Elizabeth Ann Eckford - will_counts1_f

Little Rock Nine and School Today

little-rock-nine-studentsIt was supposed to be the beginning of a new school year: a season pregnant with expectation and optimism–not a time to be caught in other people’s petty, stale, and violent wars.

The year was 1957. Teachers, good and refreshed after well-deserved summer vacations, had prepared thoughtful and engaging lessons based on students’ individual learning styles. They would level the playing field by meeting students at their point of readiness; they would explain the value of a good education. They would grade papers and mark in the margins suggestions for improvements.

Governor Orval Eugene Faubus–hellbent on preventing black and white students from sitting together in the same classroom–had prepared his own engaging lesson. He would attempt to implement it so meticulously that it would take federal troops to convince him to modify it. Students deserved the same opportunity to thrive, but the Governor disagreed and planned to acquaint the world with what he considered a valid argument.

Uncertain of his own power to defy the Supreme Court ruling that outlawed segregation (Brown v. Board of Education), Governor Faubus summoned the Arkansas National Guard to prevent student Elizabeth Ann Eckford from entering the school building. For extra reinforcement, mobs of grown men, women, and their children–armed with clubs, stinging insults, and the venomous spit of their mouths–gathered to provide extra reinforcement. The Little Rock Nine would enter the school only over their dead bodies; and they did not plan to die. They would refuse to give up their brutal fight. The only resolution, as far as they were concerned, would be to inform those too stubborn to understand the prevailing rule: Black and white did not mix. Black children and white children would not sit together in the same classroom. They would not risk some bleeding-heart teacher to lavish upon the blacks the education they did not deserve anyhow.

Elizabeth Ann Eckford - will_counts1_fElizabeth Eckford had wanted only to go to school–like most ‘normal’  high school students.  Holding her books securely against her chest, she took careful steps toward Central High’s front door. She did not care about the political statement which her unwanted presence brought forth. She wanted only to read, write, excel–just like everyone else in America whose birthright was to receive whatever education the school could provide.

Bullies disguised as everyday white folk had gathered to teach Elizabeth their own well-planned and rigorous lesson.  Their objective: Student will be so completely traumatized and terrorized that she will run/walk/stumble as far away from Central High and everyone’s sight as swiftly as possible.

The bullies won that September morning.  They pumped their fists and spat as Elizabeth walked back to her bus stop, leaving Little Rock’s Central High School. The girl’s face was set like stone. But like any stone thrown violently into a body of water, Elizabeth Eckford caused concentric circles that would spread to this day.

When Elizabeth returned to Central High weeks after she was forced to flee, eight other determined students had joined her. The hate-mobs returned as well, but they were like paper dolls in a hurricane. The winds of change would scatter them; history would be made.

d090457Millions of black students walk into schools today with an opportunity to learn because The Little Rock Nine had challenged the status quo. Elizabeth and her schoolmates were like nine stones hurled into the seemingly infinite ocean of racism, causing concentric circles to spread so far and so wide within the Civil Rights Movement that we see them even today.

This Black History Month, VoicesfromHaiti honors Melba Pattillo Beals, Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Ann Eckford, Ernest Green, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Themlma Mothershed, and Terrence Roberts: The Little Rock Nine who risked their lives for a chance to go to school.

Nowadays when I walk through a metal detector to teach a group of high school students at a school in South East Baltimore, I think about the nine students whose decision it was to better themselves against stiff opposition. Nowadays, as I fear for my safety while attempting to teach a class, I wonder what the nine students would make of present day’s outrageously violent school culture. Everyday when certain students come to  certain schools, they hurl the same venomous words at their teaches which the angry mob had fired at Elizabeth and her classmates. I wonder if certain high school kids today know how lucky they are to be able to walk into a building where teachers prepare lessons which they cannot implement, due to students’ incessant interruptions. In hallways heavily guarded with security guards and other police personnel, fights and cell phones blasting music, pants with a mind of their own are the norm. Students who are out of jail on the condition that they wear the box around their ankles, proudly show them off.  How special they are to have every monitored step they take move them in the direction which Elizabeth and the others nearly died to avoid.

 

Carpe Annum!

 

Happy New YearSome of the most captivating and memorable events that occurred in 2014 involved unimaginable acts of violence that sparked hundreds of thousands to mobilize, fearing that perhaps there’s enough truth to the suggestion that our generation is irretrievably lost. Moms, dads, friends, lovers, and  strangers held hands and vigils. Their protests came in screams: “Bring Back Our Girls“;  and in deafening silence:  “I Can’t Breathe!”

maya angelou photo from webAs we mourned those close to us,  the number of obituaries associated with “notable deaths” seemed to swell like the crowds at tbe World Cup games.  When news came of Dr. Maya Angelou’s passing, friends flooded the Internet with photographs and profound quotes. Other famous names that made the 2014 list, included: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Alvin Auber, Juanita Moore, Robin Williams, Larry Speakes, Shirley Temple, Lauren Bacall, Joan Rivers, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and many, many more. Most of us did not know these famous people; we mourned anyway.

How long did we hold our breath as the search went on for the Malaysian Airline flight that disappeared over the South China Sea? We stretched hope to its limit. We wanted good news about the hundreds of victims who left behind thousands of family and friends. Just last week another plane plunged into the sea, carrying 162 people—an infant among them. Our hearts bleed for the victims and their families.

For countless families worldwide, Christmas 2014 was anything but merry; yet, Christmas Day and the days after it were warm and easy as springtime.

Thomas PolermoThe mild weather lasted for so many days that on the 27th, a friend’s 41 year-old husband decided to go for a bike ride.  I had wanted to do the same, but laziness forced me back on the couch with a book I’d meant to read ages ago. Our bike routes would have been considerably different, but it would have been nice to enjoy the outdoors before the dreaded arctic cold comes.

The 41 year-old husband and father, Thomas Patrick Polermo, would not return home from his bike ride. Within the hour they would identify the hit-and-run culprit, but what difference did that make? What do you say to his wife on New Year’s Day?

The Polermo family spent January 2nd receiving those who would never grieve as deeply as the young widow and mom of two of the cutest kids you will ever know.

Inside the funeral home, interminable lines formed and inched toward relatives who seemed paralyzed by the unfurling reality.

The memorial service took place on the third day of the New Year. As I prepared to leave the house to attend Tom Polermo’s funeral at 10:00, a sister-friend informed me that her own mother passed away less than an hour before. I was too stunned to react. She’s in shock. We’re all in shock.

This is only the third day of the New Year. Yes, joy will come. So far, however, the days are as dark as the midnight that precedes them.

I pray that joy finds its way into the lives of those who are starting the New Year without the Happy part. I send out prayers, light, and love to people in every part of the world. We may not be able to seize the year, considering we’re granted but one moment at a time. I wish that we do seize as many of those moments as we can. Starting………………………… Now!

Also, if you know someone who drives a car on a public street, please remind him/her to share the road with cyclists. That is a matter of life and death.

Yours truly

 

 

 

 

Students in Haiti reading Fabiola

A Wonderful Gift Idea

Students in Haiti reading FabiolaExpect great things from a publishing company built with the children of the world mind!

One Moore Book is dedicated to providing literature that educates and entertains children who live in marginalized countries. These books are filled with characters who are much like the children who read them. The plots follow the lives of ordinary school-aged children thriving under extraordinarily harsh conditions. Children love these books, because they see themselves in the characters; they are represented.

OMB’s debut series, written for and dedicated to the children of Liberia, continues to receive praise. More importantly, however, the Liberia Series is currently in the hands of children who remain out of school due to the Ebola outbreak. While we work and pray for a resolution for afflicted Liberia and neighboring regions, there is a dot of comfort in knowing that One Moore Book had the vision to supply the world’s most desperate children with a means of escaping bleak realities–if only for brief moments. The illustrations are attractive and vivid, contributing to raising comprehension levels by beginning readers, fluent ones, and non-readers alike.

One Moore Book’s Haiti Series features native born writers, as well as Haitian-Americans: Ibi Zoboi, Michele Jessica Fievre, Maureen Boyer,   Edwidge Danticat, Sybill St. Aude, and Katia D. Ulysse each contributed one book: These six amazing books have brought priceless smiles to countless adults and children in Haiti and in the Diaspora. The books are for everyone who wants to learn a little more about Haitian culture. I have heard from people as far as Scotland who value these books for the lessons they teach in fun ways.

This Holiday season, One Moore Book has partnered with an education foundation–Free the Slaves –to give copies of “Fabiola Can Count” to all children who not only deserve to see themselves validated in literature, but need to know they are not alone in their plight. (Fabiola Can Count is about a little stay-with girl who learns to count, using the few resources available to an indentured servant).

Stay-with  children, as benign as the term sounds, is a long-established condition that too often translates to enslavement of powerless children–some as young as five years old.  Although there are those who prefer to deny the existence of Stay-with children, finding evidence is easy and well-documented. To be sure, this phenomenon is present in most cultures throughout the known world. Children are made to care for entire households of adults and other children much older than the servants. This phenomenon is slowly declining in Haiti. Those would might have waved dismissive hands are now willing to hold conversations on the subject. The fact that modern day slavery persists anywhere in the world is tragic.

Fabiola Can Count, written in Haitian Creole and in English, provides children with beautiful illustrations and an engaging story that promote first language literacy and English language learning.  This holiday season, One Moore Book is ready to give Fabiola to every Stay-with child in Haiti. We need your help.

Here is the message from One Moore Book. I hope you will support this effort. It is heartwarming and necessary. What a super opportunity to bring joy into an unsuspecting child’s heart! This offer will end 1/30.

Happy Holidays!

YOU BUY, WE GIVE. HOLIDAY 1-FOR-1

Christmas is an incredible time of year for many children around the world, but not all. In Haiti, a child who is a modern-day slave is called a restavek–a term which means “stay with.” This season, every time you buy Katia D. Ulysse’s incredible book, “Fabiola Konn Konte”, a counting book about a young restavek girl from the OMB Haiti Series, we will match this and donate a copy to a restavek child through a partnership with the Free the Slaves organization and Fondasyon Limyé Lavi in Haiti. 

This giving program will end on January 31st.

Pictured: Children read One Moore Book’s Fabiola Can Count by Katia D. Ulysse at the Innovation Hub in Port-au-Prince,

 

We are Beautiful and We Are Here