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Solid Rock Baptist Church Turns 65 Years Old

I got up early, ironed my suit, picked up Mrs. B’s wrist corsage I ordered for her from Bloomies, picked up some sheer “buff” hose at Walgreens, and set my hair.

I attended the Solid Rock Baptist Church 65th Anniversary brunch at a banquet hall near the Oakland Airport with Mrs. B.  It was an unprecedented experience for me, in every way.  I am pretty sure it is the first time that I have been the racial minority in a room of people.  Out of approximately 80 attendees, I was one of 3 whites.  In addition to the pastor of Solid Rock, there were at least five other Baptist preachers in attendance who were visiting to express their support for Solid Rock.  Many of Mrs. B’s amazing family were in attendance including her two surviving children, and several grandchildren.  None of her great-grandchildren or great-great-grandchildren were able to come, perhaps a combination of the high price of tickets and distance.  I know Mrs. B’s children fairly well, since they are often at her house, but I’d never met her grandchildren.  They were all so kind to me, as was every single person there.  Mrs. B’s grandchildren, who are all significantly my senior, all greeted me with open arms–literally–thanking me for looking out for their grandmother.  They insisted on hugging me at first sight.  The members of the congregation were equally as welcoming and went out of their way to make me feel comfortable.  

The program was amazing and included a lot of preaching.  The pastors were all phenomenal.  I absolutely loved it.  As much as it was something I’d never experienced before, I felt oddly at home, and as if these people’s faith were as much theirs as mine.  We gave thanks, we prayed, and we said Amen, a lot.  They did something I loved called “Words of Encouragement.”  These presentations were made by two different visiting pastors who gave encouragement to the church as a whole, and Solid Rock’s pastor, respectively.  What they each said was different, but I just loved the concept of Encouragement.  One of the pastors told us: “we ALL need encouragement.”  Nothing could be more true.

The praise team sang, and there was even a band.  The keynote speaker was Pastor John Waiters from Mount Olive Baptist Church in Palo Alto.  His words were powerful, but what was even deeper was just looking into his burning eyes as he spoke to all of us, each and every one of us, and demanded that we recognize Jesus as our Savior.

Mrs. B was honored by the church.  She has served Solid Rock for sixty-four of its sixty-five years.  She was the choir director for fifty of those years.  And she looks just as good as she did almost the whole time.  Two other nonagenarians were honored for their service along with her.  According to the pastor, each had their individual quirks that distinguished them: one of the sisters was known for saying not to cross her, lest she…well you know, the other sister was the fashion queen, best dressed at church, and Mrs. B has always been known to be the first in church every Sunday all these sixty-four years, and strutting up the steps quick with a switch in her hips.  When Mrs. B heard the pastor say so she stood up and shook it.  It was beautiful.

By the end of the marathon four hour event I felt like I was friends with everyone in the room.  Solid Rock’s pastor, Michael Wright, told me I was welcome anytime at his church.  All the Sisters on the anniversary committee hugged me and told me to come back soon.

I told them all it was a privilege and honor to be there, and that I appreciated their invitation.

The afternoon ended with a hundred hugs, lots of pictures, and lots of happiness.  

I took Mrs. B to get the Colonel on the way home so she wouldn’t have to cook for herself, as she does most nights, in spite of her ninety-three years.   It was a beautiful day.

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T.G.I.F. Part I

Last week was a long, hard one for me, so when I was done teaching on Friday I felt less exuberant than worn down, worn out, and worn left and right.  I thought I had to do something for me.  

I got home and remembered I had to go next door to Mrs. B’s to pick up my ticket for her big church event on Saturday: the church’s 65th anniversary celebration.  Mrs. B is my ninety-three year old next door neighbor.  

When I got over to Mrs. B’s I found her in quite a state.  She is highly functional, both physically and mentally, for her age but she was in a state.  She has been REALLY worried about the event on Saturday.  There had been some confusion regarding the tickets and the seating arrangement at her table, and though it’s illogical, Mrs. B was so stressed out she hadn’t barely slept all week.  

I had promised Mrs. B that I would bring over the dress I planned to wear so that she could approve it.  She wanted someone to talk to about clothing since her daughter who would usually come up from Stockton and spend the night before an event like this had to stay home for an event in Stockton on Friday.  I was planning on wearing a vintage Carolina Herrera dress: black with a white upper bodice and big collar.  Very Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s kind of a vibe.  A nice column design, with the collar for flare and a hem that hits below the knee–how could I go wrong?  I had originally bought the dress to become a godmother, and I thought it was perfect.  

When I brought it to Mrs. B she said “do you have anything with longer sleeves?  It’s semi-formal, but you don’t have to dress that fancy.”  I told her no problem and ran home to get something else.  Thank goodness I had the sense seek her approval.

I brought over a cream colored long-sleeved silk blouse and a black skirt.  She said, “do you have anything…[long pause] with more color?”  Mrs. B was planning to wear a red suit.  Now, being the faux-New Yorker that I am, my wardrobe is mostly made up of black, with a splash of gray, navy blue, and cream thrown in for good measure.  I own a pair of hot pink Fendi flats but that’s about it.  So I said, “maybe I could wear a suit?”  This seemed to meet with approval.  I told Mrs. B that the only skirt suit (knowing that pants were NOT OK) I owned was cotton, and therefore less formal.  She said that was OK and told me to go get the suit.

The navy blue cotton suit it was.  Mrs. B approved, and reminded me to wear hose.  (I hate hose, don’t own “hose” and only ever occasionally wear opaque black tights).  

Wardrobe: check.

Note to self: channelling a high-class hooker character when making wardrobe choices may fly in the Episcopal church but has no place, however iconic, in a Southern Baptist church’s 65th anniversary celebration.  As Mrs. B’s granddaughter (who is a good decade older than me) would tell me the following day, “it’s a cultural thing.” 

This was more the look of the day:

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Education ### Assignment 1

In this course equity is viewed as setting high expectations, providing accessible opportunities to learn and ushering each student through meaningful outcomes. The purpose of this laboratory is to explore personal, interpersonal, and institutional issues involved in becoming a teacher leader for educational equity.  This course will have you examine the personal and institutional impact of the intersection of oppressions surrounding race, ethnicity, language, gender, and class.  

Alliances and Trust

 

How did school experiences affect your ability to trust others?  What was helpful and what was harmful?

 

I became very distrustful of adults and teachers through high school.  There were the concrete reasons, and the vague, emotional reasons.  I can’t think of any “helpful” experiences, only harmful ones.  One incident had a huge impact on me and my ability to trust others when I was in 10th grade.  In my school, Lower School was 7-9 and Upper School was 10-12.  One of my friends was taking her finals early due to a family vacation.  She was given a test to take in the classroom of one of the English faculty, who at the time also served as the Dean of Students.  This friend of mine, “Leslie,” was one of the smartest girls in the school, and also one of the most troubled.  Leslie was quite the kleptomaniac actually.  That day Leslie finished her exam early.  Due to the honor code in place at the school and the fact that she was the only individual taking the test, she was left to work on her own without a proctor.  When she finished the exam she did what any other super-smart, super-troubled kleptomaniac would do and started looking through the Dean’s files.

 

What she found of interest was a hand-written list.  It was written in the exaggerated curlicue cursive of our 9th grade science teacher. 

 

I remember it so clearly.  It was written on yellow lined legal paper, the kind that you tear off a pad at the top.  The writing was in red rolling ball liquid pen—NOT ballpoint.  Down the left side of each of the four or so pages was the name of each of the 86 young women in our class (it was an all-women preparatory school). 

 

Next to each of the names were notes.  A small number of the names were left blank.  Most contained words, phrases, and occasionally small paragraphs.   (Even though I laugh when I think about this usually, to write it all down actually still makes my blood boil).  I can photographically recall them almost in alphabetical order:

 

Nn. parents are friends of [Johnny] Cochran…

Nn. father molested her as a child…current stepfather…

Nn. sexuality: ?

Nn. sleeps where ever…

Nn. Dad came out of the closet, mom flipped out…

Nn. works hard for her B’s, trustee kid

Nn. Mt. St. Helen’s kid, dad’s a charmer…not

Nn. nice girl, nutty parents

 

And the list went on.  Leslie naturally showed the list to me and two of our best friends.  At the time several of us were on the editorial board of the school newspaper.  We thought, “This is IT! We’ll ruin them!  We’ll show them!”

 

Leslie took a copy (we made hundreds at Kinko’s) to the Headmistress, along with threats of not just the school newspaper, but the Los Angeles Times.  We had readied the attack.

 

What she got in the headmistress’ office was a flat, nonplussed response.  The list, she said, was simply confidential notes from a meeting that takes place every year between the 9th and 10th grade faculty to discuss any special concerns or needs regarding individual students.  She saw no problem with its contents and wasn’t compelled to explain any of it in any other way.  No further explanation or apology was given.

 

The headmistress told Leslie that she could be expelled for stealing according to the honor code.  But since Leslie was a National Merit Finalist and a third generation legacy at the school, she was given a slap on the wrist.  She wrote a research paper on the history of the honor code at our school, or something else equally lenient and ridiculous.

 

What I learned as a teenager/assumptions I made: 

 

1. Adults are evil, judgmental, classist, racist, and sexist.  (So if you’re Black and you’re friends with Johnny Cochran you…are smart? Are not? Are someone to be feared?…or wait…remind me of how that is supposed to impact a child’s learning?  So your teachers are judging you for sexual experimentation?  So your teachers got together to decide whether or not your dad is cool?  Or maybe you’re not allowed to get B’s if your dad’s a trustee member, or you’re only getting B’s because you’re doing C work but you’re dad is powerful???)

2. Our teachers cared more about gossiping about students and their families than our education (priced, in 1995 at 15K/year).

3.  There is no justice for teenagers.

4. If you’re smart enough/rich enough/upper class enough you can get away with anything.

 

How do these experiences affect you now?

 

Most of the time they don’t affect me at all.  I don’t walk around with a chip on my shoulder.  When I see faculty and staff from my alma mater I smile and make small talk without engaging in fantasies of public hangings and the like.  I actively dislike my alma mater, and take issue with many facets of it, but this experience isn’t totally paramount.  I take the experience as a whole, rather than a laundry list of transgressions and offenses.

 

Since I’ve been a teacher I’ve found myself in SOMEWHAT similar situations and conversations to the one the headmistress claimed those faculty were having.  Teaching is personal business, and to do it you get pretty caught up and involved in your students’ personal lives. 

 

Keeping all this in mind, I’ve tried hard to make sure that any time I’m talking about something as sensitive as molestation, grades, sexuality, and parents, that I keep the conversation constructively focused on how this information impacts learning and how we can help the student.

 

What still confuses me about my experience as a student is 1) why the conversation my teachers had focused so much on the parents’ social and class standing/affiliation and 2) why in the world anyone would write it all down, and in such and obviously insensitive and sarcastic tone.  Or rather, I’m not confused.  I know.  And I’m disappointed.  

 

One of my cardinal rules of teaching is NO SARCASM.  I’ve worked largely with 6th-8th graders, and the fact is, you can’t rely on all students of that age to understand sarcasm.  Now, even if I end up only working with 9th-12th graders, or college or graduate students for that matter I still argue: NO SARCASM. 

 

Sarcasm can be funny between friends, in the Coen brothers’ films, and on a Friday night at a bar.  Maybe it has something to do with the traditional Eastern/Southern American (as in Pennsylvania and Tennessee) families I come from, but in spite of the comic possibilities, sarcasm is very frowned upon.  When there is a standard like that set in my family, it can sound arbitrary and puritanical, but usually there are good reasons behind it. 

 

Besides what many elders in my family would say (sarcasm is un-Christian), sarcasm is harsh, bitter, and usually involves derision.  Sarcasm is often cutting and often comes in the form of a taunt. 

 

If you employ sarcasm (bitterness, taunting, derision) towards or around your students, how can they trust you?  How do they know that they will not be the next targets?  It follows to ask then, how will they learn, if they fear, hate, or distrust you?  Why would they want to?

 

What in your current situation affects your ability to trust other and others abilities to trust you?

 

I still have difficulty trusting others until they have shown me DIRECTLY that they have respect for me.  I try to engender trust by showing others DIRECTLY that I respect them.

 

What has helped or been a hindrance to forming alliances across racial lines?

 

As a white person, it has helped me to study and inform myself of the history and ongoing conditions that lead people of non-white backgrounds to distrust whites.  Along the way, I have had the opportunity to learn from, work with, and have a good time with people who come from different racial backgrounds than me.  Being aware of my own issues of trust and concurrent fear that I feel in different situations has led me to be more aware of how others, particularly people of other races, might experience different kinds of fear and distrust AND how the bases for their fears and distrust DIFFER from mine in that they are HISTORICALLY-, CULTURALLY-, AND INSTITUTIONALLY-BASED.

 

To be explicit and honest: I treat people of other races differently than I treat other white people.  For example, when a Black parent comes for a parent-teacher conference with me about their ADHD diagnosed, 12-year-old son who drives every teacher nuts, I make SURE that that parent knows that I am not going to give up on their son.  I make SURE they know that I am not going to put him away in the difficult-young-black-boy category and close the door.  I make SURE that they know that I value their son’s mind, and don’t discount it because of how he looks, how he acts, and the stereotypes that are perpetuated in our society on our TV’s, in newspapers, and in Hollywood movies. 

 

Similarly, if I go into a graduate class that looks to be all white, save one dark-skinned woman, I might try to engage her.  I would want to let her know that I value her presence and that I’m glad she’s there.  Because I imagine it can be scary to be in a room of people where no one looks like you.  At least I know it would be scary for me.  Then again, it might also be angering, frustrating, annoying, uncomfortable, or unpleasant.  I don’t profess to understand what it feels like to be the only not white person in the room.  And I don’t treat non-white people differently than I would treat any white person on whom I would like to make a good impression, but I might make a little more effort to let that person know that their opinion of me matters to me just as much as any white person’s. 

 

Then, in both cases, as a closer and more intimate relationship with the Black parent or the dark-skinned classmate has formed, I let have them know in subtle or explicit ways that I acknowledge the existence of institutionalized racism: that I believe that the U.S. built its power by oppressing people of color, that I know whites are guaranteed privileges that people of other races might never have access to, and that I too see this as a problem and that I too would like to work to change it.

 

Is this correct?  Am I perfect?  Please. 

 

I know that it’s helped me form alliances across racial lines.  I know it’s a starting point.  I know that I have a lot to learn.  I know that all I’m doing really is treating every other person the way I would like and expect to be treated. 

 

It’s the Christian way.

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