Today I read the story of Ruby Bridges. Here is a link. http://www.rubybridges.com/story.htm
Please read the story, it's very moving and inspirational. I am so thankful that Ruby Bridges had a teacher like Mrs. Henry.
The story reminded me how much our early teachers influence the type of people we choose to become or choose not to become. If we are fortunate, we spend time with educators who care not only about the subjects they teach but also about how to help students become the best they can be.
Unfortunately, that's not always the case.
I remember Bella Schimanski, the beautiful Gypsy girl who lived in the apartment building behind ours in Hochzoll, Germany. I realize that the current politically correct term is Romani, not Gypsy. When asked about their heritage, the Schimanski family said they were Gypsies from Budapest. I honor their way.
Bella had the most beautiful curly, black, long hair that her mom lovingly braided every morning. I know this because many mornings I stopped by to pick up Bella so we could walk to school together, and sometimes I had to wait until Bella's hair was done. Her mom always put a colorful ribbon in her braids. Bella had big, brown eyes that shone with intelligence and humor. I thought she was just about the most beautiful person I would ever meet.
We were in second grade.
Maybe our second-grade teacher should have retired long before Bella and I ended up in her classroom. Maybe she was just tired and worn out. Or maybe she was raised in a time when differences in cultural heritage were not honored.
However, even today tears come to my eyes when I think about how unfairly this teacher treated Bella. Bella had to sit in the back of the room, two rows behind any of the other boys and girls. Why? Because she was a Gypsy and Gypsies are dirty and have head lice. At least that's what the teacher said when I asked her why my best friend could not sit next to me. But Bella never complained. And she never smiled while we were at school. When we played together in the courtyard of our apartment complex, she was funny, imaginative, and energetic.
I told my mom about what the teacher said. My mom, always willing to side with the oppressed and ignored, made sure that I had every opportunity to continue my friendship with Bella. And we were inseparable. It was a sad day for Bella and me when her parents decided to move back to Hungary.
For a long time I was angry with my teacher for treating Bella without respect and honor. Now I realize that there are things I can be grateful for. Bella was my best friend for more than a year, and I will always cherish the good times we spent together. I am grateful that our mother encouraged my siblings and me to form friendships with the kids we liked, no matter what their family situation, background and heritage was. We already were a multi-cultural family. A couple of additional cultures would only make live more beautiful and interesting.
For my brother, my sister and me, our mom was the kind of teacher who opened up a world of rich cultural beauty and loving acceptance.
May all our young ones be placed in the care of teachers who know how to teach honor, respect and empathy.
Please visit our Honoring Our Heritage Curriculum page to learn more about what we are doing to address the issues of discrimination in our schools.