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Friday, February 26, 2016

Writing Yourself Into Someone--"The Color of Safety" and Activism

This woman, I think, does not worry if people like her.
When I began writing The Color of Safety--the novel that I am currently submitting to agents--I was, in some unfortunate ways, a nice girl. This is culturally more prevalent among white women than African-American women, I think. We white girls are more socialized to be, well, nice, to worry more about people liking us and less about doing the right thing. 

The Color of Safety is about 100 years in a house in the West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles. In the 1950's and 60's, across America, cities tried to wipe out African-American communities by  running freeways through them. In every community, this meant tragedy, but in West Adams, also known as Sugar Hill, I think it was doubly so, because this was one of the wealthiest and most successful African-American neighborhoods in the country, and yet, even the lawyers, doctors, newspaper owners, insurance company owners, movie stars, even those living in a gated mansion community could not change the freeway's route.   

Bill Gates
Since The Color of Safety is partially about the politics of education, I was researching the history of those politics as they have affected Los Angeles. I'm talking about the efforts of some of our billionaires to fix our nation's schools.  

Eli Broad

Then, the school district in my current city started to suffer from some of those same political struggles. Our new superintendent, a graduate of Eli Broad's Superintendent's Academy, was systematically destroying our school district.  Through the course of The Color of Safety, a lead character, Molly, stops wishing she were more kick-ass and starts joining with her neighbors to do the right thing, even if it puts her at risk--I'm talking risk of death, of having your home blown up with you and your baby in it. (Pay attention here--this part of the novel was based on things that really happened in Los Angeles.) 

And, as I was writing it, I, too, began to join with neighbors and teachers and parents and aides and staff who were horrified by what we saw going on in our schools--in the name of both right and left leaning policies. 

I was one of the many people who talked to school board members, city council people, mayors, the state board of education and when nothing changed, we found folks willing to pay attention and elected them to our school board. 

It's going to be a long haul to fix what's been broken. And I will be out there helping to figure out the problems and how to fix them. I have already made enemies. Too bad. I no longer worry so much about what people will think. 

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