He answered, " We are having a fantastic conversation" which might as well have been an invitation to come and sit down. So, I did. What began as a conversation about the impact and misplaced power of social media morphed into a conversation about the presidential election and eventually evolved into a discussion of the race relations in the United States. All of my sensors and perceptions were standing at attention as I listened to the thoughtful remarks, the learned anger, the pure indignation and the innocent confusion each mind held. I watched the children speaking; I observed those who were remaining silent and I paid careful attention to those waiting patiently for their turn to speak. I am proud to tell you these young people were very kind and courteous to each other and stand in tall contrast to the adult behavior we have seen recently. I am thankful for their teacher and the safe environment he has created in that classroom.
Curiously, this is an Oklahoma History classroom for juniors and seniors. Many of the students did not live in Oklahoma previously; they are new to us. Some are new to America. Thus, the classroom populates with rich diversity. Their perceptions and voices represent different continents as well as different races and yet they remained kind and courteous -even when the topic infuriated one of them personally. Two young ladies caught my eye in particular as they spoke of the hardship of being women of color. One mentioned a definition of beauty she resented and one that she could not reach. The other lamented the stereotypes of strong women. While I could tell each young lady my struggle with each hardship, I remained quiet instead realizing the struggle of an old woman was not at issue, nor was the plight of the Hispanic male who taught their class. So we listened.
As the minutes of the class lessened and waned, the hands continued to raise. Wisely, the teacher asked each child to pull out a piece of paper and begin writing all those thoughts he/she was not able to share. Immediately, each student began and the friction of writing utensils on the paper beneath filled the classroom. Having made every idea important, the teacher watched a thirty young minds filled thirty five pieces of paper with valuable thought.
When class ended, I hovered waiting for an opportunity to look those two young ladies in the eye. The smallest, most petite young lady with piercing brown eyes and sharp, high cheekbones walked by my perch. I reached out and asked if I could share a thought. She gently complied, and I placed my arm around her shoulder, bringing her next to my side, "You are beautiful. There are lots of definitions of pretty, but the most important one comes from our hearts." Her mother had already shared this pearl with her; I could tell by the genuine smile that spread across her face. The second young lady reached for her backpack, throwing her long braids out of the way of its weight as she readied herself to leave. I reached out, "Are you on pinterest?"
"'No, but my mom is."
"Oh, well there's this meme. You've probably seen it. It says, 'Here's to strong women. May we know them. May we raise them.' - Here's to your mama." At which, I offered her a fist bump and to my joy she returned it, ducking her head on her way past me.
As the girls left the classroom, my heart broke. I know that's the opposite feeling I should have had, but it did; it broke. I couldn't help but think that if some one had told the lady who killed Taylor that she was beautiful, that it was okay to be strong, that she was worthy, that my baby girl would still be here pouring light into the lives she loved.