From, “Marc and
Angel Hack Life”
(A blog themed, “Practical
Tips for Productive Living”)
Today’s closing tribute to Black History Month won’t feature the positive influence on my life of an African-American friend from a day gone by.
I will write of a friend.
I will write of a friend whose path crossed my own about 47 years ago.
Physically, she was as far removed from an African-American blood line as any around. Her skin was pale as milk. Her long blonde hair hung effortlessly to the small of her back. And her eyes? They were pearls from an ocean of blue.
Thinking back on my friend, I don’t think she stood even five feet tall.
This was the tiny frame of Brenda Moss.
For someone of such modest stature, I always felt Brenda had the biggest heart in all of Collierville Elementary and Collierville Junior High schools.
In the late 1960s — maybe ‘67 or ‘68 — Brenda was new to our school. I don’t remember why her family moved to our tiny town outside Memphis and I don’t recall from where they came.
Maybe that was the secret behind Brenda’s willingness later to befriend our school’s first black student. Brenda was a quiet stranger. The black student was as well.
Her name, too, was Brenda. I have written of her before — Brenda Hubbard. A product of court-ordered desegregation, Brenda Hubbard was the most courageous student our school had ever seen.
Brenda Moss was the second bravest.
Both I called friend. Each I think of regularly, and especially during the February tribute to Black History Month. Almost five decades later, I thank my lucky stars to have been a brief part of their lives.
Life is filled with challenge. It is now. It was then in those volatile ‘60s. Brenda Hubbard came to us as a quiet messenger of Civil Rights. Brenda Moss came to us as a gift of fate.
None said it then. So I’ll say it now. Both were Godsends to a people, a place and a time.
In those late ‘60s, I never understood the bond that connected our Brendas at the hip. But this I do know. Where you saw one, you saw the other.
They sat together on the school bus, morning and afternoon.
They sat together in class.
They sat together in homeroom.
They ate lunch together in the cafeteria, and often were the only two at the table.
They studied together.
They laughed together.
They shared stories and they shared their time.
Both were mild-mannered, perhaps even shy. Each needed a friend. Both found one.
I became a buddy to Brenda Moss because I learned early on she was a great speller. Previously, I had won the Collierville 6th Grade Spelling Bee ... even earned a shiny new half dollar for my efforts. Then Brenda moved to town. No more championships for me. No more half dollars. Brenda was the new kingpin of words. And it stayed that way through junior high.
I became friends with Brenda Hubbard ... well, because. Like Brenda Moss, she was quiet. She was reserved. She kept to herself. But she would talk ... to those who would approach.
It couldn’t have been easy. I figure Collierville Elementary had several hundred white kids. And one black.
The decision-makers of the day likely knew what they were doing. But their actions — no matter how well-intended — relied on someone being “first.” In our school, their “first” was Brenda.
As tough as life was for our school’s first black student, it probably would have been worse had Brenda Moss not shown the rest of us that it was OK to be nice. There was no shame in embracing difference. There was no wrong in doing what was right.
In my way of thinking, Brenda Moss — at least, at our school — taught the entire student body the value of tolerance.
Although I was a friend to both, I never brought up the word, “race.” To speak of ethnic difference seemed wrong. Too bad I never asked anybody why.
We shared a few lunches together. We joked about something silly another student did. We marveled at somebody’s “A” on the latest test.
But in the end, the truest friendship came between the Brendas. And it was the oddest friendship I had ever seen.
Theirs served as testament to the strength in diversity.
Theirs bridged a river of uncertainty between “us” and “them.”
Theirs toppled a great wall of fear, one brick at a time.
To become such friends, one of these opposites had to take the first step forward. I believe it was Brenda Moss, the little pale girl from parts unknown. And Brenda Hubbard, the little black girl from another school, could not have been happier.
Change takes time, but change will never come without a beginning.
In those elementary school days of the late ‘60s, Brenda Moss was our beginning.
I don’t know if she befriended Brenda Hubbard because she was new to the school, because she was alone or just ... because.
The reason is not important. The result is.
Thanks to a decision to reach out, and a willingness to receive, two Brendas became one.
Life is like that.
If you give somebody half a chance, you just might like them.
I’ll never forget our Brendas. They taught me a little more with each passing day. And I never knew I was learning.
Five decades later, as this cranky old newspaper editor puts the wrap on another tribute to Black History Month, I look back to those days of a nation’s rebirth.
And I smile.
Because smiling back are the memories of two innocent school girls whose vision gave me cause.
“Why?” I always wanted to ask them.
“Why what?” they surely would have replied.
It is then I would have had my answer.