Risha Talks: A conversation about school names and historic monuments

by | Oct 24, 2018 | Blog

I am on a plane finally headed home, toward the end of a crazy, whirlwind, tiring but fulfilling speaking tour.

It took me to Reno, Nevada; Park City, Utah; back to Belfast, Northern Ireland; Scottsdale, Arizona; Las Vegas; Manchester, New Hampshire; and Oklahoma City. It likely will end in Washington, D.C., next month.

My main takeaway: I would be happy to work myself out of a job.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my career. I am doing what I was put on this Earth to do. But because I’ve been in this field for 21 years and walk this earth as a black, same-sex loving, left-handed, divorced woman — I know how important this work is to the world. And I’m in awe that I get to have a small part in making the world a better place. But there is another part of me that is always a little surprised that we are still in this space.

I am paid to travel the world and teach adults how to treat one another with common courtesy and respect. After each speech, I wonder if we are ever going to figure this out. I don’t think it’s hard — live and let live.

When I got off stage recently, I was asked a question about the tearing down of historical monuments and the renaming of schools.

Attendee: I really enjoyed your presentation. It was a refreshing way to deal with these issues.

Me: Thank you.

Attendee: I can tell from your talk that you’re a rational person.

Me: I think so.

Attendee: I would like to ask you a question. What do you think about the issue surrounding tearing down historical monuments, renaming schools and all that stuff? Don’t you think it’s going a little far?

Me: I tend to think slavery and all that stuff went too far and honoring people who took part in that hurts our nation moving forward. Making our kids honor them also by attending those schools is wrong. That’s my rational opinion anyway.

Attendee: Well, what about history?

Me: I don’t need a monument to remember or know history. Although as a person who loves history and who believes that if we don’t know it we are doomed to repeat it — I do think the monuments should not be destroyed. I think they should all be moved to Washington, D.C., where people who want to view them can pay to go see them; maybe that money can be used to right a few wrongs.

Attendee: Ummm … And the schools?

Me: I think naming a school after someone honors that person and their contribution to the world. I don’t want my niece or nephew to attend a school named after someone responsible for enslaving, murdering or raping a race of people. Are you familiar with Timothy McVeigh? He bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.

Attendee: Yes.

Me: In his mind, he thought he was doing the right thing. He was upset about what happened in Waco. What if a group of people decided he should be honored, built a school and named it after him. Would you allow your child to attend school there?

(He had a visceral reaction to my question.)

Attendee: If I’m being honest, (expletive) no!

Me: That’s how I and many others feel about schools that generations of our children have attended.

We have all heard the golden rule of treating people the way we want to be treated, but, in most instances, we need to employ the platinum rule of treating people the way they want to be treated.

We don’t like to be treated the same. What is good for you may not be good for me. What you want may not be what I want.

My new friend didn’t agree with me on the monuments but wasn’t opposed to the idea. He did see my point about the schools. We didn’t get loud or angry in having the conversation either. We did it respectfully.

I hope we all can agree that all people deserve equality, dignity and respect. I would be willing to work myself out of a job if everyone would understand and practice plain and simple humanity.


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