“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” —Isaiah 58:9b-10 NIV
I can’t remember her name. It was something soft and beautiful … like Shaundra. She was gentle and beautiful, too, soft like her name. Always a smile on her face, she did her work in my Christian middle school English classroom with intelligence and wit. I enjoyed her, and after class whenever time allowed, I loved to chat with her. I simply assumed she was as happy as she seemed, and it never occurred to me to look deeper. As a second-year teacher, young and very naïve, I had no idea this bright, young girl was being mocked, bullied, and harassed.
In the late fall that school year, Shaundra asked me about an upcoming oral report. She wanted to do her report on prejudice, even though it wasn’t on my list of suggestions. “Sure,” I said, knowing that whatever she presented would be thoughtful and good. I looked forward to hearing it. Oral reports were always a nice break from teaching, sitting in the back of the classroom, listening for a change, and evaluating students in their public speaking skills.
I was pretty relaxed when Shaundra’s name was called and took out my sheet to start taking notes. Almost immediately, I realized this oral presentation was not like the others. She stood straight and tall, spoke clearly with great determination, and she directed her words to one certain young man. Although I never saw his face, his neck soon became bright, mottled red, and his head was down on his desk. He never once looked up despite the fact that Shaundra’s eyes were focused on him, and only him, the entire time she spoke.
I can’t recall her exact words after so many years, but she said something close to this: “My father is black and my mother is white. They met in college, fell in love, and they have the happiest marriage I have ever seen. I’m their only child, and they love me. We are a close family, and we enjoy vacations together and laughing and watching movies. We pray together and go to church together and my parents show the love of Jesus to me and to others. I am tired of being mocked and bullied because of the color of my skin. My parents are the finest people I know, and I am so proud I belong to them and so proud that I look like both of them. For those of you who can’t understand that, I feel sorry for you. You don’t know the kind of love I’ve grown up with.”
There was more, but you get the idea. I could still weep with pride and awe that this 14-year-old girl had the poise and the confidence to speak truth to her classmates. She spoke as she always did with her beautiful, soft voice—and the classroom was stiller than still. Her voice was clearly heard as everyone froze and listened, knowing this was Shaundra’s stand against her tormentor. The applause at the end was as loud as the room had been quiet. We clapped and clapped our hands raw. The young man who had been cruel kept his head down.
Afterwards, I talked with Shaundra and learned the ways he had tormented her. I spoke to him and his parents, and our class seemed to go back to normal again. But as I look back, from the perspective of age and sad experience, I realize that I did not do enough. I should have checked in with her often to make sure all was well. I should have watched and listened more intently. Because I was not a target, I was not as aware as I should have been that someone else was.
Shaundra, if you read these words one day, please forgive me for not following up and doing more. I sincerely hope you have found a good man like your dad and that you are living a full and loving life with him. You are loved, dear girl, and I still feel weepy even today remembering your bravery in that classroom long, long ago. Well done, dear one, well done.
Father, forgive me when I insulate myself from the hard things. I confess that sometimes I’d much rather not know than deal with prejudice and oppressors. Help me to speak up when I see unkindness and worse. Lord, help me to call evil … evil. Help me to help those who mock to see the harm they cause and the foolishness of their mocking. Help me to stand beside those who endure mocking and feel it with them. Teach me, Lord, to love as You love. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Note: This Musing is one we felt needed repeating in light of the sad situation in our country surrounding race issues. Originally posted in September 2017, you can also find this devotional in Sharon’s book, Sweet Selah Moments, on page 112.
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