Saturday, June 8, 2013
Dj Buddy Beaverhausen and Race
I grew up in what was, at the time, a largely white neighborhood in Paterson, NJ, with my liberal Irish-Catholic family that adored FDR and, later, John F. Kennedy. After my mother registered me for school, she was told: "We have a new teacher here and we'd like to sign him in her class. She's black. Is that a problem for you?" My mother told me she responded: "I don't care if she's green! All I care about is that she's a good teacher."
Well, after the usual tears of parting with my mom to go to school, I immediately got to love my teacher, Miss Pipkin. Very, very much, until this day. She was everything you could hope for in a kindergarten teacher: sweet, nurturing, instilling positive values (some by example), and instructing her students as to the ABCs. We were given time to play and time to work. Creativity was encouraged. And we learned to be orderly and disciplined when necessary, folding our hands on our desks and lining up to walk into the hallways or playground.
When I was enrolled, at the time, the NJ school system had an "A" and "B" enrollment. That meant you could be enrolled in September or the following February. I had a September enrollment after my fifth birthday in May. Miss Pipkin was signed on to be our teacher in kindergarten B. She wanted to continue with the class to kindergarten A. Her request was granted. But when she then asked to move to 1st-grade B with the class, Principal Alice Cozine (one of the first woman school principals in the USA, and a lesbian) explained: "You're a teacher; not their mommie, honey."
My real mommie, honeys, told me the story many times of having St. Vitus dance in grade school (a neurological disorder clinically known as Syndenham's Chorea). She frequently dropped her books and most of her peers laughed at her and called her "spastic." Except for one African-American classmate who would walk her home. She developed a schoolgirl crush on him.
I'll love my mom all my life. And, also, Miss Ethel Pipkin! They showed me, individually and together, that skin color is irrelevant. And that, everbody, was one of the most important and valuable parts of my early education!