What We Really Learn on Middle School Field Trips

This past weekend my daughter attended the State Science Fair at UGA. When we found out she had made it to state, we were of course proud and happy. I remember my thinking being “Wow, what a great experience for her academically!” followed immediately by, “It will be even better for her to go away on her own for a weekend.”

You see I can be a little overprotective of my girl. And she can be a little overly attached to us as a family. So when I heard that the kids from her school were to ride up on a bus together and stay in a hotel together while being chaperoned only by their teachers, a part of me panicked. But the rest of me said,

“It is time. Let her go.”

So away she went Friday morning at 5:30 am on the big yellow school bus ostensibly to further her knowledge in science and engineering.

We texted a few times. She let me know they got there okay. We told her “goodnight” and “good morning.” But that was pretty much it.

On Saturday our family drove up to see her awards ceremony and then we packed her up in the car to head home. Once we were in the car and headed out of town I asked her, “So how was science fair?” A part of me actually expected her to tell me thing she learned about, you know, SCIENCE.

But here is what followed.

“Well, the bus ride lasted forever. And Jenny say with the boys in the back of the bus and not with the girls which I thought was weird. And then we met some cute boys while we were waiting to be interviewed by the judges. O wait, I just found one of them on Instragram. You think I should follow him? The hotel food was really expensive so we ate all our meals at the mall next door. I ate orange chicken for dinner and breakfast and lunch! It was really good orange chicken but now my stomach kind of hurts.  We walked around Sears for an hour and sat and talked in all their lawn and garden displays. Sears is awesome! The boys were so crazy all weekend. Why do boys act so crazy?”

Yeah, this went on for about an hour until she finally fell asleep from sheer exhaustion. Too much orange chicken and gossiping in the hotel room at night. Not enough sleep.

I was irritated for about a second that no one made her eat anything other than fried chicken covered in orange flavored sugar sauce for a whole weekend and embarrassed that she had tormented the sales people at Sears.

And then I remembered my own story.

My eighth grade year our brave teachers took all the kids in the honors science classes on a field trip to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. A pretty cool field trip for sure. There are a few things I remember about actual Space Camp. I remember the machine that pushed you into the wall with centrifugal force and then dropped the floor out so we were supported only by the Gs gluing us to the wall. I remember eating freeze dried ice cream.

But mainly I remember this:

Our teachers had us staying four kids to a room at this cheap hotel. I was in a room with three of my best friends and all of us had a crush on the same guy. He was tall, dark, and handsome. He even had a little facial hair coming in. We were over the moon for him. And as fate would have it his hotel room was right next to ours.

I cannot remember whose idea it was to sneak out of our room after “lights out” and knock on the boys’ door. We were all pretty much good girls so that fact we did this at all still surprises me. The proximity of all that testosterone and cuteness must have been more than our adolescent selves could handle.

So sneak out we did and the boys were more than glad to host us in their room. Now let me say nothing really bad actually happened. We just sat on cheap hotel beds and talked and giggled. And apparently we giggled loudly because after about 15 minutes of adrenaline filled rule breaking, we heard a loud knock on the door followed by one of our teacher’s voice demanding we open the door.

All I remember was the panic I felt. I am sure we were all scared. But most of the kids stayed to face their doom while myself, the future minister, and my buddy Quentin, the future lawyer and judge, both ran for it. Quentin and I ended up cowering in the shower together hoping we would be conveniently overlooked.

A word about Quentin and I’s shower encounter. I didn’t think anything of it at the time other than I was hiding with my friend and hoping not to get caught. But looking back on it now it was a bit of a revolutionary of moment. You see I was a young white girl and Quentin was a young black guy. Now my parents would have been furious about me hiding in the shower with any guy no matter the race, but if Quentin and I had been in the shower together for whatever reason 50 or 100 years before good old 1986, my reputation would have been tarnished for life and Quentin would have likely been arrested or shot or worse. We were in Alabama for crying out loud. But thanks be to God and Martin Luther King Jr. in 1986 the son of a former slave and the daughter of a former slave owner could not only sit together on the red hills of Georgia, they could hide together in the showers of cheap hotels in Alabama.

But the bonding moment ended all too soon when we heard the door to the bathroom open and our teacher’s footsteps cross the linoleum floor. I am sure it was a bad moment when the other kids got caught in a hotel room together. But let me tell you when your teacher rips open the curtain to find your young girl self hiding with a boy in a shower, it is nothing less than mortifying.

Our teacher didn’t say much to us that night. She didn’t have to. We were all embarrassed and scared to death she would call our parents. But she didn’t. Because I guess she already knew what I am learning now. That sometimes the thing a book smart kid needs most is to learn how to live their life on their own. How to make choices and face the consequences.

25 years later I realize how important this moment was. The moment when I had my first taste of freedom. The moment I made a few less than perfect choices but lived to tell the tale.

And I have to say I don’t regret a second of it (Sorry Mom). Because we all turned out just fine. One of us has a career in law enforcement. One is a lawyer. One a stay at home mom.

And Quentin? He was a hot shot lawyer bringing justice to Atlanta for many years until he recently became a judge. Every once in a while I will see him on TV being interviewed about a trial or being honored for something. When I do I inevitably shout out to my kids, “Hey, I hid in a shower with that guy on a field trip back in eighth grade.”

I only hope my daughter’s memories of her first big trip by herself will last as long.

 

 

 

 

The Arab Next Door

So far this month of racism posts, I have written about what it was like growing up in the South and what it is like having a Chinese daughter. But there is another type of racism that has been growing in our country and our world. Racism against Arabs spiked after 9/11 and has only grown more more complicated in these fearful days of ISIS threats and terror.

I feel very unqualified to speak intelligently on racism against Arabs. You see my anxiety does not allow me to interact with the news much. I won’t read over the details of the three Muslims killed recently in Chapel Hill (though just the headline breaks my heart). I won’t read anything about ISIS, although the talk I hear from friends makes my blood run cold. I wish I could tolerate actually reading articles on these matters, but I’ve been six months without a panic attack and I’d like to keep it that way. I guess I’ll have to keep relying on my husband and trusted friends to fill me in.

What I do know however, is what I have lived. And in my experience that is the best teacher anyway.

Some fourteen years ago we lived in a parsonage in the south side of Savannah that was provided for us by the church I pastored. After a year of living in our spacious ranch house, we got new neighbors. Our neighborhood at that time what people termed “in transition.” What that really looked like was that our old neighbor told us he was moving “because our streets are being taken over by blacks and copperheads.” (The snake part was unfortunately true. The downside of living so close to a marsh).

Sometime mid September 2001, our new neighbors moved in. Being the friendly, welcoming people we are, we went over to say, “Hey.” True to form, our old bigoted neighbor did not sell the house to an African American family. Instead he sold it to a family of Arab descent. A middle aged mom and dad, their two teenage daughters, and the dad’s parents.

We traded hellos through our  southern accents and their accents of a foreign land. Actually the grandparents didn’t speak much English so communicating with them involved only a series of head nods.

I wish I could say I wasn’t freaked out by getting Arab neighbors, but the truth is I totally was.

Most of the time I could reason with myself that the teenage girls coming over to borrow phone books and pet our dogs were not involved with any terrorist plots.

But then one day I looked out our back windows and saw Grandpa dumping suspicious white material in the Back 40.

“That’s not anthrax. That’s not anthrax.” I kept telling myself.

It didn’t work. My anxiety ridden self called my husband in a panic begging him to come home because Grandpa next door was cooking up anthrax as a part of some jihadist plot. My husband tried to get me to breath and relax and told me he’d check everything out when he got home.

An hour later Jason took a stroll along the back of our property to get a good eye on the suspicious white substance. He came back inside, looked at me with steady eyes and delivered the news.

“Babe, it’s white paint.  Looks like they are doing a bit of home improvement.” He moved on to start dinner while I just sat with my head in my hands feeling stupid and confused.

the arab next door

I’d like to say all my prejudices about my neighbors went away after that moment. But that would be a lie.

When our church had an evangelism campaign late that fall, I walked over to my neighbors house with an apple pie and a flyer for our church. I though it was a risky move to invite Muslims over for worship, but if the associate pastor in charge of evangelism can’t be bold, then who would be? I handed my neighbors the pie and invited them to our church anytime. The mom thanked me and informed me that though they normally worshiped at a Baptist church nearby they would try and stop by sometime. Then she thanked me for the delicious pie.

I walked home and banged my prejudiced head against the back of my front door.

True to their word, Christmas Eve I spotted my neighbors out in the pews ready to enjoy our big Christmas cantata. I walked over with surprise to greet them. They were grinning ear to ear about the chance to listen to beautiful music and sing carols by candlelight. Their excitement melted my heart.

Then a few months later sickness fell upon both our houses. Grandpa suffered a mild heart attack and our beloved fur baby had emergency surgery on a blocked intestine. Although the loss of their patriarch would have been much greater than that of our pet, both households were taken over with worry- filled nursing. That first weekend Lucydog and I found ourselves walking the chain link fence line with Grandpa each hour on the hour as they both tried to gain back their strength. We would nod at each other as we both ambled around our respective yards. A couple of times I tried to encourage him and wish him well.  He would smile weakly as he reached through the fence to pat my healing dog.

Several months later when everyone was well and we were preparing to leave town for another church, my husband and I decided to sneak another fun night downtown in amidst our packing. As we walked the familiar squares, we spotted a restaurant we’d never eaten at before. It was a Mediterranean place and we were both in the mood for falafel, so we headed in. As we walked up to the counter to order, we did a double take. For there behind the counter was none other than our neighbor. We greeted Dad from next door (whose name I never memorized) and asked how long he had been running this little Mediterranean deli.  Turns out it was years. We had never taken the time to ask him what he did for a living (you know when he wasn’t running terrorist jihad plots out of the Baptist church he attended.)

For the first time that night we sat down and had a real conversation with our neighbor.

We asked him where he was originally from (Iraq). We talked about our worry over the looming troubles in Iraq, the great treasure of ancient Iraqi culture, and how much we loved falafel.

I walked back out into downtown that night feeling so sad. For over a year we had lived next door to this delightful family and out of sheer fear had never really taken the time to get to know them. How much more would we have learned if we had taken more time to chat over fence lines or gotten really crazy and invited them over for dinner? How much more blessed would we have been for breaking through our fear to befriend them?

I wondered how scared and lonely my neighbors must have felt. Being proud of their native culture on one hand and feeling the need to hide their heritage on the other.

I can only pray that the family that followed us were much kinder and more welcoming than we were. But my bet is that is not the case.

The threats and terror that are happening in our world are real. But what a loss for all of us when we let the actions of a few taint our view of thousands who hail from any Arab land. How much longer will be let fear and prejudice rule us?

For be clear, our fear does nothing to make the world a safer place.

Yet how much further would we get in our efforts to end terror if we pushed past the fear and took the time to build bridges and relationships with those who are “other” than us?

 

Do you have a story where you let fear of the “stranger” rule you? What helped you push past the fear? What was the result? Feel free to share in the comments below.

 

Guest Post: Getting To Know Each Other. A Conversation on Race

Over the couple of years I have been blogging, I have had the honor to become acquainted with and learn much from Lisa Owen. She blogs beautifully and bravely at My So Called Glamorous Life: The Adventures of a Domestic Engineer. I have enjoyed her posts on everything from the delicious food she cooks, the books she reads, to her adventures raising kids.

But I especially love it when Lisa writes about race. For she gives me a glimpse into what it is like to be a black woman living in the south.

Before I read Lisa’s blog and twitter feeds I had no idea people got profiled and followed by security guards in stores. Or how much time and effort it took to keep up her daughter’s hair (Yes Lisa, white people are fascinated with black hair. Not only because it is so different, but because it can do so many things white hair cannot. Coming from one who has had basically the same haircut since she was 16, I guess I’m a little jealous!)

When I decided to do a series on race in February, I knew I wanted Lisa’s voice in the conversation (BTW, she is having her own Black History month conversation over at her own site. Check it out!)

So without further ado, I give you Lisa:

********

Race and ethnicity are hard subjects to talk about and contrary to popular belief, they are not the same thing. Race generally refers to genetics, while ethnicity is cultural. Race is determined by if you are or are not a descendant of Africa. Ethnicity relates to what area in the world you and your ancestors come from. While both of these things affect physical appearance, neither of these things is inherently negative. Since this is the case, why then is it so difficult to discuss? At the very mention of the word or concept of race/ethnicity there’s tension, defensiveness, accusations and bitterness. It’s a hard discussion to have and I applaud anyone, like Dena, who dares to have a meaningful conversation. Thank you, Dena, for letting me chime in.

In light of recent events (like Ferguson) I think that we can all agree that Americans need to continue the conversation about race.

As an African-American parent I can’t avoid it. Starting with the talks years ago that I had to have with my now adult sons about how to respond if you’re ever stopped by the police; to the increasing questions put to my 7 and 8 year-old-girls about their hair, their freckles, their hair, do they tan and more about their hair. I have to discuss race and ethnicity to help them understand some of the pervasive attitudes that come their way.

It gets heavy.

race and ethnicity

 

My girls have a face full of freckles, much like me and my mother and my grandfather and so on. They are completely adorable (I’m not being biased, they really are)! Recently, my 8 – year – old told me that one of her friends commented that some other girls at school said that she (my daughter) must have drawn those dots on her face because “Black people don’t have freckles.” I could tell you many, many stories about things that Black people allegedly do and don’t have. They are all, without exception, wrong and illustrate the dangers of stereotyping. My daughter was confused and somewhat hurt (“Why would I draw those on my face, mom?”) and I said to her:

Sweetheart, look at my face. What do you see?”

Freckles.”

Look at your sister and brother? What do you see?”

Freckles”

And Grandma, your aunt and uncles?”

Freckles.”

So what does that tell you?”

That African-Americans do have freckles, but why would they say that?”

Because she really doesn’t know any better. Next time, you’ll have to educate her.”

Such a seemingly innocent and simple thing as freckles, but the unilateral exclusion made her feel like “other”. Something used to make her feel isolated, like “You cannot be like me.”

Do I think it was intentional? No, but it really doesn’t matter because the damage is the same. Not to mention, that it is not only damaging to the recipient, but it’s also damaging for anyone to live in ignorance. Yes, we must talk, but we must also do more.

We must venture outside of our own neighborhoods and broaden our social circles. We must purposely seek knowledge about people and cultures outside of our own. Why is it in a country that is so big and so diverse, we only seek out those that look like us? And for goodness sakes, if what you think you know about other cultures comes predominantly from television or social media, TURN IT OFF! Nothing is better than face to face, personal interaction. Be curious, but seek answers. Don’t make assumptions. Be bold enough to stop negative comments and conversations even if it’s from people that you love. Be steadfast and unmovable in your commitment to find peace and racial harmony.

As ugly as things have gotten on the streets of our towns and cities, I remain hopeful. I am encouraged by people like Dena who speak up. I am encouraged by people who take to the streets to protest injustice and seek change. I am encouraged by the generation of children like mine who have kind hearts and no preconceived notion that they are supposed to mistrust and dislike one another because they don’t know that skin color matters.

Be encouraged, my brothers and sisters, and make change.

 

conversations on raceLisa Owen is a writer and blogger at My So Called Glamorous Life: The Adventures of a Domestic Engineer (www.mysocalledglamlife.com) and she has been a featured blogger on Blogher.com, Project Underblog, and in the supplemental materials for The Princess Problem (available at Rebecca Hains.com). She is a mother/step-mother in a blended family with five children ages 6 to 23. Lisa has a B.S. in Journalism from Southern Illinois University and spent 15 years working as a corporate/transactional paralegal for law firms and corporations before becoming a SAHM and pursuing her passion for writing.

 

 

 

 

 

My Little Brother: A Guest Post

I am privileged to share with you a guest post by my friend and mentor, Dr. Catherine Meeks. Dr. Meeks has been working for racial reconciliation longer that I have been alive. During her distinguished career she taught African American studies at Mercer University and Socio-Cultural studies at Wesleyan College. She currently serves on the Anti-Racism Commission for the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta and is a religion columnist for the Huffington Post.

 Catherine inspires me continually with her courageous truth telling and her peaceful spirit (a powerful combination for sure).

I am so grateful to Catherine for sharing such a powerful and personal story. If you ever doubted that racism really causes tragic harm, doubt no longer.What is so sad to me about this story (other than the pain of the personal loss) is that some 60 years later we are still having to restructure our society to reflect the truth that all lives matter, equally.

Guest Post Catherin Meeks Black Lives Matter

So my friends, I give you the words of Dr Catherine Meeks:

*****

Though he was born before me, he died when he was twelve years old and as I heard the story about his death while growing up myself, he was always my little brother. His name is Garland and when he was a little boy, he got sick with what my family thought was just a common stomach ache that could be cured by home remedies. My family tried their remedies and he did not get better. Finally one night he took a turn for the worse and they rushed him to the local hospital which was seventeen miles from our house. The hospital turned him away because he was black and poor.

My father was instructed to take him to the charity hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana which was seventy-five miles away. My father managed to get transportation and took my brother there, but by this time his appendix had ruptured and he developed a serious infection which resulted in his death.

Daddy never recovered from Garland’s death. He grieved about him until his death many years later. He was angry and sometimes not very nice to the rest of us in part from his sense of helplessness when it came to being able to protect us. I can only imagine how fearful he must have been for the rest of his life that something would happen to us and he would not be able to intervene.

Now that I am a parent, I understand much better than I did during my earlier years why my father was so angry and over protective. As a teenager, I thought that he was just overbearing and controlling. But now I understand that he was filled with fear and rage about his own inability to protect us, which was a job that he believed belonged to him.

This is what racism did to my father. It was racism that took my brother away from us. A system that would not allow a hospital to offer services to a little twelve year old boy because he was not deemed good enough to be treated there. It was not the customary thing to do. I understand my father’s rage.

But, along the way I made a clear decision not to become my father. I made the decision to find a way to be empowered so that I would not be at the mercy of racist structures that sought to control me and to make sure that I stayed in my place. I made it my business to work to find out when and where I wanted to enter into life and to go forward as a liberated woman to do just that. I was determined not to relive the fear based and rage filled life that my dear daddy modeled for me simply because he did not know how to find a way out of it.

It is this determination that has led me to work for racial healing and reconciliation since I was in my early twenties. I believe that our only hope is to dismantle racism and to replace it with a commitment to work tirelessly to build a Beloved Community where all of God’s children can be free.