This story is the first another from our Earth Fed Athletes who have elected to share their experiences with race in America at our request. This one is from Rachel Fatherly. Rachel is an NCAA All-American in the shot put, 2016 graduate of The Penn State University, and 2015 USTFCCCA Outdoor Mid-Atlantic Region Female Field Athlete of the Year. She also scored 1,000 points in high school basketball, benched 300 lbs and holds the current shot put record at PSU.
Everything in my life has helped to mold me into a stronger individual. Growing up I lived in a predominantly white community in central PA. Often my family and I would go for an evening walk and our neighbors would ask us “where we live” or “how is it possible for us to afford the corner lot.” Those are just a couple of the many loaded questions black families face on a daily basis that many privileged people feel ok to ask.
My parents always focused on the importance of receiving an education and instilled in us that we do our best. As a child I went to a primarily white elementary school. There were probably five African Americans in the school once I left in the fifth grade. I had two memorable experiences while in elementary school. The first was in kindergarten. Our class was lining up at the door to go home. I had my spot in line but needed to go get something from my desk. When I returned to my spot in line one of my classmates screamed “no nigger”. At the time I had no idea what the word meant but I felt hurt so I pushed her. I felt extremely hurt and isolated because everyone in the class laughed and a few looked shocked but I was the one in the end who got into trouble because I pushed her after she called me such a demeaning name.
In the fourth grade my teacher voiced that she did not feel comfortable with working with a few particular students. She placed a comment in my agenda book that I do not remember. However, it caused my father, a principal for over 10 years, to question her. He wrote a note and said that he would like to see my classwork and grades and told me to hand the note to my teacher. I never realized that by handing her a note she would smash a textbook on my left hand. She aggressively slammed the textbook on my hand which broke a ring and left a mark.
I remember being so scared to be in that classroom. I remember telling my parents about it. They arranged a meeting with the principal who eventually banned my mother from the school. He said “Well this could be Rachel’s perception of what happened and maybe the book slipped or bumped into her hand.” We realized ahead of time that he would probably justify the teacher’s behavior so we provided him with letters from all of the students in the class. He then admitted that the letter that my father wrote was the reason that the event occurred. So, my parents requested a meeting with the superintendent. She assured us that I would be safe in the classroom and that my teacher had some mental health issues. My teacher admitted that she hit me but still nothing was done about it. I often wonder that if the situation had been the other way around if the outcome would have been different. This was one of many traumatic experiences I endured in elementary school simply because of the color of my skin.