Monday, July 26, 2010

For a Greater Watts

“Your hair is pretty!”

That was probably one of the nicest compliments I have ever received. The two-year-old who said that was completely unaware that I fought a daily battle to get everything in place.

That summer of 2007, I had joined a group of volunteers for The Greater Watts Child Care Center’s reading program. Having played the part for years as the older homeschooled sister teaching my littlest siblings how to read, I wasn’t exactly jumping up and down to sit one-on-one with the many struggling African American and Hispanic children who lived at a nearby shelter. I lucked out. No one else in the group really wanted to entertain the ones, twos, and threes, whose attention spans usually lasted only a few sentences before they would hand me another book.

The toddlers would take turns sitting in my lap, showing me their favorite books and toys and chatting the hour away. I don’t remember getting a chance to finish a single book. At first that troubled me, after all reading was my purpose for being there. However, I quickly realized that what these children really needed was someone’s attention, someone who valued what they had to say…or attempted to say in inner-city babytalk. I probably failed to install in them a love for books, but maybe the brief personal connection will have a lasting effect.