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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Willie Mae Lee Crews, June 16, 2005. Interview U-0020. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Teaching students values of self-esteem and confidence

Crews discusses the importance of teaching students self-esteem and confidence. Throughout the interview she stresses that prior to integration, teaching students such values was a central task of Hayes High School. Here she suggests that after integration, this had decreasingly been the case for African American students, although she is not entirely pessimistic about the impact of desegregation for students.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Willie Mae Lee Crews, June 16, 2005. Interview U-0020. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

KIMBERLY HILL:
If changes were made to schools so that everybody was getting equal resources and they had quality prepared teachers who expected them to do their very best, what difference would it make in that situation if there was racial diversity within the school?
WILLIE MAE CREWS:
In one sense it would not make any difference and in another it would. That would take us back to Thurgood Marshall. As long as students know in their hearts that one is not better because of race, because our schools in Birmingham now are segregated, we have very few white students. You must be prepared for what you want to do and present yourself as best you can. Then remember what Bishop Vashti McKenzie said, 'the fault is not always in the stone', and what she said that you may be rejected, but it's how you look at rejection. She gave several examples, and one was that Nelson Mandela was rejected but there was no fault in him. Adam Clayton Powell was rejected and removed from the government structure, but the fault was not in him. He knew too much and he knew what others were doing so let's get rid of him. So, if our students know that rejection does not equate with fault then you have a foundation to move into the community. Recognize the power of language; recognize that the language of the market place is as much yours as anyone else's. So you will not respond to what is authentic and what is not authentic, allowing that to control your life. If someone says you talk or you run or you act or you think white, there is an economic issue. Think economically, that does not belong, no one has a monopoly on that. So, if you think honor, no one has a monopoly on that. Learn the language; no one has a monopoly on that. I just saw on the news the black girl, who knows Arabic extremely well, and there's a young woman in Birmingham who knows Japanese and she's the interpreter for the Japanese car folk in Alabama. She completed the Japanese studies program at Dillard and is doing very well. Just think about it, these are young African American women moving into cultures where women are not thought highly of in the first place. [So I think that it has to do with self esteem, but people think that when you say that you are telling kids that all they need to do is have a good f eeling, that's artificial.] Self esteem is extremely important, but that comes about from genuine work. We have to teach children that they can feel good about themselves if they clean the kitchen and stand back and say that kitchen looks good, I did a good job with that. Or, 'I wrote that paper and it's well written, I can feel good about that'. It's not false esteem, it's not just telling them you need to feel good about yourself, no, do something well and that's how that comes about. I had self esteem about picking cotton because I could pick two hundred pounds a day, so I can do that. I think that's the kind of thing we need when we talk about self esteem, that I can read a poem and I can read it well. I can enter into a conversation, or I know when to say something and when to be a good listener. [interruption]
WILLIE MAE CREWS:
. . .know that they are worth something, they have value. If we don't help them see that then somebody else will, and perhaps it's the wrong value that they will see. Teach them how to do something well, and that in itself brings about the esteem that we talk about. That I am worth something, I do have value, rather than just say those things and then ask them what they can do well -
KIMBERLY HILL:
And they don't know.
WILLIE MAE CREWS:
Right, or they want a job but they don't want to work for this and don't want to work for that. Then the ball is in their court to tell us what they can do, and who knows that you can do it. You tell them when you leave that they need to live their life so that at least three people who are not related to you can recommend you for a job. They are not getting those kinds of things now. If you are going to apply for a job, you are going to say to those people by how you dress and how you present yourself that you can be a part of their establishment. You don't dress for your friends; you look at what's there. You explore the company, you go with knowledge about the company-we used to tell kids that, and I'm not sure they are being told that now, or taught that. I can't say because I'm not in the classroom, but I know we did that. When you're with your friends and you dress a certain way, but if you go into a business and you want them to employ you, there are ways of presenting yourself. If kids are never told how to present themselves, how will they know? If they are from a home where the parents don't know, and we have to assume that some don't know because they have not had those experiences.