Saturday, January 24, 2009

Yes, You Can!

I can't let this week end without writing something about the inauguration of Barak Obama. Normally I won't be writing much about politics. I'll just say up front that I am a "yellow dog Democrat." So of course I voted for Obama, and I'm thrilled and excited that he is our new president.

But what I'm thinking about this week is how far we've come as a nation since my youth.

I was fortunate to be raised without prejudice. I spent my childhood isolated in nearly all white communities, so I seldom interacted with people of color. Growing up in the fifties and sixties, though, of course I heard racist comments.

In the sixties, during high school, I got acquainted with black kids whenever I went to church activities sponsored by the region. I remember trying to imagine what it would be like to be black. We sang "We Shall Overcome" a lot.

In college, I tutored Native American and black kids. I student taught in an all black school under the supervision of a black teacher. Those experiences served me well, as I learned about cultural differences.

My first year of teaching was in 1969-70 in rural Virginia, not far from our nation's capital. Our school district had been ordered to integrate. Many small schools (as few as two rooms)were closed and a new school was built for first through seventh graders. I taught third grade, and my students had never attended school with children of another race. They were nervous, but I was young and idealistic, and I expected everything to go smoothly. And it did! Although there were tensions in other classrooms, my children adjusted well. I loved both my "vanilla" kids and my "chocolate" kids, and they all knew it.

During my teaching career, I taught more minority students than white children. I taught Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans, blacks, and whites.

Along the way I formed friendships with minority teachers. My own children attended schools in which they interacted with all kinds of kids. In fact, in their high school, white kids were a minority. I got to know the parents of my children's friends.

Throughout the years, our society was changing, at least as I experienced it in Oklahoma City. I grew close to people of different races through association with them in different areas of my life. I spent six years as part of a small teaching staff that was largely black, and I thoroughly enjoyed that experience. My relationships with people unlike me grew more and more relaxed.

When Obama won, I thought of all the people of color that I have loved, and I rejoiced that a black man had gained that kind of acceptance in America. I thought of all my personal struggles as I learned about cultural differences. I thought about the many episodes in which I tried to guide children of different races as they clashed with each other. Obama's election validated my efforts. People like me--and my black, Hispanic, Native American and Asian friends who reached out to me--had indeed made a difference.

We haven't solved all the problems associated with race, of course. We haven't completely overcome racism. But Obama's election has shown us that we are overcoming, and I am so pleased.

Here's to all the minority students I've taught: Barak Obama has proven what I've told you. You can be anything you want to be, even the president of the United States of America. Yes, you can.


Marsha said...

Jeannie - Please know how delighted I was to read and share your new blog! I, too, am an Obama supporter and was SURE that he was going to be the successful presidential candidate! How lucky we are! I do find it interesting that we all see him as a "black" man. We tend to forget that his mother was white. It is still somewhat sad to me that our nation as a whole still labels people according to race, and it is particularly sad and no doubt challenging to those individuals of mixed race. A friend said to me recently that she felt that "white" people have labeled those of mixed race, i.e. Obama, as "black" even though they are only half black or even less! How true. But I continue to be hopeful that with his leadership, we can take futher steps as a nation to see people for who they are and stop segregating them into categories as we have continued to do for way too long!

smeade said...

Hi Jeannie! What a great blog. I've learned so much about you from just this little bit. Hope to see you soon.

Sara McAlister

drlobojo said...

It is important to note that Obama chose early on in his life to live it as a black man. He has written extensively about that decision. But Marsha's point about cultural labeling is still valid.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. This is a test to see if I can blog with you my SHHS'65 friend. Sherri