Wednesday, March 23, 2022

The Big Bad and the Small Good


The world is feeling big and bad and horrible at the moment. I’m struggling with that. It’s possible that the time change makes it worse. I don’t know.

I went to my page of notes where I keep snippets of things I might want to write about and found this:

Thanks to Malcom at Warrens Barber Shop in Owen Brown and Cutz By Tre for supporting our Young Men of Power today! Couldn’t have done it without the help of @HCPSS Logistics Center! Sharp cuts for our scholars! #HomewoodFamily

Photo from Homewood Center Twitter account

These images brought back memories of a March evening in 2017 when I attended a Columbia storytellers event at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center. Bessie Bordenave spoke of her experiences as a student at the Harriet Tubman school. She stressed how teachers and administrators went above and beyond to care for and lift up their students. One of the things she mentioned: haircuts for the young men.

I hadn’t known until that evening of storytelling that those dedicated Black teachers were not included when Howard County finally integrated all its schools. By law the Black students had to be included. There was no law that said that the Black teachers must be, and they weren’t. No doubt the assumption was that they couldn’t possibly be as educated or competent as white teachers. Or that white parents would never accept their children being taught by Black educators. Why rock the boat any more than necessary?

Learning that part of the story made me angry and sad. How many wonderful teachers were lost, how many students entered unfamiliar learning environments without the understanding and support they needed? 

Ms. Bordenave’s talk that evening made a big impression on me. The love and pride she felt for her school helped me enter into a time and place I had never known or experienced. We shouldn’t be afraid of these stories. We should be far more afraid of being ignorant or lacking the empathy to enter into the worlds of people not like us.

In March of 2022 students at the Homewood Center were able to get haircuts because their academic community strives to provide a school experience that responds to far more than academic needs. In this way it is like the Harriet Tubman School which now exists mostly in the memories of its former students. Will we, as community, fight to keep telling those stories in the face of wave after wave of attacks against teaching the truth about America’s history? Will we make a commitment to keep space for stories we learn from but that may make us uncomfortable?

I hope so. The students at the Harriet Tubman school were every bit as real as the proud and smiling faces in the photos above. Their stories are a part of our story and they must not be excluded.

Why haircuts? You ask. Why today? 

Well, perhaps this is the only defense I have right now against a world that is big and bad and horrible.

To donate to the restoration of the Harriet Tubman School: 

To donate to programs that support students at the Homewood Center:

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