by Anne Rowe
At the beginning of the school year I looked over the field of difference in the children of the Berkeley public school second grade classroom where I would be spending a few hours each week during the coming months. There was a confusion of color and circumstance, culture and ethnicity—some of it readily apparent, much of it not. I later learned that some of the shades of beautiful brown skin were blends: African American/Japanese; Samoan/Filipino; African American/Mexican; Brazilian/Japanese. Three white boys each had two moms. The parents of a serious and solemn student were in the process of divorce. Children of Mexican, Fijian, Argentinian, Italian and Greek parentage enriched the mixture. Two girls, one of Pakistani descent and the other of Indian, were on the way to becoming best friends.
As a novice teacher’s assistant, I wondered how and whom I might help. How and why did I miss the light-skinned, fair-haired girl who regularly—and secretly—chose to draw rather than struggle with the challenges of reading, writing and arithmetic? What assumptions was I making?
The answers to these simple questions have become clearer to me through conversations in gatherings of the Diversity Ministry Team as it explores issues of discrimination and injustice both close at hand and in the wider community. I am grateful for the wisdom and assurance here that taking small steps contributes to developing awareness and addressing such significant issues.