About Me

April 25, 2017

The little boy wandered into Max Fisher’s second grade classroom with his tiny head down and his hands twisted into a knot. Late on the first day of school. His clothes were  baggy as if they had been passed down for years on end, and his bookbag’s broken strap dangled uselessly. This was the first year Court County schools had allowed black students to join. The boy approached Mr. Fisher with his eyes downcast and a tardy note extended` .
“Hello and welcome to class. My name is Mr. Fisher. Would you like to tell everyone your name?” Mr. Fisher asked, accepting the note.
“I’m Ben Weston.” The boy muttered, refusing to look up. There were a few expected snickers from the kids.
“How old are you?”
“Where are you from Ben?” Mr. Fisher asked, placing his hand on the boy’s back.
“I went to the Court County Black school” Ben replied, looking up at last. His eyes were submissive, wide, and meek, looking up at his teacher as if begging to go to his chair.
“Okay Ben, your seat is over there,” Mr. Fisher said, pointing at a desk in the front row next to two whispering white girls. “Now everyone be nice to Ben. He is no different than any of you , and I am sure you will all be very welcoming. He is the first kid from the other school to transfer! You should all feel very lucky that we have him in our class. I’d like for all of you to look inside of your desks and take out the notebook I have provided for you. Open this to the first page labeled ‘About Me’ and write some things down so that I can learn a bit more about you.”
As Ben made his way to his seat a kid whispered, out of earshot of his teacher, “My Mama said that the school is stupid to let his kind in! She said that black people are idiots.” Ben swung around to make eye contact with the boy who had spoken. He spotted him quickly. He was older, much older than Ben, with black hair cut tight to his scalp and the looks of a pig. He was fat, probably the fattest child Ben had ever seen, making his head look like a marble resting on a bowling ball. Ben’s eyes met the boy and the kid sneered.
“Hey Ben, I’m Timmy,” Timmy said with a plastic smile.
Ben just nodded quietly in reply.
The students all scribbled wildly on their papers while chatting. Only Ben sat silent, fishing a pencil from the messy sea of his bookbag. He looked at the sheet blankly and was scrawling random shapes when Mr.Fisher approached.
“Do you know how to write, Ben?” Mr. Fisher asked quietly in his ear. Ben kept drawing.
“They said I’s slow.”
Mr. Fisher just nodded, took the ‘About me’ sheet, and flipped it over. He quickly took a pen from his shirt pocket and wrote ‘About Me Drawing’ at the top.
“Draw a picture about yourself.” He said with a smile.
Ben grinned back a little bit and set to work. Everything about his poise showed determination. He grabbed a packet of crayons from his bag and set to work. He didn't draw stickmen like any other child artist, no, he drew a scenery: a sun setting over a winding river. In the river there were three people: a woman, a boy, and a baby cradled in the mother's arms. Beside the family, a grave.
When Mr. Fisher returned to check on Ben, he had set up and elaborate picture on his desk, one of sadness, death, suffering, love, and a tiny bit of joy. Ben smiled, showing a dark cave of a gap where his front tooth had fallen out.
“Where did you learn to draw like this, Ben?” Mr. Fisher asked, his eyes wide as he examined the artwork that looked professional --though it was crayon art.
“My Mama taught me to make drawings,” he said with the first sense of pride that Mr. Fisher had seen in his eyes, “the rest I taught myself.”
“May I show the class?” Mr. Fisher asked, lowering himself to the little boy’s height.
Ben nodded slowly, as if handed over the sheet. The teacher examined the wonderful page of color.
“Everyone, please pause in your work to see what Ben has done ” he looked over at Ben pride just in time to see the little boy bury his face in his arms, “ this work is above and beyond our standards and you should all strive to make your work this wonderful. Let’s give Ben a friendly round of applause.”  Several kids laughed while the rest whispered amongst themselves. No one clapped.
“Boys and girls, you are being very rude.”  Fisher said, eying his pupils. He addresses a bright-eyed, copper-haired girl in the back row, “Penny, what were your classmates saying?”
No response.
“Kabe?” He asked a stout little boy with straw-like hair who had been dozing off. “Kabe!”
“What? Sorry,” he yawned, “ Mr. Fishbern. I mean--Mr Fisher! Sorry!”
This roused a laugh.
“Alright--Bridget?” He asked with a sly grin. The freckled girl looked helplessly over her huge glasses and covered her mouth with her hand. She slouched down and closed her eyes tight while frantically shaking her head causing her enormous, uncontrolled red hair to frizz.
“No, Bridget.” A kid whispered loudly.
“Hush Bridget, don’t get us in trouble!” Said Penny.
Then, Bridget popped, letting loose a stream of words from between her braces: “ They said a BAD WORD!” She exploded, hopping out of her seat. The class emitted several loud groans. 
“Could you tell me what they said?”
“Mama says not to curse.” Bridget says.
“I’m gonna tell my Mama that my teacher told me to say a bad word!” She said, twirling a strand of hair through her fingers and causing it to tangle again. She frantically tried to release her fingers from the knot.
“Come out with me Bridget,” Mr. Fisher said quietly with a sigh, “the rest of you silently finish your worksheet. I am very disappointed in you and I can’t believe that a group your age would be so mean to a new student. ” He placed the art back on Ben’s desk with a quick “Good job Ben, I’m so sorry about this.” then he led Bridget outside.
As soon as Bridget and Mr. Fisher were outside, he said to her, “Tell me what they said, but use a letter to replace the curse word.”
“They said,” lowering her voice to the hush that came when delivering good gossip, “‘That N can’t even write, can he? All the stupid N can do is draw or he would have done the sheet.” She said, lowering her voice and shriveling her face.
Mr. Fisher lowered his face to her level and asked, “Who said this?”
“Timmy Johnson did!” She said.
Timmy had been held back three times,
“Okay, thank you.” Mr. Fisher said, biting back his anger. He lead her back inside.
“Timmy, come outside, now!”
The kid trudged to the door and he followed his teacher out and into the hallway.

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