Sunday, April 01, 2007

Walk the Talk

Spring is here.

Today is one of those almost warm days, where around your feet you feel the ground’s exhale of the winter frost but the sun heats your face.

I wanted to open windows but when the furnace kicked on, I realized the breeze is still a little too cold.

And as is true in springtime, I have fallen in love…

With a house.

No, an ideal.

I sat in meetings last week talking about racial justice. I had been to a conference the week before listening to people identify and try to address structural racism.

Before that, I listened to my friend Susan Eaton interviewed on NPR, talking about her book, “The Children in Room E4: American Education on Trial”. She talks about the loss of all communities when they are isolated from each other. It’s not just the poor kids who lose- it’s all kids.

My kids do not go to a diverse school. I do not live in a diverse neighborhood.

I have a beautiful home. Great neighbors who are welcoming, warm and wonderful people. The neighborhood is the kind where everyone knows each other, there are progressive dinners planned and when the kid’s baseball game goes long into the afternoon, someone sneaks home to grab a bottle of wine, some paper cups and shares with the crowd.

I know most of the kids in the elementary school and their parents. The local barber knows my boys. I cannot go to the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon without running into at least three or four other people I know. It is comfortable and it is a vibrant community.

And I fell in love with another house. Another image of how I could live. One that reflects my values. One in the city where people are Black, Brown, rich and poor, gay, straight. One where I could become a part of the solution.

A place where crime is on the rise. Where kids coming in with a lack of resources overwhelm the schools. Where cars get stolen from in front of the house and every market is not pristine.

You can’t send your kids there, I have been told. They would have to test into the one good public high school- Boston Latin. Or else you have to send your kids to private school.

Public Education is the right of every citizen in this country. Not just the rich, suburban kids.

How do I teach my kids about diversity? Having them volunteer at an organization in the city in some way? Doing some community service in someone else’s community?

It doesn’t feel like anyway to address the racial divisions and structures in place that keep opportunity in far away places.

It feels patronizing. Sure, we’re happy to help but hell no, we wouldn’t live there!

I have an incredibly comfortable life. I will always have one. Wherever I live, that will not change.

I want to be a part of making significant change.

I want my children to understand why it’s not a nice thing to do but an essential thing to do. I want them to understand on a core level I know.

My mother taught me to understand at the core level she knew.

She told me a story, often, when I was growing up about one night while in college in Baltimore; she and her friends went out to dinner. The place was crowded and they had to wait for a table. The first one that opened up, they sat down at.

My mother could not eat.

There had been an African-American family sitting there. My mother was raised to believe Blacks and Whites never, ever should be at the same table.

Her friends did not hesitate for a second. She knew she was different. She vowed, then, to change. And, over time, she truly did.

She told me the story because she wanted me to think.

I am.

How do I teach my kids the lesson of my generation? Years after Brown vs. Board of Education and we are no closer to equity in classrooms. How do I hold my responsibility?

Last week I was asked why I was at the boardroom table, in a role of power. What made me, a white woman of privilege have a right to a seat?

I answered because I know I do not have the right to the seat but do have the power to be there. I am using my power and ensure the right people do get to the table.

Truth is? My kids go to an amazing, well-funded public school where kids ask questions, textbooks are new, and recess is always a part of their day.

I talk the talk but do not walk it.

Maybe it’s like opening the window with the breeze today. Maybe my ideals of living in a racially integrated neighborhood and having my kids go to public schools are wonderful in thought, impossible in reality.

I can’t help but wonder, though, if it’s my table, cleared, ready for me to sit.