Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Living History


I got a wonderful e-mail in response to my Dr. King post.

My newest adopted daughter, a friend of my daughter-in-law, is a teacher. She asked me if she could share my childhood story of Martin with her students. One of her kids had mentioned that "without Dr. King you wouldn't be able to teach here". I guess she saw this click in her kids and wanted to encourage them to think about history and relate to it on a personal level.

And it got me thinking ...

I was seated behind two young girls during "Hairspray - the Movie" and they didn't believe that black kids and white kids were not allowed to dance together in the early days of American Bandstand. They thought it was just part of the storyline - a "way to give Queen Latifah something to sing about". When the house lights came on we smiled at one another and I assured them it was true, hard as it was for them to identify with, it was true. We had a nice conversation about then and now - I think they learned a little from me, I certainly gained new perspective from them.

And that got me thinking ...

I was in NYC's Greenwich Village a few years ago and I noticed a group of teens. They were a little rowdy, one had an open beer bottle, the others were just a bit too loud - and one couple was making out - on my car! Figures - the one time I find a free parking spot on the streets of NY. Even a few years ago my car was junky and I was going to walk on when a male couple passed holding hands. The teens got louder - mostly giggling and gasping and jostling each other and again I was going to walk on - kids will be kids. Then the male of the make-out couple said the "F" word and the female made some kissing noises and said she was "disgusted" and well - my inner "Norma Rae" came to life. As I walked over to the teens, under the pretext of opening my car, I mentioned to them that they should lose the beer bottle, there was a cop on the corner and I was sure he'd noticed them since they were so loud. I also told them that they were getting a lot of unwanted attention with the use of the "F" word. My plan worked, my looking out for them gained me their attention and appreciation. They apologized for being all over my car, I shrugged, said it was a piece of crap - no harm done. I asked the male of the make-out couple (he was black) whether he knew that, not that long ago, he would have been arrested (or worse) for kissing a white girl. "Well not today" he exclaimed - looking shocked and confused. True, true I told him, "and isn't that wonderful!" - "People fought and died for those civil rights". To his credit he caught on. "So the "F" word is as bad as the "N" word" he remarked. I told him I didn't know how to measure the words, they were all repugnant to me. I wasn't going to lecture (I really wanted to) - I was just asking him, all of them, if they had ever considered their place in a greater world. A world where other people didn't have the same rights as they did. A world where it was dangerous to show who you loved. "Never thought of that" - "My father says the "F" word all the time" - "We call each other gay". I don't know how much of a difference I made with those kids.

But I got them thinking ...

I had very negative role models in my parents. I often tell people I was "raised by wolves". One of the things that saved me was other adults - my Grandmother, the nosy but loving neighbor, a few inspiring teachers, Dr. King. By sharing themselves, by talking to me as a person they laid the foundation for a free thinking adult. They showed me my place in a greater world. They made something click for me by being there - being part of my history.

And so I realized ...

I followed their lead all these years. I rarely judge young people. I often try to share a moment, a tid-bit of my experience - to show them their place in a greater world - to hopefully make them feel how we are all connected and to give them, if even for a moment, the confidence and security to think outside the box of their homes, their schools, their friends, their environment.

There are so few tangible perks to getting older - the joints ache, the eyes get tired, stuff sags. BUT - the value of our place in the living history of younger folks can be immeasurable. I see it in the eyes of my VFW buddies - how good they feel when they share their stories with me and see me click on something I never considered before. Makes them feel young and important - makes me still see, at my ripe old age, how we all never stop learning.

15 comments:

Mahala said...

"raised by wolves" I like that. I may borrow it lol.

Jay Simser said...

I am in awe of this person. This is an incredible story. I am going to link it from Bailey's Buddy. j

Dianne said...

LOL right back Mahala, please feel free to borrow any of my twisted words, it's a wonderful compliment to be borrowed. And in total honesty, I stole it from my brother. :)

Jay - you make my heart warm. You are such a generous and supportive soul.

Cherie said...

It's both a commentary on how far we've come, yet how far we have to go. I kind of love that those two girls in the movies couldn't believe that black kids and white kids couldn't dance together. The idea was outside of their comprehension. But I also understand not forgetting the past when entire nations (not to mention smaller groups) instist that the Holocaust never happened.

And we do still have so much further to go. It was wonderful how you managed to speak to those kids in a way that engaged them when they would tune most folks out. It's a gift.

xxoo

Dianne said...

"I kind of love that those two girls in the movies couldn't believe that black kids and white kids couldn't dance together."

what a great point Cherie!

kenju said...

Such a good post, Dianne!

Bob-kat said...

I went back and read your MLK post too and they are both powerful posts.

Seeing the wider picture and knowing our place in it is so important. The UK curriculum does not seem to teach this these days and many kids are ignorant of history and what it means. We have to know where we have been to know where we are going!

Thanks for your visit to my blog :)

Jeni said...

Gonna echo everyone else's comments here - as in the old cigarette commerical -"You've come a long way, Baby" -just change it to "We've" though. We have come a long, long way but boy, what a road and how long it still stretches out ahead.

And, as Bob-kat said too -"you have to know where we've been" - I've been trying to get that message about history across to my kids, now to my grandkids -along with just about everyone else I meet.

And you can't just know the history in the sense of "what happened" but also, to understand the circumstances of the era, of the peoples involved, their own knowledge bases as well at times, to be able to grasp the "why" factor at times too. Ignorance may be bliss at times but not in everything, ya know.

Dianne said...

thank you kenju :)

I love your blog Bob-Cat, the photos in the last post are stunning. Thank You for visiting here and for your kind words.

jeni - you hit the nail on the head when you talked about needing to understand the people involved in order to understand our past.

magnetbabe said...

It boggles my mind that so many people have a hard time drawing the connection between what Dr. King fought for and the current gay rights movement. Thanks for helping at least a couple of people get it.

Akelamalu said...

Well done you for making them 'think', there's not many people who have that gift. Thanks for stopping by my place and taking the time to comment. :)

Dianne said...

"...so many people have a hard time drawing the connection between what Dr. King fought for and the current gay rights movement..."

I agree magnetbabe! I was pleased that Obama recently adressed that during a speech at Dr. King's church. He told the congregation they needed to take responsibility for not embracing their gay brothers and sister. I felt good about that since I feel that gay rights is one of the few places where he is wishy-washy.

thank you akelamalu - I enjoy visiting your blog ;)

Smalltown RN said...

What a wonderfully inspiring post....I for some reason tend to have little patience with loud and obnoxious teens...I try to be tolerant but I know I am not....I am in awe of how you were able to turn that situation around, you gave them a chance to redeem themselves and taught them a lesson at the same time....

magnetbabe said...

"gay rights is one of the few places where he is wishy-washy"

I couldn't agree more. None of the top tier candidates are taking this issue seriously, they are already trying to pander to the moderates. I feel strongly about this issue and that above anything else was why I was having a tough time deciding to vote with my head (Obama) or my heart (Kucinich). Unfortunately, the decision was made for me yesterday when Dennis dropped out. :(

Dianne said...

thank you smalltown rn - Part of my tolerance for loud teens comes from the fact that I was a loud teen. I had such a miserable childhood and went more than a little crazy as a teen, constantly acting out in search of negative attention.

magnetbabe - we've already been called this once but it bears repeating - we are kindred souls.