Lesson learned this Summer of 2020 is about racism. No one is immune; we have no vaccine; and, like COVID-19, it is very contagious.
How shall we teach our precious Upshur County Schools students to heal this festering wound?
Growing up and living out my 72 years mostly in Upshur County, I have always been aware of racism.
For the most part it was beneath the surface. But this summer our children and grandchildren experienced racism coming right into their homes via mass communication. We did not suffer horrific deaths of individuals like Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, but we witnessed the aftermath. To me it has been absolutely demonic, a disregard for life, a bankrupt moral center, and a lack of civility. My heart is broken.
In the midst of the chaos in certain cities in the USA, I saw a light when the anniversary of the August 28, 1963, Civil Rights March on Washington, DC, broke through the 24-hour news cycle. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech soothed my soul.
We must teach character development, and love, and leadership skills that mold consensus!
My memory goes back to a great Buckhannon-Upshur High School teacher who made a big difference in my life—Diane Fessler. Not only was she a West Virginia Strawberry Festival Queen, but a wonderful English teacher. And she organized our debate club. We boldly debated civil rights issues and even interracial marriage. The concept of giving my life in love changed the character of my heart.
Now on September 13, 2020, Araceli and I celebrate 45 years of our international, mixed race marriage. We grew up on opposite sides of this third rock from the sun. She is Polynesian-Filipino from the South Pacific, and I am Scots-Irish from the ancient Appalachian Mountains. We endured our moments where racism rose as an ugly blot on our otherwise idyllic storybook life, which we continue to write together. Likewise, our children experienced anxious moments, but we taught them to overcome hate with love.
A wonderful spin-off for me living in our mountain village is the opportunity to be a big brother or uncle to others of mixed races who also call Upshur County home. This summer of national discontent, I am reminded by a local Afro-American lifelong friend that I taught him how to drive using country doctor Dad’s Jeep. The kindness changed his life for the better. And there is the code language when a local hero in Blue stops by to say some of my children are gathering together maybe to cause mischief. That prompts me to run over across town just casually coming upon them. I pause to catch my breath and ask them how they are doing. After some encouraging words of wisdom, we disperse to get home to do chores and homework. “My children” indeed.
Let me thank our Upshur County Schools teachers who make a difference! What an unusual year 2020 has already been. We are setting sail with our precious students toward “destination graduation” and beyond. You are cut from the same mold as Diane Fessler, my super-hero! Therefore, I know our children and grandchildren are in safe and competent hands.