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TITLE: Hart & Soul, Part III: The Negro School

Things always have to get worse before they can get better.
If ever there was a case to be made for self-destruction and internalized hatred, Claflin was an example. My sister and I never thought we would see the day when we would have to fight classmates because we were "smart." People who knew the answers, studied, did their level best in school were ridiculed, threatened, picked on, and generally couldn't walk home from school without being kneed, elbowed, or having their faces pushed into the dirt. Inside it's hallowed historic halls were the motliest bunch of people who were dying to fail in life that I thought I would ever have wanted to know. My teachers suggested that I be bumped up to third or fourth grade when I was in second grade, but my mother refused. I remember her telling them I was already fast enough as it was, I didn't need to be in a classroom filled with kids two or three years older than me. I couldn't figure out why she would do that just because I could beat all the boys on the street in a foot race or beat them to the low branch in the old tree in front of our house, but my excitement about finally getting into a classroom where I would have something new to do died just as quickly as it came to me when she told them "no."

The kids at Claflin spent more time dumbing down than they did reading a book. I was a lot more impressionable than my older sister. She didn't care what anyone thought, she had plans and goals to be an artist one day and no one was going to stop her. She was unpopular bookworm who didn't care for socializing of any kind, even in church. She liked to read, study, pass tests, and not even the threat of having her ass whipped on a daily basis was coming between herself and that. For my first years of life, I tailed her like a lost puppy. She may as well have been called Pete, and me re-Pete; we were thick as thieves. Until I had the nerve enough to go and get a personality of my own.

It happened the day I brought home my report card with the straight-A's, thinking I was going to get rewarded with a nickel for an ice cream cone from Miss Barbara's across the street, or those new Lisa Douglass paper dolls I wanted, or maybe even a new pair of shoes. Tresa always got stuff for straight-A's, and since my A/B Honor Roll obviously wasn't good enough, I couldn't have been more thrilled when I brought my first report card home with straight-A's. When I got that card, I had been smiling all day thinking about all the wonderful things my mother would have to say about me.

I bounded through the front door of our grandparents home, holding out the card--my proof absolute that I was just as good as Tresa, whom I had been told time and again that I needed to be more like. I had already decided what I wanted more than anything. The paper dolls. Lisa Douglass was my favorite television character and the dolls had the prettiest clothes I had ever seen...furs, gowns, jade green after-fives with pearls, ivory pumps, sequined handbags topped in faux fur, white gloves that buttoned at the wrist, two piece quilted suits, a wedding dress with a removable train and a velvet pillbox hat fingertip veil ... she was gorgeous and fully perfectly outfitted. I had seen her in the HL Green's downtown and thought I would have to wait until Christmas to ask for it.

I handed the card to my mother, bragging that I had straight A's. My mother eyed me suspiciously, then opened the card. I showed those A's to her. I had studied really really hard and made it happen. She looked at the card, then at me. I expected she would be happy, but not to the point of hysterics. Instead of rewarded, I found myself being mocked. I had no clue that the A's were supposed to be vertical on the card instead of horizontal. I had made all A's in only one subject, English,,,the rest of my grades were still A/B, and it still wasn't good enough. It was the end of the school year. For the first time, I went up to receive my Honor Roll and Perfect Attendance (it was my first year getting a PA) certificates and all I wanted to do with them was the same thing that I did with the report card...throw them in the garbage. I heard I could drop out of school when I turned 16. Six more years to go... .
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