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  • It was a hot spring day in Houston, but that was nothing new. It's always hot in Houston, something I'll never get used to after nearly seven years. I was entering my assigned Houston middle school as a teaching artist from the Houston Grand Opera. Today's assignment: write metaphors to live up to.

    As class started, I was called to the principal's office for our initial meeting which had been postponed previously. She was sitting with my curriculum, and obviously had little time to complete her important mission: awareness of her campus culture, rules, and protocols to protect her students living in a difficult inner city area where rights and freedoms were balanced against bad behavior.

    Without looking up she assessed my curriculum vocabulary. "We don't use the word 'African American' here. We use the word 'black.' She continued, "I imagine the kids won't be receptive to some of your topics. They've never been to an opera. I'm not sure what you're going to get from them."

    As the principal talked, I thought about my earliest elementary school memory of being bused to a different neighborhood where there were no landmarks. Our strange new community didn't matter to our teacher Mrs. Russell. She treated everybody the same. She listened and shared. The day Martin Luther King died she grieved and told her stories. We listened. We were safe; we were protected.

    When my principal was done, I returned to my students who were ready to share. Their metaphors came cascading over me in proud voices.

    'I am.'
    'I am a match waiting to be struck.'

    'I am.
    No, that's in caps.
    I AM.'

    Thank you, Mrs, Russell, for teaching equality with only two rules: Listen. Share.
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