She shared this story with me concerning her son while he attended a high school in Northeast Mississippi. His stature was 6'5" and over 300 pounds. In her words, "He was very, very black and huge; yet gentle as a cuddly bear." (Our friendship began years later, so I have not met this son who now lives out of state.)
A new white teacher who was 5'1" and 110 pounds was hired, and he registered for her class. On the first day, as he entered the classroom and stood near the teacher, he simply stretched and elevated his arms. The teacher immediately called security. Her son asked, "What did I do? What have I done?" She told security that he was trying to harm her. As my friend was telling this story, my immediate reaction was one of sadness and hurt on behalf of her son. I expected her to tell me that he was sent to in-school-suspension or out-of- school suspension, or even expelled. Her next words to me were quite the opposite.
She stated, "Hearing about the incident, every white teacher from kindergarten to high school made a beeline to the principal's office to speak up for my son. The principal even said to the new teacher, 'You must be mistaken; not this teenager; he would not harm anyone. In fact, he would try to protect you if someone tried to harm you.'"
How awesome that those white administrators acted with such courage to stand up for a young black student. We live in a society where many times the color of our skin sometimes causes people to dislike, hate and unfairly treat innocent people, whether it's blacks against whites or whites against blacks.
Those teachers did the right thing. They stood up for what was right. Thomas Henry Huxley said, "It is not who is right, but what is right, that is important."
I recalled when integration occurred, after first grade, I never had another black teacher from second through the twelfth grade. I will always be grateful to those teachers who didn't allow the color of my skin to prohibit them from teaching me.
They used their vocation to encourage and motivate me to do my best. Dan Rather said, "The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau..."
What if those teachers had not encouraged me? They played a very important role in shaping my life. Many parents literally place their children in the hands of a teacher each school year, somehow believing they will positively impact their children's lives. A great responsibility is placed on the shoulders of teachers, as well as parents.
I believe the benefits of educating and teaching all children have a definite impact, not only in our communities, but on our entire society - be it economically, socially or spiritually. We are all affected directly or indirectly by what happens in each community - whether it's school, church, workforce, etc. If there are issues, they are everybody's issues regardless of race or socio-economic status. We must stand together - defy the odds and focus on what is best, not only for our children, but also for all mankind.
Whether we like it or not, we are all involved in this journey of life together.
I began to ponder over my own life, purpose and responsibilities as a human being. I asked myself: What is required of me? If I encounter someone being unjustly judged or condemned - what would I do? Erma Bombeck said, "All of us have moments in our lives that test our courage." Would I have the courage to speak up?
I thought about a powerful passage of scripture regarding the requirements of man. "...What doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"
Educator Booker T. Washington asked a question, "Have you grown to the point where you can unflinchingly stand up for the right, for that which is honorable, honest, truthful, whether it makes you popular or unpopular?"
Each of us has the ability and the opportunity to choose what is right. If you are faced with a situation in which you had to unflinchingly stand up for right - what would you do? Would you consider being popular with your peers or would you choose to do the right thing? You be the judge.
Juanita Gambrell Floyd is vice president for finance and administration at CREATE Foundation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.