DONNA

 

I tell the class that we'd be reading the autobiography of Malcolm X, how he learned to read and write in prison. Donna, nearly jumping out of her seat in excitement, shouts out that he's her hero, that he copied the entire dictionary while in prison. Wanda says, "No way, he didn't do that!" We soon proved her wrong. We talk about the civil rights movement, I ask the class if they knew what "lynching" meant and Donna says that her great grandfather was lynched, says that she would bring photos of him. She doesn't look when I open a book filled with photos of African-Americans hanging from trees and bridges, says that she would face the wall but wanted the rest of the class to see and to know. At a school mostly Latino and Latina, African-Americans are the minority. Three girls had endured being called Fudge bar and Nigger during lunch for weeks, until they told me and we put an end to it. Made the boys apologize, told their parents and made sure it would never happen again. Wanda had wanted to beat them up but she was already kicked out of her other school for fighting. I had already showed the class a sign that says, "No blacks, no Mexicans, no dogs." Learning about people wearing strange white robes that hated them, finally feeling the racism rooted in their country's past, these seventh graders, could not believe it—could not believe how the scars of slavery, like the ones on slave’s backs they see for the first time in the photos, still run deep through this country. These students too have hated others I imagine, but then my mind turns to compassion glancing over at Donna still patiently looking at the wall. Compassion, like the beautiful wings I suddenly imagine on Donna’s back as she softly asks, “Are you all done?”  

 

                                                                                                                                                      Teresa Mei Chuc