Overcoming the Accuser
Everyone in the classroom was aware that the new girl was different. They had all grown up in the area around Charlottesville, a rather affluent area with Southern manners, rolling green countryside, country estates and horses. She moved here from a broken home in Washington, D.C. to live in Albemarle County with her grandmother. She wore a black, leather jacket with gang slogans stenciled across the back. Her language was crude and out of place. Most students ignored her. Once when I rearranged the seating, one of the boys refused to move where I assigned him. Later he told me privately that he refused because he didn’t want to sit next to a Negro. It was 1968.
As time went on, the new girl’s sullenness began to soften. Her schoolwork improved. She began to smile and reflect enthusiasm in class. I attributed the change to the influence of living with her grandmother. Once when I asked a question, she excitedly raised her hand and said, “I know! I know!” One of the white boys remarked, “What do you want – a medal?”
Her joy could have been squelched with that comment. I grimaced inside. She might be crushed. She could buy into the negative attitude that many in the class held towards her. She could deep down think she was not “good enough” for them. How would she react? Would she attack them back? Would she withdraw? Would she internalize the negative energy in my classroom and carry it home with her, dwelling on the insults and becoming bitter toward white people? Would she become defensive and afraid to be herself?
By her answer, I knew she knew. She knew the truth deep down about herself and about everyone else in that classroom. She had been startled by the boy’s remark. But the surprise on her face was followed by a big, happy grin. She turned to the boy, and said, “Why, no! Why would I want a medal from you, a little mortal white boy? I’ve already got a medal coming to me. Mr. Slater, knows what I’m talking about, don’t you, Mr. Slater?”
Nobody messed with her again in my class. They had held an opinion of her founded on their petty values. She didn’t buy into their opinion. Her opinion of herself was founded on God’s values. She knew where she stood with God, and for her that far outweighed what people thought. Their words could not injure her. They could only make her chuckle. Her faith in the truth of the Gospel gave her security and freedom. I believe that was the day the class began to respect her. I think intuitively they realized her opinion about herself was the right opinion.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is pulling for us.” —Romans 8:31-34