It’s funny how ideas of topics to write about come to me. Sometimes they are developed over a long time, sometimes during a run when I see something or hear something on a podcast, and sometimes just by accident.
I had a list of topics to write about today, topics built around the news, events, etc. So, I wrote them all down.
And then an idea came to me purely by accident. As I was flipping through the channel guide on my T.V. I came across something on Turner Classic Movies.
It was the 1963 movie “Lillies of the Field” with Sidney Portier. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a movie about a black man helping a group of German Catholic nuns build a chapel in the Southwest. The movie is a simple story of people learning to understand each other to achieve a goal despite their great differences. That’s all I am going to tell you, except Sidney Portier won an Academy Award for it. The title is based on Matthew 6:28. You’ll have to look that up yourself.
The movie is everything movies used to be, impactful, uplifting, and amazing in its simplicity.
In all honesty, I think the movie was put in front of me because I had a name that kept running through my thoughts over the past few weeks. Regina. Regina and I had worked together as supervisors in the school system for a few years. We had our cubicles next to each other. We couldn’t be more different if we tried. Regina was a short black woman who was in charge of the Title One Government funding program for high poverty schools. I was the white testing and accountability coordinator. Before coming to central office she was a principal and I was a teacher. We had known each other informally.
Our two titles caused us to work together often and so we often talked about so many issues and how they impacted students, teachers, and parents.
At some point, our conversations turned to a topic many people would have avoided, race. Regina’s life had been much different than mine. I had moved around all my life, she had grown up in one place primarily. The differences went much deeper than that. And those were what we shared with each other.
It was a very honest and open series of conversations. We didn’t hold back anything. She explained how she had been discriminated against as a child, not just by whites but by blacks as well. She explained to me that since she was darker in skin color, lighter skinned blacks would ridicule her. She taught me about why black customers always wanted a bag when they bought anything in a store, even if it was a very small item. She explained to me about why black women spent hours in a beauty shop getting their hair done and why they didn’t wash their hair every day.
I shared with her how I lived in the deep South in my childhood and why it was confusing to me that blacks and whites had different bus stops. I shared how hard it was to be a Catholic in a mostly Baptist area and how hard it was to be in a military family that moved every three or four years. I also talked about how being a skinny white girl in Prince George’s County made me the object of ridicule from black students.
Sometimes the topics were lighter and we would laugh about them. We shared all the crazy stereotypes we had heard about each other’s ethnicity.
Regina once told me to give my elderly mother a break when she would call black people ” colored” or would make generalizations about them. She would say, ” They come from a different time than us. We have to understand that. “
We talked politics also. We were on different ends of the political spectrum, but somehow we found mutual respect and understanding.
I learned so much from Regina, but the biggest lesson was that we could be friends, accept each other, be honest with each other, and share different opinions without calling each other vile names.
I’m not sure where she lives now. I’d love to talk with her again. I hope that through all this we would still be able to respect and love each other.
It’s what we are missing in our society right now. I think we could find it. Maybe we need to get off Facebook and social media and go looking for it in person. And maybe we need a little more “Lillies of the Field.”