It was child psychologist Robert Coles who wrote a series of books that are known as the ” Children of Crisis” series. He gained international recognition because of his day-by-day support of Ruby Bridges, a tiny, six-year-old African American girl who was the first student to walk into the newly segregated New Orleans grade school. Every morning she walked into her classroom accompanied by US deputy marshals. For months she faced racial slurs, was splattered with rotten fruits, and vegetables and once inside her classroom was the only student.
Robert Coles marveled that she never showed fear or cried. Each day she would march into school, head held high. Death threats were thrown at her and parents would yell at her that they would never allow their children to play with her or attend the same school as her.
Robert Cole’s books could have also been called” The Resiliency of Children ” series because his research not only demonstrated that there were children in crisis throughout the population from sharecroppers to children from the most privileged families but also remarkably courageous children. While much of his work dealt with children in crisis, what shines through his research is the remarkable courage and resilience he found exhibited by children with whom he worked.
Working with students throughout my career, as well as raising our four children, I eagerly followed all the research on resilience. Encouraging courage and curiosity and supporting all the children in my care as they became both morally and intellectually autonomous was my constant aim.
Strangely, never once did I question my own resiliency. Besides, I came from a long line of resilient people. My parents survived WWII and my grandmother and her sister were the only two women in their class to graduate from medical school in 1897. I claimed their courage as my own.
Our generation has been fortunate in so many ways. We have not had to survive a war and we have not had our sons drafted into the military. At least for myself, resiliency was more of an intellectual engagement. Sure, I was able to bounce back from setbacks. I looked for and found inspiration from many sources. My children and students were my most constant inspiration. Watching them cope and demonstrate tenacity and adaptation I would find myself inspired over and over again. My students would often bring interesting quotes into the classroom to share. For example, I remember a day early in my teaching career when a student brought in a quote from the American inventor, Thomas Edison, I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. This was the first of many quotes to follow. Students looked for and found inspirational quotes from many different sources. This was all good, but rarely were any of us put in situations where resiliency was tested.
Today we find ourselves moving towards three years of separation from our families. Our planet-wide pandemic is the test of our resiliency. Early on we perceived our island as a haven as we eagerly awaited a vaccine to be approved. Strides were made towards recovery only to fall back into more restrictions. Yet, to remain hopeful, we strove to see the effects of the covid pandemic as temporary.
Our belief that a recovery is in our future, has been tested. Many of us have had days where we felt paralyzed by concern for loved ones struggling with covid half a planet away. Over and over again we have struggled to find compelling reasons to get out of bed in the morning. Relationships and friendships have been both challenged and strengthened. We have learned to spend our time and energy on situations and events over which we have control. By putting our energy into areas we can positively impact, we hang onto our confidence and hope for the future.
While we feel trapped in the microcosm of our daily lives it is difficult to envision brighter and healthier days ahead. It takes determination to dream, set goals and work to achieve them. All around us are people who have lost the ability to remain empathetic and compassionate. We are told it is naive to have empathy and tolerance for those who are incapacitated by the current situation. Yet, we choose to recognize the potential and ability of those around us. We make this choice over and over so as not to fall into a cynical and meager existence. While all of us battle days when all we can do is put one foot in front of the other, we bounce back, learn important lessons about ourselves and others, and move forward.
Ms. Vivian Colvin