WHY A PROFESSION OF SERVICE?
I experienced the rejection of racial prejudice and discrimination at the young age of seven. My family and I were among one of the first to integrate an all-white suburban neighborhood in Mentor, Ohio.
Prior to our residency, an African American football player, for the Cleveland Browns, resided across the street from our new house. He and his wife did not have children old enough for school. Therefore, I was the only black student to cross the colorline and matriculate at Brentmoor Elementary School, Bellflower Elementary School, and later Ridge Junior High School. My sister would enter the Lake County School System a couple of years later.
SO, imagine this; you are 7-years-old, feeling excited about school, meeting other kids, playing, and learning. You are growing up and have no inhibitions about doing so. As you stand waiting for the morning bell to ring, you feel a delightful breeze, smell the aroma of fallen leaves, and are surrounded by lovely images; the playground, the beautiful blue sky and children's artwork in the windows.
In those days, I envisioned becoming a veterinarian. My extended family consisted of teachers, professors, physicians, writers, business owners, and life-long learners. Education, I was told, opened one to a world of knowledge and allowed career dreams to come true.
Let's continue with the visualization exercise: Imagine you are wearing school clothes, new shoes, your hair is neatly braided. You are all smiles of joy as you anticipate entry into the first grade. SUDDENLY, a brown-haired boy runs up and shoves you to the ground and calls you a foul word; the N-word. Other children point and laugh. How do you feel about school then? What do you do?
In my case, I stood up, straightened my clothes, and held back the threatening tears. I had not heard the nasty word before yet sensed it was bad. The boy was assigned to the same class as I and would, along with some other students, ostracize, taunt, and threaten me throughout my years in school.
My story, although unique in that it is mine, is not unusual. Others have crossed various colorlines -even today. It is hard for me to believe that there are still lines of color that can be so difficult to cross. How did my experiences in Mentor change my enthusiasm for school, self-love, and people? How might it have changed yours?
The trauma of historical and present-day racism in the United States of America has not disappeared nor is it hidden. It is still present, and we must push harder to eradicate it.
It is important to engage in intellectual conversations, write books, research, change laws, policies, and practices, call people to action, and be more intentional about honoring multiculturalism. However, we must simultaneously acknowledge the psychological hurt, damage, and insult that racial injustice has imprinted on the unconsciousness of us all.
That seven-year-old was resilient. Not only did I experience the love of family- most of the neighbors closest to us showed acceptance. I was embraced by good friends, had parents who listened and encouraged, and maintained my sense of purpose. Not everyone has been as lucky. You know their names.
My WHY came while, still around age seven, I was walking toward home from my bus stop after another painful incident. I looked to the sky and felt God. I knew God did not approve of anything that did not begin and end with LOVE. I was called into the helping profession and that is why I am here.
I remain committed to working in a field that has allowed me to serve and support others who encounter the various barriers or lines that cause emotions of rejection, loneliness, abandonment, and hurt. There is always hope. When we acknowledge and properly express the pains of the past, we can and will heal.
Peace and blessings, Natalie