Marcy, our neighborhood elementary school in Detroit, served students from kindergarten through eighth grade. I began there in 1952 as a fourth grader when our family moved from Columbus, Ohio, to Concord Street.
Even in the younger grades, students went to special subjects classrooms for science, physical education, art, and music. These were the days before Title IX, so it was common, in the upper grades, for physical education classes to separate into boys’ and girls’ teams.
One winter during 7th or 8th grade, each Wednesday, instead of being teamed up with another class, we were the only group scheduled for physical education. This meant that there were not enough students to have two boys’ teams and two girls’ teams to play against each other. We had to play co-ed soccer.
During this era, a school rule existed that girls could wear only dresses or skirts to school. This made those co-ed soccer games difficult, uncomfortable, and painful for us girls. “If only we could wear jeans or slacks for gym class!” we all grumbled.
I decided to write a petition to try to get an exception to the rule. I cited the freezing temperatures and how our legs were numbed by the cold, the robust games with the boys, the girls’ discomfort as we worried about falling, and the limitations on movement those straight skirts posed. The next day, I talked up the petition in class. Every girl signed it. I delivered the document to the principal's office, leaving it with the school secretary. A day or two later, we got word that our request had been granted.
The following Wednesday before physical education class, we girls strutted into the large restroom, our jeans in paper bags, and changed out of our skirts. Then we marched onto the field and played soccer, uninhibited.
I still remember how proud I felt about the petition and the outcome. I’d experienced the “power of the pen” firsthand. I remember how the girls played full-out, into the game, and how good it felt to be heard.
This experience was a defining moment. It showed me that I was a leader. I could do things to effect change; I didn’t have to settle for the status quo.
What was your youthful defining moment?
~ xoA ~