The Precocious Child

I had difficulty sitting quietly in my seat.  Excited about new ideas, my hand shot up before the teachers asked their questions.   I enjoyed sharing the correct answer and loved the classroom.  Even as a kindegardner, I  set my clothes out the night before to prevent any delays in the morning, and then I ran the three blocks to school.  I was the “precocious kid” that drove the teacher crazy with my musings. 

So it was no surprise that one day my teacher informed me that my mom was going to join me after school, and we were going to meet the headmaster of an elite school across town.    I sat in front of the prim and properly dressed white woman and held my mother’s hand as they started their adult conversation about my joining her private college-prep school.

The headmaster explained the curriculum, the yellow bus that would pick me up daily, the full scholarship, the performing arts program, and the incredible opportunity.  Their school would set me up for attending any one of the country’s best colleges.

Later that evening, my parents informed me that I would not be going to the private school, ride a yellow school bus, or learn how to ride horses.  My parents reminded me that in the next school year,  I would have Mrs. Edwards as my teacher.  My distress about the affluent private school across town dissolved quickly.  Mrs. Edwards, one of the only black teachers at my elementary school, was the smartest, most life-affirming teacher I would ever experience.  She continues to be a legend.

I never asked my parents directly why they didn’t feel comfortable sending me across town into an unfamiliar community of white people and affluence.   I reflect on the social and political backdrop of  1964. Poor people were screaming for equal opportunity by rioting in the streets across urban cities all over the country.   We heard about black churches in southern towns being burned to the ground almost weekly, and civil rights workers killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan.  I am sure that fear kept me close to home.

I completed my education in that segregated public elementary school; however, that would change.  Mandatory busing integrated my junior and high school.  I went on to graduate from Ivy League colleges and one of the top medical schools in the country.  I am convinced that my success was directly related to my parent’s decision to keep me close to home, their unwavering belief in my abilities, and the brilliant educational foundation I received from the teaching of Mrs. Edwards.

Stacie L. Walton MD, MPH, recently retired from Kaiser Permanente as a clinical Pediatrician serving in the roles of both Diversity Champion and Communication Consultant. She served as a medical consultant in diversity issues for healthcare providers and institutions for over 25 years.

Currently, her cultural competency themes highlight the impact of implicit bias and privilege in patient interactions and health outcomes, as well as, how effective patient-provider communication requires both competences and humility.