I was attacked in front of my
children in a parking lot in September of 2007.
This event launched me into an on-going quest to confront violence and
discrimination. My children’s questions immediately after the attack were
quickly followed by a deluge of questions from friends and family about the
race of the attacker. The simple fact that he was black and I am white
sparked a whole series of troubling and revealing conversations on race,
ethnicity, prejudice, and coming to terms with violence.
The weeks that followed were painful but life-changing, as I attempted
to put the attack and its aftermath into perspective. I began to ask
people questions: how they came to see the world the way they did; what
they meant by particular things they said; how they experienced race,
including their own, in this country. I brought up topics that in the
past had felt too explosive. I realized that in order to really
understand others — in order for them to understand me — I needed to
open up and have difficult exchanges.
Opportunities came into my life that allowed me to further
explore these questions. Students in my freshmen seminar, How We Learn, and I became
part of a group called the Waller Scholar Organization at an East
Atlanta elementary school. There, inner city children talked about their
experiences under the guidance of their teacher, Robert Waller.
Conversations with the Waller Scholars were not easy. We met with fourth
graders who heard gunshots every night and never felt safe. Some of the
discussions with these children forever changed us.
My students were so encouraged by the scholars that they
organized a student chapter at Emory to foster a relationship with them
outside the classroom. In 2010, we expanded our partnership to work alongside the CREW Teens, a dynamic, wonderful group of high school students who meet afternoons at the Drew Charter School. During our exchanges, the strong voices of the
Waller Scholars, CREW Teens, and Emory students inspired me to listen for the power of my own.
I started to write down
conversations on race, ethnicity, healing and violence. My book was at first titled “Targeted,” calling attention to
where our attack took place as well as the nature of prejudice, which
targets a particular group. It is a collection of conversations about
elements that seemed related to the event at Target—race and ethnicity
were two of the subjects that kept coming up. Where in the past I would
have stopped asking questions when topics moved beyond my comfort zone,
my conversations in this book push past this threshold with results
that keep me asking.
Soon I gained the courage to confront painful chapters in my own
childhood that lay just beneath the surface of the discussions I was
having, connecting the dots with previous experiences as a target of the
violence that is all too common against women. I realized how much
power my own experiences with violence had taken from me. With a new
honesty and freedom, I began to tackle the topics in my life that had
formerly silenced me and changed the title of my book to The Little Girl Is Me to reflect the personal journey the book documents.
This new way of interacting in the world has infiltrated into the classroom, leading to rewarding community partnerships and an on-going discussion about education. It has fostered new book projects such as Letters to a Teacher and Writing To Heal. It has led to a twenty-four person collaboration to create curriculum for discussions on race, ethnicity, healing and violence. Links to all of these projects may be found on this Seeing Through New Eyes Website. Your input is welcome, so please join the conversation.