Friday, January 15, 2010

January 15, 1970

Most school assemblies fade from memory, or merge into a vague blur. Not that one.

As we walked in, every twentieth student was handed a mask from the art class and assigned to sit in two rows of chairs at the front: white masks to the front, black to the back. That, we were told, was the world our teachers grew up in, and the world we were blessed not to inherit.

We didn't just sing "We shall overcome" that day. We sang "Before I'll be a slave, I'll be buried in my grave," and we sang "Gonna keep on a walking, keep on a talking, walking up to freedom land."

And Mrs. Richards told us bluntly: "No national holiday. This is a day for learning. You belong here in school, and we all--adults and children-- belong at work building the dream."

Like your parents, your best teachers get into your bones. In big decisions and small ones, you notice what they will respect and what would make them quietly shake their heads. Only rarely do you choose a path that could draw even one of those forbidding glances.

My best teachers were men and women who walked the real walk of civil rights, talked the real talk of sharing our lives with people from different backgrounds, and taught their students not to let anyone turn us around on that long walk into beloved community.

I'm still scoring my work against their expectations today.

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