Thursday, December 1, 2011

Story Twenty Nine: Courage

Well... this is it. The last story of the month as today is the first of December. If you've been reading, could you please take a moment or two to answer a 5 question anonymous survey? After 30 days of writing, I'd like to think of what to do next and which stories may need to be developed. Also, if you have comments or suggestions, please feel free to send them to my gmail account which is hailer.karla at gmail dot com. (Just remove the spaces and change at to @ and dot to .) The survey can be found here:


I really would love to hear from you and what you think.

In the mean time, here is the last story I wrote. I was frustrated when I recently found out that the time lines displayed in classrooms that depict various mile stones of the Civil Rights movement are determined by people at the state level and Jackie Robinson isn't on there. It disturbs me that if you ask a classroom of Massachusetts students "Who is Jackie Robinson?" most of them don't know who he is or how he changed this country. The one response that angered me, in speaking with someone at an educational institution training teachers, was, "He was just a baseball player."

Just a baseball player? I don't think so.

I was also deeply disturbed when student saw a photo of an iconic moment that defined my life of a lawyer rammed with the US flag on Boston's City Hall Plaza during the height of bussing unrest in the 70's. She asked me if this was taken in Selma. We were in the middle of the Civil Rights unit last year and it struck me that most kids assumed Boston was immune from racial tensions and unrest because we were "in the North."

This story will turn into something more because we need to realize that as things become mainstream, they become normal but they become normal because they become mainstream. Part of why this country accepted Jackie Robinson, beyond his exceptional talent, was also because Red Barber made the decision to call Robinson like any other player on the field. As a result, many people accepted him as a player on the Dodgers first rather than the color of his skin.

I want people to stop thinking of "dumb jocks" and realize many, many of our professional athletes that are stand up people are highly intelligent, articulate humans that can make a difference in helping kids understand the importance of education. To do that, we have to stop discounting athletics.

As I step off my soapbox, I hope you enjoy this story and check back. If you use Google Reader, please add my blog to your subscriptions so, as new stories/bits of writing are posted, you can stay up to date. Thank you again for following my journey this month.


There were few things that made Alex angrier than when teachers refused to acknowledge that athletes had made major contributions to history. They would label him a “sports nut” or give a sigh or roll their eyes when he would relate an athlete to something they were talking about.

But he had held out hope when he walked into Mrs. Everett’s class. On her inspirational quote board was one of his favorite quotes from Branch Rickey: “I want a man with the courage to not fight back.” It was what he said to Jackie Robinson when he was looking for someone to break the race barrier in baseball.

Instead, he was so angry right now, he felt like he could spit nails. As they started the Civil Rights unit. He figured the progression made sense. They started with the slave trade and stories about folks like Henry “Box” Brown, a slave who shipped himself to abolitionists in Philadelphia and freedom and Harriet Tubman. They moved through the Underground Railroad, the Emancipation Proclamation and then straight to Rosa Parks and Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

As she started discussing the protest known as the Children’s Crusade, he raised his hand.

He got the sigh this time.

“Alex, you have a question?”

“Why is it we missed 1947?”

“What do you mean we missed 1947,” she sighed again.

“Well, we covered Brown vs the Board of Education in 1954, Rosa Parks in 1955, Little Rock in 1957, Letter from a Birmingham Jail and the Freedom Riders in 1960 and now we’re onto the Childrens’ Crusade.”

“Is there a question or are you just recapping our timeline?”

“I’m saying we missed 1947 when Jackie Robinson took to the field with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Further, in 1944 he refused to move to the back of a military bus and was court marshaled as a result, derailing his military career but what sent him to the baseball field for a tryout in the Negro leagues. You quote Dr. King but never his proclamation that he couldn’t have done what he did if Jackie Robinson didn’t do what he did first.”

“Thank you Alex.”

“No!” he yelled.

Everyone stared at him.

“I’m sick of this! For the past three years we’ve studied slavery and civil rights and never once does anyone mention a key figure. Not only that, he was a strong champion of education as a way to get out of poverty. He kept his mouth shut when people spit on him, spiked him, shouted at him and threatened him. But did he get recognized for how he changed the world? Do we even think about why I can wear a Big Papi shirt or,” pointing to one of his classmates, “Erin can wear a Carl Crawford shirt today? Every kid in this room can tell you all about Rosa Parks, but can they tell you about anyone who refused to move before that?”

Alex realized he was standing. He hadn’t realized he stood up nor did he remember balling his fists up. He could feel his face was warm and suspected it was probably bright red.

“Alex, you need to calm down.”

“He lettered in three sports at UCLA. He was going to be a teacher but had to drop out to support his family when his father died. His wife was a teacher and the Jackie Robinson foundation sends kids to college even though he died in 1972.”

“Alex, you’re done. Now sit down.”


The word was quiet but emphatic. It had slipped out of his mouth automatically.

“Excuse me.”

“No,” he said a little louder. “Was that loud enough for you or do I need to shout it? Until this school system begins to acknowledge the role of Jackie Robinson in the Civil Rights movement, I will not calm down. I will fight every way I can to make sure that kids behind us know about him.”

Mrs. Everett looked at him. She was giving him the teacher stare trying to reestablish her control over the classroom. Under most conditions he wouldn’t think of challenging a teacher but he was sick of it.

“Seriously why aren’t YOU teaching us about this? You’re the teacher. You can make a difference.”

“Sit down Alex.”

Her voice was calm and controlled.

He looked at her and he felt something snap inside. Looking down at the photo of the people sitting at a lunch counter and smiled. He sat down on the floor.

“In your chair Alex.”

“No. I am sitting in protest.”


“Who will join me?”

A few of the other students smirked and joined him on the floor.

Mrs. Everett looked at him and nodded.

“Suit yourself,” she went back to teaching her lesson. The kids who sat down with him became quickly bored when they realized there was no rebellion happening and went back to their seats. But Alex remained seated on the floor. At the end of the lesson, when she called on the class to line up to head to the gym, Alex didn’t move.

“Alex, it’s time to go to PE.”

“Are you willing to talk about how to make sure Jackie Robinson gets into the curriculum?”

“This is neither the time, nor place.”

“Then I’m not moving.”

Mrs. Everett looked at him. She walked over to the classroom phone and called the office. A few moments later, the school floater was walking the rest of the class down to the gym and Mrs. Everett was on the phone with his mother.
About 15 minutes later, his mother was walking in the door of the classroom with the sticky visitor badge on the front of her shirt.

“Mrs. Newman, I’m glad you’re here. We seem to have a problem with Alex.”

His mother looked at him.

“What’s happening?”

“He’s a little agitated about today’s lesson.”

His mother looked over at him again.

“Apparently he’s upset that we didn’t cover Jackie Robinson in the current Civil Rights unit.”

“Well, why didn’t you?”

Mrs. Everett looked at Alex’s mom.

“Why didn’t you cover Jackie Robinson?”

“It’s not part of the curriculum guidelines.”

“Well, would you consider him a figure in the movement?”

“That doesn’t matter.”

“But it does.”

Mrs. Everett tried giving his mom the same look she used on the class but was surprised to see she could have been looking into a mirror.

“Mrs. Everett, I understand that you have specific materials to teach. I will be honest with you, I retired from the classroom a few years ago when I realized that it was about teaching to the test rather than innovation and education. I’m currently working on my Doctorate so that I can have the proper credentials to help change things back to school being about education and less about training.”

“I’m glad to hear that you’re still involved in the field.” Mrs. Everett’s voice was a bit shaky.

“I understand your need to make sure there is order in the classroom. Of course if you think fourth grade is bad, try a high school classroom that’s low on the choice list unlike this school, which is the number one choice in the city lottery. I can appreciate your dilemma right now, but my son is right. There is a glaring hole in your curriculum that needs to be filled. I’ll take my son home, but this isn’t over. I would strongly encourage you to rethink the curriculum.”

“It’s not up to me Mrs. Newman.”

“I understand.” She rose and looked over at her son, “Alex, pack up. We’re going to visit a friend of mine over at the Globe. Make your case to her and maybe you’ll be making a difference as well.”

Alex stood up.

“What’s our homework tonight Mrs. Everett?”

She looked at Alex.

“I want you to write me a clear, comprehensive essay on why Jackie Robinson is a major Civil Rights figure on the same par as Rosa Parks, Brown vs. the Board of Education and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. You will be concise and be able to present it to the class tomorrow.”

Alex thought for a moment and then nodded.

“I can do that.”

“I’m looking forward to it.” Mrs. Everett stood up. “And Mrs. Newman, if your friend wants to give me a call, I’m more than happy to speak with her.”

Alex’s mom smiled and reached across the table to shake Mrs. Everett’s hand.

“I’ll be sure to have her give you a call.”

As they were about to leave, Mrs. Everett called out.


He turned around.

“Did I ever tell you my favorite quote from Branch Rickey?”


“It’s one I can’t put on the wall and goes like this, ‘I find fault with my children because I like them and I want them to go places - uprightness and strength and courage and civil respect and anything that affects the probabilities of failure on the part of those that are closest to me, that concerns me - I find fault.’”

Alex nodded.

“Do you know why Jackie Robinson is my hero Mrs. Everett?”


“Because he was my mom’s hero. She went to school in Boston during the height of busing, something else we don’t talk about in the Civil Rights unit.”

“Alex, maybe you can change that, but disrupt my class again and you’ll be in in-school suspension.”

“I can dig it.”

“So long as we understand each other.”

As Alex left with his mother, Mrs. Everett smiled. She hoped he would change things. The world needed more kids like Alex to shake things up and, with a little luck and some support, he could shake things up like his hero.

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