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Jane Elliot: Big Things Come in Small Packages By Cleo Dailey III

Cleo Dailey, III (Modern-day Lazurus)There she was, all 4’11” of herself…she approached the podium with the steady sweetness of any “Nana” or “Grandma”. In a simple sweatshirt, turtleneck, black pants and support gym shoes, she gave the impression that this would be the most docile, gentle speech ever given. After all, this beauty looked like she would come in, teach about baking cookies, and give “time outs” if her audience was naughty. You can never judge a book merely by its cover. At 83, Jane Elliot evoked immediate adjectives, like “brash, unapologetic, pure, witty, brilliant, and approachable”. Jane is undoubtedly one of the greatest speakers of our modern time. She spoke with a vibrancy that beguiled her age. Jane, without a second thought for her reputation, boldly proclaimed that every person on planet Earth came from one woman, a black woman in sub-Saharan Africa. “She is our mother, and we have forsaken her love.” She heralded the word that there is no such thing as race. Her passion was coupled with knowledge, for she spoke of Carl Linnaeus, the inventor of modern-day racism. He was a scientist in his early years who separated plants by their genotypes, and figured that he could do the same with people of different colors. Jane didn’t flinch, as she said things like “black women are heroes”, and “white people are shackled by racism.” She challenged our status quo and our logic with asking us how many of us would live by the golden rule. Of course, we all immediately said yes, until she told the Caucasian brothers and sisters in the audience that they better hope that they don’t wish for “do unto others as you have done unto them”. She challenged educators to learn their craft of teaching every student, or “quit your job, because you are failing our children”; she challenged former police chief Stenson and a younger teenage girl publicly of their stances on feminism, height, color, and intent in a brilliant exercise called “what do we have in common and what are our differences.”

Yet beyond the brash speaking, the in your face accountability, and the comedic timing, all in attendance left knowing something very obvious. This was not just an “elderly woman” with bravado and spunk. This was a woman who was so convicted by the truth that she refused to be silent about it ever again. With tears in her eyes, Mrs. Elliot spoke of “the day hope had died”. With deep pain, she recalled the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and in that very instance, everything made sense. This was not a woman who was out to start wars. She was determined to end them. This was no angry woman with an opinion. She was a grandmother, a mother, a wife, a friend, and an educator who cared about the condition of a people who had been so ill-informed and ill-treated that she could not be silent. She was a woman who knew one thing and one thing for sure. We have gotten it so wrong in this country, and we have to fix it immediately. We are one race. We are one people. And to deny any part of ourselves is to deny ourselves entirely of the opportunity to be all that God placed us here for. She knew that some people would not get it. That they would be “dumb as trees”. But Jane Elliot is without question a compact fire; one that is so tightly passionate and pure that she ignites other fires, until the forest of ignorance is expunged forever.