When I was in kindergarten, one of the kids in our class, Tommy, happened to be our teacher's son. I can still remember the way my classmates and I would giggle whenever he called her "Ms. Mommy." At some point pretty early in the school year, it started to become apparent to me that Tommy was getting preferential treatment from our teacher: extra graham crackers at snack time, more chances to be classroom helper, first dibs on recess toys. Our teacher's favoritism bothered me, but it wasn't until I witnessed her being blatantly unfair to another student in favor of her son (Tommy decided he wanted a ball that another classmate was playing with and our teacher took the ball and gave it Tommy) that I decided I had to do something about it.
I marched over to my teacher and proceeded to inform her that the other kid had been playing with the ball first and that Tommy shouldn't get the ball because he already had the jumprope. I can still remember with vivid clarity the way my teacher's face transitioned from surprise to indignation to outrage at my audacity. I was curtly instructed to, "Keep your nose out of other people's business," then dismissed with the wave of a hand. I can still feel echoes of the frustration her hand-wave invoked in me.
I went home that day and asked my mother to help me write a letter to the principal about my teacher's behavior. I can still remember the letter word for word:
Our teacher is not fair. She treats Tommy better because he is her son. She gives him more snacks and he gets to have the jumprope and the ball and that is not right. I think she should not do this because she is a teacher at school and a mommy at home. She should get in trouble for this. But not a lot of trouble because sometimes she is nice.
The next morning I strode into the Principal's office and handed the letter to the secretary.
I was five years old and had already developed a sense of right and wrong and a strong aversion to blatant inequality. Throughout my childhood and teenage years, my inability to tolerate injustice landed me into a fair amount of trouble, including - but not limited to - suspension from school, expulsion from extracurricular clubs and a recommendation for counseling to address my "combative" disposition. My need to intervene when I see others being violated is a major motivating factor for me and it's the foundation on which all my community advocacy is built. So when asked to describe myself and what I stand for, my go-to answer these days is this: I'm an Advocate for Justice.
Justice for the disregarded.
Justice for the exploited.
Justice for the silenced.
Justice for ALL.