I just finished The Help and loved it. It brought me back to my childhood and made me think about Nina. Although we lived in the north, we were a white family with a black maid. I understood how Skeeter felt about Constantine. Nina was warm, kind, had a great sense of humor and since she lived with us until I was 11, was a major part of my upbringing.
And by saying I “loved” the book, I mean that it resonated with me and made me think. It also made me want to wake up Nina because I have my own questions. Did she have a family? Children? Sisters? Brothers? Did she ever feel disrespected by us? (I know she must have felt exhausted because I’m one of eight kids.) It made me want to go back in time and although I was young, it made me want to make everything alright for Nina. It made me want to be an upstander.
This summer I was privileged to be invited to sit in on a workshop hosted by Facing History and Ourselves. It was a training session for teachers who are interested in teaching their middle and high school students about the Civil Rights Movement. Facing History creates curriculum that goes well beyond dates, places and names. It skillfully analyzes why, how, and could this happen again?
As a young child, I didn’t truly understand that racism was a such a deeply ingrained system of bullying. Why not teach how deep it ran, how helpless it seemed, how hard it was to start somewhere and fight the tide of oppression? Facing History‘s lessons about that era untangles the collective problem and makes it personal. That’s skill. Through news clips and newspaper articles, letters and a host of other sources, you felt the pain, the sting of being black in a generally mean white society.
You also felt the triumph and the bravery of the original leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, including Charles Hamilton Houston.
If you want to know more about his intellect, leadership qualities and heroism, do a little research. That’s what sitting in on this class did for me…and what it probably does for middle and high school kids who need to take history personally so we never forget, not just as citizens but as humans who have choices every day on how to treat others.
Once again, Facing History you hit it out of the park. Both The Help and Facing History made me reflect on all that Nina had done for my family. Although she felt like family, I had a shocking thought sitting in the middle of that workshop. I didn’t know Nina’s last name.