Who Am I?
By: Terri Michal Rector
Speech given at Moral Monday
Who am I? I am a white girl that was born at the height of the Civil Rights Movement in a little place in Indiana called Crawfordsville. I was raised by a single mom who never told me who I could and couldn’t play with…she never tried to tell me that other families were different. I never went to segregated schools…we didn’t have segregated bathrooms or drinking fountains. I was a kid who preferred Soul Train over American Bandstand and I preferred the Jackson 5 over the Osmonds. I thank God I was allowed to make choices based on a vision that was free of the prejudices that only adults bring into this world.
In 1987 I moved to Huntsville Alabama. I brought my color blind views with me. I didn’t think about race at all when choosing housing and schools….so you can understand my confusion and disgust when OTHERS kept bringing it up…..like real estate agents and principals. I wondered what kind of place I had just moved too. After a while I gave up and moved to Madison where race was never mentioned.
I provided the same kind of guidance to my kids that was given to me….never making race a factor when it came to friends, music, movies, food or anything else…..it worked well for us, or so I thought. I wasn’t a racist..and I lived a color blind life.
And then in 2012 a student was assaulted in the bathroom at a predominately black school in Huntsville Alabama. She was assaulted, stripped from the waist up and had to run down the hall that way to look for help. I knew this child’s mother and I also knew teachers in the system. As I got insider information from the mother and from the teachers about what happened I saw the breakdown in the school’s communication before my very eyes and I became incensed. I put all of the information I had together and could see they were trying to sweep the issue under the carpet…they were blaming the victim and refusing her a transfer away from her attackers…….but WHY? Why would they NOT do everything they could to protect this child?
One question. One question is all it took for me. That one little question has led to another and another and another. Two years later I am still asking questions and uncovering answers about No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, vouchers, charters, standardized testing, segregation, racism, and classism.
That one question has also led me on a personal path of self-discovery. I have had to face some ugly things about my so called ‘color blind’ life. I realized that through my blindness I failed to see the diversity…I failed to see the uniqueness of the struggles….and because of that I was unable to even walk a step in someone else’s shoes….and yet I felt I was able to do just that because I wasn’t a racist after all. I was so wrong. This journey has led me to begin SOS Support Our Students and to become an administrator with the national organization Badass Teacher Association, 52,000 teachers and advocates strong. I’ve stood against Michelle Rhee demanding answers about Vouchers and charters and I’ve stood before our legislators demanding that they do right by our teachers…for our teachers working environment is truly the children’s learning environment. I have even protested with hundreds of others in Washington DC demanding that a moratorium be put on charters before they do any more damage to our high poverty communities.
Today I am challenging you to ask your question…..to persist beyond the easy ‘comfortable’ answers and to make waves. Make someone uncomfortable. Talk about race. Talk about poverty. Don’t stop because someone asks ‘who are you?’ Don’t stop because you are afraid. So often today I hear teachers say they are afraid they will lose their jobs if they speak out about their working conditions or parents will say they are afraid about retaliation to their children if they opt them out of testing. To that I will reply…..don’t talk to me about fear until you have boarded a bus in Nashville, Tennessee headed for Birmingham, Alabama not even sure if you will make it back alive. Stop hiding behind your fear, allowing it to immobilize you, and to silence you, instead use it to propel you to create change.
Everyone here knows that our high poverty students and our students of color are getting cheated out of a quality public education and it is our duty, whether black or white, brown or yellow, to speak for those that cannot…..that is the human condition….to protect our young.
So, please join me in demanding that our legislators stop using legislation like the Accountability Act to line their pockets and those of their friends with the monies that should be going towards education and instead find REAL solutions to equally funding our schools so that every child can receive a quality public education in in their zip code in Alabama. Parents and taxpaying citizens of Alabama….we HAVE the power to create change through our voice and our vote…..WHO’S SCHOOLS? OUR SCHOOLS!