Learning Lessons

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I hope we have reached a pivotal historical time in our country, although I am hesitant to be too hopeful.

Back in 1970, I was a shy young white woman thrust into an elementary school of 2,000 students in South Los Angeles. Those fourth graders allowed me to learn how to teach — and learn.

One of the lessons I learned was that even in post-1968, these children were horrified to learn I thought their ancestors came from Africa. All they knew of Africa came from cartoons — and Africans were all pygmies and cannibals.

Another lesson I learned was that the darkest student was also the most bullied. I saw the effects of racism on self-image and self-hated firsthand.

Although I eventually married and transferred to Valley schools with mostly Latino students, I still treasure those years and the children who taught me so much. I raised two assertively anti-racist daughters. In fact, my elder daughter minored in African-American studies at Berkeley, in part because of her “soul mate,” her black fifth grade teacher who also taught her about social justice.

Now my younger daughter and family and my husband and I live in Santa Barbara. We continue the lessons with our two grandchildren. And I write young adult novels with diverse characters and themes of social justice and resilience in the face of adversity. Still trying to do my part to educate about how a quarter teaspoon of melanin ain’t no big thing.

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