Black child, white mom – life experience informs author.
The way they looked at me when my mom walked in was like they suddenly realized that I wasn’t like them after all. “Why was her mom white? She had to be adopted” were thoughts I thought they must have been having. They even whispered to me, “Are you adopted?” I remember thinking that it would have been much easier to have been adopted than to say, “No she’s my mom for real.”
— Excerpted from Black and White: Why Are the Piano Keys Weighted? Reflections from a Colored Girl’s Perspective
Ten years ago, Kristy Pierce was working in a St. Paul area learning center when a young girl caught her attention. The girl was a student who reminded Pierce of herself. “She didn’t really have any friends at school,” Pierce explained. “She came in and she just did her thing.”
Pierce noticed how other girls would pick at the girl and talk about her amongst themselves, but the girl still stayed on task and continued to do her classwork.
“By watching her, my life kind of flashed in segments,” Pierce recalls. In response, Pierce says that words started to coming into her head, and she began to write. After she finished, the written reflections sat on her computer desk.
On Thursday, July 19 from 5-8 pm at Golden Thyme Coffee Shop in St. Paul, Kristy Pierce will be reading from Black and White: Why Are the Piano Keys Weighted? Reflections from a Colored Girl’s Perspective, as well as signing copies.
While working at Crossroads, a St. Paul public elementary school, Pierce started to document what was happening there. She says that their unique teaching style worked well for the students, but the teaching approach was hard to document and present to administration and legislators to try and increase funding.
“It’s hard to document what we do because so much of it — in addition to the academics — [is] so much about helping kids build character,” she muses.
Again Pierce started writing, but this time she profiled students. She was encouraged by a friend and coworker who read these profiles and said, “Kristy, you have to do something with this.” But neither Pierce nor her coworker had ideas on what to do. After ten years of sitting on her computer desk as a collection of unorganized essays, profiles and reflections, Pierce decided to have her writing published.
The first part of the book examines Pierce’s life and the effects of being a biracial child raised by a White mother.
“I think growing up it was very much a struggle,” she remembers. “I felt like I always knew who I was [but] everything I was exposed to was White other than my grandmother and my dad.”
Pierce says that even as a child she identified with being Black, but says, “I wasn’t able to verbalize it… As I got into the working world it became more and more clear that I was Black — [Corporate America] saw me as Black woman.”
The second part of the book is made up of profiles of students that Pierce has come in contact with through Crossroads. In one part of the book, she describes a woman entering the school for the first time; the woman asks, “Is this a school for special kids?” The school has a high population of Black children, and the woman had been greeted as she entered the school by a student with Down syndrome.
Pierce says, “My response was, ‘Yes, they’re all special’…Every last one of them are special, and when you stop treating them like they’re special you get the Columbines and the Virginia Techs and all kind of situations because they just become a number.”
This is Pierce’s fifth year as a behavioral specialist at Crossroads, and through her experiences there as well as those from her own childhood she recognizes the importance of culture in teaching.
“My daughter went to Higher Ground Academy in St. Paul — an African American-based [school with] primarily Somali [students]. She learned so much there about being educated as a Black child…and those are things that I couldn’t have taught her because I didn’t get that in school.”
Pierce strongly believes that school curriculums have to become more culturally inclusive. “It can no longer be in February, and it can no longer be the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King, because there’s so much more.”
Through her book, Pierce hopes to highlight the importance of culture and respect in children’s lives and learning experience.
Vickie Evans-Nash welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.