacher training center that CFCA helps to fund. And when you walk into the classrooms, there’s these photographs over the doorways and I thought, oh, graduating teachers, probably. And it turns out, it was true but these were pictures of graduating teachers who had already been killed. Teaching Mayan Indians to be self-sufficient whether that was to read or repair cars was just too threatening to some people in Guatemala who wanted to keep things exactly the way they were.

Day 6 – New Year’s Eve Day, December 31. Every morning when I came out of my dorm room, Leslie would be in the courtyard to greet me. Leslie was the 9 year old daughter of our van driver Martin. And that morning she ran into my arms and I hugged her and I asked that stupid, adult question! “Leslie, what do you want to be when you grow up?” thinking she would say something like an artist because she really loved to draw. But she looked up at me and with this great certainty in her voice, she said, “I want to be a teacher.”

I thought about all of those photographs I’d seen the day before! The picture of those martyred teachers and I burst into tears. I had no idea how really upset I was ‘til that moment. And I hugged her tight and I said, “No cuidado, Leslie! No sea un maestro!” Leslie, be careful! Don’t be a teacher! They kill teachers here!

How do you change things! I mean, we had been in Guatemala less than a week and I already… I was  starting to lose it! I knew it! I needed some guidance, some wisdom. I went to find my new friend, the Mother Superior, the elderly woman who was the head of the sisters at the convent. And I went down the hill and, sure enough, she was in the convent kitchen cooking up a big fry pan of rice and beans for the men who had come to work on the orphanage that day. And I sat down in her kitchen and I told her all that was heavy on my heart and I just pleaded with her, “Help me understand, sister!”

And she said, “Oh, Soo-see (that’s what she called me, Soo-see), the future’s very bright for these children. The ceasefires last longer; they spend more time in school. They come to us having been beaten or half-starved or seeing their parents killed right before their eyes and they can hardly talk. And then a year or two years later, they’re singing in the choir. They’re standing in, up in front of the whole liturgy and they are reading, Soo-see! Reading!”

And I said to her, “I know, sister, I work as a teacher. I’ve seen incredible changes in my own individual students but, I mean, how do you get the causes, all the reasons things are going on here! The way the government is set up, the gap between the rich and the poor, the powerful, the powerless! I mean, what do you do about that, sister?” I said. “I came here bringing my boys. I wanted to have them be inspired by people who were working for justice but now I realize that I wanted something for myself. I’m running out of hope!”

“Oh, Soo-see,” she said, “you do not give up hope! We are doing wonderful things for these people!”

I said, “But the causes, sister!”

She said, “We are doing something about the causes!”

And I said, “What!” And as soon as I heard my voice, I felt so rude. I mean, here’s this sister, the nuns who have dedicated their whole lives to these people and I was questioning them?

But she didn’t miss a beat! She just kept stirring those beans and she said, “You know, people get mistreated long enough, they start believing that they deserve what they have. But we teach the people all they can accomplish. We teach them how to learn and the whole world opens up. We are preparing people for a democracy.”

“Then what should be do about our country, sister, I mean, since our government puts so many of these people in power. I mean, is the only option that bumper sticker “America, love it or leave it!”

She said, “Oh, Soo-see, no! You stay put and you love your country. And you make your government behave!” And then she put her spatula down, she came over to me and she rested her hands on my shoulders. She looked up at me and said, “Soo-see, we just keep doing what we’re doing! We get up early, we go to bed late! The rest is in God’s hands!”

Well, that night was the New Year’s Eve party at the church rectory. And I stood in that room and looked at all the people and children. I mean, my sons were there and Bob was there and Martin was there and Leslie was there! People from the parish, the children from the orphanage! And I stood in the middle of that room and I just felt so happy! So lucky to be there! And I don’t know, is it grace or dumb luck when the heaviness lifts from your heart and you don’t even know why? Grace or whatever the reason, I don’t know! I just stood in the middle of that room and I felt open to anything. And then the nuns put on some music and Mother Superior called to me, “Soo-see, fox, fox!” She wanted to dance the foxtrot! I gotta tell ya, up in those mountains, sometimes we had electrical surges, sometimes we didn’t so sometimes we have music and sometimes we would just slow, to this gaaarbled drone. But I took sister into my arms and we were dancing cheek to cheek and then she squeezed my hand. She said, “Ah, Soo-see, there is so much love in this house! And that, I realized, is what I wanted! For my sons, for me, for all of us to feel all the love in the house.

To love our government enough to criticize it right down to its roots and yet to still enjoy all that our country and this life has to offer. So for that night, I had no grand plan on how to change things. That night we danced – the merengue, the cumbia, the salsa and the hokey-pokey! ‘Cause sometimes those moments of grace, they’re what it’s all about!

A Window of Beauty: A Story of Courage from the Holocaust

 

Story Summary:

 Nancy tells an excerpt from “A Window of Beauty,” a story inspired by the experiences of a young girl, her remarkable teacher and their secret art classes in the Terezin Concentration Camp in Czechoslovakia during World War II. It is a tale of courage, friendship and the power of artistic expression to sustain hope and light the way during the darkest of times.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: A-Window-of-Beauty-A-Story-of-Courage-from-the-Holocaust

Discussion Questions:

  1.  The story of Friedl and Rutie tells of the deep relationship between teacher and student. One child described the experience of being in Friedl’s secret art classes in the concentration camp at Terezin: “Friedl. We called her Friedl.  Everything was forgotten for a couple of hours. We forgot all the troubles we had.” What was Friedl’s legacy as a teacher? What memorable teacher in your own life was a rescuer or a life changer for you?
  2. How does a human being survive a tragedy such as the Holocaust?
  3. In what way is artistic expression – the creation of poetry, art or music and so forth – a form of resistance against oppression? How does it compare to the uprising of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto during WWII?

Resources:

  • I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-1944, 2nd edition, 1993.
  • Fireflies in the Dark: The Story of Friedl Dicker Brandeis and the Children of Terezin by Susan Goldman Rubin,
  • Art, Music and Education as Strategies for Survival: Theresienstadt 1941 – 1945 edited by Anne. D. Dutlinger

Themes:

  •  Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
  • War

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Nancy Shapiro-Pikelny. When I was 11 years old, I received this book as a gift. It’s a collection of poetry and art that was done in the concentration camp Terezin. It was created in defiance of Nazi brutality. The name of the book, I Never Saw Another Butterfly. It was created by children, secretly and courageously. Now in that book there was only a brief mention of a drawing teacher, nothing more. And for years, I wondered who was this brave teacher and who were her students? I recently discovered a story of one student, a girl whose nickname was a Zuti, little rabbit. A name that was lovingly given to her by her friends because of her enormous buck teeth. Her real name was Rutie Shaffner. The Nazi sent Rutie Shaffner to the concentration camp in Terezin.  And she was put in building L-410, room 28, along with many other girls her age. And there, the children suffered from disease and starvation. But Rutie’s life was lifted up out of the horror of the Holocaust through art, because of her teacher an artist. A woman named Friedl Dicker Brandeis.  I want to tell you a story, an excerpt from a story that I call, “A Window Of Beauty,” that I created by gathering remnants of history and also by imagining the missing pieces. Imagining all of the lost threads, in the winter of 1944, in the concentration camp in Terezin, Czechoslovakia.

One day Rutie Shaffner decided to go on a hunt to find any art materials that her teacher Friedl could possibly use in their secret art classes. She began her hunt at the first light of dawn. She went into an alley and found a box and she grabbed it away from a rat that was chewing on the corner of it. And in that alley, there was charcoal and string and wire. She filled the box and then she headed out from the alley when she saw, in the distance, a group of Nazi soldiers crossing the street, coming in her direction. She didn’t know what to do, so she slipped into the doorway of a building. She crouched down low. Her heart was pounding. What if they see me? What if they find me here? Well, the building seemed empty and so Rutie dared to go inside. And in that building, Rutie made a wonderful discovery – paper. Paper! Stacks of ledger paper, office paper that had been left in that abandoned building. Rutie filled the box. And when the soldiers had gone, she ran all the way to her building L-410, room 28, up those three flights of stairs and she brought that box of treasures to Friedl. And from the odds and ends in that box, Friedl was able to teach those children the art of collage making. Rutie cut the shapes, and she tore them, pasted it on that ledger paper, and when she had finished, Rutie had created the sunrise in Terezin.

Well, the snows of winter eventually melted. And in the spring the Nazis needed to make a plan – how to fool the International Red Cross. You see, the Red Cross was coming to Terezin in the summer for an inspection. And so, the Nazis needed to make that concentration camp look beautiful for one day – the day of the inspection. And so, the Nazis ordered the Jews to paint the fronts of buildings, to clean up the garbage in the alleys, to build a playground. A playground that would be used for that one day only. The day of the inspection. And the last part of the Nazi plan, so that the Red Cross would not see the overcrowded conditions and Terezin, the Nazis increased the number of transports to the east to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

It was on a Thursday that they posted the next list. And among the 2,000 Jews on that list was Rutie Shaffner, little Zuti, little rabbit. She was only 13 years old. Now nobody, none of the people on the list, knew what it meant to be sent on a transport to the east. And so, they hurried to find anything that they could take with them on the train. A spoon, a tin cup, or a prayer book, a ragged blanket. And there was tremendous commotion and fear as the Nazis called out names and numbers and pushed the Jews into the cattle cars. And there stood little Rutie in that crowd. And she remembered her friends up in room 28. How they had loved her and protected her for the last few years.

She was trembling when she heard Friedl calling her name. And she looked up and saw that Friedl was making her way through the crowd. Friedl came up to her and said, “O,h Rutie, I came to say goodbye and I’m glad I found you. And I want you to take this with you on the train. One of the last drawings you did as my student. Look what a wonderful artist you have become, Rutie.” And when she heard that her face broke wide open into a huge smile those buck teeth in full view.

“No, Friedl, I want you to have the drawing. You keep it.” And Friedl did. Friedl and the girls of room 28 never saw Rutie Shaffner again. She was taken to the gas chambers of Auschwitz where she died on May 18th, 1944.

Now in September of that year, Friedl asked a friend of hers to help her fill suitcases with the many drawings collages and paintings from the children that she had saved for the past two years. They filled those suitcases, carried them up to the attic above room 28, and hid them there. In the following month on October 6th, 1944 the Nazis sent Friedl and hundreds and hundreds of children, and women, and men on cattle cars bound for the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Their lives ended there but their story did not. Because when the war was over, those suitcases filled with all their artwork… they were discovered, and taken to the Jewish museum in Prague and eventually published some of that artwork was published in this book. Now in the latest edition of this book, there appears Rutie’s sunrise collage. In Hebrew, we say zekher tzadik livrakha, may their memories be for a blessing. And I hope that we can make their lives a blessing by telling these stories about real people who had names and faces and a love for beauty and creativity. People like Friedl and Rutie.

Angels Watching Over Me: Transforming Years at St. Sabina School

 

Story Summary:

 During the Civil Rights Movement, Patricia’s family moved to the Auburn Gresham community on the south side of Chicago. Hers was one of the first African- American families to integrate the parish school. Over time, Patricia witnessed white friends quietly moving out of the neighborhood as they transferred to new schools. Before long, Patricia understands the meaning of “white-flight” and its effects. Fortunately, because of a few good angels, she was not severely hurt by the negative behavior surrounding her.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Angels-Watching-Over-Me-Transforming-Years-at-St-Sabina-School

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the social and emotional effects caused by the decision of whites to abruptly leave a school rather than to figure out how to make integration work?
  2. In what respect has integration failed and why is there still so much negative reaction to this practice?
  3. Time alone has not taken care of the race problem; what steps are needed to begin the healing process?
  4. Who are the people in your life, outside of family, who have been brave enough to stand up for what is right? What have they done to demonstrate their courage?

Resources:

  •  Remember: The Journey to School Integration by Toni Morrison
  • Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges
  • Dear America: With the Might of Angels by Andrea Davis Pinkney
  • Both Sides Now: The Story of School Desegregation’s Graduates by Amy Stuart Wells

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Housing/Neighboroods
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Patricia Redd. And in a storytelling world, I’m also known as Serenity and I’ll be sharing a personal story about my experiences at St. Sabina.

I went to Catholic schools all my life. First grade through college from 1959 to 1976. But I have to tell you the most dramatically, transforming time for me was when I went to St. Sabina in my fifth through eighth grade years. I remember that 1964, my parents moved us from Englewood, which was a Southside community with people that look like me, to a predominately white neighborhood in Auburn Gresham. I had never seen so many white people in one place at one time. And when we went to the school, my mom was just comforting to me. And I knew in my heart that everything was going to be all right.

My parents went to so many community meetings back then. I was just a young’n but I remember that they would talk about how, as African-Americans, we just wanted to be able to go and live and be at peace. We just wanted to be able to go places and do things without folk telling us to go back to Africa. And we wanted to be able to walk around in the neighborhood without people shouting at us to get out of our neighborhood. It was our neighborhood. We lived there too.

There were three transforming, life changing events, that happened to me during that time. The first happened when I was in fifth grade. And we had just moved into the Auburn Gresham community. And had been at St Sabina, probably starting in September, and now it was May. September had the pract, ah, ah, St. Sabina had the practice of having a statue of Blessed Virgin Mary travel around from one person’s home to the next. And apparently, somebody had the bright idea that we should have a turn that this. That didn’t go over too well for some folk because there must have been a great deal of ruckus happening. But I tell you what, between my mom and the powers that be, we did have the statue of the Blessed Mother in our home along with all of the regalia.

The second transforming event changed my life forever though. On January 1st, 1965 at nine o’clock in the am, we got a phone call from St. Bernard Hospital that my mother had died. What? Oh my! My parents had just gone to a New Year’s Eve party the night before. And to my knowledge she hadn’t been sick. And then we get the word that she died of a cerebral hemorrhage. I had a hole in my heart too big to bear. What was I going to do? Here I was in a new school, in a new neighborhood, with people that didn’t really seem to want to have us around. But you know what? My mom must’ve really been looking after me though. Because in my sixth grade year, I had a teacher named Sister Kent that was not like any other teacher I ever had. Now I had been with nuns since the first grade, so that wasn’t it. There was something about her where she had a heart for me and I had a heart for her. She kind of looked after me. She watched out for my every move.

Well, on this day it started out like any ordinary day except I ended up with a splinter in my finger. Sister Kent rushed me over to the convent, and I’ve been wanting to go in this place forever, but now here I was, in it for the very first time. She sat me down at this long, yellowish looking table and disappeared. I waited with bated breath. Where, where was she? Well, when she came back, she came back with a bowl of water, a needle and some matches. All to take that splinter out of my finger. When she put my finger in the water to soak it she said something that changed me again. She said, “I can’t believe how white my skin is against yours.” I didn’t feel like she said that to hurt me. It wasn’t like some of the things that I heard my classmates saying or their parents saying whoever made of the mantra, “Sticks and stones may break your bones but words would never hurt you.” They didn’t know what they were talking about because some of the stuff that came out of their mouths was really ugly. But I didn’t get that sense from sister Kent. She loved me. That’s what I felt.

Well, in my seventh and eighth grade years, it seemed like every time I would come into the classroom, there was a desk vacant. There was a student sitting there the day before but now they were gone. And this happened repeatedly throughout, throughout those two years until eventually, St Sabina was no longer predominantly a white Catholic school. It had become a predominantly black Catholic school. And I realized that they were leaving just because of people like me. The color of my skin scared them. I thank God for my teachers but especially Sister Kent because through those years, I believe that they did everything they could to shield me from the ugliness of racism. But more than that, I believe that they picked up where my mother left off. They were the angels watching over me.

Special Blends: A Youthful Perspective on Multi-Cultural, Multi-Ethnic Heritage

 

Story Summary:

 Amber, Misty, and Autumn – three multi-ethnic sisters – offer a sneak peek into their thoughts about self-identification. These storytellers also share a medley of emotional experiences about how they have sometimes been viewed by others. From skin color to hair texture, from humor to poignant reflection, these dynamic young women personify Dr. Maria P. P. Root’s, Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Special-Blends-A-Youthful-Perspective-On-Multi-Cultural-Multi-Ethic-Heritage

Discussion Questions:

  1. Should agencies require people of mixed heritage to check one box for their “race”? Why or why not?
  2. Does not choosing just one race imply that a person of multi-ethnic heritage is somehow denying any one part of his or her heritage? Explain.
  3. What are some challenges that may arise for multi-ethnic siblings?
  4. Some believe that since the number of people of mixed heritage has increased, that being “mixed” is no longer a “big thing”. Do you agree?

Resources:

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi! My name is Amber Saskill and these are my sisters.

This is Misty (Hi!) and this is Autumn Joy (Hi!) and we are affectionately called the Sass Lasses and we’re a multi-ethnic background. So our story today is called “Special Blends.” It’s a youthful perspective of multi-cultural, multi-ethnic heritage.

Now we’re a blend of Jewish, African-American and Native American heritage. And the interesting thing about our three blends is that at one point in time, they were all persecuted or oppressed. For example, there was the Jewish Holocaust. There was the captivity enslavement and enslavement of our African ancestors and then, too, our Native American people. They were massacred and their land was taken away from them. But the interesting thing about people who have been enslaved, persecuted and oppressed is that they become stronger, more resilient people and we’re products of that. And even though, personally, I’ve been able to relate always to my different… my different cultures, piece by piece, it was interesting how by watching two films that really helped me to see the plight of mixed people in other areas of the world.

For instance, in South Africa there was a film during apartheid. And apartheid was racial segregation that took place from 1948 to 1994 and that’s during my lifetime. It wasn’t my mom’s generation or my grandmother’s generation; that happened in my lifetime. And to know that people of mixture were persecuted and oppressed because of the way they looked, that really touched me. And in this one film in South Africa, it talked about a girl who looked mixed and she associated herself with that even though that her parents looked visibly white. And even though she associated herself as being mixed, she was outcast from society and disowned by her very own family. And that really touched me on a deep personal level! And, in addition to that, I watched a film that took place in Australia. And it was the true life story of… in the mid 1900’s how the Aborigines and Australians, how they mixed together and had children that, later on, were actually discriminately called half caste. And these half caste were corralled and put into re-education camps where they were tried to be bred out of existence by being sort of diluted so that there was never any evidence that they ever existed before. And that’s called, actually, “the stolen generation.” And to think about these people that were actually sought after because they were mixed, that touched me so deeply!

That is so scary! In an attempt to eliminate a visual reminder of such a union, you know. And on a different level, that’s kind of what happened to my mom and me. We were getting ready to perform for this great storytelling festival. And before we could even get started, the festival coordinators, they slapped this big old sensor bar right across two of our stories. My mom was going to perform a story; it was a really funny fiasco of what happened when she and my dad first got married. (OK, I love that story!) And I was going to perform a story called “My Two Grandmas,” which is really close to my heart. And it’s a story where I bring to life memories of my Grandmama Rose and her Afro-Choctaw background and my Gram Blossom with her Russian-Ukrainian-Polish-Moroccan-Jewish background. And it’s one that tells of how they are from two different worlds but at the end of the story, you see that they’re really dynamic women. And they taught us, their granddaughters, to be dynamic women ourselves. But they did ask us remove the story and those two stories. And so we did; we’re professionals. But we did write a formal letter of complaint and we received a written apology back. But at the end of the day when the sun had set, we had been asked to compromise. And that’s pretty much my life. I’m mixed. I am asked to compromise.

And, really, as surprising as it may seem, as mixed people, we have to compromise all the time. It actually makes me think of something that happened to me not too long ago. A couple of years ago, I went to the DMV to apply for my learner’s permit and I filled out all the paperwork and I turned it in. And the woman behind the desk curtly informed me that I had forgotten to choose a race. And I politely told her that there was no box that says multi-racial so there was no box that I thought was appropriate for me to check. And she impatiently told me that I should just pick one of my races. And it’s funny this… this question comes up so often as… as people with mixed heritages. The infamous question, “What are you?” ((Right!)

And my first inclination is to say, “Well, I’m a human. I’m a woman. I’m a teenager. I’m a musician. I’m a student. I’m a sister, a daughter and a friend.”

Now I know if I ever really responded like that, their response would probably be, “No, really! What are you?” But, really, this is a really difficult question to answer because what I am or rather who I am involves so much more. Who I am is not… cannot be defined by checking black or white or any other box. Who I am is a complex amalgamation of my cultural influences, my experiences, my family, my friends, my beliefs and my interests. Some of these things change all the time. So for me to choose one of those boxes would be not only labeling myself but forcing me to identify with only one of my ethnicities. And that’s something I refuse to do because I identify with all my ethnicities. (And really it’s so true! Why would you forsake mother or father?) (Exactly!)

Yeah, and on a different note, in any typical family, siblings might look different and have different likes and dislikes. And I think in our family, we’re the same way. My sisters and I, we have differences; we have similarities. And I think that my two sisters, actually, they kind of favor each other a little more and I feel like I look a little bit different. So I think that our experiences as mixed children are different as well, especially my experience. I think, depending on where I go, I’m described as different ways. Like in some cultures, I’m described as the red-toned one. In other cultures or countries I’ve been to, they describe me as la morena or the darker one. But still in other cultures or societies I go to, I’m described as the light-skinned one. So there you go! I’m red, I’m dark, I’m light but still depending on where I’m at, my experiences are different than those of my sister… my sisters. And too, I really feel that because I look a little different than them, I would shudder to think that if that caste system, that racial segregation still existed to this day, what would happen with us? Would we be segregated from one another?

That’s something to think about. You know and if we’re not being judged by our skin or eye color, then we’re being judged by our hair. (Yeah!) And as you can plainly see, we’re curly girls and we’re very proud of it. And what do they say? “You don’t talk politics, you don’t talk religion and you don’t talk hair texture. (Right?) And titles like good hair versus bad hair is just unfair. We believe that all hair types and textures are beautiful and to be celebrated. In fact, a singer India Arie… she sings a song.

Oh yeah! Is that the one that goes something like this? “I am not my hair. I am not this skin. I am the soul that lives within.”

(Very true words.) Yeah! I couldn’t agree more. And a friend of mine got married to a man of another race and so they had a bi-racial daughter. And she inspired me to write this kind of lighthearted book geared towards tween… tween girls. You don’t even have to be mixed, just have curly hair to appreciate it. And this is an excerpt from that book,

I got into a fight one day, a rough and tumble with my hair.

I hadn’t combed it in two weeks so all would stop and stare.

My comb jumped in and tried to help but the fight just wasn’t fair.

It wrestled, it teased, it lost some teeth, got lost up in that hair.

The more I pried, the more I cried, the bigger it would grow.

I could not deny, from each side, it had turned into a fro.

And then I passed the mirror and I sucked my lip back in.

An idea began to gather and I grabbed some bobby pins.

My hands twirled and tucked those curls and, much to my surprise,

They calmly let me shift them, shape them into a design.

No longer were they rebellious. No nothing of the kind.

It was I who needed to see; it was I who had been blind

To the great beauty these curls so majestically possess.

Yes, with African-Cherokee-Choctaw-Iroquois-Jewish, I’ve been blessed.

So from that day forward, I pledged a pledge that with our hair or eyes or skin,

Never again would I define my heritage to fit in

With other girls

Who have no curls.

No, I’ll never feel chagrined.

They say the eyes, color aside, are the window to the soul.

So, too, this hair, curled everywhere, is gorgeous, free and bold!

(Woo! Love that bold) (Me, too!)

Well, I’m sure that my sisters agree with me that although as people with mixed heritages, we face so many difficulties but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. We’ve been called names like Oreos, mutts. We’ve been even called mulatto, which is actually a Spanish term for a mixture between a donkey and a horse. So we’ve been called many names but thanks to our parents Rick and Sadarri Saskill and our grandparents, we truly have been able to see that each of us are a deliciously concocted, “special blend!”

 

Unsung Hero: How My Uncle Was Saved from the KKK

 

Story Summary:

 Sadarri retells a story of heroism that her mother, Rose, remembered as a child. The story takes place in Holly Springs, Mississippi in the late 1920’s when Sadarri’s Uncle Carl was set to be lynched for “speaking out of turn”. This story is about the unlikely hero who saved the life of Carl Esko Lucas who was truly a Black man dead and resurrected from the dust.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Unsung-Hero-How-My-Uncle-Was-Saved-from-the-KKK

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What effects did the jailing of Carl and the actions of the KKK have on his family?
  2. Why is the story called Unsung Hero?
  3. Was the deputy the only hero in the story? Explain. What does being a true hero mean to you?

Resources:

  • They Called Themselves the KKK by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
  • Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case, (By Chris Crowe)
  • Simeon’s Story: An Eyewitness Account of the Kidnapping of Emmett Till
  • (By Simeon Wright and Herb Boyd)
  • Online Resource: http://www.myhero.com/go/home.asp

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • European American/Whites
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

My name is Sadarri Saskill. It’s about 1992 and my mother, she went back to her hometown of Palm Springs, Mississippi to visit. And she hadn’t been there, ah, very recently and so she was taking pictures all around. And finally, my mom and my dad ended up downtown. And my dad took a picture of my mom in front of this plaque. And on this plaque were the names of war heroes that were engraved right there.

And so they came back to, to Naples, Florida where we lived, and they showed us the pictures. And when we got to that particular picture, it was crystal clear. And I remember, my mom and I, we read the names that were on the list. Then, all of a sudden, I noticed that my mother had a look in her eye and it was a look that I couldn’t quite put a bead on. I didn’t know what it was about but I knew that there was a, one last name that was on that plaque that ended up sparking a story. And it was a story about my mother’s brother, Carl.

My uncle Carl who was almost lynched by the KKK, by the mob, by the Klan, okay. I had never heard this story before. And when I did I was horrified. I, kind of, bristled up and everything. But then when I turned and I looked at my mother, her expression was somehow softer. So I got to thinking, well, maybe it was a long time ago or maybe she was kind of numb because of all the emotion and everything. But then she told the story, I figured that couldn’t be it because she was telling you so vividly, you know. She talked about the, the white mass against the dark sky and, and she talked about remembering the smells and the sounds that were in the air. It was something else that was going on.

Well, as she told the story, she told that, my uncle, he had been accused of talking to a white girl. And sometimes in some places in Mississippi, that was punishable by death. And here he was, he spoke to a white girl the wrong way. And so people decided that they were going to be able to take action. Now what happened was that same day they put my uncle in jail. And here he was in the jail and there was a deputy that was going to watch over him.

But in the meantime, the mob was so upset, that they wanted to make an example out of my uncle. That what they did was, they decided that they were gonna storm the jailhouse. But they did not know who they were reckoning with! Mm hmm! Because when they got there, my Grandfather Bill, he had gotten together a black posse of his own. And he was going to stand toe to toe with the Klan. Now that’s not something that happened in the 20s and 30s in Mississippi. It didn’t happen that way. But he stood there face to face with this formidable group of people.

Well, it seemed like all was lost. And the numbers were just not even, so that the number of blacks that were there. I remember that I started thinking about them with my mother and what she was telling me the story.  And I thought these men, that were black going against these men, who were white. At the time, that was something else because they were going to put their lives in jeopardy. They were going to put their families lives in jeopardy. And I remember telling my mother that these men were real heroes. And they were, because you mess with the Klan, mm hmm, and not live to tell about it. You didn’t do that because the Klan, they meant business.

So here they were face to face. And the mob, they could see that they were outnumbered. So the people in the mob they decided that what they were going to do was, they were going to go back and they were going to regroup. And they were gonna come back with more men before dawn because the next day, that’s when the trial was going to happen. This so-called fair trial was supposed to happen that next morning. And so when all of this happened, each group, the black group and the white group, they went in their separate directions in order to regroup. Whatever the outcome is gonna to be, we knew from this story that was being told to the family, that was going to be a whole lot of bloodshed before the sun came up.

Anyway, at dawn my grandfather, he came with all of the men that he had. But guess what? The mob had beaten them to the punch. They were already there at the jail house. And then, my mama, she, kind of, had a little smirk on the side of her face. And she told me that the mob and the deputy were fit to be tied. And you know why? Because my uncle, Carl Esko Lucas, had escaped like Houdini. They said that Carl, he was gone like a turkey through the corn. That’s the way my mother put it. That he had escaped!

So you can imagine the relief, the relief that my mother’s family felt. They feel so happy that he was safe. But they were a close family and they knew that Carl would always manage to be able to get a little message or something to them. But there was none. There was nothing. They waited a little bit longer. And there still was no message. So they got the wondering and they started thinking that wait a minute. And then rumors started trickling in. You know how rumors are. And the rumor had it that maybe, maybe Carl had  not actually escaped. Maybe the mob had actually killed Carl and dumped his body someplace because it was plenty of rivers and ravines in and back woods that they could hide a body, you know. And the reason for that would be that my mother’s family, the Lucas’s, they were a good  family. They were an outstanding family. They were a respected family. They never did anything wrong to anybody, in fact, they always lend a helping hand. Didn’t make any difference if it was black, if it was white. They were going to help out. And so maybe the mob got to thinking that they could kill him, have their vengeance, you know.  But they can appease the townspeople at the same time. And it would be a win-win situation.

Well, you know, time went on and what we ended up finding was, as the time passed, the angrier my mother’s family got. Weeks went by, months went by, years went by. In fact, my grandmother, Miss Etta, she died. And then about 10 years later, look who came like somebody resurrected from the dust, walking up the road. Nobody else then Carl Esko Lucas. And when my mother told me that part of the story, I said, “What? Who? He did what?” And she said, “Yep.  He came walking up the road with enough information to set the story straight.”

And so Carl told the truth. He told what exactly had happened that night long ago. Long ago when those two groups of men, the white group and the black group, when they separated and they were there alone in the cell. It was the deputy that ended up helping my uncle escape. He gave ‘im some food, he gave ‘im a little money, he gave the names of, of white folks that could help him on his, on his trip up north. But the two men, they had to make a solemn promise. They couldn’t tell a soul so that nobody’s family would get killed. And my mom said that her brother told her, my uncle, that they sealed it with a hug and they never saw each other again. And it wasn’t until that deputy and the members of that angry mob, until after they had either died or they moved on, that my brother, my mother’s brother, Carl, felt that it was safe to be able to return. And so they could recognize that it was because of love of family that he left and it was love of family that brought him back.

Now you remember that plaque? Mm hmm. The one that my mother showed the picture of? It was that last name that was the same as that deputy’s name. It was that name that was right there that triggered all these memories. And I remember, my mother, she told me that there’s good and there’s bad in every race. And my mother told me, she says, some people are recognized for the good deeds that they do and their names are put on, maybe, a plaque just like this. But there are other people that step up to the plate and they become heroes without anybody ever knowing about it at all. And that’s when I recognize that, that look that was in my mother’s eye. It wasn’t the look of horror. It wasn’t a look of disgust. It wasn’t a look of hate. It was a look of gratitude. Gratitude for a man who was bold enough to do the right thing.

DIWALI — From Darkness to Light, Hindus in America—Happy New Year!

 

Story Summary:

 A Goddess inspired story of the adversities faced and overcome by Archana’s family as they move form India to America. This is a story of identity, assimilation and race relations that ultimately honors different paths of healing and different religions. Overcoming health issues and life and death challenges, from Darkness to Light describes the embodiment of the Indian festival of Lights/Diwali that welcomes in the “new” in each and every one of us in a beautiful way.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: DIWALI-From-Darkness-to-Light-Hindus-in-America

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What other cultures include goddesses and talk about embodying the goddess energy? What does that mean?
  2. What is Diwali and what do people do on that day?
  3. What are some ways we can practice religious inclusion: as an individual, as a school or workplace and as a nation?

Resources:

Themes:

  •  Asian Americans/Asians
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Family and Childhood
  • Interfaith

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Archana Lal-Tabak. My family is from the Pakistan side of India before the partition in 1947. In fact, my father was born in Burma and my mother was born in Kashmir and yet they had to flee again when they were young children. Burma is right by China on the east side of India, and near Tibet is Kashmir, which is in the northern state of India. They were persecuted there by the Muslims and the Communists and so they had to flee again in their young adolescent years. And they went to central India, north central India, a place called Kanpur. This is where they eventually met.

My father was there teaching medical school and my mother was a student at the medical school. And the patients all around were noticing that this gentleman was following my mom around and they said, “See that doctor who is looking at you?” And she had not noticed that he was looking at her. But, finally, he asked her out for an ice cream, which she could not really, even have because her stomach had been upset for many years and this is what had taken her into medicine. It turned out that later on, my father diagnosed that she had a retrocecal appendix many years later. And it must have been a sign of true love that he kind of knew what was going on and she was struggling. For two people who loved medicine, this was a true love story.

Actually, theirs was a love marriage. Back in those days, people in India did not cross over into different social castes or social hierarchy. They found that they were in north central India, however, and here people of different castes and different social status would, actually talk with each other and there were many faiths present. Finally, in this part of India they were able to practice their Hinduism without oppression and persecution. It turned out that my father, being rather poor in India, moved several times and I, myself, moved ten times by the time I was 13 years old. I was in Vietnam, in India, in America and back in India again.

And it so happens that one of those times when I was in India, I was about nine years old in 1972, staying with my favorite auntie and uncle and it was my favorite festival. This whole oppression of darkness to light, of… that my parents had been through reminded me of this festival Diwali, the Indian New Year, the Festival of Lights. And this festival was going on at the time that I was visiting India with my aunt and uncle. And at this beautiful festival, it turns out everyone decorates all of their houses with little tiny diyas – little tiny lights. They’re little ceramic pots that are decorated and they’re decorated with ghee or clarified butter inside with a little cotton wick coming out. Beautiful, beautiful lights and the whole house is decorated – inside and outside.

I was just totally amazed and intrigued by this beautiful festival. And I was playing with all the diyas, all the candles, all the wax, all the… all the little tiny tea lights and then, all of a sudden unbeknownst to me, I had been lit aflame. My uncle came over and put out my dress. I had, apparently, set myself on fire. And if I had not been careful or mindful and my uncle had not been watching, I would have been a burning girl somewhat like those women in India that used to throw themselves in their husband’s funeral pyre, back in the old days. Something I cannot even imagine. Now it turns out that this beautiful festival of Diwali, with the whole house is decorated, it’s cleaned, you’re wearing new clothes and eating delicious foods – complete multisensory experience – comes after these nine days of darkness. This nine days of the dark goddess Durga. And the goddess Durga is nine days of honoring how we ourselves transform internally from darkness to light. And there’s actually a ceremony where this huge statue that’s wooden and paper mâché of the evil god Raman, it’s burnt. This demon is burnt, publicly, like a huge burning man. And it, it’s amazing to me how many people were involved in all this when I was growing up. Pretty amazing!

Now when I was in India, I went to many different schools. Mostly, I went to the rector convent and different convents like Catholic schools run by nuns, that were English medium. But there was one time that I was in an Indian boarding school and in this school, the matron was a Sikh woman. It turns out that my father’s oldest brother was a Sikh as well. Apparently, in India, the oldest Hindu brother becomes a Sikh to protect the border because Hindus are mostly pacifists. Even though they have four castes and one of them is a warrior caste, they still have more pacifist tendency. So, the Sikhs protect the border. And I would sit with my matron in my boarding school and meditate with her and pray with her, with her Punjabi texts, just the way I used to sit and pray and meditate with my grandmother, Mummy Ji. Ji is a sign of respect in India, so often we’ll have names after a Ji. Mummy Ji and I would meditate and pray and so did I with this beautiful Sikh matron.

I loved looking at different cultures and religions. I went to the synagogues with my Jewish friends. I went to churches with my Christian friends and, of course, beautiful temples that were 5000 years old in India itself.

Now eventually my family moved to the states and we came here when I was 13 in 1977. When we came here, I went to a public school, which was a very interesting experience, culturally, as well. And I dated a few, maybe just a few Christian and Jewish men, you know, because Indian girls were supposed to have arranged marriages and not date. But I did. And I, actually married my first husband, who was Jewish, and then later on I met my current husband Jim. And although Jim was Greek and Slovakian, he had been doing yoga and meditation for several decades and we had a lot in common. We were meant to be together. He, actually, prepared an ayurvedic meal for me on one of our first dates. Now how many American men cook ayurvedic meals? Not many. Ayurveda, actually, is the knowledge or science of life in India. It is 5000 years old and I’ll tell you more about that in a minute.

But, basically, what I found was that through the oppression and the persecution that many, many generations and cultures have gone through, often that is transmitted in the families. And my own family, I found, had suffered a lot of adversity and several had died way too young. In fact, in my 20s, I, myself, suffered from debilitating illnesses including a serious autoimmune illness. And, at that time, I was led to studying Indian medicine and the western field of psycho neuro immunology. My family is all physicians. They’re all trained in western medicine and I found that I was able to completely heal myself through the psycho neuro immunology using some natural lifestyle factors, which I later learned were present in ayurveda.

And when I did workshops and this, my mom would come and say, “Well, that’s how we live. We eat this way, we dress this way, we behave this way, we walk like this.”

And it’s, basically, so much a part of the Indian culture. This knowledge or science of life is a part of the whole Indian culture, part of the Hindu religion so that the people would do it. So, they have fasts for detoxification during Navaratri, which was that… the goddess Ji I told you about. And then they have celebrations like Diwali with the multisensory experience of eating. In fact, my mom always said, “Make sure there’s every color of the rainbow in every meal.”

And it turns out, holistically, that is the best way to eat to get all your anti-oxidants, to get all your nutrition. Now I hope that as I’ve raised my son who is now 17 years old and (his name is Anand, which means bliss) that I can teach him some of these things that I have learned.

And we have raised him with yoga and meditation and some new thoughts, Christian traditions and other traditions. And, in fact, since we are cross-cultural couple and interfaith, we really honor all paths. And at our son’s school, we’ve often tried to take in the Hindu culture and the foods and the multisensory experience but often met resistance, at times, because people didn’t understand that the Indian Diwali, Festival of Lights, the Indian New Year was similar to Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, and even similar to Christmas and the winter solstice. It was a winter festival of light.

I imagine that someday, perhaps, people would understand this more and they would be a little tiny stamp just like those other stamps for the New Years and the festivals of light, that there would be a Diwali stamp, as well, a stamp that would have a little tiny diya, beautifully decorated with a little cotton wick in the ghee coming out to celebrate the Indian New Year and the Festival of Light.

I often find that when I need some help, I turn to the goddesses because in India, people have many gods and goddesses. It’s polytheistic, pantheistic. There’s a god and goddess for everyone. And even as I was developing this beautiful story for you, I found that I was stuck at times and I needed some prosperity, abundance, inspiration, creativity. So, I called in the goddesses. I had goddess Durga helping me from the inaction and darkness and paralysis of the trauma that my family went through to the light. I had goddess Lakshmi with prosperity and abundance that is celebrated during Diwali. And I had goddess Saraswati and she was the one with the creativity and the arts, came in to help me with the story. So, in India we embody all these gods and goddesses and thank goodness for Ganesh, the elephant god, who removes the obstacles along the way. And I’m so grateful to be here with these gods and goddesses today, embodying them and honoring the divine in all of us. Thank you.

A Crack in the Wall: Moving Beyond Racial Conditioning

 

Story Summary:

 In A Crack in the Wall a white man has an experience at a copy shop that causes him to examine the negative impact racial conditioning has had on him. He is disturbed when he realizes that he has been indifferent to the historical suffering of African Americans, and he becomes painfully aware of his subconscious denial and patronizing attitude towards them.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: A-Crack-in-the-Wall-Moving-Beyond-Racial-Conditioning

Discussion Questions:

  1.  How is it possible for a white person to be unaware of systemic unjust treatment of African Americans?
  2. Discuss how racial conditioning can cause white Americans to deny the systemic injustice that for African Americans is all too real.
  3. Why is being treated in a patronizing way so devastating?
  4. What are the rewards of connecting cross-racially?

Resources:

  • Savage Inequalities, Death at an Early Age and The Shame of a Nation by Jonathan Kozol
  • Honky by Dalton Conley
  • True Colors – ABC Prime Time Live 1994
  •  Longing: Stories of Racial Healing by Phyllis and Gene Unterschuetz

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Gene. I’m going to tell a story called A Crack in the Wall. It’s adapted from the book “Longing: Stories of Racial Healing.”

In 1993, a friend invited me to a Race Unity workshop. Uh, and I really didn’t wanna go. I was really nervous about it, because I knew my life was going to change. Or I, I thought my life would change because I had never really delved into the whole issue of race. But I went anyhow. Uh, and I got snagged right from the beginning, because I was learning about institutional racism, and something I had been totally ignorant about. But I was learning how in every institution, African-Americans and other people of color, have been disadvantaged, uh, by the racism that permeates the institutions of the country. Uh, what I was learning is that, that whites – white people, white citizens wield power in virtually all of these institutions. And, so, we were given the definition. Racial prejudice plus power equals racism, and so the… it was a really compelling equation. But it led to the deduction that if you’re white in America, you’re racist. And I had a bit of a reaction to that.

I was thinkin’, “Well, I don’t really have any power. You know, I don’t feel superior. I’m just a cog in the, uh, corporate machinery.”

So, but as I listened to more of the lectures, aaa… I, I learned about the inequalities, yea… oh… abou… as far as, uh, disadvantages that people of color have in this country because of inter… and the institutional racism. I had been ignorant of all this stuff.

I grew up in the 50s. As a child, I was old enough to have been aware of the race riots, and the protests, and all the civil rights stuff that was goin’ on at the time. But when, when I saw the, the videos that they were showing in the workshop, the imagery of the, of, uh, people getting’ blasted with water hoses, uh, children and adults getting’ attacked by snarling dogs. These weren’t just blurry images.

I didn’t have any memory of them at all, and I’m thinking, “How can, how can I have grown up in that period and not have been aware of that, because I was only 50 miles away from Chicago, where a lot of this stuff was going down?”

Well, to be aware of your indifference can lead to denial. Denial is a kind of a tricky, uh, thing to understand. Uh, denial occurs when you are aware of something that’s in(un)conscionable, and you can’t label it, or don’t want to acknowledge it.

Uh, another example would be, if there was a hideous creature standing in front of me, and somebody said… started to describe it to me. And, uh, said how it smelled, what it looked like, and something.

And I was unable to perceive it, and I would say, “No, no! You’re just imagining that. You know that’s not real. You know, let… you’re, you’re being oversensitive. Let’s just, just get on with normal, normal life here.”

That would be a kind of an example of denial, when there’s something that egregious, that’s so obvious to other people, that you can’t see. So, it’s a tricky thing to, to… for us who are white to get our brains around.

Uh, and I was learning that African-Americans in this country have been pointing to racism, that hideous creature, for centuries. And that white folks had not, and still haven’t, have not been able to recognize it, label it, and give it, give it, um, give it, uh, uh, you know, the reality that it’s due, you know. It’s sort of invisible.

So, I started to become aware of my own racial conditioning and it was, was get… was becoming a little bit painful for me, because every time that we… I left the house now, I was aware of my racial conditioning. If I was driving through a fast food place, I was conscious. If the cashier was black, I would get a little anxious, and I was, suddenly, conscious of that. If the cashier was white, I would feel at ease. In my conversations with, uh, acquaintances who were African-American, now I was really sensitive about what I was saying.

“Are my words coming out racist, exposing some deep-seated racism in me.”

Uh, I’m sure people were aware of it, but I was just becoming aware of that stuff, so I was really nervous about what’s coming out.

Uh, watching TV, I would see African-Americans in important peo… places in new shows and, uh, different, different sh…, uh, programs. And I would actu… I would be aware of actually wondering if they were qualified to be in those positions.

So, uh, in public places, I had to think, “Well, how do I interact with African-Americans? Should I smile at them? Should I look in their face? Should I say something? Should I just act nonchalant? But that’s not really doing anything.”

It was very, very painful. I felt very clumsy and awkward, as if I had just read about the history of the piano, and now I was sitting down at a baby grand and tryin’ to perform a Chopin piece.

So, one day, back in 1993, I walk into a local copy shop preoccupied with my own project, but I, uh, at the service counter, I see an African-Am… young, African-American woman giving directions to, uh, the attendant that was serving her. So, I kind of went and hid behind a, uh, kiosk of, of supplies, and watched the whole action. I had never seen an African-American in that shop before, and I’d been going there quite a number of years. In fact, I wasn’t even sure if there were any African-Americans that lived in our town. So, I wanted to see how this white guy that was serving her, eh, uh, handled this unusual situation.

So, as I was watching her, I thought, “Well, look at that young, black woman. She is really competent. She’s really confident in what she’s doin’. She knows her stuff. Look at her take charge there, and she’s nicely dressed, nice pantsuit. I bet she works for some law firm in the area here.” And, uh, so, as I’m thinking this, all of a sudden, I’m thinking, “Hmm, you know what! I’m being patronizing.”

And it really knocked… knocked me for a loop. I have been… had, uh, gone to the third night of the workshop that I referred to. And, so, in this workshop, we were told that we, as white folks, feel superior to black folks, and, uh, and that we are born racists. But we learn racists… racism, and, uh, and, so, we can unlearn it.

So, I’m standing there and I’m having this thought about being patronizing and thinking, “How do I unlearn this, in this situation?”

Uh, I’m tryin’ to apply my, my new understanding here, so, I discovered what I call “a crack in the wall.” The wall is this, uh, is this racial conditioning. And I discovered this little fissure where I could see through, and see that there was a reality beyond the wall. And I asked myself what lay beyond the wall?

Well, as we started traveling, my wife and I, we, we formed many relationships with African-Americans along the way, who were very generous, sharing stories with us. Uh, over the dinner table, they would talk about, uh, racial situations that their family members were involved in.

You know, just coming home from church, being stopped by the police, and being asked, “Why… what are you doing in this neighborhood?”

You know, fellows going out for loans and, uh, being rejected for loans and so forth. These were things I was unaware of. But the generosity of the people that, uh, we were interacting with, was, was… had the effect of breaking down all of this mythology, that we have been raised with, as, as white citizens.

Um, so, after years of participation, uh, in the workshop, uh, going through all the classes, and actually becoming a facilitator myself, I really thought I knew something. But what I discovered is that the truth about race and racial healing lay outside the classroom, beyond the state line, out of my comfort zone. If I had known how many embarrassing moments it would take for me to develop just a little bit of humility in this issue, uh, I probably wouldn’t have accepted the invitation to go to that first workshop. But, you know, embarrassment is a small price to pay for the rewards of engaging in racial healing. The rewards are sharing compassion, sharing forgiveness.

Uh, sharing forgiveness and trusting. Learning how to trust people from whom we’ve been separated, and trust being trustworthy. That’s a big one for me. Learning how to be trustworthy as a white man in this country is a biggie. So, these are the rewards. And, they convince me, that, um, when we eliminate the separation, when we go… somehow whittle away at that crack, we get on the other side of the wall. We engage. We, uh, we connect with folks, and then we learn how we can, how we can, uh, build communities that are, uh, ensuring the well-being of all of its citizens.

Images: How Stereotypes Impact Racial Conditioning

 

Story Summary:

Images is a white man’s reflection about the powerful and debilitating impact of the disparaging imagery that has been historically used to shape the perception of African Americans as dangerous. While he realizes that his mistrust of African Americans was formed by racial conditioning since childhood, as an adult his conscience is burdened by the knowledge that he caused others pain when he displayed that conditioning in cross-racial interactions. He vows to make a change.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Images-How-Stereotypes-Impact-Racial-Conditioning

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why have disparaging images been used to discredit African Americans throughout the history of the United States? How might those images impact a person’s self esteem and his/her ability to gain access to the benefits of society? Cite some examples from our history.
  2.  Why are disparaging images so injurious? Is it possible to free oneself from the harmful influence of disparaging images? How? What particular strength is needed to overcome the power of disparaging images?
  3. Do you think disparaging images played a role in the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and other unarmed young black men in recent years? How do disparaging images impact a person’s sense of freedom?
  4. At what point in one’s life does ignorance fail to be a valid excuse for hurtful thinking and behavior towards others?

Resources:

  • Documentary: Ethnic Notions – California Newsreel 1987
  • Book: Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin
  • Book: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Book: Longing: Stories of Racial Healing by Phyllis and Gene Unterschuetz

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Gene. I’m gonna tell a story called Images, adapted from the book “Longings: Stories of Racial Healing.”

In 1949, when I was four years old, living in Chicago, I named my beloved, black, cocker spaniel Sambo, from a character, a favorite character in a book that I, that I really treasured as a child. I was 50, when I found out that the term, Sambo, was actually a caricature that had been applied to black men during slavery, and it was devastating, and very destructive, and had destructive, uh, repercussions. I di… wasn’t aware of that when I named my dog. Does that make a difference?

I remember a rhyme we used to, uh, to say as children to help us make choices. It was the eeny, meeny miney, mo rhyme. It went, “Eeny, meeny, miney, mo. Catch a tiger by the toe. If he hollers, let him go. Eeny, meeny, miney, mo. My mother told me to pick the very best one and you are not it.”

There were two versions to this rhyme. One involved the tiger, which was an animal I was familiar with, but I was confused because tigers didn’t have toes. And the other choice was the N-word, and I didn’t really know what the N-word was. I thought maybe it was another animal but I wasn’t sure. My parents didn’t clue me in on that. My teachers didn’t tell me. Is that okay that I didn’t know at age four?

The images I saw on TV and in the movies of black folks were… portrayed them as either buffoons or savages. So, when we went into the city to zoos, and, uh, amusement parks, and so forth, I saw folks that looked like those, those people that I saw on TV. And I was ve… anxious and I stuck close to my parents. So, how did my early childhood and my adolescence prepare me to be, to be an adult?

Uh, in 1966, I decided to take a trip around the United States in my, in my car. My destination was New Orleans. The moment of travel… the moment of…the romance of travel faded the moment I left my dusty little country road and hit rural Route 72 and headed east to connect up with a… another southbound route that would take me down, down to New Orleans.

Three days later, I arrived in the Big Easy, a lonely and frightened country boy. After I walked around the, uh, French Quarter for a day, I checked into a, a hotel in an adjacent area to the, to the French Quarter. I remember the, uh, elevator attendant, who was an Afri… elderly African-American man, and I got into the elevator.

He said, um, uh, “Good evening, Sir.”

And, I, mm, kind of, mumbled, “Hello.”

Uh, so, remember my… the imagery that I had grown up with. Uh, and so, all the way up to the fifth floor, I’m really cautious about this guy.

And I’m thinking, “Ya know, I better watch out. He might, he might jump me or do something to me.”

Uh, so, we got up to the fifth floor. The doors open.

He said, “May I help you with your luggage, Sir?”

Certainly, he must have rendered this service to every patron, and probably hoped for a tip. I, all I could think of was the imagery of this black man entering my room and knockin’ me over the head and taking my stuff.

I said, “—- no!”

He was so shocked by that response. Looking back, I’m really embarrassed with that response. You know, before me, was standing a man, and because he was African-American, I automatically thought that he was dangerous. It never occurred to me, that my behavior was a response from my racial conditioning that I had received as a child. All that imagery was, was kind of guiding my reaction to, to this man in the elevator. But, you know, I, I felt, at the time, I felt that my behavior was justified. After all, I was out of my element, in a new environment. Uh, I felt cornered. I thought it was just an act of survival.

And my thought was, “Ya know, I may have to fight this guy or run for my life!”

That’s really where I was at, at the time. I know that seems kind of “over the top” today, ya know, and maybe a little, um, a little too cautious. But images are powerful, and the images that I had grown up with as a child were really what, what motivated my response to that, to that elevator attendant at that time. Does that make a difference that I wasn’t aware of that conditioning at that moment?

In California, I met… this was years later, in California, I met an African-American man, uh, and we had a long and probing discussion about race and racial healing. We had been to many of the same places in the Deep South.

And I brought up the issue that I had heard about called unfinished business, down there in the south. And, uh, so, we started talking about that. And…aa, what he, he really helped me understand it a lot better. Because he said his understanding was that the unfinished business in the south wasn’t just, uh, an issue between blacks and whites. It wasn’t just a unity issue but, in many cases, it was a family issue. Second and third cousins remembered the, uh, atrocities that grandparents and, and great-parents… grandparents had either perpetrated or, or, or, uh, endured from, from one another’s relatives.

So, uh, at one point he said, “Ya know, there’s just one thing I can’t get out of my mind.”

And I was waitin’ to hear what that was. Finally, he said, and his face was just full of pain, and I was waitin’.

He said, “It’s the idea that black people are less than human.”

And I watched his face, and, uh, I thought, “Wow!”

He sa… and then he continued, and he said, “It’s the devastating images.”

And he c… and he told me that the devastating images that have persisted throughout the centuries have made it almost impossible for white folks to accept black folks as equals. Um, h, so, we just stood there for, for a while and let that sink in. Uh, the pain that he expressed really took this to a deeper part of, of my being, ya know. Uh, because, you know, you hear a lot of things and, ya know, sometimes you can kind of abstract it. You know, you can’t really relate to it but that pain really carried it deep.

And finally, he said, “How do we get over that?”

I really had no answer for him, at that point in time, but I do have to answer that question for myself. What do we do?

So, I have knowledge now. I have knowledge about the devastating images that have, not only conditioned my own behavior, but have really impacted how we relate black to white in this, in this, uh, country.

So, I have choices to make. Who will I pick as friends? Will I visit them if they live in black community… in black neighborhoods? Uh, how will I respond to others’ pains that relate to racial injustice? How will I work with people? how will I collaborate with people who regard me with suspicion? These are challenging questions.

Uh, but the good news is that there is a… My experience is that I’ve been able to replace the negative images with positive images of a multitude of people that we’ve met along the way. Uh, so, it’s easy for me to imagine that there will be a time when we can collaborate and, uh, build communities that are devoted to our common prosperity. I ha… I have faith in that. I have no doubt that, that will take place.

So, today, my question is not a, a cautious, “Is my, is my, uh, ignorance, uh, an excuse for not being accountable?” Conscious of my responsibility to make a change, the question I ask myself is, “What can I offer – how will I make a difference?”

The Promise: A Lesson in White Privilege

 

Story Summary:

 What happens when the warm connection between a black woman and a white woman is broken by insensitivity and unconscious white privilege? Are courage, honesty, forgiveness and hope enough to heal the separation? This true story is based on the chapter “The Promise” in the book Longing: Stories of Racial Healing by Phyllis and Eugene Unterschuetz, © Bahá’í Publishing 2010.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  The-Promise-A-Lesson-in-White-Privilege

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why do you think Kathryn and Georgia chose to tell Phyllis about the things they had to teach their sons?
  2. What might have caused Randa, the waitress in the story, to withdraw so suddenly after Phyllis promised that things would “get better”?
  3. What does Phyllis mean when she asks, “Is this one of the elements of white privilege – having the option to know the truth and then forget it because it doesn’t apply to my life?” What are some other elements of white privilege?
  4. What do you think happened in Randa’s mind or heart that allowed her to respond as she did to Phyllis’s apology?

Resources:

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Phyllis Unterschuetz.  And this is adapted from a story in my book, Longing: Stories of Racial Healing.

I can’t think of a finer way to spend my time than sitting around a cozy kitchen table, with my girlfriends.  Drinking good coffee, and sharing bits of ourselves together, in that wonderfully intimate way that women have when we’re feeling safe with each other. And it was in just such a setting that I found myself late one October afternoon 1997 in New London, Connecticut. Sitting with me at the table were Catherine and Georgia. Funny, intense, passionate women, whose company I just couldn’t seem to get enough of. We were fairly new friends but we were having this sisterly feeling kind of wash over us, in great waves of laughter and companionship.

We’d been talking about our children and, kind of, sharing stories of parenting. And at one point, I noticed a definite shift in the energy of the conversation. And all of a sudden, one of the women, and then the other, also, started talking about these, these anguished decisions that they had to make as the mothers of black teenage boys. As they talked their sentences sped up and pretty soon they were, kind of, talking over one another and everything was, kind of, jumbled together. It was it was as if two different voices were coming out of two different mouths but they were really the same voice. They were saying the same things.

And I heard snatches. I remember, I remember hearing them say, “You know, they were just driving along. They weren’t doing anything wrong. They’re stopped just because they’re black. Really they weren’t doing anything wrong and all of a sudden somebody’s screaming at him through the window of their car. ‘Show me your license. Show me your registration.’ And they’re flustered. They don’t know what to do. And I have to teach my son how to move his hands so slowly so that they won’t think he’s reaching for a weapon. And I had to teach my son exactly what to do, what to say, how to look, which words he should use, and which words he should never, ever say. Otherwise he might be shot.”

And one of them said to me, “Can you imagine what that feels like. Having to teach your son those things?” You know, their faces had gotten kind of rigid and tough, as they spoke. As if any softness in such matters, even speaking them to me, could be deadly for their sons.

And me, I just sat there and tried to empathize. I tried to swallow my horror. I tried to stand in solidarity with them, you know, and say something like, “Yes, yes.  I can see what you’re saying. I can relate to what you’re telling me.” But no, instead, this horror just rose up in my throat, acidic. And I wanted to purge it by screaming out my shock and my disbelief. I wanted to say, “Here? Seriously that happens here in New England?” What did I think, did I think? That it happens only in the south? Or did I truly, on some level think, it happens only on TV and in the movies?

I wanted to say, “Those sweet boys. How could that possibly happen to them?” But, you see, if I’d said anything like that, that would have just diminished their gift to me. And so I gave them back the only thing I had of equal value, which was my honesty. And I had to say, “No…No, I can’t imagine what that feels like.” And what I didn’t say was not only can’t I imagine it but I don’t have to imagine it, you see, because I’ll never have to teach my son those things.

Not quite three years later, in the summer of 2000, my husband and I were having dinner in a restaurant with our son, Eric. We were in Wilmette, Illinois and Eric was about 21 years old at the time, if I remember correctly. And we were having the greatest time with our waitress. Her name was Randa. Randa was African-American. She was probably in her mid-30s, I’m guessing, and she was just one of these people makes you feel like you’ve been friends forever, you know, just vibrant and connective. So, towards the end of our meal, Randa came over to our table and she was carrying the pot of coffee to pour us some more. And we started talking about our kids. I think she told me a story about her young daughter. And, you know, as she was talking and we’re sharing about parenting in these chaotic times, the tone of her conversation shifted.

I should have recognized that shift but I didn’t. And she got real serious and quiet and all of a sudden, she said, “You know, it’s not actually my daughter I’m worried about.” She said, “I have a teenage son and I am so worried about him. There’s so much he has to deal with out there,” and her face had just become, lost its animation, and its joy, and its brightness, and just become burdened and weighed down, and fearful looking.

And I thought, oh, I wanted to say something just to, just to reassure her, just to make her feel better. And I thought, I know what she’s feeling because I’ve raised a teenage son. I know how hard that is, watching them struggle into maturity. And I was thinkin’, my 21 year old, and I thinkin’ things got so much better as he got older. And so instead of taking her hand, which was what I initially wanted to do, I just gestured over to my son Eric, as evidence that I knew what I was talking about. And I looked at her earnestly and I said,  “You know what? I just want to tell you that it gets better. It gets better the closer your son comes to adulthood, the better it’s going to get. The older he is, the easier it will be, I promise.”

And then everything changed. The light just went out of Randa’s eyes. Before there’d been something flowing, now this heavy veil fell between us. The light was gone. The warmth, the trust, all of that connection gone. She was gone. And in her place was this woman, standing rigidly with a pot of coffee and these blank eyes that just looked straight ahead And she just dropped our check on the table.

She said, “Yeah, whatever. If you say so,” and then she turned and walked away. And it was like I’d been slapped in the face. What happened? I just went over every word in my mind. I couldn’t imagine. Had I said something to upset her?

I started thinking through memories of conversations with other black women. Thinking maybe there I would find some clue as to what I’d said. And, you know, as soon as I did that, didn’t take but a minute and I was back in Connecticut sitting at the table with Catherine and Georgia and listening to them express, what, not their excitement for their sons to get older? But, but no. Their wish that their sons could stay young forever. Knowing that the older they got, the more danger they’d be in. Hearing their anguish as they talked about sending these precious young men out each day into a society that perceives black males as criminals. And then hearing again my own admission. “No. I don’t know what that feels like.”

So now, I knew what it was that had shattered the trust. I knew what I’d said because my promise, you see, was a fraud. Things were not necessarily going to get better for her son as he got older. And in fact, it was likely that they would get worse. It was likely that the closer he came to adulthood, the more frequently he would be perceived as dangerous and therefore the more danger he would be in.

And the thing is, the thing is, I knew this and I forgot. How is that possible to forget a truth like that? I ask myself, “Is this one of the elements of sneaky white privilege? Having the option to know something, to know the truth and then forget it because I think that it doesn’t apply to my life?” And because of my forgetting, any hopefulness that woman had felt, had been replaced by the inescapable reality that I was just one more ignorant white woman, who actually thought I knew what she faced in her life.

So, I was in there and I’m thinking what am I going to do? What am I going to do? And as soon as I said that, Catherine in Georgia came to my rescue once again. I could see and hear them, I tell you, as clearly as if they were sitting right at the table with me, finishing up their coffee. And they just looked at me, they just looked into my face, and they said, “Get up off your butt, girl, and do something.”

And I’m talking to them, these invisible women, like, and I’m saying, “I know. I know. I will. I will. Honest, I will but I don’t know what to do.”

And their voices came in a chorus, “Yes, you do. You do know.” And they were right. I did. I excuse myself from the table and I went to look for Randa. And I looked for her in the lobby, I looked for her all around the restaurant, I even looked in the smoking section in the back, which they had back in those days. I even went in the restroom and looked under the doors of the stalls trying, to find her and I couldn’t. And I was ready to go into the kitchen if I had to. And fortunately, I didn’t have to go that far because I looked up and Randa was coming out through the heavy kitchen doors and she was carrying a big tray covered with plates of food. And she just stopped when she saw me still and I, I stood in front of her just still myself waiting for some kind of inspiration.

And finally, I just opened my mouth and I just let the words fall out ineloquent and awkward. And I said to her,  “I’m sorry. I just want to tell you that I’m sorry. I know things are not the same for your son as they are for mine. I know that things will only get harder for him as he gets older. And I knew that. I knew it already but I forgot. And I know how much I hurt you and I’m sorry.” And I couldn’t see any clue on her face about how she felt and she just looked at me for a really long time. And then she turned and, you know, I thought she was just going to walk away, which wouldn’t have surprised me, really, but she didn’t walk away.

She set her tray down on a table and she turned back to me. And then she reached out her arms and she took me in her arms. She took me and she held me. And we hugged each other really tightly for several minutes.  And then all of a sudden, in that hug, she put her head down on my shoulder and she started to weep. And I tell you, I don’t know how long we stood in that embrace but we were there. We were consoling, rocking, weeping, together. Each of us giving and taking comfort at the same time. And all the activities of the restaurant bustled unheeded around us. And when her tears were finally spent, she stepped back and looked at me. And she managed a small smile and she said, “You know it is going to be OK.” She said, “With you and me, people like us, working together with the help of God. It’ll be OK. We’ll do it with His help.”

Now, I just dumbly nodded my agreement. I couldn’t speak. I don’t remember who looked away first. I don’t remember how we parted. I don’t remember how I got out the door and into the car. I just remember, the rocking, and the weeping, and the consoling, and feeling that that web of connection being rewoven as we stood there together. And the only thought in my mind, the only clear thought I had at that moment, was there’s a different promise I need to make. And this is the promise. That for the rest of my life I will work for unity. I will work for healing. I will work for justice. That is a promise I can make and that is a promise that with the help of God I can keep.

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?

The Spark of the Jew

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Over centuries, Jews have created a vibrant folklore—a rich body of stories that reflect the humor, heart, wisdom, and pain of a remarkable group of people on the path of an extraordinary history. Keeping alive this tradition are modern storytellers like Gerald Fierst, whose stories speak to the wonder, joy and sorrow of growing up Jewish.

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For Fierst, the approach of the High Holy Days always stirs vivid memories of childhood. Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year, a day on which Jews look back over the past year and forward to the year to come. It’s followed a week later by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. As a child, Gerry hated these “Days of Awe,” which required fasting, prayer, and owning up to one’s failings, petty jealousies and transgressions.

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But at the conclusion of the Day of Atonement, the ram’s horn—the shofar—is blown in the synagogue to announce the new year. With that, the slate is wiped clean and the fast is broken.

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The sound of the ram’s horn inspires in Fierst a powerful sense of wonder, and a deep feeling of connection to the lives and faith of his ancestors. “It sounds the sounds of the ages. It’s the sound of Moses coming down the mountain, the sound of the children of Israel leaving Egypt, the sound of Abraham, the father of all three of our religions.”

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The High Holy Days also bring memories of loss and sorrow. Each year when the new year comes, Fierst attends the memorial service for the dead in remembrance of his mother. Again, he waits for the ram’s horn to be blown. And that sound calls to mind a conversation Fierst had with his mother when he was a little boy. He wondered aloud what happens to people when they die, “what happens to the life force, the energy?” His mother answered, “A little bit of us goes to everyone we love.”

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And that reminds Fierst of a Yiddish expression: “the spark of the Jew.” Though he may not be an observant Jew or follow all 613 commandments, “the spark that my parents put inside of me, it lives.”

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Storytelling, according to Hasidic teaching, is a holy activity equal to Torah study or prayer. For storytellers like Gerald Fierst, it’s a way to retain the heart of traditions, and to stay connected to his ancestors, faith and community.
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THE OTHER BLOCK

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THE OTHER BLOCK

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A short story told by
professional storyteller
Erica Lann-Clark

Easily identifiable, Erica Lann-Clark tells of childhood dreams and friendships. We all have that special friend whom we were so close to in our youth. The one with whom we shared secrets and time. Ms. Lann-Clark discloses a story of her close childhood friend, Miriam. Both being Jewish and from neighboring blocks, these girls shared a bond of friendship that allowed Ms. Lann-Clark to grow in her understanding of her own Jewish heritage. Not having the devoutness that Miriam possessed, she was fascinated with the orthodox practices of her friend. She relished the opportunities to discuss and experience being Jewish in the fullest sense.

Listen and relate to the innocence of childhood, and to the closeness of having a good friend. Cherish the memory of that special friend of your youth, but recognize that childhood friends rarely extend beyond adolescence. They do, however, last forever in our recollections and make us smile with fondness.

Listen and learn from this beautiful story:

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  The-Other-Block

Full Transcript:

 

Hi, I’m Erica Lann-Clark. When I was a little girl, we were dirt poor immigrants, new to America, so we lived where the poorest of the poor lived, in Bed-Stuy. Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Bed-Stuy had dangerous gangs, so, everybody had to have their own block. The Irish block was over here. The Italian block was there. In between, was the Polish block, but the Jews had to have two blocks. Our block was right around the corner from the black block and it was where all the regular Jews lived. But way over there, was another Jewish block where the Orthodox Jews lived.

Now, everybody only played with their own group on their own block, except for me because I didn’t have a group. I mean, my parents, they were Jewish but they weren’t regular and they weren’t Orthodox. We were Holocaust escapee Jews or, as my mother would say, “You know vhat escapee Jews.”

She never used the H-word. But, on account of that, I got to play with every group on every block. And it was completely okay for my best friend to be Harold. Our apartments were right around the corner from each other. They were on the same floor. I was on the Jewish block. He was on the black block, and our fire escapes faced each other, kitty corner. And we would go out and stand on our fire escapes, and talk, and talk, and talk, and talk.

And one day, I said to my mother, “I love our fire escape. It’s my private Harold telephone.”

And she said, “Erica, in zis life, vhat you do on the fire escape, does not count.”

I thought she was prejudiced against Harold. But then she said, “Vhat counts in zis life, Erica, is zat our door is open on zis Jewish block, zis modern Jewish block, and not on zat Orthodox von.”

Oh, yeah, my mother, she didn’t believe in God, and she didn’t believe in old fashioned stuff like keeping Shabbat, and going to synagogue, and, and keeping kosher, and talking Yiddish. But for me, all of that stuff, well, there was something about it.

And then, in the school, I got a new seatmate, Miriam. And Miriam came from that other Jewish block, the Orthodox one, where they had a synagogue, and they even talked Yiddish on the street. And I was so excited.

And Miriam became my secret, sacred, s… second-best friend, and sh… her stoop became my synagogue. We’d sit there, me and her and her county… Kodak Brownie camera. And, uff, she took pictures of everything, Miriam. And, in between, she taught me how to be Jewish.

“You want to know who gets bar mitzvahed. Not us, only the boys. You know what we get?”

“What?”

“We get, when we get married, we get to wear a wig.”

“No!”

“Yes. You want to know all the secret, sacred names of God, even the secretest one you could never, never say it ’cause terrible things might happen. God might come and you wouldn’t know what to say to him. And when you write it, you have to leave one letter out. You want to learn it?”

“Yesss.”

And just then, the whole street went completely silent. “Is that God coming?”

“No, it’s the Lubavitchers! Look, they’re way Orthodox.”

And there they came, the Lubavitchers, two abreast. And they were lookin’ straight ahead like they didn’t see anybody on the street. They were wearing their long, black, shiny coats and big black hats and their payots, their sideburns hung down to… And they never cut their beards, never shaved all the way down.

And Miriam grabbed me, and grabbed her camera, and we lunged in front of them and she… Snap. Click. Took their picture but they didn’t even care. They parted around us like we’re a couple of boxes. And then from behind their backs, they wiggled their fingers at us like, ooh, waving! I was so thrilled. Finally, I had seen real Jews. I ran home, burst into the apartment.

“Ma, I finally saw real Jews, the Lubavitchers, and they waved at me.”

And she turned, “Zo, Erica, from my experiences in ze you know vhat, ve are not prejudiced. You know vhat I mean. But, in zis life, you cannot play paczki, paczki viz everyone.”

“What are you talking about, Ma?”

“I’m speaking of zis Miriam, who you like so much. And you like zees Yiddish zings zat she teaches you but you zink because you are both Jewish, you are the same. Huhhhh. Look vhere she lives. It’s like a shtetl. And look vhere ve live. Our people left the shtetl many years ago. Ve come from Vienna, a great city, and ve live on zis modern block and, you mark my vords. Von day, ve vill get out of here. But your Miriam? Ahhh! Vhen she is an old woman, an alteh bubbe, she vill still be zer on zet Lubavitcher block in her vig!”

And as she said that, Miriam shriveled into an old Jewish woman, who schleps her folding chair down from her apartment to the mischpoke of folding chairs on the sidewalk. And in the winter, they all chase the sun, and in the summer, they all chase the shade.

And I never sat on Miriam’s stoop again. And my mom was right. We got out.

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