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Archive for the ‘Social Issues’ Category

So, it was bound to happen, and it finally did.

Summer is a prime time for Marty and me to spend hours and days scouring ancestry.com in order to add to our family trees. We don’t indulge much during the school year, as it just gets to be too busy, with the exception of a few breaks. We’ve found loads of really cool stuff (a grandmother tried, and acquitted, for being a witch twice!), some properly documented, some that needs further research with documentation, and some things that are just ridiculous. I wish this tidbit I’d found was ridiculous, but it’s not.

I have slaveholders in the family.

Now, for years, I (foolishly) felt really good about not finding any direct ancestors who had owned slaves. While I did have ancestors that fought for the Confederacy, they were not slaveholders, at least not in any records I’ve found. When I’ve found new ones from the early years of the United States, I would always cringe a little when a census record would come up, hoping that there wouldn’t be a number listed in the “Slaves” column.

Friday night, I was researching a line that hadn’t seen much action before. There had been some muddling of it at some point and I determined to straighten it out. That being done, I suddenly got a leaf on one of my documented ancestors. For those who are not familiar with Ancestry, a leaf indicates a possible new piece of information about a certain ancestor. This particular leaf said that there was a will for this a grandfather I stumbled across, one of my 9th great-grandfathers who came to settle in Maryland sometime in the 1650s, the grandfather of this person I already had in my tree.

In his will, dated 1734, he gave “unto my dearly beloved wife Leaticia Dodson one Negro Man named Henry to remain hers during her life and then to return to my Dearly & well beloved son John Dodson to remain his life & then to my son Walter Dodson. I likewise give unto my dearly beloved Wife Leaticia Dodson the bed and furniture as I and my Wife lies on and also I give Two Thousand Pounds of good Tobacco to buy her a Woman Servant with and one Horse to her liking to remain hers forever.”

Also, “I give and bequeath unto my Dearly and well beloved Son Walter Dodson one Negro Man named Peter to remain his & his heirs lawfully begotton of his body forever.”

I felt slightly sick, and really sad. I found what information I could on Ancestry and then went to online Maryland colonial records to find out more information. Sure enough, he and his family popped up right away. There are family group sheets on the lot of them that corresponded exactly with what I had found elsewhere. To top it all off, there’s a court record of him reporting another slave, not his, for having an illegitimate mulatto child! As if she had needed any more grief in her life; God only knows what happened to her because of it. I can’t find the outcome of the accusation.

There was nothing for it then. While it doesn’t seem that he had a huge plantation, an ancestor of mine did own human beings in Charles County, Maryland. I’m not okay with this, I haven’t reconciled it in my head just yet.

Logically, I know that it was always a possibility, but I had a false sense of surety that no one in my family had ever owned slaves. When I found this new information out, it really took the wind out of my sails. I didn’t want to believe that anyone I was related to could ever do such a thing, but there it was in black and white. While he did pass at least one slave onto his oldest son, I haven’t found any evidence so far that his daughter, my next direct ancestor, owned any as an adult, so perhaps the chain, literally and figuratively, was broken with her generation.

All of this has made me think a lot more about the slaves mentioned: Henry and Peter, and the woman that his wife was to buy with tobacco. Who were they? What happened to them? This was 1734, the Civil War was more than one hundred years away so the chances that they were willingly freed are basically zero. Did they escape? Were they sold elsewhere? How were they treated? Did they have families? There is literally no other information to go on at this point, unless there are records from his farm. I can add that to my list of family research trips. I hope they were able to find peace, but I know it’s not likely.

I don’t really have a conclusion to this post. There’s no good way to end it. Like I said before, I’m still kind of dealing with this whole thing; it feels really personal even though I had nothing to do with it. I feel guilty, responsible for my family’s actions, helpless to do anything about it, and, of course, powerless to change it.

It makes me sad.

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As many of you may recall, I posted a (lengthy) post about a year ago on why I was leaving teaching, and one not too long ago about how I have used this past year to rest my mind and to figure things out.

Long story short: I’m teaching again. I wasn’t exactly looking for this opportunity, it fell into my lap with a message from a friend. When I read the description, I was intrigued and one thing led to another. I will hastily add, however, that I am not teaching in a traditional classroom. My students come from some pretty bad situations. They have a lot of issues and are not living with their parents for one reason or another, so they live at our facility until they can go home or into foster care. Sometimes they’re with us for weeks, sometimes for years and the people who work with them, my new coworkers, are some of the toughest, most caring individuals I have ever met in the short time I’ve been there.

I’m not looking at my new situation with rose-colored glasses, I know that there are going to be some grueling days ahead, but where I am, I can teach for the child, not for the parents or for a test. My job is to nurture and to teach these boys what they need, not push them to impress the state or to please an overbearing parent. My job is to help them trust, to provide boundaries, and a soft place to fall when they need it in addition to their academic lessons. Don’t other teachers do these same things? Absolutely, of course they do! There are teachers I know who have the biggest hearts for their kids, going above and beyond what’s required of them, but they also have those other pressures to deal with that I found unbearable.

There are tradeoffs where I am, though, too. We deal with daily behaviors that are cause for suspension at other schools, but somehow, I’m finding those a little easier on my psyche than the dread of sending home report cards or math tests.

Did I make the right choice? I think so. I’ve given up on thinking that my path through life is supposed to be a straight line. I’m starting to believe that I am put where I’m needed, where I can do some good for whatever length of time, and I hope that’s the case here. My goal is to make a positive difference in these boys’ lives, to be a safe person for them.

In the meantime, send some good thoughts and prayers to land on the boys and the workers who love and care for them, would you? They can always use a little more.

 

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I am fortunate in my job to be able to distribute food in our food pantry to people who need it. I have four or five regulars who are there once or twice a month and the occasional stranger who comes by unexpectedly. We don’t have established hours for the pantry, except the office hours that I keep, so while a couple of our regulars are, well, regular, many times it’s an impromptu visit. All but one of my regulars has a home but just can’t afford to buy enough food that they need for the month, or for the two weeks. Over the last year, I’ve gotten to know these folks, to worry when they don’t show up for a while and, most importantly, I’ve learned so much from them. It’s easy to judge people who are in need from a TV screen and the comfort of a secure home, but putting faces to that need really makes one think about not only how blessed many of us are, but helps us to understand that those face could be any one of us at any time. Some of them need help because of past choices, some because of circumstances, but they all have a story to tell. I’m going to introduce you to a few of them here for the simple fact that everyone we meet wants to be understood, wants to be heard, not judged.

T (I’m only going to identify them by their first initials) is a kind, middle-aged man who stops by at the very end or the very beginning of the month. He has someone who helps him pay for an apartment, but sometimes the money doesn’t stretch for the entire month and he needs help with groceries. He very clearly has some issues, there are days when he’s clearer in his thoughts than others, but he is unfailingly polite and makes it a point to ask about my month, my holiday, whatever is in season. He keeps up on current events and tries to engage in conversation about them on occasion. He sometimes asks for magazines to read, so I save my old issues of Guideposts and Reader’s Digest for him to take when he asks. He doesn’t always pay attention to his hygiene, but he’s always very pleasant to talk to and I enjoy his visits.

D has kids. She’s young, Muslim, and usually calls before she comes by to make sure that I’m here or to see if there are new groceries. Her children sometimes come with her and they are all adorable and well-behaved. She makes sure that she sticks to coming only every two weeks and normally stretches it out longer. She looks for halal things that she can feed her family and likes it when we have had a Kroger card donated so that she can buy perishables or over-the-counter medicines that we don’t carry. As a mother, I can’t imagine what she must be going through, but it is so clear that her kids are her whole world. I don’t know her exact circumstances, but I can tell that it bothers her to have to come and ask for help.

K scares me a little, honestly. He’s gotten belligerent with me before and he is banned from many of the churches and businesses in the area because of his actions. I only let him return to our church if he promised to behave himself and made it clear that it was his one and only chance. Since then, he’s been on his best behavior, but I stay on my guard when he’s here and only let him in when I have someone else in the building with me. He’s been arrested several times, I saw it happen on my way home once, so it is sometimes months in between his visits. I’ve seen him sitting outside of restaurants on Michigan Avenue at times, but he never acknowledges me outside of the church. Whether it’s because he truly doesn’t recognize me (he has some substance issues, as well) or he just doesn’t want to associate with me, I don’t know, but I’ve chalked it up to just letting him be. As long as he keeps following the rules, as long as I feel safe, I’ll continue to let him get food because he is truly homeless and is hungry. He’s as thin as a rail and I can’t turn him away.

L is probably my favorite. She is disabled, having been hit by a woman in a beige minivan in 2015. August 2015, to be exact. She broke her femur and now has a leg full of metal rods and pins, requiring her to use a wheelchair. I’ve heard the story many times, almost every time she comes. She likes to stay awhile and talk, telling me the same things again and again. She tells me every single time, “I don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs like those people in the apartment next door.” Normally, she rides the bus from that small apartment in the next city over, the apartment that has holes in the walls where the mice come in. She puts bricks in front of the holes to help keep them out but it doesn’t always work. She’s also convinced that someone comes into her apartment and moves things when she isn’t there; her complaints are starting to get on the landlord’s nerves. I’ve driven her home a couple of times when she can’t get back to the bus and I’ve seen the outside of her apartment. It’s a little frightening, the area is bleak. She won’t allow me in because she’s afraid that her neighbors will harass me, even fussing when I insist on at least carrying her groceries to her front step. She will tell, on occasion, of her time in jail or about how she woke up one day (February 2015) and God told her that she didn’t need to do drugs anymore. She is there like clockwork every month, usually around the 20th, but when it’s cold, she has to wait until she gets a ride because walking to the bus stop is too difficult to manage with her wheelchair in bad weather.

She has issues, lots of issues, but there’s something about her that makes me feel that God is with her. She has a mystical quality that transfixes me, even during her rambling speeches. There are times when I am standing in the pantry holding a food bag for twenty minutes or more, just listening, as she gets out all that she needs to say before I even put in one box of cereal. In the midst of hearing about her relatives and the children that she doesn’t see (I’m not quite sure how many she has, but there’s at least one son), there are sometimes profound statements that find their way out and make me wonder. I look forward to seeing her every month and worry when she doesn’t show.

These folks remind me every day of not only how blessed I am, but that humanity comes in all forms; we’re not all the same. Some humans are more difficult to love or understand than others, all of us are at times. But if we at least try, if we take that minute to listen, then we learn; not only about that person, but about ourselves and the world as a whole. We learn humility. I’m not always good at that, but the people who I’ve told you about today have opened up new places in my heart that make me want to listen more. I’m working on it.

 

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