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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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Chirps from the Sparrow 

 

 

In the summer of 1970 the country was on the cusp of change; Richard Nixon was in office, my brother was in Vietnam, and my father was dying from cancer.  I enrolled in a summer debate program for high school students at Northwestern University.

 

The first day I arrived, I met a student named Sylvia, who was introduced to me as my roommate by the dorm director.  I was told the following day by the same director, Sylvia and I were the only biracial roommates in the history of the institute.  So many feelings have lingered to this day. I offer a moment for the Sparrow.
 

A southern belle came to our room a week after we arrived. She was several doors down.  Everyone noticed Belle.  She was a beautiful blondepetite, impeccably dressed—certainly not a hippie like most of us. She flipped a dime on the floor at Sylvia's feet and said, "Get a soda for me? It's too far for me to walk at night." My roommate picked up the dime from the dusty floor and left with Belle. Then, Belle flipped a coin again the following week.

I said, "You're able bodied, Belle.  Get your own pop." 

 

Sylvia bent over, picked up the dime, and left the room with Belle yammering in front of her, "Just bring it down to my room, Sylv."

 

My roommate explained to me that evening, she did not want trouble and I had no idea what trouble meant.  She would get Belle's soda.  Belle, however, never asked Sylvia to get a soda for her again in my presence, and as I recall, Sylvia never mentioned soda runs to me again as well. 

 

What lingered most was this. Sylvia taught me forgiveness for those who were ignorant, and so much more. At the end of the course, I gave Sylvia a poster of Martin Luther King.  She said, "If that were a picture of a big mosquito I would have loved it because you gave it to me.  The King, though, is a whole lot better than a big mosquito. I was asked on the school survey what I had learned at the debate institute.  I knew I learned how to love someone I had never met before.  What I wrote was that I had learned how to debate more effectively.

 

Grey Sparrow writers offer poetry and prose in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.; one of our greatest leaders.  January 15th, 1929 commemorates The King's birth, and April 4th, 1968 his tragic assassination. 

 

…Lest we forget, for a brief time, he touched the Earth.


                                                                                                     -Diane Smith