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When I was little, every summer I would go with my mother to the day care she taught in the south side of Chicago. At twelve years old, I played with under-privileged African-American children who had nowhere to venture in the summer except a little warehouse filled with children’s toys and a small toddler play ground in the cemented back yard. Just like my mother, I had a love for children, and played, wrestled, and cared about each and every one of them. However, there was always one child who stood out, and in the summer of my twelfth year, I fell in love with a little girl named Reese. She was a tiny, African-American girl with big, round, brown eyes and hair that was always braided. She was incredibly smart and excelled above everyone else in the class: counting up to fifty and knowing the entire alphabet. Everyday of the summer, I learned and loved more of this child. I was convinced she would grow up to be an amazing woman.
I soon learned, however, that she was not. Closer to the last bit of summer, Reese came up to me one day and took my hand. She leaned in, smiling, and said: “When I grow up, I want to look just like you. Because you’re beautiful, and I’m not.”
I was startled. This wonderful, intelligent little girl wanted to look like me, but why? Being people, we were both the same.
I took Reese’s hands and peered into her eyes.
“You’re beautiful the way you are, Reese. Why do you want to look like me?”
I remember her shrugging, her little shoulders moving with the arch in her eyebrow.
“Because you’re white, and my mommy says white people always get it better.”
I was so surprised by this answer, I remember not knowing what to say. Being twelve, and having grown up with colored people, I had never really thought of anybody being any different from anybody else. It surprised me to know that a four-year-old girl could see the difference more clearly than I could.
I took Reese’s hand and brought her to my mother. Having told my mother the conversation, her face turned angry and disappointed, and she crouched to the child’s height. Taking Reese’s hands into hers, my mother squeezed tight and looked straight into her dark eyes.
“Did you know, Reese,” she started, “That you and my daughter are exactly the same?”
Reese shrugged with a growing pout on her face, her face turning from a bright smile to a small frown. My mother laughed.
“Sweetie, you’re not in trouble. I just want you to see something that many people aren’t able to see.”
My mother turned Reese to face me and told her to look at my face.
“See that, Reese? She has a nose, two ears, and one mouth. Just like you. She is exactly the same as you.”
Reese looked at me in confusion.
“No, she’s not,” Reese, said determinedly. “Her ears and nose and mouth, they are all a different color than mine.”
My mother turned quiet for a little, still holding on to Reese but glaring at my face. It’s when she began moving Reese closer to me, with a look of accomplishment on her face, that I realized she had an idea.
She pointed to my eyes, a dark chocolate brown and then pointed back to Reese.
“What color are her eyes, Reese?” she asked.
Reese shrugged, and answered the in a quiet voice.
“And what color are yours?”
Again, Reese answered the same. My mother looked at her tiny face and smiled.
“No matter what anybody says Reese; no matter what color their nose, or lips, or ears are, look at their eyes, and realize that whoever you are, or whatever color, you are beautiful exactly as you are. You are just as much a person as the girl with the white nose and the brown eyes.”