Mr. Hill, This One’s For You

We do see the color of our skin. People who say they’re color blind aren’t being tansparent, no matter what color they are. That being said, skin color isn’t an evaluatory tool. I won’t mention all the other human variations that aren’t evaluatory tools, because what we’re talking about since George Floyd was killed, since Dr. Martin Luther King marched, since Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, is racism in the United States.

Now for a stab at transparency. When I was in college, I asked a black girl what black people thought about something that was going on at the time. She asked me why I thought she was representative of all black people. Made sense. I’m sure not representative of all white people.

fb_img_1584673841152Charles Hill, Tammy Whose Last Name Has Changed, Dr. and Mrs. Bohn, and Dr. Serna

Later, when I taught third grade, one morning before the beginning of the schoolyear I walked into the office, and a huge black man sat at the principal’s desk. See how I said that? His size and color frightened me at first glance, and I guessed he might  be a new custodian fixing a drawer or something, at least I hoped so.  That’s because I didn’t know him, yet. And he wasn’t the custodian. He was the best principal I ever had.

His name is Charles Hill. When he’s your principal, he knows the names of even the good kids. He plays football and basketball with them at recess. He makes it a point to value all the cultures of all the kids. He includes teachers, parents, kids and the community in the life of the school. He takes up for the downtrodden no matter what color they are. He’s one of the good, no, best guys.

So here’s me, initially afraid of this giant. One day, we’re in staff meeting, and he’s trying to help the teachers talk about racism. No one is saying anything because they’re worried about pissing each other, or him, off. I’m sitting there thinking about how much I appreciate Mr. Hill’s efforts. See, I come from a prejudiced parentage with KKK members in our distant relatives. And about the time I tought this, Mr. Hill said, “Mrs. Baker, what do you think?”

Honestly, I considered lying. Not a good character quality. So I said, “I was thinking that I have a KKK member in my family tree back a ways, and I hope we’ve come a long way since then, but I suspect that a lot of prejudice has simply gone underground.” Truth.

Time goes by. One day Mr. Hill asks me to go with him and some other adminstrators to a workshop on diversity in the Bay Area. Why me? He says it’s because of my comment about my KKK relative. He thinks it was transparent, and that I might learn a lot. The workshop leader has us complete a survey, then we line up according to our score. Questions like, “Would you expect the maitre’d in a restaurant to be the same race as you?” Mr. Hill was clear on the other side of the room from me, and not because he is more educated, played professional football, or can motivate kids to do better than they dreamed they could. I wanted to cry.

On the way home, he told me stories about name calling, being pulled over for no reason, his daughters in danger. None of which happens to me, ever. He and another black administrator in our district were in the front seat. That man was on a diet. He pulled out this powder he was using for the diet, and Mr. Hill yelled, “Put that stuff away! You want the cops to think not only do two black dudes have a white lady in the back, but we got white powder in the front?” Funny, but then, maybe not so much.

About that time, my friend and brother, Charlie Crane, asked me to help him write a book about his dad. It turned out to be the story of the Civil Rights movement from his point of view. From the moment he told me about the shoe store owner telling him to put his foot on the outside of the shoe he wanted to buy because if he put it inside, no white person would buy it, I desperately wanted to write that book for him. It was the least I could do. Charlie came to speak at an assembly at my school, and while he was there, he counseled a boy in my class who needed to hear a strong black man speak truth. Charlie told the kids I am his sister that day. They were looking back and forth, and back and forth, but it was true. I am his sister.

Not long after that, Mr. Hill moved back to the Bay Area. There had just been too many incidents. I was heartbroken. But I remember him, and when I see the opportunity to help a black person win, I take it, because he showed me what it means to be black in America.

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