“Is that an S-curl?” That is how one of the 6th graders greeted me the Monday morning after “Loren Miller Week” at Loren Miller Elementary School. I was immediately snapped back into reality. I was still feeling the awe of the week before when Dr. Amina Hassan, author of Loren Miller: Civil Rights Attorney and Journalist, delivered a research presentation to students and visited classrooms. That same week, Loren Miller’s granddaughter, Judge Robin Miller-Sloan, along with her husband, Michael Sloan, who is an attorney, and her sister-in-law, Commissioner Sharon Miller (wife of Judge Michael Loren Miller) visited as well. I don’t know if I was in a light-hearted Monday morning mood or if I was taken aback by the fact that she even knew what an S-Curl was. So I jokingly said “Yes.” The 6th grader turned away, fist pumped the air, and said, “I knew it.” In a millisecond I realized what I had done and tried to take it back by saying, “No. It’s not.” But I was a millisecond too late. The look on her face was a mixture of confusion and “yeah right”. I thought of fixing it by saying, “Well, if the S stands for success, then yes.” But I left it alone. Little did I know that I would have a few other hills to climb besides the talk of natural fruits and berries. At recess, Joseph was accused of slapping a girl in the face but he claimed it was not his fault. Lunchtime ended with incident when Nobel, accidentally, he says, came down the slide and kicked John which sent John into an uncontrollable rage. The school day came to a close with Andre pacing the hallways back and forth with his fists tightly clenched because apparently Javier spit in his face. At the same time, Lena was crying inconsolably because her cousin (friend), Janet, told her they were no longer cousins. This, with a lot of filling in between, can sometimes be a typical day at Loren Miller Elementary School.
It is hard to believe that just one month ago, I took a chance trip to the Huntington Library in San Marino, California for a book signing in honor of Loren Miller. I was a little apprehensive about throwing my title around as the new Assistant Principal of the elementary school. But thanks to my impromptu, promoter-friend Calvin, I met Dr. Hassan, whose first words to me were, “Are you from the school? Your friend told me about you.” Before I could ask, she agreed to come to visit my school in December. Later, I introduced myself to Judge Miller-Sloan, who agreed to visit as well. Having no fear of the camera, so to speak, I was on a roll and I asked (begged) the Educational Coordinator for a field trip to bring students back to view the archived works of Loren Miller, Sr. The Huntington Library staff began to make arrangements for us on the spot before I could even pour it on. The night seemed to fill with magic and I felt that the students needed to experience this.
What started out in my head as a week of activities, ended up being a 3-day homage to Miller, a man that served California from the 1930s to the 1960s by fighting housing covenants and discrimination against African-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and all disenfranchised citizens. When Dr. Hassan came to our school on Day 1, I wasn’t sure what to expect. She had already hinted that she was not proud of her public speaking abilities. I had seen her presentation at the Huntington, but knowing that the current attention span of students can range anywhere from a minute-thirty to infinite depending on the video game, I hoped that students would not get lost in the research. Dr. Hassan surprised all by tailoring her every word to the experiences of the students both in the large assembly and during classroom visits. She mentioned how Miller came from a humble household in Nebraska but was noticed early on for his academic aptitude. On Day 2, it felt like bases were loaded in a baseball game as I welcomed Miller’s granddaughter and family. The feel of this assembly was less about research, and more about what it was like to know grandpa Loren Miller. Judge Miller-Sloan said that her fondest memories were when she was 5 years old and her grandfather would take her and older brother Michael and read to them. Miller Sr. probably knew that they would make a third generation of judges in California. The homerun of this game came when our guests visited classrooms. After they reiterated the need for higher education, a 6th grade female student said, “I want to be a judge.” At that moment, I would almost swear that I heard angels singing. Almost. But I didn’t want to get ahead of myself because I still had Day 3 ahead; the field trip. On Day 3, we arrived at the Huntington with only one emergency bathroom pit stop along the way (Not me.) Rachel, Linda, and Jennifer of the library staff greeted our bus like that beautiful reunion scene at the end of The Color Purple. They escorted us to the theater and showed us an introductory video about Henry E. Huntington that gave the students a glimpse into his past. Afterwards, the curator, Sue Hodson, took us into a private room and displayed some of Miller’s writings, photos, and letters. By this time, some students were familiar enough with his history to ask higher-level thinking questions. An elderly volunteer docent named Bill kindly and enthusiastically led our group around the grounds towards the Huntington estate. We culminated our visit with lunch, provided by the library. After lunch, we only had 30 minutes to spare so the library staff asked if we would like to go into the main archives, and we did. As we stepped in, I knew that 30 minutes was not enough time to take it all in. The teachers and I divided the group into two, and we sped through as quickly and quietly as we could. I was proud that the students exercised library voices in the immense, echoing halls of knowledge. Time ran out rather quickly and I encouraged students to tell their parents where they had been and what they had seen so that they could return on their own.
After all was said and done, I reflected upon how students may not completely understand our world but they definitely know that something is fragile and volatile about life today. As I arrive at the front gate of the school, reality hits every morning and the time for conversation is now rather than later. From the moment the bell rings, to the end of the day and beyond, teachers spend time advocating for and with students that are picked on, name-called, harassed, marginalized, oppressed, depressed, suppressed, or bullied by peer-pressure. It can almost feel unhealthy. However, this month, students and teachers (and I) showed signs of an energy life boost. We discussed how a small child named Loren was able to do great things. Our buckets overflowed with student comments and questions such as “I wish I could see him [Miller]”, and “ How can I be a judge?” Teachers expressed how they learned so much about Miller. One of our Parent Representatives, Ms. Harris, attended Miller Elementary as a child and cried when she met the Miller family. Thanks to our principal, Dr. Carolin McKie and staff, our students have a place where they can grow and feel a sense of security. Sister Kamau and Brother Amadi of the KPFK radio station, Inner Vision, thanked me for my work in education during a radio interview. Assemblymember of the 64th District, Mike A. Gipson, also applauded my efforts on behalf of children in our communities. Nonetheless, as I prepare for another week, one question comes to mind. What would Judge Loren Miller Sr. have answered to the student question, “Is that an S-curl?” I think he would have definitely thought faster than I and said, “If the S stands for Success, then yes.”