A story heard

Sometimes, people just tell you a little bit of their story, and if you’re lucky you have the good sense to listen rather than hurrying on.

“I grew up in a small town,” the woman in the hot tub at the gym said to me today. “Of course I’d read about discrimination, but I’d never experienced it.” Then, the summer she was 17, she went to Florida.

“I sat down at the back of the bus,” she said. “And I started talking to the women sitting there, and one of them said, ‘you’re not from around here, are you?’

“I said ‘no, I’m from Missouri.’ I was wondering, ‘Is it that obvious?’

“The bus driver began yelling. I said to the woman, ‘who’s he yelling at?’ She said ‘he’s yelling at you, because white people are supposed to sit at the front of the bus.’ I said, ‘you mean I can’t sit wherever I want?’

“The bus driver said, ‘I’m not going anywhere until you move.’ So I walked up to the front of the bus, and I told him, ‘If I can’t sit where I want, I don’t want to ride on your bus.’

“Everyone applauded. And then I got off the bus.”

Later she called her family back home in Missouri in tears. “My grandmother said, ‘there’ll always be discrimination, so long as there are people.’ And I told her, “Not when I grow up. When I grow up it’s going to be different.'”

She’s still proud of herself for getting off that bus. And during her years as a teacher afterwards, she told her students it was their turn, now, to try to gain more ground.

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