I spent my spring break this past week in good ole Jackson, Mississippi. Going into the trip, I had never visited Jackson and what I knew about it came from my favorite book “The Help”, which is set during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. My sister had told me that Jackson’s public school system was severely struggling, but honestly, I did not really understand what that meant until I went there.
I talked about in earlier posts how true awareness of racism can only come from encountering people subject to that racism. In conjunction with that belief, looking back now, I don’t think I was ever truly aware of the racist institutions of our society because I had never encountered them in a personal way. This week changed that.
On Monday, as my group walked up the stairs of the school, I felt my anxiety levels rise. The area of town we were in was really run down and the school we were walking into looked almost identical to the school from the movie “Matilda” (aka intimidating and hopeless).
But as soon as I stepped through the doors, my anxiety instantly evaporated. On the steps were written the multiplication tables in all the colors of the rainbow. There were posters and artwork covering the gray of the walls, showcasing the talent of the students proudly. There were teachers chatting in the hallway, acting out their stories with big hand movements and lively facial expressions. But the best part of all was the sound of the kids laughing uncontrollably. This place had a pulse that I thought only human beings could possess and I was mesmerized.
Spencer, my teaching partner for the week, and I walked into the first grade classroom and immediately were pummeled with hugs and questions. There was Nemeka who always listened to the teacher the first time but was never afraid to tell her peers to sit down and shut up. There was Matthew who definitely marched to the beat of his own drum but ultimately just wanted someone to pay attention to him. There was Jermere who didn’t like homework very much but was always trying to teach me how to braid hair. There was Kyron who was faster than anyone at addition and subtraction but could “juju on that beat” better than anyone I know. And this isn’t even all the kids. It’s like as soon as I walked in that classroom I handed over my heart and they all ran and grabbed for it, leaving their little individual fingerprints on every square inch.
But as much as those fingerprints were wonderful, they also hurt in a way I did not expect. This school was all black children, and all I could think about was how intelligent and loving these kids were, but how, because of the circumstances they were born into, they never will get the same opportunities I did, they will never get to reach their fullest potential in some ways.
(I ran out of words, but I still have so much to say and so many stories to share. So my next posts will be more about this place and these kids and how it affected my view on race in America.)