Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Other Side of the Tracks

This weekend I am taking a trip back in time. Driving all of 45 minutes north to my old stomping grounds at Ball State University (yes you can laugh... i went to Ball State. Even lived by Dick Street. Now let's move on, shall we?). ;)

Ball State is located in the cultural mecca of Muncie Indiana. I'm lying right now, reader. Muncie Indiana is hardly a cultural mecca. Apologies to any Muncie folk who may stumble across this journal and be offended. But come on. Muncie is... unique. If you have ever read Life on the Color Line, the setting is in Muncie. A true story about racism and the difference in growing up white and growing up black. Although the book takes place years back, the tensions still remain strong in Muncie Indiana.

There is still a color line. A railroad track with stereotypically and cliche "wrong side of the tracks" and right side. The Black and the White sides. I know both sides because I used to cross them every day to go to work. I worked as an assistant at a governmentally funded after school program on the "wrong side of the tracks." I'd get out of class and begin my drive into Muncie.

Now you'll note that my college was in Muncie, but the campus area was a different life. Full of young minds, subsequently, open minds. A liberal haven to all of us attending at the University. But there was a difference between BSU and Muncie. Two different societies coexisting as one. A recipe for trouble.

So everyday I would drive into the city of Muncie. People think of Muncie as a small town. A hick town. This is not true. Muncie is a city and has all the problems of a city, minus most of the benefits. It has a huge drug problem, slums and projects, and of course, a red light district. And no, I never had the opportunity to spend any quality time there. The most direct route to get to the school was through the projects. And for a girl who seems to always be short on time and heavy on plans, direct is good. So this is how I drove. I never ran into any problems, minus the time the streets were blocked. As I drove into the crowd, my car was surrounded, but after recognizing me, they let me pass. That was the only time I ever felt scared.

Nervous? Of course. I was the lone white girl when I started working there. 90% of my kids were black, and they didn't like or trust me. They made fun of me. My hair, the way I talked, the clothes I wore. The parents were even worse. They stared me down, waiting for me to look away, to avoid them, to hide. Every day I left work in tears, hating that 9 year olds and their parents were getting under my thin skin. Every day the kids taunted me. "Are you going to quit yet? We know you will." I'd leave. "I'll see you tomorrow" I'd toss over my shoulder to skeptical parents and giggling children. Sure you will, they thought. I could see it in their grins. And when the kids would walk out of their class the next day-there I'd stand, ready to walk them to the center. And the day after that. And the day after that.

Eventually, walls were broken. An occasional hug was given to me. And sometimes parents said hello. My hair that had disgusted them before, was now braided in tiny braids that covered my head on a daily basis. I looked ridiculous, but it made everyone laugh- children and parents alike. They started opening up to me. On a dailt basis I'd have my heart filled by pictures, hugs, good report cards, and invitations to birthday parties. And I'd have my heart broken by stories of jailed parents, bruises, death and poverty. These children who grew up in a world I'd never known and opened my eyes to it- and for that (and for them) I am forever thankful.

The experiences these people gave to me, from testifying about child abuse to trips to the emergency room with my favorite little guy with his family, shaped my life. It's what led me to work with poverty stricken children in Washinton DC, even littler ones in North Carolina, and now even as babies, looking for a family. They pointed me down this road, even at this crossroads I sit at today- wondering where I'm meant to head and how I can better help.

I know this weekend will be amazing. To see old friends and spend some quality time at ol' BSU. We'll drink Penny Pitchers at Dill Street, and eat Greeks Pizza at 2am. We'll go to the football game and talk through most of it. It will be a wonderful time.

But I know as we drive through the city, a part of me will want to take a detour.

To cross to the wrong? side of the tracks.
posted by Kellie @ 9:39 AM |

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