I was in fourth grade in a suburb outside of Orlando, Florida. My teacher, Mrs. Ezell was fierce. Her face was full of anger. It was completely fueled by a student calling another student “black.”
Mrs. Ezell was short, perhaps only 5’2, but she was powerful and passionate. She wore the strongly scented perfume of cigarette smoke and hung out in the teacher’s smoke room on every break. She drank bottomless diet-cokes from the start of the day until she headed home. She played the game of teacher fairly, she set boundaries, she was fun, but also strict when needed.
But this day, she was infuriated over hearing my classmates call out each other’s races.
We all knew something was sparked inside of her that she had zero tolerance for—ignorance. She quickly brought out two pieces of construction paper; one white, one black. She hung those pieces of paper in the front of the room and said that neither were white people actually “white” nor were black people actually “black.” She held both pieces of paper up to the respecting students who she was addressing. She told us that we were all people, we were the same on the inside and our skin color on the outside didn’t matter. Our skin color was irrelevant.
I loved Mrs. Ezell. When I look back at my favorite teachers in life, she’s one of them, even though I was so young when I was in her class. Now, when I wonder where my own passion and love for culture and diversity stems form, I can’t help but think of these strong experiences where someone I trusted stood up for someone of another race.
Race is a hard conversation. It’s not every day we talk about real racism, and as a white person in our society I certainly can’t even begin to understand the magnitude of its impact on so many people and groups.
And with what’s going on in the media and with our politicians today, we need to talk about race AND prejudice.
I’m not naïve to the fact that I’m part of the favored majority, but I’m also not naïve to the fact that racism and prejudice is alive and real. It seems that racism is something that people are proud of, otherwise, who else would be following the lead of Donald Trump right now.
Every day people are discriminated against for things that are completely out of their control, for simply being human.
I am extremely passionate about the fight for equality, despite being raised in a somewhat racist environment growing up in Florida.
There is much work to be done in order for everyone to experience equality. I don’t know how to fix it, but what I know is that Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote is what will help to set us free:
“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.
It’s time that we start communicating with each other. What would it take to get to know someone who is different than you? How can you begin a conversation with someone who you don’t know? Who believes in a different religion? Or has a different skin color? Who speaks a different language?
Get out and meet the people in your community. Get out and have a conversation, one that embraces openness and acceptance. Seek to understand. Look for the similarities. Look for the good.
When we get to know people, we realize they are good. We see they are like us. They love their families, they want to have a good life, they want to be safe, and have peace. If we don’t know people, if we make judgments and assumptions about who they are and what they believe and how they behave, we cause separation. That separation breeds discrimination, prejudice, and racism.
Let’s break down those barriers by getting out and connecting to people who are different than you. That’s the only way our perceptions will change.
It’s up to you and me to get our country back on track, not racist politicians who are using fear to control you.