Let the Fourth Graders Be In Charge

Fourth Graders

Leave Fourth Graders in Charge

I was born in 1955, 10 days before Rosa Parks took her historic seat in Montgomery and catapulted events into a new and unfamiliar place in the South. I share this because our place in and perspectives about history are shaped by pivotal events and experiences—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I lived through segregated-then-desegregated schools and facilities, discrimination, and the Civil Rights Movement, but I don’t often have to describe or explain that to 75 fourth graders. I write about my childhood and historical events. I listen to the voices of the elders and I write about that too, but putting myself in fourth-grade shoes recently was life-changing. I learned more than I taught. Here are the lessons:

  • We can trust our future to these amazing young people. They are enthusiastic, interested, sensitive, concerned and engaged. They know their power and they believe in kindness.
  • They are fiercely committed to fairness and doing what’s right. I showed them a clip from the CBS Evening News about Dr. Gilbert Caldwell and his wife, Grace. The story was hard to watch.

The Caldwells are African American and were married in 1957. When they arrived at the hotel for their honeymoon, they were turned away and ended up spending the night at a nearby hunting lodge. Dr. Caldwell said he has shared that story many times but this time it struck a nerve with the fifth graders. They were so moved by the unfairness of this long-ago action that they each wrote a letter to the *hotel and insisted that the management give them an all-expense paid replacement honeymoon for their 60th anniversary.


You guessed it—these fourth graders were equally outraged at the injustice and vowed to use their kid-power every day to make the world better. I gently reminded them that what they do all day every day–being kind and generous to one another, helping and looking out for their friends, standing up for what’s right, —those are the things that really matter.

They were already a step ahead. One said, “if we are kind to everyone, the world just gets better and better.” Another said they could “be the light in this dark world.”

Even the light moments were delightful. I brought small statues of Dr. Martin and Coretta King but I held up one of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer and asked if anyone knew who she was. Several hands popped up and I was delighted that they knew Mrs. Hamer because she doesn’t always appear in history books. When the answer came back “it’s Martha Washington,” we all dissolved in giggles!

Trust me, things would’ve been much different a lot sooner if the first former First Lady had been anything like the fiery Sister Hamer whose historic line “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired” continues to be a rallying cry for justice and equity.

Today as world leaders, wannabees, and others fight for power and position, it was refreshing to hear fourth graders pledge to lift others, help everyone no matter what they look like, accept others no matter what, appreciate the opinions of others, do something good every day, and stay positive. If they don’t do anything else, the world has to get better.

As usual, a couple of presidential hopefuls emerged and I think they’re on to something: “I will make myself president and tell people everything’s possible.” I, too, believe love, hope, kindness, and peace are all possible so fourth graders get my vote-hands down!

*The hotel isn’t still there from 1957 but the manager at the replacement facility was so impressed with the children’s passionate pleas for justice, he granted their request.

Looking for inspiration, empowerment, uplift, straight talk, an encouraging word to brighten your day? You’ve arrived! Meet Dr. Cynthia Ann Bond Hopson, best-selling author, educator, inspirational speaker, sistergirl–she’s all that and more. All the way from Stanton, TN (you can’t get there from here) to 50 states, six continents and everything in between, she’s wise, witty and altogether wonderful. She enthusiastically invites you to slow down, sit a spell, and share a giggle or two.

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