Monday, September 18, 2006

I've been working in charity for almost 6 years now. The music school that I run is a non-profit organization that gives music lessons to children from low-income families for $1 per week. It is a service, or a charity. The lessons cost the school $26 each, so essentially, every half-hour of operation, there is another $25 to make up in grants and donations.

This past week, I've been reconsidering the purpose and value of charity. I even thought that I might be turning into a Republican. Lest I lose a reader right here and now, at the end, I decide that I'm not.

What I decided was that there are 2 types of charity.

There is charity that believes the recipient is less fortunate and somehow beneath the giver. It is out of the giver's kindness and general superdooperness that this unfortunate soul will be lifted up out of its misery.

Then there is the charity that believes that the recipient is equal to the giver and therefore deserves the help being given so that the two might have a chance at the same opportunities in life.

After serving my community for almost 6 years, watching my first marriage crumble as I spent 50 plus hours a week at this part-time job, and more than doubling the school's services and annual budget, I was called a racist last week.

The short story is I had to write a disciplinary letter to a parent who was completely out of line with one of our faculty members. I don't like to do it, but teachers can be hard to keep, and I have to stand behind them when they are mistreated.

The parent responded with a handful of letters to me, the Board President, and the city arts commission. She had her venting opportunity, and I think that will be the end of it. I certainly don't send disciplinary letters without support and approval of the Executive Committee, so it's not like I just flew one off the handle and sent it for kicks. They were aware, informed, and in agreement.

The point is that she declared that the school and myself were a bunch of racists. She said that she had noticed at recitals that the black children were given less challenging pieces than the white children. Never mind that I can't think of a single white child in the program who is an advanced student. There are some intermediate and advanced Latinos and Asian Indians, but since they are not black, I guess that makes them white.

She stated that I always try to make them grateful and if they are some sort of charity.

Um. Sorry to point this out, but you are. I remind people who supports us, and yes, I expect everyone at the school to be grateful. That includes me, the families, the teachers, and the Board. When people give you things, you say thank you.

So I went around and around about how that made me feel. The first stop was at the misconception that all my work was futile and I should never have left the deep South where I was never surprised when someone randomly called me a racist for no bloody reason. I thought I was stupid for trying to be a private school educated white woman running an organization that serves mostly African American students. Who was I to think that I could do that without being considered a uppity racist trying to help the poor black children.

After a few more stops at self pity, more anger, and the one that I almost declared Republican at, I found myself at the stop of, "This is not my issue."

Not once have I ever thought that I was helping the poor black children until this woman suggested it to me. It has been and will continue to be my stance that every child deserves a music education, not just those whose families have expendable income with which to provide it. I do not care what color you are, where you came from, or why you don't have enough money to provide it. The children deserve it because they are just like all the other children.

So next time you write a check to a charity, stop and think why you are writing it. Are you writing it because you want to help fellow human beings and try to make the human playing field a little more even whenever you can? Or is there some other reason that you feel the need to write that check?

Pity is cheap to pay in but expensive to pay out. Compassion is a much better bargain.