Sam had been inspired to write a letter to Tom Horsley, the 27 year old youngest African American teacher promoted to principal. He had made news with his novel approach to inner city education in Little Rock, Arkansas.
To his surprise Horsley didn’t respond to his email letter but called Sam up one day saying he was touched to see someone fresh out of high school, interested in doing such work.
“Sam, it’s immoral to not send the best educators to low income schools,” Tom explained. “A principal needs a sense of urgency and actually care about what’s going on in his surroundings. The difference here is to provide professional development for teachers to help them support students. There are homeless and domestic issues, drug issues, guns and gangs. God only knows what else. As I’m sure you have seen in Montgomery, underprivileged kids need to know teachers care and can spare that extra time or even give them a few dollars for the book fair. Our students hadn’t eaten or didn’t have money for school supplies or whathaveyou. It’s difficult to learn when your basic needs aren’t being met. Their family and communities have given up on them but if we push and motivate them, they will succeed. It is startling how the same crazy shit our parents’ generation went through continues today!” Horsley said.
After several phone discussions and emails Sam convinced Horsley to come down to Montgomery to be a guest speaker, “It’s a peaceful awareness rally I was working on with Principal Butler, aimed at garnering support and funding from City Council. Something along the lines of an information session and to show how far your school program has come,” Sam said, to Horsley over telephone.
Along with Horsley, Sam would be delivering his first awareness speech.
Sam hadn’t shared the news with Eunice as yet. She had been secretive and away from house a lot so he kept the rally from her. He didn’t think she’d taken more shifts at Vespa’s but to comply with her request of silence in place of harmony, he didn’t ask her whereabouts.
The morning of Horsley’s visit he mentioned the rally to her, “Today’s a big day for me,” he said, matter of fact.
“Oh yeah, why’s that Sam?” she asked.
“This principal from an Arkansas school is attending a rally I’ve organized. It’s affiliated with Principal Butler,” he said. The words hung in silence making him regret he had said them. It made him open to criticism and he felt childish for keeping it quiet.
“Oh damn. I would have come if you told me sooner. I’m heading to a movie,” she said.
“That’s cool. We need people so if you’re around city hall after 1:00 swing by,” he said. He felt sick satisfaction that her posse wouldn’t be upstaging his event. It would also prevent his embarrassment over her phony persona in front of Horsley.
Sam introduced Tom Horsley via bullhorn to the sparse crowd of twenty or so. At least a few of Sam’s invitations were honored by Todd and Curtis attending. He was even glad when Eunice arrived with Terrence.
Principal Butler, the school secretary and Vice Principal as well as a handful of Booker T. High teachers showed up filling some gaps in the crowd.
“…Desperate but equal never came true. Divided we failed. Through history there has always been a black and white achievement gap. We stay segregated by choice or force of habit. School budget spending is not distributed to reflect individual school’s needs. Many of you were appalled at what happened in South Central L.A. I myself could not believe the excessive force seeing Rodney King beat 56 times with batons. We hoped we were past such displays of white supremacy but living in the South we know racism has never really gone away. It has just changed forms.
“I’m here today to share that our banding together for the sake of education is our best option. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘because it doesn’t affect you, don’t think you’re not part of the whole. Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’
“Within our constitutional right we can earnestly demand Montgomery city council take heed in the equitable funding of our inner city schools. Writing our government officials and school boards will make a difference. Together we are stronger!” Horsley finished his speech.
There was mild applause and a few cheers from the crowd, which had increased to fifty strong since the brown bag lunch set had trickled in.
“I wonder why the cops haven’t busted us yet,” Sam said, to Curtis.
There were a few watchful police in cruisers but no sign of halting the assembly.
“Usually when Dr. King quotations start the cops get agitated,” Curtis said.
“I wonder if it’s jealousy over not having the same affinity with white heroes as we have with ours,” Eunice said. Sam was always touched when she made mention of her beliefs.
“I hear we are a good distraction from another bill council is eager to pass,” Principal Butler said.
“Let’s take advantage of them leaving us alone,” Sam said.
With Tom Horsley’s semi-rousing opener Sam was up next. He didn’t want to blow his speech in front of distinguished guests so imagined MLKs voice.
“Ladies and gentlemen. My name is Sam Hood. We’re here today to communicate awareness on a serious issue with our government funding. Historically, black people have had to rally for their rights through demonstration and that’s pretty much what’s happening here in Montgomery,” Sam aid. With some courteous claps, Sam’s quivering voice grew stronger.
“A lot of people want to say racism is over but we know that’s simply not true. Until we as a city accept the fact there are a multitude of identities and perspectives. Some are more discriminated against than others, we will not be able to move to a post-racial society. This begins at the top with equal funding,” Sam was invigorated. He actually did it!
The brown bag lunch workers had dwindled but the crowd sounded livelier. Principal Butler, Eunice and others crowded around him in congratulations.
“Awesome!” Terrence said.
“You’re a natural,” Curtis said.
“I’m so proud of you,” Eunice said.
“Thank you,” Sam responded to them all. He was touched. Maybe he misjudged her recent independence.
Tom Horsley leaned in and handed him an itinerary, “Fine job Sam. This here is a two-week curriculum. I want you to come out to Little Rock for a few days to see for yourself. Sit in classes, talk to the teachers and students.”
Sam was choked up and had a lump in his throat. “I’d really like that. Principal Butler?” he motioned for approval with wide-eyed enthusiasm.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves Sam. My leadership team will consider it and come back to us. Let’s see if council approves our funding,” Butler said.
Sam had never admired a mentor more than Tom Horsley. He was stimulated with fresh ideas. Maybe they could reinvent the breakfast program for a new generation. He would make a point of speaking to Curtis.
Anything to help the school.
Several weeks after the courthouse speech, there was still no news regarding school funding. Sam was told it was still being looked at. Principal Butler did have good news, “While council takes their sweet time, we are still considering sending you to Little Rock Sam. I’ll let you know in a few days.”
Horsley and others advised him that regardless of positive feedback, activism was a thankless job that required a shitload of patience. To keep up the momentum he began working on a follow-up demonstration agenda.
Sam felt more alive than ever. He had a clear sense of calling. A month ago he would never have imagined being fulfilled by something outside of his relationships with Eunice. He was encouraged by the pending Little Rock invitation.
Perhaps he and Eunice could align their activist efforts and come together with a common goal. If not intimacy, at least they could share in something together.
Eunice remained the same Stepford girlfriend where everything was hunky dory. They rarely spoke of anything except news reports but to outsiders they appeared to get along better.