In 2009-10 my highly skilled school social worker intern was a wonderfully confident and kind woman with very black skin. Walking in our elementary school halls, she was sometimes greeted with student comments such as "You are really Black!" and "I didn't know Black people worked here."
Ann Pulkkinen is a person I respect greatly. Her understanding of people is incredible; her empathy for them is even more so. She wrote those words for this week’s featured writing at www.aneducationprojects.org. But what her words say is only half as important as what they create in turn.
I read her entire piece for the first time only a week ago. That evening I was only partly through the first paragraph when I stopped and wrote Ann an email about how perfectly thought-provoking the piece was. I was so excited. Excited might be an understatement, especially considering at the time she worked with her outstanding social worker intern, it was in a school within our community. Her piece is an honest mirror into our corner of the country. We live in a place where social diversity, specifically the color of one’s skin or cultural background, is not greatly diverse.
Afterwards I told my wife Jodie all about her piece. Jodie just smiled and kindly laughed at me, as she usually does when I’m energized about something. However, for the next half an hour we told stories of our own experiences with diversity, particularly with people of different skin color than that of our own. She grew up where there weren’t many people of color, whereas my friendship circle was culturally and economically diverse. We had such different upbringings, yet had a wonderful conversation.
AnEducation Projects’ Conversation Project did everything for Jodie and I that it was meant to – create conversation. The Conversation Project’s first piece by Michelle Bennett was brilliant. It made people think about how women still have to prove themselves in order to do the same job as a man. Andrea Garmey’s perspective on two educational experiences gave readers a chance to consider their own days in grade school. For the past several weeks, Tim Talmadge has been grateful to allow us a window into his volunteer work in Haiti with still more to come.
Reading what other people have experienced, believe, even desire or simply knowing what is on their mind can be inspiring. It allows us to be reflective, to slow down and think. This week, Ann poses an excellent discussion question to make us think:
If a talented person of color wishes to positively influence racism in our world, should they work at a place where they stand out as the "one,” or should they work in a setting where they can be a role model for lots children of color?
Visit www.aneducationprojects.org to read Ann Pulkkinen’s piece in its entirety.