In Celebration of International Women’s Day, I Salute a Great Teacher

My son and his teacher Ms. Glynnis Sanders

Originally posted on FB, 8 March 2022
• Written by Lesa Quale Ferguson•

As a mother of a black boy, I am all too often confronted with flat-out meanness toward him in spaces I usually think of as safe: a library, a classroom, a summer school, a department store, or, in this case, the Botanical Gardens. Black kids get picked on, scolded, punished, and chastised more by adults (click here to read the umpteenth study that proves this). As a white mom, I see it so often, not just with my kid but in school yards, hallways, gyms, and everywhere there are black and white kids playing or learning together. After not ever seeing it while raising a white son, I now see it so often, but I never seem to be able to expect it. I’m surprised and unnerved every time, like changing lanes and almost hitting the car in my blind spot.

After whatever petty meanness happens, I confront or write about the person’s behavior. In rebuttal to my complaint, I hear denial and/or intimidation. Sometimes, I end up with some older white lady justice: after my repeated complaints, the Botanical Gardens came to my son’s school for a special presentation. Whatever I can eke out of these situations, it rarely addresses what happened to my son to show him how to withstand what happened. I can’t stop these moments from happening to him or anyone. All I can do is teach him how to tread water in the scum of humiliation, and that is rot. Hurts.

During this particular moment of humiliation, where some mean lady demanded my son disrobe at the Botanical Gardens on a field trip, I witnessed something else happen, something more profound than toiling, something more like history happening before my eyes.

Cal was in kindergarten at the time. He was on a field trip with his class, and I was a parent chaperon. He could be a whirling dervish back then (and sometimes still). On this day, he kept quiet and soldiered on, literally zipped up. I took many pictures of him that day with his class, not knowing who was about to come out from my blindside. Cal wore a Spider-Man sweatshirt, which he had zipped to his chin. He kept his head down. In the pictures, I can tell he was guarded. He was wearing a hat that looked like the top of a Spartan helmet with a red fringe as the mohawk.

We moved into a vegetable room where a cranky, elderly white lady with a sweater on immediately started chastising the children. The kids ran excitedly to the red peppers, carrots, and squash displayed at the table she manned. Cal stayed off to the side, closer to his teachers. Cal’s teacher, Glynnis Sanders, was his first black teacher. It was her first year teaching; she was young, beautiful, and had a soft voice. Even though she had inherited this classroom mid-year, she was already invested in her students and liked to take them out into the community, which took a lot of work. Her classroom was a handful, and Cal led the pack with his whirl. She was dedicated, and I noticed he could maintain calm when he sought her soft voice. I was so proud of his restraint that I let him be. I hung out and took pictures of the kids at the table with my phone.

Suddenly, this old lady with vegetables came after Cal. She told him to remove his hat and insisted on his sweatshirt, too, for no reason. He removed his hat, and then she insisted he remove his sweatshirt. Her tone was hostile and demanding. I could tell he was stunned, unsure what to do—as was I. His Spider-Man sweatshirt protected him. I started to make my way over to him when I saw Mrs. Sanders had come around to him.

She knelt to his level and instructed him, “Keep your sweatshirt zipped. If you want to put back on your hat, go ahead.” Cal gripped the hat. She held his hand through this lady’s ensuing tirade about his disobedience and then through mine when I finally came to my senses enough to speak up. This woman reeled back when she realized that I was not going to side with her, and in this stunning turn of events (for her), I was this kid’s mom. As she and I negotiated our whiteness and entitlements, I could see Mrs. Sander and Cal from the corner of my eye.

Mrs. Sanders offered resistance and solidarity.

Too many of us think that civil rights resistance is an extraordinary moment that requires uncommon courage. Rosa Parks did not give up her seat on the bus, and a bus boycott followed, but hers was never supposed to be a “one-and-done” protest.

At the Botanical Gardens that day, I learned that these seminal moments become a guide or template. Resistance has happened a million times before and millions of moments after. It’s how grandparents, moms, dads, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, and teachers teach young ones how to rise when someone comes to bring them low.

It’s not the savior-ism or protection or pounds of flesh that I can provide. It’s finding dignity where there is none. It’s not buckling at the knees in the storm. It’s learning how not to break when someone comes to break you. It’s resistance and solidarity, and I don’t know what else.

When I see that moment in my mind’s eye, I see Mrs. Sanders and my son tapping into a mystery that stretches through all those big and small civil rights moments – a kind of swift current that came through her hand to his. They call it Black Power, Black Pride, Black Love, Black Excellence. Whatever it is, I am grateful Mrs. Sanders tapped into it with my son. He also has a black teacher this year, who has already helped him along his journey to become a strong black man.

On this International Women’s Day, I want to celebrate Glynnis Sanders for her black girl magic. As white parents of beautiful black children, we need more teachers like you.

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Lesa Quale Ferguson

Writer + Picture Taker ^ Image-Maker & Design Web-ber #Ma

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