Lifelong Valley Girl Rhonda Williams doesn’t recall too much racism in growing up, but she does recall busing as a recent memory—done to bring more of a racial mix to the school in Studio City, Calif. where she works.
Williams, a young-looking 64, has worked 27 years with the Los Angeles Unified School District and she’s an integral part of Walter Reed Middle School where she knows the name of all the faculty and most of the students.
She handles the textbooks, payroll, attendance and is a go-to person for lots of other crucial jobs at the junior high. In February, she goes out of her way to wear native African-American wear in order to show off her heritage.
“I remember when students were bused in, that was definitely a different time,” she says. "It was not that long ago.”
Rhonda grew up in Lake View Terrace about 12 miles north of the school in a part of the Valley that has also changed and became more racially mixed. Her husband, a preacher from the South, grew up with racism—it wasn’t something that was so evident for Rhonda.
“Our young people are very different today, and that is nice to see,” Williams says. “They're open to differences. The kids seem to respect cultures of others.”
She went to San Fernando High School, where the population was mostly Hispanic. Her two sons, now in their mid-30s, attended Walter Reed. She remembers the days when walking in parts of the Valley that a white woman will walk past her with her two boys, and the woman would clutch her purse more tightly. That is the closest thing to racist behavior she could recall.
“I love it that we have movies like 'The Butler' and ‘The Help’ and the young people say they are shocked how the black nannies were treated, even though they took care of the white children,” Williams said. “But I have to remind them these things were not that long ago.”
Williams remembered that her grandmother cooked for a white family and had to live at the house most of the time. Her mother worked for 32 years at the Toluca Lake Golf Course in the lockerroom.
“I discovered my heritage a bit later when I grew up,” Williams says. “But my mother did teach me the best ways to stay out of trouble.”
(Click through the Gallery to see other photos of Rhonda Williams and her outfits.)
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