Longform

PRACTICE WHAT YOU TEACH

Page 3 of 6

It was an era of idealism, and Delia dreamed of doing something with her life that would make a difference to others.

At sixteen she began teaching Sunday school. Her moral convictions didn't do much for her social life; it seemed like all the girls she knew were having sex with their boyfriends, but her own code of conduct would not allow it. Besides, she knew she wasn't ready for the responsibility of an infant. Nor did she want to limit her choices. She saw what an early pregnancy had done to her mother.

Delia graduated from high school cum laude, 33rd in a class of more than 600, with a scholarship that paid for her tuition to California State University-Los Angeles.

In college, though, she quickly found that she still did not fit in with the other blacks. She thought that attending class was important, but the others spent their time in the student union, flirting, talking politics and playing cards. It was only much later that she realized what she had thought was indifference to academics was just another way of giving up in a world for which no one had prepared them.

College was a lonely time. No one invited Delia to parties. She wasn't rushed by a sorority. She was a square, and her dark skin put her at a social disadvantage among lighter-complected blacks.

Convinced that she was doing the right thing for her future, Delia threw herself into her studies. She discovered that her coursework at an inner-city high school had not prepared her for the university, and her first report card had three Cs and two Bs. Her mother took one look and tore it into little pieces. Delia resolved to try harder.

It wasn't easy. She had to sandwich her studies around working full-time at the Los Angeles Terminal Annex post office to pay for her books, materials and clothing. She was employed there in the summer of 1965 when South Central Los Angeles erupted in flames.

Broadway was on fire, and rioters carried off anything they could find. Mayor Sam Yorty told the police and fire departments to "let it burn" to teach the rioters a lesson.

Delia was afraid each night when she left work and drove back to her neighborhood, back to where the flames rose in the sky and people ran crazily down the streets. And after the fires died down and the rioters had looted all they could, the area returned to...well, there was no returning to normal. "Normal" had been allowed to burn.

All those hopeful black businesses, including the coffeeshop where she had seen Clay, were just smoldering ashes. Delia burst into tears when she saw what had happened to Broadway. A lot of dreams had gone up in smoke. After the riots, the neighborhood was a harder place, more fearful. Gangs appeared in greater numbers, and they were more violent. South Park was now the territory of gangs and drug dealers. Children couldn't play there safely, even during the day.

Delia loved kids and thought that she could make the greatest difference in their lives by becoming a teacher. She was well aware of the legacy of L.W. Robinson.

After graduation, Delia worked at Jefferson High School as a student teacher and community liaison. Jefferson High was a typical inner-city school. There were no supplies for the kids, and the books were outdated and torn. No one cared what happened to the children except for those teachers who struggled to keep them in school.

It was only 1967, but already the hallways weren't safe from the hoodlums--dropouts and petty criminals--who filtered in off the streets. The school was under siege and responded by locking the doors after the first bell, fencing the parking lot, hiring security guards and placing buzzers in the classrooms so teachers could summon help.

Delia felt sorry for the children who were trying to learn in such surroundings. The progeny of poor families--an increasing number of which were single-parent--they came to school hungry, ill-clothed and disillusioned about their futures. Even before they encountered the indifference of the school administration and city government toward the quality of their education, the odds were stacked against them. And Los Angeles would pay for that.

In 1968 Delia married Ronald Busby, a college-educated man who won her heart at her 21st birthday party by bowing to kiss her hand. He joined the Air Force and the couple, then expecting a child, moved to Colorado Springs. Their son, Aaron, was born in January of 1970; in August Delia accepted a teaching position at Holmes Junior High School.

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Steve Jackson