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Race relations have changed, but we have miles left to travel

Race relations have changed, but we have miles left to travel mike_briotta_web.jpg
Mike Briotta
We feature Dr. Bobbie Rennix on the cover of November PRIME. This fall, she earned the highest honor ever achieved by a Ms. Senior Massachusetts in the nearly 20-year history of the state crown. Her story is nothing short of inspirational; she's a woman who had to literally wear feed sacks as clothing when she was a child. She now looks great in her crisp interview suit, tiara, and well-earned pageant sash. Some would say the issue of race is no longer relevant in American society these days. After all, we have President Obama and the First Lady as examples of our equal, multicultural society. Unfortunately, that's not necessarily the case. You don't always realize the racial bias of people you spend time with every day, until faced with that reality. It strikes me this month that there are many kinds of racism, some more insidious than others. The overtly negative attitudes of the past have been changed into something more subtle. I sincerely hope the image of an accomplished black woman does not yield a backlash in 2010. November is a time of Thanksgiving. I give thanks for my own education. I also hope that our society strives for a better racial dialogue. Rennix grew up in the Deep South. Her parents had to make a hard decision to keep her out of work on any given day, and put her in school instead. So many of us take our free, public education for granted. Not her. She later faced racism at college. Yes, the college Rennix attended was integrated. But just barely. One day, when she was the only black student in class, a white classmate presented a report on the book "Little Black Sambo." Wasn't Sambo just an adorable laughingstock, the white girl asked to a sea of nodding white faces? Said Rennix: "The professor thought it was okay." But it was not okay. It was a devastating moment. The book, by the way, was correctly deemed a racist stereotype and pulled from bookstore shelves by the 1970s. Rennix dreamed of becoming a teacher, and she attained that dream. She never gave up the will to teach. She's now a tutor in her home, teaching about 12 students reading, writing, and spelling skills. She also has a book, "Learning to Read the Rennix Way." A former school superintendent in Springfield once quipped about her skills as an educator, "Bobbie Rennix could teach a dog to read." Coincidentally, the week that I interviewed Rennix was also the week that my mother would have turned 65. She had breast cancer and passed away in 2008. My mom was a high school English teacher in the Springfield school system. She loved books. She taught me how to read and write, and instilled in me a love of words. She also knew the value of forming your own opinions, not based on stereotypes but on the truth; and of having one's own voice against this world. I doubt they ever met in the hallways of the Springfield schools, but I think my mom would have really enjoyed talking with Dr. Bobbie Rennix. I know I did. Until next time, Mike Briotta PRIME Editor mikeb@thereminder.com