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Learning Center Experience
By Marie L. Wallace
I am an only child. Although I am an adult now, I am still an only child. All adults who are only children use the same words to describe themselves. The experience of being an only child is one that stays with you forever; it defines who I am much more than anything else in my life. Only children are independent and resourceful. The experience of being alone also provides opportunities for reflection and change. It is interesting that while growing up, my race was not a primary concern.
I grew up in a very sheltered, middle class neighborhood in Chicago. My neighborhood included doctors, teachers, mailmen, librarians and businessmen. The neighborhood was entirely Black: this protected environment of educated Black Americans did not dwell on race. I realize now that this was a world that many people do not realize existed.
My parents were from Florida and Kentucky, and I know that they must have had first hand experience with prejudice and racism. However, I never heard them complain or blame anyone for past experiences. They emphasized that the world is made up of more good than bad people, and both good and bad come in all races. They encouraged me to think about others and to follow the “golden rule.” Diversity was not a word that was used, but my family embraced the differences of others. They never indicated that my opportunities would be limited by my race.
My parents valued knowledge more than wealth. They loved the city and all of the museums, concerts, libraries, and lectures. Often, they would invite other families to join us on these outings. I can remember one family that obviously did not enjoy the aquarium as much as we did. My friend complained, “ Why are we here looking at all of these fish?” My dad even found humor in that situation. When people would say something that indicated they were uninformed he would say, “Consider the source.” He understood that everyone has different opinions.
I was encouraged to try new things, step out of my comfort zone, challenge my fears and do my best even when the subject is boring. My dad felt that if someone feared an activity, then they needed to confront the fear. He constantly said, “Do not let fears rule your life,” and “If you fall off of a horse, get back on immediately.” That statement was interesting considering we lived in Chicago where I rarely saw a horse. However, I do understand his philosophy of not giving up because of failures, and I have had many chances to practice this philosophy in my personal life.
I was told from an early age that I would attend college, and it was during college that I had my first real experience with prejudice. I didn’t recognize it because I was not prepared. I was living in a dormitory suite with three roommates who had grown up in an all white communities. I remember one roommate making a statement that Martin Luther King Jr. was a “troublemaker.” I responded, “No, he is not” and never stopped to evaluate what was behind that statement.
There were other incidents, and I remembered to “consider the source.” My background inoculated me and allowed me to focus on what was important—my studies. As I look back, I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had allowed these words to distract me. Should I have confronted this individual? Should I have engaged in a lesson on civil rights?
I was a diverse person and did not realize all of the implications. I now understand that diversity is more than skin color, race, religion, or ethnic background. There is a diversity of thought and diversity of the heart. My parents would tell me to look “straight at the heart” when choosing friends. As a professional counselor, I try to practice this as I work with a variety of students. My experiences with federal offenders, patients with spinal cord injuries, teen parents, and students with disabilities have taught me to look beyond their labels. I recognize the value of each individual.
The appreciation and acceptance of differences is important and promotes understanding. As I model this in my classroom, I would like for my students to benefit from the same values of life long learning, trying new things, and embracing and accepting the diversity of others. I would like for them to move to the next level that will help them celebrate diversity. I would like for them to adopt my motto: “Be the change you want to see in the world” (Gandhi).
My dad drove the same car for 10 years, and he would brag that it had a stick shift. He refused to buy a radio (too distracting) or any extra frills, but he made sure it was clean and shiny. He believed that you could not really drive unless you learned to drive stick shift. For him, driving was a metaphor for life. The following poem describes my driving lesson on a freeway that was being built in Chicago. We drove around the barricades and breezed up and down the road. I hope this poem gives insight into the values that “drive” my life.
"My Dad Taught Me to Drive Stick Shift" by Marie L. Wallace
My Dad taught me to drive stickOn warm Sunday mornings while Chicago sleptBefore the church people left and returnedOn a freeway still under constructionPast yellow barricades andCaution signsRecklessly cautiousWithout benefit of power steeringAnd power brakesWe flew past run down homesAnd new skyscrapersWe owned the roadThe lesson was simpleReal drivers drive shiftThey control the carBalance clutch and gasLife requires our attentionIt demands our patienceWe advance slowly and carefullyReal drivers drive shiftAnd so we traveledAcross a city still lazily stretchingNot quite awakeDown a freeway under constructionOn side streets and in parking lotsWe owned the city
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