Sophia of the Bright Red Sneakers | Asthma + Piano Lessons = Multicultural Middle-Grade Books
At four years old, I began piano lessons with my mother, mostly to get her attention. I lived with my grandmother while my mother worked. As a single mother, she often went out in the evenings. At five years old, the local curmudgeon piano teacher took over. She had taught my mother. Her studio was a dark, scary space over the town supermarket and up a long staircase.
Miss Thompson held a wooden ruler and would tap it against her hand to keep time. She used it to correct mistakes if you hadn’t practiced. When I started getting asthma attacks from anxiety and the layers of dust, I went to the town’s other piano teacher. She was a church organist and the only Black woman in town. She was my mentor through some very difficult years, one of only four people in town who liked classical music. Before moving to my small town, she made her living playing honky-tonk in nightclubs with a small band. She was very ashamed and would rarely talk about her former life. As I got older, she told me what she endured as a young Black woman—entering through the backdoor—and every drunk man thinking he could take advantage of her. She was a proud Christian woman, so it was difficult.
One time, when I was choosing which piece to learn next, I said the rhyme “eeny, mee” Mortified and ashamed, I saw how insidious and wrong it was. It was not even my own belief. Even at that young age, I was aware of how racism and bigotry permeated my environment without my knowing.
I was also asthmatic as a child and spent many, many days in the hospital alone while my family was working. The only Hispanic nurse, a loving woman, who also experienced marginalization, kept me laughing and entertained as much as she could.
Because two people of color were so kind to me as a child, I feel called upon to show how without our knowing these false beliefs overtake us. I try to expose children to the idea that all people have something to offer, regardless of where they come from or what they look like. Volume 2 of Sophia of the Bright Red Sneakers series will be addressing this in depth.