This month always brings back precious memories to me, especially from childhood. The first is growing up in Portsmouth, Virginia. 1976, I was ten years old. I knew nothing about the color of skin. I only felt the love in my heart for my friends. Busing had just started during that time and things were changing, as history tells it. I was blind to all of it. My world was small, and it was me, my friends, and the fun we had with each other.
A little about my friends, my black friends.
We will start with Vernell Green. She was from, what was called, the projects. For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of her neighborhood. I can tell you where it was and what her mother looked like. Vernell was as cute as the day is long, with little ponytails and bangs. She would ride the bus home with me, we would laugh, chew gum, play hopscotch, jump rope, or skate on the driveway. We always had dinner right at 5 o’clock and we would drive her home. She was the sister I never had.
Then there was Sonya Brown. Oh, how I loved her too. She lived down the street, my brothers hung around her brothers. We played together all of the time - hours of hide and seek, pretending to be gymnasts in the front yard, and you know the rest. The time in life when nothing was going on but the fun we were having. Again, we were oblivious to the outside world.
Moving along to fifth grade.
I was one of two white girls in certain classes, sometimes the only one. There was no balance of the races in any of the classes in my elementary school. Some were all white, some all black. The room mothers planned our field trips, chose where they wanted us to go. But you see, the white classes had five to six room mothers and deep pockets. That often meant that the trips my class went on were different field trips, because of money and parents on hand. My class had only one room mother - my mom.
I knew in my heart that this was not fair. We were equal. We deserved the same trips as the all-white classes. I wrote a petition and had the fifth graders sign it. The rules changed. We were given the same trips. I changed the rules. Me!
Growing up in Portsmouth in the '70s taught me to appreciate color, fight prejudice, and resist racism. I realize how lucky I was to grow up in a fairly progressive community, where friendships across racial lines were accepted. Since moving to Richmond in the late 1980s, I have noticed how different these two cities are. I still think I am black, but no one else does.
Vernell died in approximately 1987. I can no longer find her obituary, which makes me even sadder. Sonya is a successful professional in the Bon Secours Health System in the Tidewater area. We lost touch a few years back, and I cannot find her on social media. But, one day I’ll find her, hug her, and tell her how much I love her.
The memories of my childhood friendships are precious to me. Sometimes, I wish to be 10 years old again. But, more often, I wish to have all of my black friends back, right by my side. The way it should be.