At an early age, a young black girl set her sights on becoming a Supreme Court justice. Since kindergarten, the fourth grade honor student had been working toward the day when she could actively pursue a career in law. There was absolutely no doubt in her very young mind that she would one day reach her goal. No doubt (that is) until a classroom encounter with “Mr. Danby.”
Mr. Danby was her white fourth grade teacher. One day, he presented the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question, to her class. One by one, the children eagerly responded. Many of them spoke of becoming Ninja Turtles, barbers, beauticians, and professional athletes. For the most part, Mr. Danby’s comments were light-hearted and supportive. But, when heard this particular girl’s response to the question, his demeanor suddenly changed. When asked “the question” the nine year old boldly replied, “I’m going to be a United States Supreme Court Justice when I grow up.”
Amazed by her self-assured announcement, Mr. Danby stood in silence for a moment, giving her a vacant stare. Then, he slowly walked over to her desk and began to look down on her, as she looked up to him. He called her by name and said, “You can never be a Supreme Court justice.” His words struck her like a hammer, leaving her shocked and confused. You see, this academically gifted child had been indoctrinated with the belief that she could reach (or exceed) whatever goals she set for herself. Could she be wrong?
The young girl came home from school that day distraught and confused. She explained to her mother, “Mr. Danby told me that I could never be a Supreme Court justice.” She quickly followed with, “What does he mean?” Although she was too young to fully understand his comment, her mother understood. His message came across loud and clear. Needless to say, the child’s mother was outraged. The very next day, she went to Lakeland Elementary School prepared for battle, ready to confront the racist teacher who had maliciously attempted to destroy her child’s self-esteem.
But, when she arrived at the school, there was a surprise waiting for her. The man she expected to meet was not there. Rather than confronting an arrogant, narrow-minded bigot, she found herself facing a very pleasant, humble, soft-spoken, dedicated teacher. After only a few moments of meeting with Mr. Danby, the mother’s anger disappeared as she began to feel sorry for him. The man she came to know during that forty-five minute conversation was truly someone to be pitied.
Strangely enough, their discussion centered on his troubled upbringing. Mr. Danby shared the fact that he had grown up in a racist household. He explained the he didn’t know that racism was wrong, until he began to interact with children from other ethnic groups at school. He described his blatantly racist parents who would not allow his black friends to enter their home. He went on to remorsefully proclaim, “They were wrong… I’ve tried to be better… But, I guess there are some things that I’ve carried with me… I’m sorry”.
Bigotry and ignorance go hand in hand. Like a wild fire they can spread quickly destroying anything and everything in their path. We can all help to put out the flames. We can try to educate those around us about the destructive nature of racial ignorance. During the challenging process, we must be patient and have compassion. Together, in time, we can extinguish the dangerous fire.
“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed… “ James 5:16
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