“Dear Ms. Ellis:
It has taken me nearly 20 years to understand and I am writing to say that I hear you…”
(Ms. Ellis was my 10th grade government teacher. She expected a lot of us as students in regards to respect and also our school work. I remember feeling that she really never liked teaching and that she just wanted to push us all around. But I get it now, I see what I missed all of those years ago. In a predominantly white upper middle class school, she being one of a few teachers of color, taught historical truth. I remember watching videos and hearing her lecture on and on about slavery, oppression, and the horrors of hundreds of years ago. As a naïve and impatient teenager, I was over it. Here she was trying to bring up the past and push it down our throats. I only saw a world of love, teenage rebellion, and those around me – safe in a world of acceptance for all. See, I was raised that way, to accept others – at least that’s how I interpreted it. My father led a regional organization as part of a larger national effort, to get Martin Luther King’s birthday listed as a federal holiday. My grandmother supported the civil rights movement. My father continues to highlight and celebrate black history and culture in his work. As a 15 year old, what was there left for me to do…besides sit in a comfy world of whiteness, blind to the fact that things were way bigger than I could ever see? Ms. Ellis was the only one trying to show me this. Well let me clarify, she was the first that I can remember and the most honest about it. My principal made some efforts as well, but I only ended up with a misunderstanding of what it’s like to be a person of color in a mostly white school. That’s a story for another time, but Ms. Ellis put the truth on the table. I see her frustrations now, her desire for respect and high achievement from us – wanting us to just listen. She wanted us to step out of our world for just one second and listen to her. I regret to say that I never did. I have no idea where Ms. Ellis is today, but I hope she is still teaching the truth about the history in this country and how structural racism was set up and thrives today. And more importantly, I hope that people hear her.)
“…Ms. Ellis, it is much too late, but I hear you. I commit to making up for this by hearing others, and teaching my children, my family, and even strangers about racism and white supremacy. I would be most grateful if my daughter sat in your class one day. I can only hope that others that sat alongside of me, as well as everyone else who when through your class, will open their ears one day and hear you too.
Kelly Baker, class of 2000