Julia Shields headshot

Julia Shields

Lane High School and Charlottesville High School

The very dramatic thing that happened in my first class my first day of teaching, this big, burly, redneck guy stood at my classroom door, because he was about to enter, and said in a booming voice, “I hate,” and used the n-word. And it’s a wonder I didn’t faint. And I think I said something like, “We don’t talk that way in here, sit down.” And that was that. And he was moderately ugly throughout the year, but not that dramatically so. And it wasn’t until May, we were reading an article on shoplifting in Scholastic Magazine, and I don’t know what possessed me but I called on him and I said, “What would you do if you saw Charles shoplifting?” And the second it was out of my mouth I thought, “Oh my God, what have you done? I have asked this redneck what he would do if he saw this Black kid shoplifting.” And my whole class was expecting ugliness. And I kept blathering on, out of nervousness, and I ended up with, “How would you treat him?” And he finally responded with, “Very carefully.” And we all burst out laughing. It was such a release. And then, when the laughter stopped, he said, “Wait, Ms. Shields, I’ve got something else to say.” And I thought, “Oh, no. Here it comes.” And he said, “I just want to say I’m sorry.” And he explained that his attitude has come from his family and that’s the kind of talk they had at home, and he didn’t know any Black people, and he said, “I was wrong. I’m sorry.” And the bell rang. And every Black kid in that class got up, and went over, and patted him on the shoulder. You can see, it still gets me — beautiful.