Charlie Brown in the Third Grade

Ms. Hurley, why do you like Charlie Brown?

That’s what my third graders ask me every year.

God bless their hearts. They come into the third grade innocent. Taking everything at face value.

I never answer that question, because I never thought I liked Charlie Brown. I just think it’s a good tool to use to teach third graders about race in America.

Before school starts, I use my Amazon points to purchase classroom items such as posters, stickers, door décor, awards, window stickers and a new grade book -all decorated with Peanuts characters.

I found this Clean Desk Award on the website Teachers Pay Teachers. It’s a great way to teach the third grade organizational skills. I never have to worry about a messy desk. They never know when Ms. Hurley will give out the Clean Desk Award.

There is a huge welcome poster that hangs above the cozy classroom library. It’s the first poster the children see when they walk in. It says welcome in huge red letters, and features every Charlie Brown character-except Franklin.

There is a poster at the front of the room that states “In a good conversation, one person talks while the other listens,” and there you see Charlie Brown in a good conversation…

There is a Snoopy poster. It has a yellow backdrop and it reminds the children how to be a perfect friend. Lucy has a poster. Linus has a poster. There are posters with the whole gang- except Franklin. As a matter of fact, I can count on one hand how many posters Franklin is in…

So I ask the children to create a poster for Franklin.

As the year goes by the children mature. The calendar at the front of the room finally has a picture of Franklin…

Franklin’s image for the calendar appears on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Around this time they are introduced to my Charlie Brown library.

I built the library by searching on eBay and Etsy for Charlie Brown memorabilia. I came across a set of old Charlie Brown books. They are so old the children have to ask special permission to read them and they MUST handle the books with care.

The ones who love to read try to keep them. Before they leave for the summer, I have to search their desks to make sure each one is returned.

During the year, I watch them silently read. It warms my heart to see them understand the humor from the Peanuts characters. Once they start to laugh and enjoy the content, I begin to ask them questions about the images and where they see themselves.

I then pull out the Charlie Brown dictionary- which always amazes them. (It amazed me too!) I add it to our classroom set of dictionaries. As time passes and they learn to define words and use them, I allow them to search the Charlie Brown dictionary.

As the year continues, the class grows older. The students are not new to third grade. They are fully third graders now.

Then one day, someone asks a question about identity – this always happens…someone is always curious about his or her self– and the class begins to argue and no one can come to a consensus. They turn to me and I turn to the dictionaries that they learned to trust and ask them if they ever looked up the words black or white. What do they think it means in a dictionary such as this one? I pull down the Charlie Brown dictionary.

The classroom is usually silent. Everyone thinking.

Then I flip the pages to white.

And read: White is the color of snow. Ducks have white feathers. The sheets on my bed are white. Marshmallows are white.

Next I turn the pages to black and read,

Franklin is Charlie Brown’s little black friend. He is talking to Charlie Brown on the telephone. Black is a color. Black is also another word for Negro, a person with dark skin. The words in this book are black.

The next thing that usually happens is a series of questions. Questions about what is in books and what images we accept without questions.

One year, the conversation happened after a trip to the New York Historical Society. The children were stunned to see a white educator – rather than a black one- teaching them about slavery in New York. They stood, uncertain, and couldn’t answer her questions. When we returned to the classroom, they expressed their discomfort with having a white educator telling them about their history.

Why did you feel uncomfortable? I asked.

Because, what was her ancestors doing when my ancestors were slaves? one little boy said quietly.

What do you think they were doing and why didn’t you ask her that?

A bossy girl at the front of the room replied, Because, that’s rude Ms. Hurley!

Why is that rude? Weren’t you uncomfortable? Was it okay for her to make you feel uncomfortable in your own skin? I’m not telling you to be rude. I am telling you to think. Think about your history and your stories and who is telling them and who will tell them if you don’t learn who you are.

Another year the conversation happened after singing the Black National Anthem. That was two years ago, when Trevor Noah and Roy Wood Jr. celebrated Franklin’s 50th year on the Daily Show. That was the same year the children learned the word stereotype.

Last year COVID happened right when the children started having the conversations. I thought, How can I introduce ‘race in America’ without the setting of the classroom? America quickly answered that question for me. Instead of discussing Franklin and Charlie Brown we cried about Floyd and Michael Brown, Jr.

Mother Wanda

I am standing with my beloved Mother Wanda. On the left we are hugging after a church conference in 1998. (That’s my cousin photobombing us). The photo on the right is of us in 2021.

We became close through her niece, one of my childhood best friends, LaKeisha.

LaKeisha, Me and R’achel

LaKeisha was my Holy Convocation best bud.

Anyone who grew up in a holiness church can probably attest to the importance of church conferences, especially the Holy Convocation.

We became friends simply because she wore what I didn’t wear like tight African braids and painted nails and in contrast; I said all the things she didn’t say, like, “of course I like boys!” and “guess what I have a boyfriend!”

Sister Wanda didn’t know about any of that culture exchange stuff going on between LaKeisha and I. While she was very protective of her sweet niece, and did not allow her to hang around the huge temple with just anybody’s kids, she allowed me to show LaKeisha around. I, of course, introduced her to my cousins and best friends. They had one thing in common, they were from the south. I was the only one from the north.

LaKeisha had great respect for all adults. She would constantly ask me if my mom knew about all the crazy things I did- like getting water from the fountain to pour on John while he spoke to Mother Wood.

“Lystria, you shouldn’t be doing that!”

“Why? He hit me and now it’s time for us to get him back!”

“But not with water!!”

She’d run behind me holding my bag and books.

Before she could say anything else, and before Anthony could warn John, I splashed him and the elderly mother with cold water.

As if nothing happened, we then walked back into the sanctuary, just in time to join the saints in singing, One Way to God before Bishop Goodwin started his sermon.

LaKeisha would tell me about her life, her church in particular. She’d ask me questions that I’d gotten used to by all visitors. However, unlike my school friends who would frequent my church, Kee Kee (which is what we called her) was always thinking about aristocracy, interested in the pulpit. She didn’t ask incompetent questions about dressing and hair, but she’d ask questions about the structure of the church that I sometimes had as a little girl- which is why our friendship lasted.

Why are people who don’t know how to sing or play called up to sing and play?

We would giggle next to Sister Wanda before being given “the look”.

Then the sermon would start and she would ask-

Do you have your Bible? Do you know how to find the scriptures?

We would find our way through the Bible and act really serious until she’d pass me a note about the church mother sitting next to us, why is she saying amen to everything Bishop says?

And we would hold our laughter.

Sometimes we got into trouble. Sister Wanda became like a mean auntie then. She’d separate us then explain to both of us why she was doing it. LaKeisha would roll her eyes but I was afraid to roll my eyes or even talk back, because she could have done worse. She could have sent me back to my mom who was also looking at me with a warning eye five benches behind! Yep, we were at the front of the church acting up.

Somewhere between middle school and high school, Keke stopped coming. As young adults, now in college, LaKeisha and I caught up just to tell each other we were alive… via Facebook. But in real life, My mom and Sister Wanda connected. They talked about their similarities. Age. Birthdays. Growing up in the same state. Whatever adults talked about.

Soon the only two left were Sister Wanda and me.

My mom passed.

Long before the church appointed Mother Wanda as a mother, the highest title for women in the church, she reached out to me as a mother would, without any title.

A weekend in the Carolinas

My dear friend and sister-in-Chirst, Nineveh got married last year, May.

My sister and I traveled to attend the wedding.

We landed in Charlotte, NC with a list of places to visit. The city was still on shut down. Everywhere we went was pretty much empty- outside of the church.

We landed early, had breakfast then drove around the empty city looking at construction sites and talking about gentrification (we even saw one site having a union meeting. There was a lot of shouting that filled up the sound for several blocks).

Finally we had brunch at Sister Wanda’s favorite vegan spot: Fern, Flavors from the Garden.

We were really tired by the time we got to Ratcliffe’s Flowers, a beautiful garden with structures and gorgeous plants. We didn’t even stop to smell the flowers.

The Harvey B. Gantt Center was the next stop. We heard about Mr. Gantt while sitting in the airport and looking for places to visit.

A Black architect and Charlotte’s first African-American mayor

When we walked into the center, we read the first plaque on the wall dedicated to two professors Bertha Maxwell and Mary Harper who taught in the 1960’s and were very aware at that time of the importance of the need to preserve African American History.

Next we were directed to walk up the steps where we viewed two galleries.

There was an entire exhibit about the riots of 2020 which I thought maybe the curator could have saved the show for a later time. I felt it was too soon to walk around and look at images of riots that we just witnessed last year. To see images in a gallery that are also everywhere else in the media seemed redundant. I think sometimes when an artist wait to show their work, the impact is greater.Timing is everything.

Next we saw a photo exhibit that included work from artist I knew like Benny Andrews and Charles White. All the images were own by Chase Bank-another hot topic to discuss along with the riots- a White institution lending a Black institution their possession of African American art.

I took a photo of the quote below by Whitfield Lovell. I thought it gave a great perspective of African Americans as human; he reminds us that people aren’t the struggle that they face, they are loved and most of all, they are somebody.

Overall it was very informative and we were all glad we went.

Of course we stopped in the store and I looked for something for my students. The good thing is it was filled with children books so I added a couple to my library.

Next we made a trek back home where we rested and failed to keep our promise of not being late to another friend’s wedding.

Now introducing the Freemans

After the wedding, I met the Freemans. A couple native to South Carolina.

What a conversation!

(Sometimes in my head, I have thoughts of the American south and even if they are stereotypes or images of the past, they just don’t go away. It’s thoughts like that that leads to romanticizing the south. Meeting the Freemans did my imagination justice.)

I stood outside talking to family members, when I was approached by Mother Freedman who introduced not herself but both of them.

“Praise the Lord, We are the Freeman’s. And you are?”

I gathered from our conversation that even though it looked like they were married for a while, they were newly weds and very much in love.

“How did you meet? If he is from the North and you from the South?”

“We knew each other and would talk over the phone.”

“Then you just decided to meet and marry?”

“Yes. I told Brother Freeman if he wanted to marry, he would have to move to the south!”

“And he did, so he must really….. love you! Congratulations!”

I, of course, was interested in her dress! I thought it was an amazing outfit!

She also found me interesting and had a lot of questions to ask me about the “Big City”!

The next day, I was happy to see the Freemans again. Once again as a couple.

Ashley Bryan

Ashely Bryan, an art activist for children, has passed away. He was 98 years old.

Ashley Bryan believed in the arts- music, painting, sketching, collaging, story telling- you name it, he believed in it. Furthermore, he was able to put himself into children shoes and write for them.

He knew his craft and delivered it well.

With so many people writing children book’s these days, it looks quite easy to write and illustrate a book for a child; however, when you view Ashley Bryan’s ‘Walk together Children’ or ‘Puppets Making Something from Everything’ or ‘Beautiful Blackbird’; you know children book making is more about craft than about circumstance, more about inspiration than about influence and more about realization than about repetition.

Ashley Bryan will continue to live on in classrooms and communities because of his deep appreciation of who he was and from whence he came.