We all recognize the color of a bold, golden yellow school bus, and as fall ushers in how warm it is to see them back on our roads and byways transporting children safely from stop to stop, school to school. With all the ugly, dangerous and cantankerous vibrations crossing our paths, the flutter of the bulky buses as they chug along, red lights flashing for secure onboarding, ring of days of innocence and yore.
Until bullies board and make the ride unimaginably horrific. Is no place sacred?
A few weeks ago a fifth grader was assaulted by two similar-aged kids. While angry males have dominated the news, these were girls, accosting a student on back-to-back days while the monitor turned a blind eye and the bus trekked on.
They demanded she tell them her name, grade and age. Then they beat her, pulled out her hair and called her the N-word. Our beautiful bus rolled on. The monitor walked away, uttering “You guys are worse than my kids.”
One of the assailants declared out loud for the riders to hear, “I like my people, but I don’t like your people.”
The victim wrote she believed it all happened “because of the color of my skin, how my hair looks, how I dress and that I look different from them.”
It is hard to believe, two decades into a new century, that a beating of a 10-year-old African American girl would transpire on a golden bus, and that professional adults would fail her in protection.
Buses have a unique place in our history. From Rosa Parks taking and keeping a seat, and changing the course of the civil rights movement forever, to boycotts and the Freedom Riders, these most public forms of transportation have helped charter our national consciousness and rolled through the intersections of our causes for decades.
But we believed those giant, glorious, mustard-colored bumbling boxes on wheels, joyfully transporting our elementary school children, were freedom zones of fun, often the first experience where children bonded as make-believe “big kids,” to and from school without parental supervision, entrusted only to the adults at the helm and the confidence the engine would purr on despite the clunking of the shifting gears and the unpredictable bouncing axels. These are the free carnival rides of our youth.
Until the bullies board. The adults turn away. The N-word flies. A beating ensues. And two children who couldn’t possibly know of Rosa Parks and Freedom Riders are arrested, charged with aggravated assault and a hate crime – the latter a felony.
We feel sorry for ourselves and everyone in the entire, sad scenario, a traumatized child and family, children facing courts and judges, employees blind in their duties – possibly to be fired, and an entire school system answering to a nation how could this happen? The local superintendent says they are planning to have sessions to educate students on bullying and race.
We can help on the anti-bullying front. As for race, a trip to the library and serious time with the history books is a nice start, but the larger answer can only be found where adults often look last, and too often poison first – the heart.
As for our golden, nostalgic buses, we must keep them bright yellow, and be ever mindful that paint jobs and red flashing lights are not safeguards enough. The passengers make the ride, or, like certain moments in history, stop us in our tracks.
Written by John McKenna, Executive Director, Operation Respect