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Recently in honor of Black History Month, one of our colleagues on the Wayne State University Institute of Gerontology Board of Visitors sent a poem she authored about her experiences as a young girl of color in our segregated society at the time. Fir her it has had a happy ending with a full life:

It was the 1960’s. I was a student at Xavier University, a historically black Catholic University (HBCU) in New Orleans, Louisiana. Another student and I had been selected to be part of a student exchange program in which we would attend the Catholic College of St. Mary in Omaha, Nebraska. I would be the only black student in all my classes. This would be my first time going to classes with white students. The poem I wrote titled “Spelling Bee” summarizes my background before and during the exchange program where I experienced a defining moment.

Confused, little, colored girl
going to segregated schools,
searching for herself in books,
riding in the back of the bus,
looking for herself on TV,
wishing she were white,
spelling COLORED...
I-N-V-I-S-I-B-L-E.

Second-rated, colored girl
praying in segregated churches,
watching movies from the balcony,
getting service at the rear window,
drinking from the colored fountain,
knowing relatives pass for white,
spelling COLORED...
I-N-F-E-R-I-O-R.

Alienated, black girl
integrating a white girls’ college,
representing a race of people,
hoping she’ll be treated right,
wondering if she can succeed,
spelling words white girls missed,
winning the spelling bee,
spelling BLACK...
I-N-V-I-N-C-I-B-L-E.

©Frances Shani Parker

This entire exchange program experience was recently published in the “Journeys” magazine of the College of St. Mary with several photos. You can read about it here.