As a fifth-grade student in Clarksville, Tennessee, a small city near Nashville, I constantly got in trouble. Just about every day, I came home with a pink slip. I didn’t always know what I’d done wrong. But I knew the pink slips weren’t good and that three of them added up to detention. That’s where I—one of only a few black students at the school—spent countless afternoons.
The teacher, who was white, told my mother that I moved around too much and finished assignments too quickly. The teacher said she didn’t understand me; she suggested I get tested for attention deficit disorder.
My mother had a different interpretation. You were “a black student she couldn’t control,” she told me recently. “She wanted a reason for that.”
I was the child of an Army officer, so we moved around a lot. I attended seven different public schools in six states before leaving home for college. In all, I had just one black teacher: Mrs. Bishop, at MacArthur Elementary School in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. That year was my strongest academically. I’m convinced there was a reason for that.