“Germany? Why on earth would I want to go there,” was the first thought that crossed my mind when I learned of the potential opportunity to participate in a professional development tour with EF Education First. I can’t remember how old I was exactly when I learned that the Tarzan portrayals of Africa were stereotypical and misleading or that not all Africans were dying of starvation like the ones on the early morning/late night infomercials I often saw as a child. And while I can’t put an age on when my mind truly realized that Africa was a continent with many countries, many cultures, and actual streets…I do know that it was through the poetry of Nikki Giovanni (specifically her 1968 poem “Ego Tripping”) that I began to learn of its rich history. I have since had an unquenched desire to set foot on the Mother Land. So, you can imagine the disappointment I felt when I learned that had I been named a State Teacher of the Year (aka STOY) a couple of years ago that’s where I would be applying to go. But that’s a whole other blog, so back to Germany.
Germany. Berlin. Hilter. Hatred. Holocaust. My mind often thinks in word associations. And just as quickly as the words Germany, Berlin, Hilter, Hatred and Holocaust floated around in my head, the Ding! Ding! Ding! sound of a large golden bell being struck overshadowed them. When I turned my mind’s eye to the left, I could literally see my hand pulling the chain next to the light bulb and turning it on. Everything suddenly became clear. America. Transatlantic Slave Trade. Chattel Slavery. Jim Crow. Race Riots. Ninth Street/Broadway Lynching. 1927. Little Rock Central High School…
Racism, discrimination, inequity, segregation, and hatred are unfortunately not relegated to one country. Powers that be (often backed by the highest ranking government officials) have a long-standing history of identifying groups of people as being inferior and creating systems to weed out and restrict those people to ghettos, treat them like second class citizens, sanction them to death or stand idly by and watch while someone else does their bidding.
Two countries can be separated by land and sea but still share the same sickness of superiority. The rebel flag and swastika connect them. The slave ship and the concentration camps connect them. The lynching trees and the gas chambers connect them. Both America and Germany have found ways to treat its past, but through sharing the triumphs, I believe we can cure them.
I am a life-long resident of Little Rock, Arkansas. A place that was and most likely still is most known for its racist past. It is where nine African American students in 1957 attempted to integrate an all-white Little Rock Central High School. They were physically assaulted with acid and makeshift weapons; they were threatened with death daily; they were terrorized by bombings of their homes. They were so traumatized that they didn’t speak about or visit Little Rock Central High School for 30 years. Till this day they don’t celebrate the anniversary of the crisis — they commemorate it. And they don’t call what they did almost 62 years ago integration, they call it desegregation because they were only allowed to sit in the same room as their white classmates (versus being able to interact and fully participate as equals). Many of the same people that attacked them still live in my city.
I have not had to deal with some of the horrific things my ancestors or heroes dealt with, but I’ve met racism, oppression and evil plenty of times in my 42 revolutions around the sun. My nephews designed and sell a shirt that says, “I have seen the future. We win.” I love that shirt for so many reasons, one of which is because I genuinely believe that hatred cannot win in the end. That brings us full circle as to why I ultimately decided to apply for one of the five slots offered to the 57 STOYS. I hope that by going on this trip I can learn how others around the world have moved from hate to indifference, then from indifference to tolerance, from tolerance to acceptance, and finally from acceptance to love. Because I’m selfish and proud, this means that I want to learn what has worked so that I can bring all the greatest ideas back to my city…my state…my country so that we, too, can start to heal.
*Stacey James McAdoo, the 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year (affectionately referred to as 2019ATOY), is a 16 year Oral Communication instructor, AVID Coordinator and sponsor of the spoken word collective called Writeous Poets from Little Rock, Arkansas. She teaches at the historic Little Rock Central High School where she is the living embodiment of her ATOY platform of using passion and poetry to close the opportunity gap.*
This summer Stacey will travel to Berlin and Davos where she will study the culture and education system in Germany, participate in a Global Leadership Summit and explore the Power of Communication. Please leave any comments, suggestions or question below.