James Bryant headshot

James Bryant

Jefferson Elementary School, McGuffey Elementary School, Walker Elementary School, Lane High School

I was a respectful student, but in this particular instance, I just decided that I needed to speak up.  And I think that’s when the activism started, in sixth grade.  We had just come in from recess, and we were all seated.  So Ms. Simms decided — well, she made an announcement, and she said, “Boys and girls, I am going to read you a story.”  So of course, being the somewhat outspoken classmate, the others looked to me to see what I was going to say or how I was going to respond.  So I politely raised my hand, and I said, “Ms. Simms, we do not want to hear that story.”  And the name of the story was Old Black Joe.  And she said, “I am not going to tolerate this disrespect in my classroom.”  I said, “Ms. Simms, I’m not being disrespectful.”  I said, “First of all, we do not want to hear that story.  And secondly, all of us can read.”  And so she kind of got sort of discombobulated, and she decided that she was not going to read that story, after threatening to send me to the office to see Mr. Reaves.  But I made it clear to her that we did not want to be read to, we are sixth graders, and we are all very capable of reading.  So I think that was the beginning of my activism because we suddenly realized that we didn’t have anybody to go to.  There was no equity in education -- that seems to be the buzzword now — and we soon discovered that we were going to have to fight tooth and nail for the right to be recognized for who we are as a race.