The sixth grade stands out for me as one of those important milestones in life. As an adult, I have numerous precise moments of recollection where a memory is so vivid it feels as if I can recall every word and emotion. Our school was a small neighborhood Catholic school with a tragic past. In the late 1950s, the school burned down, and ninety-five people lost their lives.

My experience as one of the few kids in the neighborhood who did not attend public school was nuanced. I never thought much about my identity outside of being the girl who went to Catholic school. My neighborhood was majority Latino and Black, and Chicago was and remains a largely segregated city. I saw white people at school and on television and Brown and Black people in my everyday life. I never noticed that the people I watched on tv shows and working in my small Catholic school did not represent my life or the lives of the people I knew.

That all changed when Mrs. Maureen Hart started her teaching career in my sixth-grade class. I could share countless stories about Mrs. Hart’s dedication to teaching and her desire to really make a difference in the lives of her students. Still, this particular moment is about our sixth-grade production of A Raisin in the Sun. We spent weeks preparing. We watched the 1961 movie adaptation, we read the script, and we designed the set. We learned all about Lorraine Hansberry and her groundbreaking accomplishments. We learned that the original play was set in Chicago and that Hansberry herself was a Chicagoan. The information made our production even more important. After all, we had to do justice to Chicago’s own playwright.

Studying and preparing for that play brought a profound sense of pride and ownership. I fell in love with the characters and all of their imperfections. It was the first time I experienced black characters who were flawed and proud on paper and in film. The struggles of the world around them were not the focus of the story. Family and kinship were central to the plot. When I finished the play, I clearly remembered a profound sense of knowing that I had a place in the world. My stories, although not heroic or regal, mattered and was worthy of praise and notoriety.

– Bridget H. (Ph.D. Student)