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SHAME

By Dick Gregory

Richard Gregory learned about the cruelty of poverty very early in life through two different experiences that marked his life and he tried to overcome by overachieving.

He was about seven years old when he had to face shame for the first time in his life. He had fell in love with a little girl in his class, her name Helene Tucker. He did everything that was possible for a poor little black boy to impress her, or at least to make her noticing him. Even though there was no water in his house and he only had one outfit, he made sure it was clean by washing the clothes every night with melted ice from a soda machine located in the neighborhood store.

Helene Tucker ?was symbol of everything you want?: kind, neat and popular ?and she had a Daddy, and he got a good job.? She was in the classroom when the teacher in front of the other students humiliated Richard. He was sitting in the ?idiot?s seat, the troublemaker seat.? He was behind in spelling, reading and math, and couldn?t concentrate because most of the time he had not eaten anything for breakfast. But the teacher never cared to find out the reason why he was not doing better in school. ?All she saw from the front was a little black boy who squirmed in his idiot?s seat and made noises and poked the kids around him.?

The teacher started asking each child for a monetary contribution given by the parents for the Community Chest. Wanted to show off, Richard was planning in topping Helene?s contribution with the money he got from shinning shoes. But the teacher never called his name.

When he raised his hand to tell the teacher about his contribution she disregarded him by saying: ?we are collecting money for you and your kind.? At that moment he realized who he was in the eyes of everybody and the shame and hate were everywhere.

The second experience happened in a restaurant after working all day shinning shoes he was eating and a wino came to eat, but when the wino was asked to pay for his meal he said he didn?t have money. The owner bit him. Then, Richard begged the owner to stop and offered to pay for the food. The wino looked at him with hate and recriminated him for not having offered to pay before. He ?had waited too long to help another man.?


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