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  • I am Awele. Daughter of Alice, granddaughter of Ruth,

  • great-granddaughter of Big Momma Alice and Madir Corine

  • great, great granddaughter of Anna and Zitii Benyen.

  • It is my hope

  • to find my best possible self in the service of others.

  • Now my daddy? He used to tell me stories.

  • My daddy, he would say,

  • "I want you to know who you are and where you come from.

  • That will guide you as you discover who you must be.

  • Now you listen to this story, you hear me baby girl?

  • It's not going to be in a book.

  • Your teacher's not going to tell it,

  • but you need to understand who you are."

  • That became a guiding principle

  • in the stories that I wanted to tell.

  • Stories about legacy of who we are.

  • I used to hear all the time that children are the future,

  • but what does that cliche really mean

  • and how are we preparing them?

  • So I looked for narratives about young people

  • and the legacy that they bring

  • as agents of change.

  • The power that you have right now.

  • Today, March 2, 1955,

  • the story that I want to share with you

  • comes from 1955, March 2nd.

  • It's about a courageous 16-year old girl,

  • Claudette Colvin.

  • And it comes full circle today

  • because a week ago today, in San Francisco,

  • my middle school students,

  • they performed a program that I had written,

  • "Agents of Change,"

  • starting with the reenactment of Plessy vs. Ferguson

  • from 1892 to 1896,

  • moving to Brown vs. Board and a student-led strike

  • by Barbara Rose Johns,

  • jumping to Claudette Colvin and the Montgomery Bus Boycott

  • and ending in 1960 with the sit-in movement,

  • the non-violent movement led by students.

  • So I'm going to share the story

  • and I would like to also share the work I do with it

  • as a case study.

  • I paid my dime at the front of the bus, and then I ran to the back door

  • with the rest of the colored kids so the driver wouldn't take off

  • before we got on.

  • Also, well, whites don't want us walking down the aisle next to them.

  • When I got back on the bus, the colored section was full,

  • so, I sat in the middle section.

  • I took the last row seat on the left,

  • it was right by the window,

  • wasn't thinking about anything in particular.

  • "Hey."

  • I didn't know the girl next to me either, this older girl.

  • So I just looked out the window.

  • Driver went more stops, more people were getting on,

  • colored and white.

  • Pretty soon, no more seats were available.

  • "Give me those seats," the driver called out.

  • Colored folks just started getting up.

  • White folks started taking their seats, but I stayed seated.

  • Girl next to me and the other two across, they stayed seated.

  • I knew it wasn't the restricted area.

  • "Make light on your feet!"

  • The girl next to me got up immediately.

  • She stood in the aisle, then the other two girls.

  • But I told myself, this isn't the restricted area.

  • The driver, he looked up,

  • looked in the window, that mirror.

  • He pulled over. A pregnant lady, Mrs. Hamilton, got on the bus.

  • She ran to the back and got on,

  • not knowing he was trying to have me relinquish my seat.

  • And she sat right next to me.

  • "The two of you need to get up so I can drive on."

  • "Sir, I paid my dime, I paid my fare.

  • It's my right, you know, my constitutional ... "

  • "Constitutional? Ha ha, let me get the police."

  • Well he got off and he flagged down two motormen

  • and they came.

  • And those motormen, they came onto the bus.

  • Looked at Mrs. Hamilton,

  • "Now the two of you need to get up so the driver can drive on."

  • "Sir, I paid my dime. I'm pregnant.

  • If I were to move right now, I'd be very sick, sir."

  • "Sir, I paid my dime too, you know, and it's my right,

  • my constitutional right.

  • I'm a citizen of the United States.

  • You just read the Thirteenth and Fourteenth amendment --

  • it'll tell you so.

  • I know the law. My teacher, she taught it at school."

  • You see, my teacher, she taught the Constitution,

  • the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence,

  • Patrick Henry's speech -- I even memorized it.

  • My teacher, she would prick our minds,

  • trying to see what we thinking about.

  • She would say, "Who are you? Hmm?

  • Who are you sitting right here right now?

  • The person that people think they see

  • from your outside?

  • Who are you on the inside? How you think?

  • How you feel? What you believe?

  • Would you be willing to stand up for what you believe in

  • even if someone wants to hold you back

  • because you're different?

  • Do you love your beautiful brown skin children? Hmm?

  • Are you American?

  • What does it mean to be an American? Huh?

  • Homework tonight, write me an essay: What does it mean to be an American?

  • You need to know who you are, children!"

  • My teacher, she would teach us history and current events.

  • She said that's how we can understand everything that's going on

  • and we can do something about it.

  • "Sir, all I know is I hate Jim Crow.

  • I also know that if I ain't got something worth living for,

  • I ain't got nothing worth dying for.

  • So give me liberty or give me death!

  • Ouch! I don't care! Take me to jail."

  • They dragged her off the bus.

  • Next thing, Claudette Colvin was in a carseat,

  • backseat of the police car,

  • handcuffed through the windows.

  • The following year, May 11, 1956,

  • Claudette Colvin was the star witness in the federal court case,

  • Browder vs. Gayle.

  • Her, an 18-year-old teenager

  • and two others, women, Mrs. Browder.

  • Their case, Browder v. Gayle, went up to the supreme court.

  • On the heels of Brown vs. Board of Education, the Fourteenth Amendment

  • and her powerful testimony that day, the rest is history.

  • Now why is it we don't know this story?

  • The Montgomery Busy Boycott --

  • we hear Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King,

  • they will forever be lifted up.

  • But the role of women that played in that movement,

  • the role of Claudette, as an upstander,

  • it teaches us important lessons that challenge us today.

  • What does it mean to be a participant?

  • A responsible citizen in a democracy?

  • And lessons of courage and of faith?

  • So I find freedom movement history that includes young people

  • so that they can explore these big ideas

  • of identity, your chosen identity

  • and the imposed identity.

  • What does membership in society mean?

  • Who has it? How do we make amends?

  • Race and violence in America,

  • as well as participatory citizenship.

  • So these stories allow me to have conversations,

  • to speak the unspeakable, that many are afraid to have.

  • Once in Eugene, Oregon, a young, blond-haired, blue-eyed boy middle schooler,

  • at the end of a performance in the dialogue said,

  • "But Ms. Awele, racism's over right?"

  • And not wanting to answer for him, I said, well,

  • "Turn to the person sitting next to you.

  • See if you can come up with evidence."

  • And I gave them four minutes to talk.

  • Soon they began to tell stories, evidence of racism in their community.

  • A girl wrote to me, a high school student in San Francisco:

  • "I was going to skip school but then I heard we had an assembly so I came.

  • And after listening to the students talking and seeing your performance,

  • I thought I should organize my friends

  • and we should go down to a board meeting

  • and tell them we that want to have advanced classes

  • for A through G requirements."

  • And so, I tell you this story today

  • in honor of the legacy of young people that have come before

  • so that they will have guidesposts and signs

  • to be the change that they want to see in this world,

  • as Claudette Colvin was.

  • Because she struck down the constitutionality of segregated seats

  • in Montgomery, Alabama.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

  • Thank you.

(Music)

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A2 TED-Ed bus dime driver girl montgomery

【TED-Ed】Stories: Legacies of who we are - Awele Makeba

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    VoiceTube posted on 2013/12/30
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