We talked to Jake and Zachary last night extensively about class and race. They did not understand why my parents had great educations, and Jeanine's parents never went to college.
It started with the story of Ruby Bridges. She had gone to speak at Jake's school today. One of the first kids to integrate a school in the south, she was a brilliant student who passed an impossible test to gain access to an all white school in New Orleans.
Jake said the story was long but worth it. He was wide eyed with clear respect for all Ms. Bridges had done.
Then, as it was homework time, a question about paper. Jake said, I want to start a paper company...
I said, Your great-great grandfather did start one. In North Carolina. It's why we have money.
The conversation turned to education, weaving in the Ms. Bridges story, to why some people have money and some don't, some go to good schools, some don't. Why did everyone take their kids out of school when Ruby went?
Money and race and socio-economic class.
Why did Nana Weezie live in a boxcar? How did Grandma's dad run a paper company? Why did Momma Jeanine not finish school until she was 30? Why didn't Nana go to college? Why did you? Who gets money, and who doesn't? Are there rules?
Yes. Yes, there are rules. Unwritten ones. Like why all the parents pulled their kids out of the school Ruby went to. Why the US Marshalls, as opposed to local police, kept watch over her.
They were the only ones who would keep her safe.
How things change, slowly.
Great questions. I'm curious as to how they take in our answers. We talked about how people, simply because of the color of their skin, did not get to have opportunities. How one of the smartest people we know never got the chance to go to college- and how unfair that was. How Nana would have loved to go to college- how Grandma didn't have a choice- it was expected.
How education made the difference- especially a great education. Work hard because you have the chance, we said. Not many people do.
I am reminded of spending time at Dorchester High School a few years ago. It broke my heart. Kids so long lost, never with hope, spending time in what seemed like a jail. Kids. Kids that could all be something great.
Or when I worked with young runaways, twenty years ago, trying to find them a place in the system. They came from desperate poverty, abusive homes, living on the streets- and faced a system that only saw numbers and bed counts. It is hard for me to go back there- so many were lost. And the stories I heard... unrepeatable. A boy who had been put in a dryer. A girl raped at 8 by a stepfather and at 13 carrying his baby. A kid who went to a party, caught in the gang crossfire, dead.
He was 16 and loved to play the saxophone. Just like Zachary does.
I hope they understand how precious the gift of access is. I hope they understand, someday, their privilege and open their hearts.
I am so grateful to Ruby Bridges. I am grateful that she continues to have the energy to engage young audiences and remind them of what it was like in 1960. It brought up an amazing conversation tonight in the house.
And reminded me, again, of how important it is for my boys- soon to be white men- understand.