Ellinwood Kansas was the heart of the heartland. You could stand on my grandmother’s porch and see miles of wheat fields rolling over gently sloping hills. Ellinwood is as small as it gets; no one locks their doors, they leave their keys in their cars and you will see children playing outside long after dark. When I visited Ellinwood in the summers of my childhood, I was in awe of their Harvest Festival and amazed by the number of people who stopped me in the street to ask me if I was a “Herter”. Generations of my family grew up in that small town, and still live there today, but it was the one woman from Ellinwood that I never met who's memory inspires my advocacy even today.
Then, in the early 1940’s while the men were fighting the Germans, my Grandma Herter was fighting the battle of racism in Ellinwood Kansas. A college graduate, and the only teacher for miles, Grandma Herter taught every day in a small one room school house far out in the country. From miles away children of all ages came to learn from her. The idea of “walking both ways barefoot in the snow” took on a literal meaning for many of the children in her K-12 grade classroom. Impressive as it may sound, a woman in the 1940’s teaching with a college degree, it wasn’t until one special school year that Grandma Herter’s courage was to make her nothing short of inspiring.
School was beginning in fall, as it does each year, and the rumors had already begun in this small rural town about the 'black' family that had moved nearby. Quite the scandal for its time, Ellinwood was far from being a diverse or multiracial community. And, in the 1940’s African America children were not allowed in all 'white' schools. But that didn't concern Grandma Herter.
So, that year the first day of school began, as it always does each fall, and the small old schoolhouse filled with students while Grandma Herter stood at the front of the old classroom, surveying those returning for another year, and patiently waiting for all of of the new students to be present before beginning.
But she never began that day. She just stood there. She stood there and waited for all of the students in her town to be present. Grandma Herter didn't accept that a child could not attend school simply because of the color of their skin. She stood in that classroom on that clear Kansas morning with conviction: as one woman against her town and its ignorance. That day she refused to teach until the all of the students, no matter their skin color, were brought to school to learn together. And it wasn't until they all arrived that the school year began.
I am inspired by my grandmother's dedication to children -- her children and those in her community. It is all too rare these days to see someone stand up for those that cannot stand up for themselves.
Her actions that day passed on a legacy to me that I continue to honor: Standing up for what is right, being the voice for those who have no voice, and loving -- truly loving -- every child.
Happy Mother's Day to all of the moms out there -- the mothers in this world that go above and beyond for their children, and all children.
Take a minute and visit Chynna, over at The Gift blog today, who is having her own tribute to mothers -- or "Mothers in leiu" -- so no matter how your role of mom came to be -- through birth, adoption, or the choice of another kind, please check out her beautiful article. Oh -- and she's giving away a gift card to Bath and Body Works. Who doesn't love that?
Happy Mother's Day!