Why black parents may no longer have to accompany their children on a jog; maybe there's hope for my pal Tameka, who like Mr. Arbery, was chased by angry white folk, a chilling experience!

My mind is sort of muddled. It’s nearly Thanksgiving, and I know I should be thankful for recent, racial reckonings, Ahmaud Arbery and Charlottesville, v. the insane Rittenhouse verdict. I keep wondering–are the bad guys losing? The score–at least for this week–suggests so. C’mon its two to one in favor of people who respect the rule of law. That’s unbelievable in 2021; sadly as it was equally unbelievable around the Civil War, during Reconstruction, at the time of WW II when the Japanese were being interred, and of course, during the McCarthy hearings in the 1950s.

Enough history; my concern is justified.

A bit about me. I respect the rule of law. At 21, I attended law school and graduated in 1982. My parents advised me that attending law school was the right move back then because smart girls didn’t become teachers. My husband disagreed and helped me find a good fit for my skills. Here I am in my sixties, quite proud of my third career. I am a teacher and have been in the field of education, since 1988, when as a young mom, I began working at Chicago-Kent College of Law as an adjunct professor of mediation.

Now on to Tameka. I met Tameka in 2013. I had decided to go back to school for a doctorate in Curriculum Studies because I had issues with society’s educational aims and the delivery of educational services. Put simply, I was very concerned that students and teachers did not think enough about the purpose of school, and I found that failure of reflection terribly troubling. Plus, schooling in the US is so inefficient. In 2009, I quit my job as a suburban gifted resource teacher, reflected a bit about systemic problems in education (also did a little tutoring which I hated), and enrolled in a PhD program in January of 2013.

That’s where I met Tameka. Tameka was a rockstar in our Curriculum Studies program. Not surprisingly, she continues to make major contributions to the field of education. I admire her resolve, her religious spirit, and her pragmatism. A very smart and practical teacher (sometime around 2013), Tameka looked at the landscape of opportunities available to persons of color and decided that black students needed to be exposed to study abroad programs. Not surprisingly, that became the basis for her dissertation. Under Karen Monkman’s astute guidance, Tameka created a study abroad program to Spain and implemented it! Around 2014 or 2015, Tameka took a bunch of inner city students to Spain (many had never left the south or west sides of Chicago and lacked suitcases so I donated a bunch of used suitcases, as did others in our cohort). With genuine enthusiasm, Tameka channeled her former study abroad experiences (guessing ten years earlier) and introduced her inner city black kids to opportunity and potential; Tameka and her high school students traversed the Spanish countryside and visited big cities in Spain. Though I was in my late fifties when I first met Tameka at DePaul and I suspect that she was in her late twenties, our friendship flourished!

Going back to 2013, the cohort that adopted me was actually formed in 2012 and it became–over time– a tight group. Of all the students I loved the most, one was white (in her fifties like me), and two were black. Denny, one of the black students in my cohort is and was a world traveler, a playwright, and a former banker. Denny is also a lifelong learner who grew up in the Harlem housing projects. He was the first of our cohort to receive his doctorate, but certainly not the last. And he credited his survival in a white world to a mother who had grit. Most of my peers in our cohort aimed for the target–a PhD–and none of us shirked from crucial conversations about race, gender, and more. Our success rate as doctoral students was noted!

Back to Tameka, the other person of color who became a close friend. Now Tameka, when I first met her, was newly married. We became close because I told her she was “nuts” as a newlywed to attend seminars on Friday nights; she needed to pay attention to her marriage and spend weekends with her husband. After a time, she arrived at that conclusion.

And because our cohort was so connected, sometimes we partied at each other’s homes or met up at The Athenian Room, a restaurant right near DePaul. One night, I decided to invite certain folks in my cohort (and some spouses) to my new home in the heart of Chicago. I was worried about one issue, however; my husband and I lived in an older building and all entrants had to walk through Golden Arches (to move from the lobby to the elevators). I told Tameka about my concern.

I remember her response as if she commented yesteday:

Rhonda, as a proud black woman, I will walk and hold my head high as I pass through those Golden Arches.

And Tameka did just that. So did Denny, and some other black peers in my cohort. And we had a grand “ole” time!

And because our cohort was so honest and genuine, we had many discussions concerning the marginalized, “lived experiences” of persons of color. Gotta say, the black “lived experience” was terribly different from my white, “lived experience;” I am a graduate of Niles North High School. As a former student in a safe, middle class area, I prospered and was given rich, progressive, educational opportunities, beginning in elementary school (probably in early elementary) and continuing through high school.

Not so much for Denny. Sort of for Tameka. But school is not only about educational opportunities, heck no; there’s that shadow, social emotional piece that plays such a huge role in academics, yet is largely ignored.

Flashback nearly 40 years ago: while I was eating at Arby’s and going to Old Orchard (in Skokie) with pals, Denny was somewhere in NY trying to learn economics and break the color barriers imposed by our society, and Tameka –much younger–was simply desirous of taking a jog in Southern Illinois with her dad, just lake Mr. Arbery. Only her dad wouldn’t let her jog alone. In fact, Tameka’s dad imposed huge restrictions on Tameka’s jogging options: never jog in the early morning or at night and always jog accompanied by at least one, but preferably two, adults.

Denny and Tameka’s experiences were so astounding that all I could do was shut up and listen. And keep listening. In fact, I will never stop listening, though I know that as a privileged, Jewish white woman, I can never fully understand the “lived experiences” of persons of color.

How can I act for the common good? Well, I try to create more opportunities for kids–any interested kid! Actually, adults who like to keep on learning also fall in the opportunities category. Gotta say, my battle is uphill. I work on local climate change initiatives and even though I have connections to CPS (Denny and Tameka don’t work in CPS), some folks don’t trust me. In fact, some white principals (what happened to the “pal” in principal) have actually tried to silence me when I sought, over the years, to identify opportunities for black and brown students.

So even though the score is 2:1 (Charlottesville and Arbery v. Rittenhouse, and remember–yes, pay attention to this, civil suits can still be filed against young Kyle), I keep wondering if this racial reckoning will stick. I can’t completely shake our country’s past. I decided as a matter of conscience–before Rahm Emmanuel announced that he would not seek a second term for Mayor–that I could NEVER vote for a man who tried to pull the wool over my eyes by failing to release the Laquan McDonald tapes in a timely fashion or closed 50 neighborhood schools in marginalized areas. I am sure that Rahm had his reasons, but I am still struggling to understand them.

For me it boils down to this: like my black peers, it’s come down to a matter of trust. I am waiting to see if I can genuinely trust this alleged racial reckoning. Might there be traction after George Floyd and the two victories this week? Do we as a society benefit from video evidence? I am thinking yes, but I haven’t reached a verdict. Yup, a girl can dream, but like Tameka and even Denny, she/he–whatever your pronouns– must always remain pragmatic. Fearing this is not the end of the story. Hoping I’m wrong!

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