divided life

#DontforgetMcKinney – The Not-So-Special Case of a Black Girl in Suburbia (Guest Post)

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By Shara D. Taylor

I hated middle school. Most of my teachers hated me. Let me count the ways.

I was called a disgrace to my race by a music teacher.

I was told I’d become a drug-dealing jailbird by another music teacher. That lady was a former narcotics agent who probably shouldn’t have had a teaching license.

One day I watched two teachers discuss which one would ask me to remove my baseball cap inside the building. I consciously was challenging their authority. I knew my petite, pre-adolescent frame scared them.

I got kicked out of a pep rally once. For dancing. In her office, the principal explained at length why such behavior was unacceptable. At a pep rally.

One time I was sent to the principal’s office because the white guy sitting next to me in music class kept talking after the teacher told us to be quiet.

I, along with several other black students, ended up in detention for walking into class after the bell rang. The art teacher ran (yes, ran) into the classroom behind us to make sure the teacher saw us. She said nothing to the group of white kids who walked in past her as she walked out. Maybe she didn’t see them?

A different art teacher got in my face (thisclose) once because I wrote on the construction paper that she’d worked so hard to cut into funny shapes. With her finger in my face, she told me she wouldn’t stand for my nasty attitude in her class. It was our first session.

During my first year there, 7th grade, they wouldn’t put me in the advanced classes because they didn’t think my city school education would translate well into their county school curriculum. Imagine their faces when they realized I could outperform their lifelong suburban students. The next year, I made it into algebra, but two of my teachers had to work to get me into the honors English class. I fought against it.

My 8th grade honors English teacher once told me that she’d expected me to be her worst student based on what she’d heard about me from other teachers. She admitted that I turned out to be one of her best. Low expectations, anyone?

The principal called my mom at work once to tell her that I really didn’t do anything. She just didn’t like the way I looked at her.

I got kicked out of the peer mediation program because I threw an orange peel in the cafeteria in hopes of starting a food fight. I admitted as much. I knew they didn’t want me in it anyway, despite being the only student trained at the time. I can thank my elementary school for that.

The principal enlisted the goofy janitor to spy on me during my lunch period. He reported everything I did to her. Like…why?

A group of us students found some KKK literature under a desk once. We showed it to the faculty and administration. They swept it under the rug. However, we had a school wide assembly a few weeks later to discuss why we shouldn’t stick bubblegum under our desks.

That one stung.

Never once did any of the aforementioned adults ask me how I was adjusting to living in a new environment. One that was fundamentally different from where I started my life’s journey. Never once did any of them show any concern for my mental well-being. Never once did they question how a kid who spent an inordinate amount of time in the principal’s office still managed to outperform the teachers’ pets. To them, it mattered not. I mattered not.

One teacher asked though. Mrs. Banks. She was the only black academic teacher I had during my two years at that school. All the others were either arts or gym teachers (no shade to arts or gym teachers).

Mrs. Banks was from my old neighborhood. We had attended the same elementary school. We had the same principal despite being years apart in age. We bonded over that.

She’d ask me if I needed to talk about anything. She’d smile at me whenever I seemed frustrated. She told me that I wasn’t allowed to not try my best in all my classes.

She called my mom when I told her I wanted to drop out of her 8th grade algebra class. It was hard, I said. I was making Bs. I was supposed to be an A student. She asked my mom not to let me to quit. She didn’t. They worked with me as a team. I kept at it because I didn’t want to disappoint Mrs. Banks. She cared, so I cared.

Those other teachers didn’t care about me. I knew it. I had a mother who cared and a naturally tenacious personality. Mrs. Banks cared, too. I wouldn’t have made it through middle school without her or my mom or my own stubborn pride.

Mrs. Banks would tell me she was calling my mom whenever I’d act out. Don’t move, she’d say. She kept her cell phone close by for such occasions. She’d then tell my mom about the excellent progress I was making in her class. That would change my whole attitude. I mattered to her.

I. Mattered.

***

Contrary to the idiotic expectations of her former teachers, Shara holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Howard University and a master’s degree in city planning from the University of Pennsylvania (Yep, that’s Ivy League!). By day, she plans for neighborhoods. By night, she plans for her future as a filmmaker.

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