UCA champs. This is Meredith speaking. Before I get to the meat of this blog post I just have to take some space to attempt to articulate how much respect and love I have for the hard-working best pal of mine who usually posts on this blog- Kalie George. It is literally impossible for me to put into words all that she does for the school to be successful partly because I don’t even know half of the things she takes care of because I put my blinders on so I can focus on the brain/heart growing inside the classroom. This past week has felt like a never-ending chain of thunderstorms. Just to paint a picture of one small piece— Monday morning. Kalie gets on the bus at 6:45am. I’m pretty sure it was 6 degrees outside. She picks up one of the first kids on the bus. That student sits down on the seat behind the driver’s seat. That student throws up. All over Kalie’s shoes. Of course you can only imagine the smell of the putrid fumes filling up the school bus. Kalie is faced with a choice: open the window and let in the bitter cold so she can take some breaths of fresh air or keep the window closed to maintain whatever warmth existed in the first moments of the bus running. She chose to open the window.
The inaugural year of this school has been filled with hundreds of moments like this. Moments that are yucky and present us with options that are not ideal. And I just have to share that getting to work alongside someone who takes moments and decisions like that with such patience and grace has challenged me immensely. Kalie is carrying a huge load and graciously holds it down so I can keep teaching without carrying the immeasurable burdens. Even in the midst of endless to-do lists, she takes time to engage with the kids in our class so often that when the kids talk about us they refer to both of us as their teachers. She prioritizes writing thank you notes because she is so committed to our donors and supporters understanding that they are an essential part of this story.
So it’s daunting to attempt to follow her captivating word portraits, but here I go.
This past week I started the conversation in our class about Martin Luther King. Which naturally leads to civil rights which is rooted in the reality of slavery and racism and oppression. Totally Kindergarten material right? Maybe more than most people would surmise. Exposing our scholars to the harsh history of our country is always a really weighty thing for me. Partly because I am a white privileged female teaching a class of brave and beautiful black scholars. I want them to feel proud of their skin color and their community and the great heroes who have paved the way for the freedoms that exist today. I want them to admire the amazing patience and perseverance of Dr. King. I want them to be captivated at the courage and boldness of Rosa Parks. I want them to be softened by the forgiveness like Ruby Bridges. I want them to feel a deep sense of pride in seeing the strong and courageous leaders who fought for their community even in the face of ignorance and pain and the deepest sense of struggle.
One of my friends suggested I share the story of Ruby Bridges who I ashamedly had never heard of. So I ordered a children’s book to read to my class during our black community leaders unit. As I read, I was so captivated by the true story of this 6 year old girl. She was the first black girl to attend William Frantz Elementary in 1960 in New Orleans. The federal court declared it a mandate that the New Orleans schools desegregate and Ruby was chosen to attend an all-white elementary school. On November 14th, Ruby got into a car with her mother and four federal marshals who would be walking Ruby into the school. Ruby’s mom reminded her that regardless of the circumstances, God was with her. Ruby got outside and walked up the steps to William Frantz in between the four marshals. A large crowd had gathered and was yelling and shaking their fists at Ruby. The next day when she was escorted to school again one of the many protesters had put a black doll in a coffin to scare Ruby. Ruby’s mom taught her that she could talk to God anytime she was scared and that He was with her and would protect her. But this is what captivates me about the story of Ruby Bridges. She didn’t just pray for protection for herself on her way to school. Ruby prayed for the white people who gathered daily to make her feel afraid. She remembered the way Jesus asked God to forgive the people who yelled and shouted at him and she did the same. She would look at the angry, fist-shaking crowd and ask God to forgive them because they didn’t know what they were doing.
That story astounds me. How could a six year-old girl have the maturity to pray with compassion for her enemies?
Sometimes educating five and six year-olds about the history of racism and oppression in our country kind of feels like I’m dispelling the innocent and optimistic posture towards life that often comes along with being 5 years old. But the reality is, for most if not all of our students, they do not live in a world that is shielded from pain and hardship and chaos. And yet, I am consistently challenged by the souls that grace 4328 Jackson on the daily. So many of their daily lives are unfair and chaotic. For some of them, the consistent obstacles they face could put my life’s trials to shame. And so I guess what I am trying to say through this scattered blog is this: It baffles me how kids like Ruby Bridges or the scholars in our classroom endure unjust struggle and pain and yet pray prayers of compassion for others. I realize that while our scholars have a lot to learn about the history of this country, God’s fingerprint on their hearts challenges me. To exhibit joy in the face of uncertainty and instability. To show compassion and forgiveness in the face of pain and fear.
They have shown me Jesus this year in a new way. They remind me of the One who painted the ultimate picture of loving generously in the midst of receiving so little human affirmation. The kids of UCA inspire me to look with captivated eyes at the cross. Because it is there that I see the ultimate picture of our King who experienced the most severe injustice of all and forgave lavishly. A man who was spit upon and yelled at. Praying with passion for God to show mercy to his enemies. It is the cross that ultimately bears the wisdom and grace and love that our world needs to be able to find true restoration. Restoration between races and socio-economic groups and family members and generations.