I was in the 3rd grade at a predominately white private school. I was the only black girl in my class. The previous year when I was in the 2nd grade, I met another black girl who was in the 1st grade. She was the one who became my friend and we played together during recess.
My third grade year was difficult because my black friend was no longer there. I was a year older and more aware of my differences because they were brought to my attention. I can still remember the full names of the girls who taunted my differences. I can still remember the full names of the Jewish girl and the tiny white girl with thick glasses who became my best friends.
We had Show & Tell on Fridays. The ‘IT’ thing for all the girls to bring to school was their cabbage patch dolls. The redheaded girl with freckles had a cabbage patch doll with orange hair and freckles. The blonde girls had cabbage patch dolls with yellow hair and hazel or blue eyes. The girl from Spain had a cabbage patch doll with straight black hair. The hair on the cabbage patch doll was made from yarn.
Friday was my least favorite day at school because I never had anything cool to take, and I didn’t own a cabbage patch doll. One day my mom surprised me with a cabbage patch doll. I feigned excitement, but I knew she wasn’t a real cabbage patch doll. She didn’t come with the birth certificate (certificate of authenticity), that showed my name and hers. Additionally, she was black, and she had black cornrows in her hair. She looked like me.
I can imagine the thrill my mom must have had when she found a black cabbage patch doll with cornrows. As a mom today, that makes me feel warm and fuzzy to tears.
However at age seven, I had already learned that I was a contrast to my classmates similar. No one was excited about my doll when I took her to school and the insecurity of my differences were on the rise. The girls would ask me why I never wore my hair out. My classmates always questioned my lunch. I was a vegetarian and they didn’t understand fake meat. Additionally I was an early bloomer and boys would pull the straps on my training bra.
I can still remember the names of the teachers who made me feel bad, and I can still remember the teachers who made a difference. In the third grade I had a teacher who made a difference. I only remember her as Miss “Swears” (incorrect spelling/correct pronunciation). She didn’t complete the school year because she got married and moved away. I cannot remember if ‘Swears’ was her married name or her maiden name but in my memory, both were hard to spell.
Before Miss Swears left, she pulled me aside when no one was around. She gave me a book with white and black models in it. She told me that I was beautiful, I was special, and that I was no different from the girls in my class. She told me that I was smart and that I could be anyone I wanted to be. Her words withdrew my uncertainties and gave me hope.
Today it makes me feel warm and fuzzy to tears to know that she noticed me, and that she cared enough to teach me an important lesson on her way out.
There are many people who have been in and out of my life who left no impression at all. How would you chose to be remembered? Helpful, indifferent or not at all?
This is a lesson for all of us. We can chose to ignore someone in a situation who is not our problem or we can give someone hope. Spread hope, so that hope comes around and goes around.
This post is my contribution to a blog relay to celebrate the 2012 Olympics. The theme is to write about ‘Hope’.
I’ve told my story, now it’s your turn to tell yours. Please check out a beautiful story of hope, titled, This Little Light of Mine, written by Jenn Gilman. Anyone can participate and spread Hope around the blogging community. I am officially passing my baton to Antoinette Dickson, Jen, and Mare Ball at: