Avis Danette Matthews,
“Don’t act your color.” I recall hearing that phrase a lot while growing up in the ’60s in Prince George’s County, Md., a Washington, D.C., suburb. On a 5th-grade field trip, as the school desegregation debate boiled on medium, one of my beloved black teachers gave us that instruction as we prepared to get off the bus to tour one of D.C.’s many monuments and museums. For the first time, the thought occurred to me, militantly: “How come? Why not act our color?!” In a flash, I envisioned our school, my classmates, our parents and siblings in our warm and loving homes within our nurturing community; our trusted teachers and perfect principal; our weekend Camp Fire and scout activities; our backyard kickball and football games; our annual go-kart race; our parents moving their cars so we could have the whole street for sledding in the best of snowstorms; our summer dashes to the ice cream truck — and I felt adamant that WE SHOULD ACT OUR COLOR. I didn’t say all this to my teachers on the bus, of course. Years later, seeing those same teachers at funerals and celebrations and such, standing adult to adult with them, I realized that they had known it, too — we WERE radiant.