About a month into the “race riot” at Proviso East, I was settling into a classroom that wasn’t my homeroom. My head was momentarily down arranging my books for a remedial reading class. Suddenly there was chaos.
By the time I could glance up desks were screeching across the floor. Fourteen year old boys were pushing and punching each other. Girls were huddled to the side of the room screaming. I was furious. How dare they fight in my classroom?
I bellowed, “Stop it. You do not do this is my classroom!” The boys stopped in their tracks.
I glanced out a blocked secondary door with a window to the hallway to see a “riot cop” looking in menacingly ready to rescue us. I slammed my arm his way with my palm blocking him and shook my head no. My message was clear, “Don’t you dare come into this classroom.” That is probably the most powerfully I EVER stopped anybody from proceeding. He backed off.
I stood there feeling like I was 7 feet tall. Then this most wonderful of speeches about equality and America and truth and freedom came out of my mouth for at least 10 minutes. From an observer side of myself I thought, “I sound like a Founding Father of America.” The speech kept coming. I was inspired. The students looked inspired. I noticed the students were absolutely still. The boys were standing at attention.
And I knew I wasn’t doing the speaking. Channeling was a word that wasn’t used then. But I understood my personality was out of the way and someone wiser, more articulate, of great strength and compassion was “coming through me”. After the 10 minute oration the “speaker” told the boys to straighten the classroom which they did immediately and politely.
And I, as Ms. Pip announced that every day we would spend 15 minutes discussing our human relations in class. And we did,
Seven months later we had a field trip to downtown Chicago to see the movie “West Side Story”.
We were delayed coming home because a car sideswiped the bus. We had to wait for the accident report to be written. In downtown Chicago, the bus was filled with happy 14 year olds teasing and talking and color wise and class wise all mixed up.
The toughest of the kids yelled at me, “Heeeey, Ms. Pip, look at as now!” He was as proud as I was of the beauty of their racial-class integration and joy of knowing each other. This is one of the most beautiful and powerful points in my life.