Life Lessons Learned - Integration Done Well
|My Fifth Grade Class|
I am in the center with the knee-high blue socks and I still remember that dress. It was Red, White, and Blue. Jeffery is sitting on stage right above me.
|Miss Gladys Scott|
I grew up in a small Texas town. I went to an all white school until I was in 5th grade in 1971 when School Desegregation began in my school. The first week of school in 5th grade out on the playground, a boy named Jeffery and I were talking in a group. Somehow during the conversation he called me a "Cracker." I had no idea what a Cracker was, had never heard it before, but I didn't like the way he said it so I responded by calling him the "N" word. He puffed up and slapped me. I slapped him back and just when we were really about to get into it, Miss Scott, the Principal came out of nowhere, grabbed both of us by our arms and dragged us off the playground into our school and planted us side-by-side in her office!
Miss Scott had been my Principal since first grade. I feared her! She was rare! She was a woman in a Man's world! All of the other Principals in our town were male. She was the only female Principal I knew and I think even all of the other Principals in town feared her! She ruled through fear and was the keeper of Pandora's Box! If you did something really bad, you got your name put in Pandora's Box! I knew that day that Jeffery and I had sealed our fate because on that day, two more names would go into the abyss of Pandora's Box!
We sat in her office while she explained our behavior would not be tolerated. I remember being so confused. I really wasn't mad a Jeffery and I don't think he was mad at me. I think we were both just curious and had been testing the waters of Integration.
Next, the worst thing that could possibly happen, happened! Miss Scott called our Mothers! Our mothers arrived at school, and Miss Scott sent both of us home with them for the rest of the day!
You know, 5th grade was a long time ago. I am now 53 years old and I remember that day as if it were yesterday. On that day, I learned how it felt to be judged and taunted by another person unjustly because of the color of one's skin. Jeffery and I continued through school, graduated together and still, after all of these years, are friends. We keep up with each other through Facebook and I regard him as one of my dearest friends.
I am thankful for Miss Scott and how she knew immediately how to handle us equally, let us know we were wrong and how our behavior was not acceptable. That is all it took because we both felt we were treated fairly. We learned a life lesson and were the ones that set the standard for how others were to be treated and how discipline would be enforced in our school from that day forward!
I think it was an advantage for us too that we grew up in a small town. We knew everyone in our grade as well as everyone in our entire school. High School housed everyone from 9-12th grade. We were all one group and because it was not such a large school, we interacted with everyone and and discord within the group was not ever really of a racial nature. We all made the same mistakes one makes growing up, we all shared our triumphs when it came to school loyalty and pride, and rivalry between other schools, you could certainly count on all of us standing together as one! That bond remains with all of us today. Integration worked for our small town in Texas and for that, I am thankful.
A couple of years ago, one of my sons joined a prestigious country club. He had worked there as a cart boy during college and then played professional golf for three years after graduation. He was able to become a member of the country club and this was a milestone for him. He invited my husband and me to dinner with him there one night. We were so excited. I told everyone where we were going! We arrived, he gave us a tour, and then we started to the dining room. There was a sign as the base of the stairway that said, "Men's Smoker Evening." My son went upstairs and soon returned. He said it was a Men Only evening and the other dining facilities at the club were closed that night. He immediately said he would take us somewhere else to eat. I told he and my husband to go on upstairs, I would be fine and for them to enjoy themselves. They both hesitated. I understood. If it had been a "Girls Night Out" party and the tables were turned I don't think they would have been offended so I wasn't really offended at all. I think different groups deserve to be unique and there are times when I prefer being with an all female group. I sat downstairs and did some people watching which I love to do and my son and husband returned in about half an hour and all was well.
That evening, although I was fine with the circumstances, was the first time in my life I had ever known what it was like to be excluded because of one's gender. I had been so excited about being there as my son's guest. He had no idea it was Men's night and he was so embarrassed for me. That made it worse for me because I felt singled out even more. Again, I have no problem with Men's Smoker Nights. I am glad this evening unfolded the way it did because it gave me the experience of exclusion in a way that would make me stronger, more compassionate and understanding. I had always been included. I had always been invited to parties, was elected as a cheerleader, was always elected as a class officer, was Most Beautiful of my class two years in a row, and inclusion was standard for me. It was good for me to get a dose of exclusion. Another life lesson learned.
In today's society I am bothered with tension of racial and social unrest. I long for people like Miss Scott. I feel we need people like Miss Scott to grab us, pull us out of the group on the playground and plant us in a Principal's office to think about how our words and actions affect others. I also think we need more people to be acceptable of people groups. It is alright to have seperate groups as long as they are not practicing exclusion with malice. There is right and there is wrong. To be discrimated against because of one's color, gender or in any other way that makes that person feel segregated is unacceptable.
I feel that all boils down to what lies within each one of us. We all know how it feels to be singled out as being different and we all know the hurt that comes when one feels excluded. Now, more than ever we need to be mindful of that and consider others in a way so that every one of us will feel validated. We need to be more consious about this when raising our young so that the cycle will halt. There are plenty of other things we are facing in our communities, our nation, and in our world to let this undermine us when during these times of unrest it is more important than ever to be standing together as "We the People" - united as one.
The years passed in my small Texas town and Miss Scott continued to be in my life. She was a member of my church. As a grown woman I began to realize how she really was someone that broke through glass ceilings. She was an administrator when most women in education at that time were teachers. Through my church I developed a relationship with her as a friend. I was able to tell her how she had influenced my life and I even wrote a letter to her sharing about how I admired her. I thanked her for teaching me life lessons. She died only a couple of years ago after living a long full life. I will forever be thankful for having Gladys Scott in my life.