Tag Archives: Anti-Bullying

Preventing Bullying

“You’re not wearing a blue shirt.” The comment, coming from a Junior in her own blue shirt, was something of a test, and I got partial credit by cringing and saying, “Oh, no! I totally forgot!” At least my response showed I knew that wearing a blue shirt on that particular Monday was meant to draw attention to National Bullying Prevention Month. I did manage to wear purple on GLAAD Spirit Day to take “a stand against bullying and show [my] support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth” (GLAAD), and kept a blue pinky for a week in response to a tweet by @beinggirl; my photo even earned a retweet from the “Secret Mean Stinks” campaign, among others.

For the Humanities 7 unit on “Why do people judge other people and themselves?” one of my students did her individual Focus Question work on bullying. She designed her presentation as much to stimulate conversation as to present information, and she succeeded admirably: the discussion lasted over 45 minutes and might have continued even longer if class hadn’t ended. The students were not without empathy for bullies, coming quickly to general agreement that often, they simply didn’t know better because that was how they were treated, or perhaps they had deep-seated issues of their own and the bullying had nothing to do with the actual victims.

That said, victims of bullying definitely got the most sympathy, all the more so because, as it turned out, some of the students in my class had been bullied at their old schools. Those who chose to tell their stories were met with respectful, rapt, sympathetic attention, and some of them showed tremendous courage and trust in sharing details of what had been said and done to them. Empathy for what the bullies may have been through took a definite back seat to empathy for their classmates, and I’m sure many of them were thinking what one student said out loud: “I’m just so glad I don’t have to worry about bullying at Stoneleigh-Burnham.”

I’m not pretending our school is perfect. As human beings, we all succumb at times to moments of weakness, or trip up on highly inelegant phrasing, and feelings can at times be hurt. But if such moments happen in a relationship that has already put down some roots, it’s easier to work through those moments. Flipping through my Twitter feed today, I stumbled on research that suggested the more a teacher can create an environment where students feel genuinely safe, the more those students will learn and grow. That makes intuitive sense, and I always view creating that level of safety as a moral imperative.

The stopbullying.gov webpage offers some great ideas for preventing bullying before it even starts, and handling it should it happen. These range from media guidelines to specific ideas for parents, educators, the community, teens, and kids. With respect as the basis behind all these suggestions, the more we work to keep our kids safe, the more we’ll be working for a better world.

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Filed under On Education, On Parenting, The Faculty Perspective, Uncategorized

“Are you in or out?”

(title credit from a song in the Disney movie Aladdin and the King of Thieves)

It’s a question 90% of us or more never have to ask. People who are both heterosexual and cisgender (essentially, being comfortable in a gender identity that matches the sex written down on our original birth certificate) never have to go in the closet in the first place. For the rest of us, though, the question may be somewhat stickier. And on National Coming Out Day every year, while some people come out or reflect on and celebrate their earlier coming out, others contemplate it, and still others hold tight to the door’s handle to ensure it remains firmly closed.

It’s a given, of course, that absolutely no one has the right to force the door open for anyone else. And it’s equally a given that when a person comes out to selected people, they need to respect if that person wants to remain closeted in other places. Family dynamics, workplace atmosphere, local cultural attitudes, and more can all can make it more or less risky to come out, and none of those contexts is absolutely uniform across all members of a given community.

Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary founded National Coming Out Day on October 11, 1988, to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. (Wikipedia) On that date in 2013, The Atlantic published an article by Preston Mitchum entitled “On National Coming Out Day, Don’t Disparage the Closet.” He observed, “The coming out experience can be a precarious time in a person’s life, particularly when one belongs to multiple marginalized communities.” He acknowledges that “Ultimately, coming out is important because it makes the LGBT community more visible, particularly for black LGBT individuals…” but adds that “… focusing so intensely on coming out places the burden on the individual to brave society rather than on society to secure the safety of the individual.”

So how do we secure the safety of the individual? In particular, how can that happen when some religious traditions believe homosexuality is a sin and we also want to respect each person’s individual freedom of religion and their personal beliefs? The question takes me back many years ago to when I was teaching elsewhere, and one of the teachers assigned a project in which kids were to make a poster showing their own personal nine circles of Hell. One student placed homosexuals in her fifth circle, and as several of the students had gay or lesbian parents (no student had, to my knowledge, come out at that point in time), the faculty were concerned. One teacher agreed to talk to her, and it turned out that, while she did indeed hold the religious belief that homosexuality was a sin, she also felt (again, for religious reasons) that every single person deserved to be treated with love and respect.

We have seen the benefits over time of gays and lesbians coming out, serving as examples, and clearing the way for others, and we are currently seeing what seems to be the beginning of such a pattern among the gender non-conforming. Yet, not all of us were cut out to play that role, and we each need to make the best possible decision for ourselves in our own personal circumstances. With that in mind, if our entire country can agree to hold the core values that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and everyone is also entitled to be treated respectfully, that can be the starting point as we move forward toward the ultimate goal that all of us act upon those core values to the very best of our ability.


Filed under Current Events, Gender, Uncategorized

Standing in Your Truth

As an option for weekend activities, I offered to take students to a GLSEN conference on April 5. (GLSEN is the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network.) Unfortunately, two of them ended up with conflicts, but the third student cheerfully said she would still like to go, and so we headed east to Madison Park Vocational Technical High School in Roxbury. After passing through the metal detector for “males,” an extremely un-GLSEN moment all around (though I don’t think it was switched on), and stopping at the registration table, we walked up the stairs to the opening celebration, where we were enthusiastically welcomed by three cheerleaders of various genders.

Eliza Byard, the Executive Director of GLSEN, welcomed all of us and spoke movingly of the experience of speaking (for two minutes, precisely timed by the TelePrompter) at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. Given that Bayard Rustin, one of the organizers of the March who also served as a speaker, had been excluded from a meeting with President Kennedy out of the fear that J. Edgar Hoover, the homophobic Director of the FBI, might be upset, Ms. Byard’s participation was all the more moving.

There were three workshop sessions at the conference, and my student and I both felt a session entitled “How Different Life Can Be,” led by three members of the North Shore Alliance of LGBT Youth was the best place to start. After a quick overview of the organization and their work, the co-presenters opened up the session to questions. A young student who looked and sounded no more than 10 led off, talking about his lack of understanding of why people wouldn’t simply let other people be people, oblivious to the looks of tenderness on the faces of many of the teenagers listening to him. A middle schooler who had stuck up for her friends when rumours were circulating about them only to have the rumours turned on her asked for advice, as did a high school student whose friend had recently come out to her parents who were refusing to believe and accept what she had said. The co-presenters listened with compassion and empathy, making suggestions while maintaining the kind of honest realism teenagers often seek, and skillfully leaving space for people in the room to respond. One girl said when her parents had trouble accepting her own coming out, she tried leaving little pamphlets around the house or webpages up on the computer. Over time, she said, as her parents understood better what was going on, they began to come around. It does sometimes take time. PFLAG was frequently cited as a wonderful resource, and I made a mental note to learn more about them.

That room had been packed, with people spilling through the doors and out to the corridor, a pattern which would repeat itself in both of the next two sessions I attended. My student and I agreed to attend different sessions throughout the afternoon, and to help shape my choices, I let her choose first and then asked her what needs she saw in the school. She thought carefully, and said she felt that students had a pretty solid knowledge of different sexualities and were open and welcoming, but that many of them did not have as solid a sense of different genders and how that plays out in real life. While there was a “Trans 101” type session coming up next, my instinct was that I would already know the majority of the information being presented, so I made a mental note to think further about what my student had said, and looked for other sessions to attend.

For my next session, I chose “Reversing the Erasure of LGBT HIstory,” presented by three teachers from Lowell High School. Through a skillfully organized grassroots effort, they succeeded in convincing their district to adopt the historic, inclusive curriculum being developed by the Los Angeles Unified School District following passage of the FAIR (Fair, Inclusive, Accurate, and Respectful) Act. They showed a moving video, “Through Gay Eyes,” which was produced by one of the teachers, Deb Fowler, and a student then attending Lowell High, Connor Crosby. They had shown this video to decision-makers in the District to help build support. While I greatly admired what they had accomplished, as well as their calls for similar advocacy across the state, I found myself thinking how lucky I was that we already have a desire at the administrative level to support LGBT students throughout their experience in our school and beyond. I did walk out with a number of ideas for links and other resources I can keep in mind to help my Humanities 7 students broaden their research so their Focus Question projects can be as inclusive as the conversations I have with them.

My final session was “Queering the Classroom: Providing a Safe Environment for All,” facilitated by Marie Caradonna of the West Suburban Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Youth. Her announced approach, to treat us all as though we were both cissexual and cisgender, resulted in a session that was as much demonstration as information-sharing, which I imagine was her goal. Students and teachers shared concerns, suggestions, and clarifying information, and an honest and supportive dialogue grew and flourished. Among other things I learned: the term “demisexual,” used for someone who experiences sexual attraction through romantic attraction. I also learned a new definition for the term “bisexual”: “someone who is sexually attracted to their own gender and to other genders.”

My student, who had a cold and also had had a rather short night of sleep between the late return from Rent and the early departure for the GLSEN conference, dozed much of the way back, giving me plenty of time to think through the day. I decided to spend the evening in Northampton, and upon arrival, sent out a series of tweets including this one, “Now eating a vegan sandwich in Northampton plotting to upend social norms and get everyone to ‘just be a decent person’ as my student said,” which garnered a number of favourites and retweets… and one virtual fist-bump.

The title of this blog quotes one of the participants in the first session word for word (unfortunately, I do not know her name). The split second I heard it, I thumbed it into the “Notes” app on my phone, knowing it would become the title for this blog. But a cool title for a blog, even if accompanied by a fist-bump-worthy tweet, is not remotely enough. For starters, I need to stand in my own truth. I think I’m actually doing a pretty good job, all things considered. But perhaps it’s time to kick it up to the next level.

And that word “perhaps” is starting to seriously grate on my nerves.

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Echoes of Silence

In the echoing silence, I thought I could hear closet doors that had opened a crack softly but quickly shutting again. We were at a faculty professional development session on supporting lesbian and bisexual students, and an earnest young houseparent had just explained to the facilitator that we didn’t have any issues around sexuality among the faculty and staff because no one was gay. Seriously? I thought to myself. How could we even know? Just because no one has dared come out?

We did find a way to end up having a productive session that day, and by the end of the year, the first two students I can remember from my first 12 years at this school had indeed found the courage to come out as lesbian. This was during the years when graduating Seniors offered a present to the Head of School, and following the theme set for that school year, the Class of 1997 each offered Patrick Collins their own “Book of You” as a way to remember their individual voice at the school. In a gesture that showed how far we had come in less than a year, one of those students offered Mr. Collins The Joy of Lesbian Sex.

Seven years later, when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, Lisa Ganci, our bookstore manager, and her then-partner were the second couple in line at the Northampton Town Hall waiting to get their marriage license at the stroke of midnight. She shared the overwhelming joy of that moment with the school during Housemeeting, speaking movingly about how lucky she felt to work here in a place where she could feel completely safe and supported.

Seven years after that, one of the Seniors came out to the school in another housemeeting, announcing that he was transgender, explaining what name he was using and what pronouns should be used. We faculty had prepared for that moment, with our Mission and Diversity Statements as a guide, and following that housemeeting met in advisory groups to process the announcement. My own group of seventh and eighth graders took the news completely in stride, perhaps in part because three of their families already knew transgender people who had come out. One of my students asked if we were still a girls school, and I said yes, we were still a girls school – with one boy.

Time and time again, I read that one major contributing factor to the sea change in attitude in this country toward homosexuality has been the increasing numbers of people coming out. Suddenly, from the perspective of heterosexuals anyway, gay people weren’t this strange “other”; they were your neighbour, your uncle, your sister. They were people who led perfectly ordinary lives but who happened to be inclined to fall in love with other people of their own gender.

There remains some confusion about bisexuals, and even more confusion about transgender people. If the existence of gay people challenges the notion that men invariably fall in love with women and women invariably fall in love with men, at least the notion of “invariably fall in love with a specific gender” remains in place. Bisexual people and transsexuals further challenge that binary concept of gender, and of course other transgender people just blow it apart. I often read that, as more and more bisexual and transgender people begin to come out, people will increasingly be able to understand the normalcy of these ways of being, and they will be increasingly accepted in society for exactly who they are.

This is why it’s worth taking some time each year as we observe the Day of Silence to think about how far we’ve come, how far we still have to go, and how we get there. The more we break the silence about the full range of genders and sexualities, the easier it will be for people throughout that range to simply be their true authentic selves in public as well as in private.

That’s not to say that we don’t have a long road ahead of us. Thomas Beatie, a trans man who first gained fame during his pregnancy, recently had an appeal to divorce turned down because his marriage was not recognized by his home state. A gay person was handcuffed and forcibly removed from the hospital bedside of his dying partner. Smith College did not review an application from a trans woman because some of the documents she submitted defined her as male; in that context, note that the crazy quilt of laws in this country mean that some people are considered to be different genders in different states. Furthermore, some marriages that are legal in one state may not be recognized in another, and some marriages that are legal in one state may continue to be recognized in another… until one or both people in the couple take a particular action.

To be clear, I’m not arguing about specific religious attitudes toward LBGT people; each religion of course has the right to define their own values, and I fully respect that. Some religions embrace and support LGBT people, others consider it a sin and love and respect them anyway, and then there’s the Westboro Baptist Church. As for me, I fully support anyone who loves and respects all human beings, and I fully resist anyone who refuses to do so.

And that means speaking out into the silence. I regret to this day that I did not react to that earnest young houseparent’s remark, understanding that she no doubt meant well, but specifically working to create a context where those closet doors might open back up a little. I am relieved that they did, and proud of our school for the progress we have made over the last 16 years.

It used to be that, in speaking of puberty, we would say “Oh, she’ll be getting interested in boys,” and most girls would expect that would happen. We’re getting to the point when most people realize that outcome is the most likely – but not certain; as I’ve written before, fully a third of our students reported in a survey given by Life Skills 8 students that they “weren’t sure yet” of their sexuality. I sense, too, that students are aware that it is possible that another student will come out as transgender during their time here. In all cases, I sense various levels of confusion around what all possible genders and sexualities mean but also a sincere desire to work through that confusion in order to be able to accept everyone who is a part of our community.

With all that, though, I am well aware that every single member of the community has their own perceptions of the climate of our school, and they may not match. Do echoes of silence remain here and if so, what can we do to fill that silence? And how will this play out for our students once they’ve graduated?

This, then, is the ongoing work we must think of not only on this Day of Silence, but also throughout the year.

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Filed under Gender, In the Classroom, On Education, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Fashion Statement

Spirit Week is always one of the highlights of the SBS year, from the traditional “Pajama Day” on Monday right through the traditional “Color Wars” skits on Friday. Wednesday is usually “Spirit Day” (we wear blue and white and/or SBS clothing). Tuesdays and Thursdays, however, change around from year to year, providing a nice blend of tradition and routine on the one hand, and freshness and innovation on the other.

In last week’s 7th grade MOCA meeting, Heidi reported to her classmates that they got their top choice color, yellow, that Tuesday would be Twin Day, and that Thursday would be – and I believe this was actually a proposal made by the 7th grade – “Dress like the opposite gender” day. My Humanities 7 class, some months ago, asked me why men don’t wear skirts (“You got me,” I said, “Probably because femininity is undervalued in our culture.”), so amid cheers of “Yay!” and “I get to dress like a boy!” were also cheers of “We get to see Bill in a skirt!”

Just a day earlier, 15-year-old feminist Lilinaz Evans (with whom I had recently networked through a unit we were doing in Life Skills 8 when I learned of her #TwitterYouthFeministArmy) had retweeted a posting by @WeekWoman: “I think more men should wear skirts. Rebel against gender barriers!” I couldn’t resist responding: “My 7th graders are all for that. :-)” and Lilinaz wrote back, “Brilliant! Excellent for hot weather in the summer!” while @WeekWoman wrote “delighted to hear it!” Also, my friend Jean-Marc asked if I would send des photos.

It was a playful interchange, and yet underlying it was the notion that feminist goals are best met not merely by expanding options for girls and women but also by expanding options for all genders. Bill wearing a skirt, apparently, could be serious business indeed.

In fact, one week previously, the feminist blog Jezebel had published a posting entitled “Awesome Indian Men Don Skirts to Protest Rape Culture.” (warning: strong language.) For those who may not be aware, six men have been accused of brutally gang-raping and murdering a young woman on a bus in New Delhi. The crime sparked unprecedented massive protests and calls for justice and an immediate end to rape culture. Among those were an event in which men wore skirts, coining the slogans: “Don’t skirt the issue. Speak up, support women.” and “Change mentalities, not clothes.”

Author-activist Eve Ensler, perhaps best known for the play “The Vagina Monologues,” decided to protest violence against women by declaring February 14 to be a day of “One Billion Rising.” Spread by both social and traditional media, the idea has exploded, and is taking on wholly different characters in different locations. In the United States, Congress declined to renew the Violence Against Women Act last year; a new version of the bill is currently seeking an additional five co-sponsors as I write. This Act dates back to 1994, and has been routinely re-authorized every year up to 2012. The reasons for the controversy include protections offered to LGBT people, Native Americans, and undocumented immigrants, as if women who fall into one or more of those three groups are somehow unworthy of basic rights. Many One Billion Rising supporters in the U.S., unsurprisingly, intend to connect observation of the day to the fight to pass VAWA this time around.

So, yes, I will be wearing a skirt on “Dress like the opposite gender day” – February 14. And yes, I will do it in a spirit of fun and to support Spirit Week. But I will also be wearing a skirt to promote the elimination of gender role stereotypes, to protest rape culture, to support the Violence Against Women Act, and to participate in One Billion Rising.

That will indeed be a fashion statement.


Jezebel printed the following pledge in their posting which all those attending or even passing by the “men in skirts” rally were asked to sign, and in the spirit of One Billion Rising, I share it with you:

I promise that I will be sensitive to gender issues in the way I speak and act. I promise not to be passive. I will step in if I hear offensive speech or views. If I see something wrong happen in front of me, I will create a discussion and talk about my beliefs.

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Filed under Gender, In the Classroom, On Education, School Happenings, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Mission Critical

Bullied Teen Amanda Todd Uploads Chilling Video Before Being Found Dead buff.ly/TpuvZq Another sad case.
@JudyArzt, Twitter posting, October 13, 2012

The video to which Judy is referring is harrowing to watch. You can’t see Amanda’s face, you can’t hear her voice, you can only see – right up to just before the end of the video – her holding and showing us pieces of paper on which she has written her story. Some of the most painful are pushed up closer to the camera. Only once does her hand move away from this task, to briefly wipe her eyes as she holds up the paper reading “I thought he liked me.” She attempted to kill herself twice, and her death, still under investigation, is currently being presumed a suicide.

Here in Western Massachusetts, as I suppose is sadly true of many parts of the country, we are no strangers to bullied children being driven to suicide. In 2009, 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker Hoover hung himself following repeated taunts of being gay, and in 2010, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince also hung herself following relentless in-person and cyber-bullying. In Ms. Prince’s case, even her suicide didn’t cause the bullies to cease and desist; they posted taunts on a memorial Facebook page, though those were eventually removed. At the time, Massachusetts had no anti-bullying law on the books, but the horrific details of Ms. Prince’s case along with the efforts of Sirdeaner Hoover, Carl’s mom, led finally to the passage of “An Act Relative to Bullying” on May 3, 2010.

In a recent posting, “Don’t Let Me Down [On Opening Up When Things Go Down]” José Vilson wrote on the difficult topic of what to do when you as a teacher suspect one of your students may be at risk of harming herself or himself. With the post coming so close to the recent tragic loss of 17-year-old Emily “Milly” Blosdale-Dionne, who attended Stoneleigh-Burnham for part of her seventh grade year, it moved me deeply. I wrote a comment telling my memories of Emily and how shaken I was to learn of her suicide.

Another cyber-friend of mine, Heather Wolpert-Gawron, followed up with a story of when she happened to overhear a student telling her friend that she was considering killing herself. Having overheard the comment rather than having someone come directly to her, Heather struggled with what to do, eventually settling on sending a note to the student through her school’s network messaging system. There was no response, but several days later, the girl approached her to thank her for caring and to say she had talked to her parents about how she was feeling and they were getting her some help.

A third person, using the pseudonym “No name for now,” added in another story of a suicide, the third in five years at her/his school. S/he continued to speak of teaching an advisory class, and rhetorically asking, “‘What’s the worst thing that can happen if you do tell a counselor? Your friend gets mad, right? What’s the worst that can happen if you don’t tell?’ Silence.” “No name for now” pointed out that, for all the attention given to bullying, not one of those suicides was associated with bullying. Neither was Milly’s, and Heather makes no mention of bullying in her own comment. “No name for now” has a teenager who wishes schools would speak more openly of depression, how to recognize the symptoms, and what to do if you see your friend falling into the abyss.

One of my advisees recently spoke to me about feeling that deaths were piling up in her life. She had connections with Milly, and then knew about the student in our community who had recently experienced a death in her family. We ended up having a discussion in advisory about grief, how it varies from person to person, and how best to react to and support friends and other people who are grieving. The girls were most worried that they not say the wrong thing and make the situation worse, and we talked about how simply expressing sorrow, acknowledging that words seem inadequate, and being there for the person however they might need you would be deeply meaningful.

Ellen Carter, our school counselor, recently announced the annual formation of the faculty group “SOS – Support Our Students,” designed to identify faculty members to whom students can turn in confidence if they have deep concerns for their own health or for that of their friends. Though often connected to substance abuse and eating disorders, the program can expand to handle any concern. Someone turning to SOS would not be subjected to school discipline, but would be connected to various support systems, one of which would necessarily be her parents. The goal is to facilitate calls for help that might otherwise go unvoiced, and get kids the help and support they need to lead the long, healthy, happy and successful lives we wish for them. Of course, all adults at SBS are ready and willing to support kids at a moment’s notice, whether or not they are in the SOS group.

On the day of Emily Blosdale-Dionne’s memorial service, I was talking to my colleague Karen Suchenski, who lives and has taught in the district in which Emily was attending school. We were both hurting, for her and her family specifically but also for kids in general, what they go through, how much you care for them, and how much you want to protect them. Of course, kids need our protection less and less as they grow older, and need to learn increasingly to protect themselves. Still, the only way Karen and I could begin to think to respond to this tragedy was to work ever harder to support and care for kids, strengthen their intrinsic sense of self-worth, and identify anyone who may need extra support before things reach a critical stage. Whatever else we do works best when it springs from a healthy self-image. This is a large part of the mission of our school, one which we always feel and always serve, but one which never feels more critical than at times like these.

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Filed under On Education, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School

From the Inside

My apologies in advance for including original quotes “as is”; sometimes, softening ugly words obscures the true ugliness of the message they were meant to convey.

Sometimes, you have to make empty gestures in the hope that in the long run, they will add up to something meaningful. Thus, I put on my purple tie to accent the black shirt and pants I wore as a participant in our Family Weekend performance a few weeks ago. I had no idea how many people knew it was Spirit Day of Ally Week, when one might choose to wear purple to take a stand against bullying, especially of LGBT youth, but I knew I couldn’t in good conscience completely ignore the day, and I knew I would be able to reflect on it and share my thoughts once the intense and rewarding busy-ness and fun of Family Weekend was behind me.

The gesture seemed especially puny given recent commemoration of the 50-year anniversary of voter registration drives of 1962. At a time when lunch counters had only recently been desegregated due to the Greensboro sit-ins, when pernicious and vicious segregation of schools persisted in many regions of the country, and when tension was high as the country was forced to confront relentless demands for change, members of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), their supporters, and of course Black people who attempted to register to vote, were literally risking life and limb. Sam Block reports that on his arrival in Greenwood, Mississippi, “The sheriff came up to me and he asked me, he said, ‘Nigger, where you from?’ I told him, ‘Well, I’m a native Mississippian'” He said, “Yeh, yeh, I know that, but where you from? … I know you ain’t from here, cause I know every nigger and his mammy.’ I said, ‘Well, you know all the niggers, do you know any colored people?” (Block) In looking back on that fall, Block goes on to describe how a pervasive fear among Black people of being fired, evicted, beaten, bombed, and murdered gradually gave way to a sense of solidarity such that when the sheriff would spy and pursue Block and other “race-mixing agitators” (Block), they knew of places in every block to which they could retreat in safety to watch the fruitless search for them out the window. Gradually, the voter registration drive began to take hold and bring about positive results.

Me? I wore a purple tie.

John Gorka’s version of Eric Andersen’s song “Thirsty Boots” came up on my phone today, and as I listened to the words meant to comfort friends who had recently returned from the front lines of the civil rights movement of the early 1960s, images of those days and images of my own students mingled in my head. I saw my Humanities 7 students asking, “Why are people racist?,” “Why are children’s minds so advanced?,” and “Why do some people not care about their children?” and I saw images of federal marshals escorting Ruby Bridges to school in New Orleans as virulent segregationists shook their fists and shouted epithets. I saw Sophia, the leader of the school’s Gay-Straight-Alliance, smiling at me with special warmth the day after I emailed her about an upcoming GLSEN event, and I thought back to the Stonewall riots, often cited as the birth of the gay rights movement, with the key role of transgender people occasionally though much less often recognized as well. I saw Alissa, one of my Humanities 7 students from years past, affirming, “Oh, I am so going to change that!” upon learning of the gender wage gap, and I thought of Gloria Steinem helping to launch “Ms.” magazine. I thought of the Middle School Parents’ Meeting when parents’ intense love for their daughters merged with my own deep caring for my students in a mutual understanding of the strong network of support we were building for these young adolescent girls, too often misunderstood and belittled. And I came to feel a resurgence of hope. “Then tell me of the ones you saw/ As far as you could see / Across the plains from field to town / Marchin’ to be free / And of the rusted prison gates that tumble by degree / Like laughing children one by one / They look like you and me / (…) Where the voices drift up from below as walls are bein’ scaled / Yes all of this and more my friend your song shall not be failed / Oh take off your thirsty boots and stay for awhile…” (Andersen)

Ruby Bridges has written and spoken of a conversation with her teacher, who had noticed her student’s lips moving as she navigated past the crowds of protesters. Asked what she was saying to them, Ms. Bridges responded that she wasn’t talking to them, she was praying for them: “Please be with me, and be those people too. Forgive them, because they don’t know what they are doing.” (Bridges) Her teacher gave her a big hug, with “this look on her face like my mother would get when I’d done something to make her proud.” (Bridges) Small gestures of solidarity do matter, after all, to those who understand them as such. And small gestures of solidarity do not, moreover, preclude larger and more significant actions.

“And all my instincts, they return / and the grand facade, so soon will burn / without a noise, without my pride / I reach out from the inside” (from “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel).  I could choose to berate and belittle myself for doing so little during Ally Week. Or I could choose to acknowledge my good intentions and use the day as a springboard for more significant actions. As images of my students, so strong, so curious, so happy, so passionate about seeking justice, passed before my eyes, I knew what course of action I would choose. Perhaps I could begin by reaching out to other people involved in the struggle. Let’s see. “Sometimes, you have to make empty gestures in the hope that in the long run, they will add up to something meaningful…” Yes. That is a step in the right direction. One step. But a step nonetheless.

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