In Honor Of Dr. King

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Day I try and repost every year one of my favorite pieces. I wrote it over 16 yrs ago when it was published in the Fort Worth Star Telegram:

In 1971 I was in the fifth grade in Jackson, Mississippi. Busing had just begun in order to help integrate the schools, and I was bused to a formerly all-black elementary school across town. My best friend was a little girl named Sondra. To say we were different would be an understatement. I was white; she was black. I was well off; she was poor. She had seen a lot of abuse in her short life; I had seen none. But I loved her with a fierceness that only 10 year girls know.

One day, another little black girl, whom I didn’t know, stabbed me with a pencil in the hallway. I told Sondra, and she wasted no time finding that girl on the playground. The girl told Sondra that she didn’t like me or my blond hair and that I must think I was really something. I remember Sondra saying, “No, no, she’s not like that. She doesn’t care if we’re n*ggers.” I grew up in a time when that word was used freely and often to describe blacks, but I remember being shocked that Sondra would describe herself that way. I’ve always had a lot of self confidence, but Sondra was the strongest person I knew, It made me feel bad that she had used that word.

Like most little girls, Sondra and I talked on the phone for hours, but we were never allowed to play at each others house. It just wasn’t done. It is sad to think that my best friend in the fifth grade never “slept over,” never played with my dolls, never played dress up with me. We accepted it though. It was just the way things were.

Sondra and I went to different schools after that year. I didn’t see her again until four years later, when my 9th grade basketball team played her team. We were sitting across the gym from each other before the game. I heard someone scream out my name. I looked up, and then I screamed her name, and we ran across the gym and hugged and danced around as only 14 year old girls can do.

I’ll bet we were quite a sight in the middle of the gym floor. Sondra had grown about a foot, and here I was, this little bitty blonde thing being hugged to death by this tall, tough-looking black girl. I don’t remember who won the game, but we grinned at each other the whole time. We got caught up on each other after the game, talking for an hour, making our parents wait for us. But in 9th grade your world revolves around your school and friends. We exchanged numbers but we never talked again.

I often wonder what happened to Sondra. I wonder if she pulled herself out of poverty. What kind of life did she make for herself? But, most of all, I wonder if she has a little girl like mine, a little girl who would never think twice about asking another little girl of a different color over to her house to play with her dolls or play dress up.

If that isn’t a little of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream come true, I don’t know what is.

crossposted at KathleenMcKinley.com

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