From Chicken Soup for the African American Soul

Senior Editor’s Message:
And the Winner Is . . .

When I was in fifth grade, my teacher assigned us the task of writing an essay for a contest on “What It Means to Be a Good Citizen of the Fifth Grade.” I have no memory of what I wrote in my essay, but I suspect I said things like “We must respect each other and be nice to each other,” which, now as a citizen of a much bigger classroom, I still believe to this day. I probably added something that pleased my teacher like, “We must follow the rules and do as we are told.” I wrote my essay, turned it in and promptly forgot all about it.

One day as I was getting ready for school, my mother started behaving strangely. I had put on my dental headgear which I seldom if ever wore to school and which my parents were always reminding me to wear. On that day, Mom told me not to wear it to school.

Odd, I thought, and took it off as I was told.

Then she told me as I was walking out the door, “If anything makes you nervous at school, take a deep breath and think of the Lord.”

Good advice for sure, but odd again, I thought.

As my class headed in a single-file line toward the assembly in which the winners of the essay contest were to be announced, one of my friends said, “Evey, your mom is here. I saw her up by the office.”

Really, really, really odd, I thought, starting to wonder if I was in trouble for something. It was then that I started to put all the pieces together. I must have won the essay contest and that was why my mom hadn’t wanted me to wear my headgear! She must have come to school to see me read my essay out loud in front of the whole school! My stomach started churning and I was short of breath. There, again, another puzzle piece fit as I remembered my mother’s advice. I began chanting the name of the Lord and taking deep breaths in anticipation of what was yet to come.

I did, indeed, win the contest and was called to the front of the cafeteria to read my essay, which I managed to do without any great mishap or embarrassment. As my prize, the school gave me a book about Martin Luther King Jr. with a big picture of him on the cover. At the time, I remember thinking it was an odd prize for an eleven-year-old white girl. Certainly, I had heard of Martin Luther King, but even as winner of the “What It Means to Be a Good Citizen” contest, I couldn’t have told you much about him.

Even without reading it, I knew that there was something special about the book. I moved it with me over the years from Southern California to Northern, from Northern California back to Southern. I moved it from California to Hawaii, and I still own and treasure it to this day—now, more than thirty years later.

The gift of that book was a destiny, a planted seed, even more than a book I was supposed to read, or a prize for my essay. Now, as senior editor of Chicken Soup for the African American Soul, I am reading essays, stories, memories, triumphs, tragedies and celebrations about what it means to be a citizen of the African American culture. I had a role in selecting the “winners,” during two years of reading more than 3,000 raw and unedited stories. But, I am the real winner, honored with the opportunity to look into the hearts and souls of thousands of African American people. I was educated; I didn’t know how much I didn’t know. I was blessed with a new understanding of the trials, tribulations and successes. I was crushed under the weight of some stories and elevated by the levity of others. I cried from the depths of my soul and laughed so hard tears rolled from my eyes. I was called “Sistah” via e-mail—where the walls of color are invisible, and I glowed, yes glowed, with the joy of connection and acceptance. While some stories made it into the book and others did not, rest assured that they all, you all—each and every one—made it into my heart. And I give thanks, for I will never, ever again be an ignorant white girl.

Eve Eschner Hogan

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