A little girl who “didn’t know her place”

September 28, 2020 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

Diversity and Inclusion Committee of Edward-Elmhurst Health: We are DRIVEN to create a culture in which all races, ethnicities, religions, sexual-orientations, physical abilities, and socio-economic backgrounds can meet, share, learn, and flourish in an accepting environment. By creating platforms and opportunities that allow us to come together, we can begin to know and understand each other. And through better understanding, we can effectively meet the needs of our diverse patients and deliver on our mission.

In her own words: written by Kristine P. Scott, unit secretary, ambulatory surgical care at Elmhurst Hospital

I grew up in a home where issues of race and culture were strongly influenced by my parents and grandparents.

My parents were of an era where Black people were the constant victims of racism in the Jim Crow south. They grew up in the late 1940s and early 50s in Birmingham, Ala. during a time where racism was the norm.

My parents and their siblings later relocated to Chicago and Detroit. They felt that the north held two important keys to a better life: the opportunity for good jobs and education. The north enticed many during the great migration of African Americans from the rural south to the north.

I was born in Birmingham, Ala. That’s where we lived until my parents moved our family to Chicago when I was 11 years old.

My parents often recounted stories of racism to us. Growing up in the south, I remember many summer nights when we would gather on the front porch as evening settled in. The adults would tell stories and the children would run around with jars trying to catch lightning bugs.

One of the stories I remember vividly was a night when we could not sit on the porch. We all huddled in the small living room of my grandmother’s home with the lights turned off. The men looked cautiously out the windows as men with white hoods marched and carried burning crosses.

Later, I learned that these men carrying crosses were the feared Ku Klux Klan. I have memories of whispered conversations between the adults, who seemed to know who these folks were under the hoods. In fact, they were often the owners of the local stores, or the men and women whose homes were cleaned by the people they were intimidating.

Another story that lives within me happened on a Saturday when I went with my grandparents to do some shopping. My cousin Larry was also with us. As my grandparents shopped in a Woolworth’s store my cousin and I walked to the back of the store where we looked at all the candy stored in glass jars.

My cousin Larry said he would give me a dime if I went to have a drink from the water fountain. The water fountains were clearly marked “COLORED” and “WHITE.” Larry said I should drink from the WHITE fountain.

I bent over the fountain to take a drink. The next thing I remember was a slap across my face so hard that I saw stars. The slap came from the manager of the store. He yelled loudly for my grandparents to come and get this gal who clearly didn’t know her place!

My “place” was simply not to drink from the “WHITE” fountain. My grandfather nervously placed his arm around me and assured the manager that this would not happen again. The look of fear on my grandfather’s face has never left me. My grandfather was a proud and strong man. He was the head of our house, and to see him show fear in the face of this man frightened me too. I was 8 years old when this happened.

My parents instilled in all their children the importance of being God-fearing, truthful and honest citizens. We were raised to have a good work ethic and to get as much education as possible. These traits served us well, but unfortunately, they did little to eradicate the pain we often endured as a result of the racist attitudes that permeated our country then — and still do in 2020.

When I began working at Elmhurst Hospital part-time in 1997, I was very cognizant of some behaviors I observed to be racist. At the time I was still employed with the federal government, where we had initiated a Cultural Diversity program that helped the employees better understand racism and sexism.

I made a conscious effort to not let some of the attitudes at Elmhurst bother me. There were many times when I had to defend myself against racist behaviors, both consciously and unconsciously directed towards me. Through the years, things have gotten much better. Elmhurst Hospital has always been a good place to work, but people are people wherever you go.

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