As those of you have been here for a while know, Our Land began as a worried-mommy blog post, in which I wondered whether a school photo of my son was adorable or him desperately needing a break. I wondered whether I was looking at autism. People responded, and it’s grown into a series of amazing voices, many that don’t have anything to do with special needs. Our Land is bigger and more important than the place from which it started. It’s the place that we strive to get to in our minds, our hearts, and our communities. It’s the place where a person’s walk, talk, hair color, skin color, sexual orientation, style of outdated shoes, and all of the whatevers don’t matter. What matters is a person’s heart. What matters is his or her ability to see empathy and wonder in this world, and to spread it. For us all to see and to sew what’s important.
I’m beyond thrilled to welcome today’s voice: my good friend Kenya, from Here’s the thing... Kenya is talented, warm, funny, and inspiring. Each one of her stories provides a look into her home, her family, and her perspective. Her words have made me laugh out loud, they’ve made me cry, and they’re always welcoming. If you don’t know her, please go visit Here’s the thing... after reading the below. You won’t regret it, I promise.
What comes around, goes around…
This was originally posted on Here’s the thing...
From 1977 to 1981, I attended a predominately white private school and I was the only black girl in my class. When I was in 2nd grade, I met another black girl who was in the 1st grade. She was the one who became my friend and we played together during recess.
The following year was difficult for me because my black friend was no longer there. I was a year older and more aware of my differences because they were brought to my attention. I can still remember the full names of the girls who taunted my differences. I can still remember the full names of the Jewish girl and the tiny white girl with thick glasses who became my best friends.
We had Show & Tell on Fridays. The ‘IT’ thing for all the girls to bring to school was their cabbage patch doll. The redheaded girl with freckles had a cabbage patch doll with orange hair and freckles. The blonde girls had cabbage patch dolls with yellow hair and hazel or blue eyes. The girl from Spain had a cabbage patch doll with straight black hair. The hair on the cabbage patch doll was made from yarn. Friday was my least favorite day at school because I never had anything cool to take, and I didn’t own a cabbage patch doll.
One day my mom surprised me with a cabbage patch doll. I feigned excitement, but I knew she wasn’t a real cabbage patch doll. She didn’t come with the birth certificate (certificate of authenticity) that showed my name and hers. Additionally, she was black, and she had black cornrows in her hair. She looked like me. I can imagine the thrill my mom must have had when she found a black cabbage patch doll with cornrows. As a mom today, that makes me feel warm and fuzzy to tears.
However, at that age, I had already learned that I was a contrast to my classmates similar. No one was excited about my doll when I took her to school and the insecurity of my differences was on the rise. The girls would ask me why I never wore my hair out. My classmates always questioned my lunch. I was a vegetarian and they didn’t understand fake meat. Additionally I was an early bloomer and boys would pull the straps on my training bra.
I can still remember the names of the teachers who made me feel bad, and I can still remember the teachers who made a difference. One of the teachers who I only remember as Miss “Swears” (incorrect spelling/correct pronunciation) didn’t complete the school year because she got married and moved away. I cannot remember if ‘Swears’ was her married name or her maiden name but in my memory, both were hard to spell.
Before Miss Swears left, she pulled me aside when no one was around. She gave me a book with white and black models in it. She told me that I was beautiful, I was special, and that I was no different from the girls in my class. She told me that I was smart and that I could be anyone I wanted to be. Her words withdrew my uncertainties and gave me hope. Today it makes me feel warm and fuzzy to tears to know that she noticed me, and that she cared enough to teach me an important lesson on her way out.
There are many people who have been in and out of my life who left no impression at all. How would you choose to be remembered? Helpful, indifferent or not at all?
This is a lesson for all of us. We can chose to ignore someone in a situation who is not our problem or we can give someone hope. Spread hope, so that hope comes around and goes around.
Update from Kenya: Every child should have the “Miss Swears” experience. Last school year, Christopher was in the second grade and I had to meet with his teacher when we were only 30 days into the school year. He repeatedly came home sad, saying how he didn’t like school. He said his teacher yelled a lot and he didn’t think she liked him. He did not want me to meet with her. This broke my heart. Empathetically, I flashed back to my formidable elementary school years.
It took me a few days to put Mama Bear at rest and asked for a confidential meeting. Ultimately Christopher’s teacher and I had a good meeting and established a parent/teacher relationship based on e-mail communication. She confided that she felt like she was in over her head. She was coming from 25 years teaching 5th grade, to teaching 2nd grade and she had a lot going on. I explained how impressionable his age group would be with positive reinforcement. Each day I would ask Christopher how his day was. One day he said, “It was actually pretty good.” While I couldn’t undo how the school year started out, I was able to lend what I could to improve his second grade experience. “The good” became the more prominent memory.
I told you that her words would suck you in. And, she made me cry again. It was “Spread hope, so that hope comes around and goes around.” Kenya is amazing. Here’s a bit more about her:
Kenya G. Johnson is a freelance writer, editor, blogger of Here’s the thing... and the author of The Christopher Chronicles. It’s a delightful, warm and hilarious compilation of adorable phrases and thoughts from her son Christopher. Kenya is one of those women who makes me feel like we’re having a back-and-forth conversation in real life through our Twitter chats and blog commentary. In real life, I imagine that she often says “Here’s the thing…” just as she does in her writing. I love it. She’s currently working on three writing projects. Kenya resides in Jacksonville, North Carolina, with her husband and her son.
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. You have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars, to change the world.” – Harriet Tubman