Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Words: A Second Grader’s Wisdom

We all have what I like to call “magic moments,” powerful points in our lives that stay with us always.  Black History Month brings one to mind.

In the early 1990s, while working as the librarian at a boys school in Pittsburgh, I was reading a biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. aloud to second graders.  When Jim Crow laws were mentioned in the text, I stopped reading and explained,  “These were laws that kept black people and white people apart.  Does anyone know what this was called?”


I waited, then dropped a hint.  “It starts with an ’S’.”

Henry said, “Separate.”

“Good guess,” I told him, “and very close, but not quite.”

More silence.  I waited.

Nate’s expression showed he was perplexed, but it was clear he was thinking.  I could see the wheels turning in his head until . . . bingo!

“STUPID,” he said.

I felt a chill.

After catching my breath, I said, “You’re absolutely right.  It was stupid.  Thank you, Nate.” 

I opened the book and continued to read.  It no longer mattered that we never got around to the word “segregation.”  Nate’s word said it all.

In an earlier blog post* I said I wanted to strive to live up to my first-grade admirer’s image of me as “Queen of Words”. 

In that magic moment, Nate was “King”.

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*Words: A First Grader’s Question, August 31, 2021