A Lesson from a 4th Grader

All the talk about Critical Race Theory and teaching children in school about the differences, not the similarities among people is disturbing to me. It brings to mind my one and only mistake in bringing up our children in respecting people for their humanity and nothing more or less. Our children all learned every person was created by God, all are equal in God’s eyes, all had different talents and blessings and all contribute to making the world a better place and helping us all attain heaven at the end of life.

It was when Jimbo was in the fourth grade at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School and the Coast Guard base was an active base on Sandy Hook, where all the children of families living there and at Fort Hancock either went by bus past the Highlands schools to the Navesink school and High School or paid tuition and went to OLPH for elementary school.

Jimbo came home one day all excited about the new boy in his class, Byron. As the days went by, we learned more and more about Byron and how wonderful he was. Byron could throw a ball further than anyone else, Byron always got 100 on his spelling, Byron brought cookies to school for everyone to share. I heard so much about Byron I pictured him wearing a halo. When Jimbo wanted Byron to come over and play after school, it meant calling his mom, introducing myself, asking if Byron could visit, which also meant she or her husband had to drive over to our house at the end of the play date to pick him up and bring him home.

Mrs. Joyner was sweet and wonderful. She told me Byron had been talking about Jimbo all the time as well and she wanted to invite Jimbo over to their house on the Coast Guard base. It seems the boys were just natural with each other, she said. Like brothers.

We agreed the first playdate would be Byron coming to our house so all the permission slips were written so the Sisters and the bus driver knew Byron would not be going home after school but spending the rest of the afternoon at the Smiths.

So I first met Byron over milk and cookies after the two boys raced across the street after school, ran up to Jimbo’s room and changed into play clothes then raced out to the back yard for a while, before meeting up with the other boys in the neighborhood for a game out on the street. It was a joyous several hours of plain fun for all, the neighborhood kids glad Byron could stay a while, Byron happy to be able to play with his classmates, with so few his age on the base for everyday play.

Byron’s mom came to pick him up at the prescribed time, the boys traded books and toy cars as we chatted and got to know each other better and she told me how wonderful it was living at Fort Hancock and how their children loved going to OLPH in Highlands. After goodbyes and promises of the next after school date, Byron and his mom left.

Living in Highlands in the 1960s and 1970s there were either no or very few black families living there, certainly no youngsters in the school system or at OLPH. It was only through Pop Warner the kids were became great pals of the Keyes, the Wiliams, the Lanes and some of the other black kids who lived in Middletown or Atlantic Highlands and were on the teams or cheerleaders.

So as I prepared dinner, and Jimbo told me once again how much fun it was to play with Byron, I said, “I didn’t know Byron was black.” And my fourth grader innocently gave me the only lesson I ever really needed to learn on discrimination. He looked up and said innocently, “is he?” Jimbo had not noticed any differences between the two.

Jimbo and Byron were friends for many years; it was their personalities both boys always showed, and what each always saw.


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