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  • Ellen K. Reichman

Justice for All

Originally published in Short Takes, Persimmon Tree, Winter 2019.


“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”


Standing tall, I placed my hand over my heart as Ms. Shelley, our first-grade teacher led us in the morning Pledge of Allegiance. Except I didn’t know the words. So, I mouthed it.


We were taught the Pledge in Kindergarten. But I was kicked out of Kindergarten. For being a crybaby and disrupting others.


When I finally learned to recite it, I had no idea what I was saying. Or why.


Justice for all.


In sixth grade, John asked me to the school prom. There were two Black students in our class, and John was one. He liked me, and I liked him.


One spring day, John rode his bike to my neighborhood, and I hopped on his handlebars; something we did in Brooklyn in the late 1950’s.


My next-door neighbor spotted me. She wasted no time as she barged into my house to let my mom know.


“Do you know who your daughter is hanging out with?” she shrieked.


Justice for all.


Not long after that, my friends and I were playing at our local park. Some tough boys started taunting us.


They got into our faces and said, “You killed Christ!” I had no idea what they were talking about. I didn’t even know who Christ was and I certainly would know if any of us killed him.


Justice for all.


Attending Brooklyn College in my late teens, I declared Education as my major. My first student teaching assignment was in an all-Black school/neighborhood in Bedford Stuyvesant.


My first day of student teaching in a first-grade classroom, I was asked to get the kids on line for lunch. I did my best to settle them down. One boy glared at me and said, “Get your white motherfucking hands off of me.” Of course, I didn’t have my hands near him. But he already believed I was the enemy.


Justice for all.


A lifetime of witnessing racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and every other “ism” proves liberty and justice for all is a myth. It’s liberty and justice for some.


I’ll put my hand over my heart for the Pledge but just like first grade, I’ll mouth the words.


Sometimes I won’t even do that.


Justice.

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