During my time spent in the pilot program named “Family Focus” based at Southwood Elementary in Bloomington, MN, back in the 1980s, they sometimes would make an announcement right in the middle of the school day that would spin things 180 degrees as to how the rest of the day would go before we would assemble in the gym prior to going home.
One such incident occurred on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. My class was humming along when all of a sudden our teacher, Mrs. Baileyan, made an announcement: later in the day we had to go to a MLK-related program at nearby Westwood Elementary School.
At that, an emotion ripped through me from head to toe that fairly screamed oh no! I’ve got to get out of this one.
Being in school had exacerbated an intense dislike of having to sit in an audience I had developed after going to see Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird at a now-gone movie theater located in the vicinity of Southdale Shopping Center in Edina, Minnesota.
The waves of laughter that swept through the theater as I tried to concentrate on a big screen version of one of my most favorite kiddie TV shows tore me out of the movie so much it left me an extremely unhappy camper. Alas, it was a situation I ran into all too often in school at various events or movie screenings about things I could have cared less about, and by now I had had it with such stuff.
During a break I got up my nerve and walked up went to where Mrs. Baileyan sat at her desk with an impassive look on her face. Her expression did not change as I meekly requested to sit out the MLK Day event. “I’ll think about it,” she said, a dismissive hint in her voice.
Grasping at even this tiny straw, my apprehension momentarily abated. But when departure time neared and I went and asked her about my request, I found out it had been denied! She soon found out it was folly to have done so.
After going to Westwood by carpool (not by bus, for some reason), I dutifully filed into the vast school gymnasium where a white male member of the school staff introduced a black entertainer all dressed in black complete with a cape and a floppy brim hat.
The name of the entertainer flew over my head because the staff member talked like he was on fast-forward. The entertainer slowly broke into song right after Mr. Fast Forward was done speaking. I could not make out his words all that clearly because he sang in a low tone that got lost towards the back of the gym, where I sat in tense anticipation of an explosion of loud noise.
It came a millisecond after the entertainer began singing in the form of a loud laugh from the kids which swept from front to back like a fierce gust of wind. The noise killed any hope I had of following along with the entertainer, and sent me into a sensory overload that made me slam my face into my hands and scream with tears.
As a result, I first got me sent to a nearby equipment storage closet, where I ran into an old gym teacher from Southwood who recognized me and treated me with kindness. Then I got to wait in the hall outside until the program was over. Mrs. Bailyan would have been better advised to let me stay at Southwood so the MLK program could have gone off without a hitch.