“A White Woman Waking Up,” Dec. 3, 2019

( Dear Readers: I’m taking this week off to recover from Thanksgiving. I hope you are recovering, too. The following column is from Feb., 2004.)

They were wrong about me on the bus that day. I didn’t see it then. But looking back, I can see it so clearly it makes me laugh.

Truth is often like a reflection on a pond. It’s there right in front of you. But to see it, you have to slow down and stop splashing and wait for the water to clear.

In January of 2000, while in Los Angeles, to see the Rose Bowl game, I attended church at Bethel Unspeakable Joy Fellowship in Watts. The pastor, Carol Houston, preached that first Sunday of the new year about her ambitious (but not so impossible) dream to take 35 children from her church _ kids ages 8-16, who had never been outside of Watts _ on a bus trip around the country.

I felt incredibly moved by her passion. I could hear it in her voice. I could see it in her eyes. I could feel it in my soul. I could dream that dream with her. But I was not about to get on that bus.

My late husband had coached basketball for 30 years, before losing a battle with cancer two years earlier. I had spent a lot of time on buses packed with kids. After he died, I missed getting to know the kids and going to the games. Actually, I missed a lot of things. But I did not miss spending hours on a bus.

That Sunday, hearing Pastor Carol talk about her dream, I thought, “That woman is crazy.” And I tried not to snicker.

Beware of what you try not to snicker about in church. Six months later, I found myself sitting on a bus with Youth Tour 2000, waiting outside the White House, while Pastor Carol explained what she’d do to us if we didn’t behave ourselves inside.

Round trip from L.A., the tour lasted three weeks. I signed on for six days (from D.C. to Ohio) and the experience of a lifetime.

I could fill several books with stories about that trip and how it felt for me _ a middle-aged widow who grew up in the ‘60s in the segregated South _ to be treated like family by a preacher from Watts and her funny little flock.

For now, I’ll tell you this: (1) I’ve never met anyone who shined with more courage and grace than Carol Houston; ( 2) I’ve never known any children who were more polite or better behaved than the children on that trip; and (3) I’ve never in my life been so exhausted.

It’s hard work trying to behave oneself, especially to Pastor Carol’s standards. I usually try to avoid sleeping in public, but at times I found it hard to stay awake.

Late one rainy afternoon, somewhere between the “Great Blacks in Wax Museum” in Baltimore and Independence Hall in Philadelphia, I closed my eyes for just a moment _ with my head resting against the back of the seat and my mouth gaping wide open _ when I heard what sounded like the twittering of birds.

I looked up to see a half dozen young faces grinning down at me.

“What’s so funny?” I said, bolting upright.

They roared with laughter and scattered back to their seats. Then 10-year-old Tonika explained.

“We never saw a white woman sleeping before,” she said.

They were right about me in most of their comments, at least, the ones that I heard:

“You’re going to write about us in a newspaper, aren’t you?”

“You look sad sometimes. Do you miss your husband?”

“I bet you wish you didn’t have to get off the bus here so you could ride with us all the way back to California.”

Excellent observations, spot on. Children tend to see important things that adults often miss.

But they were wrong that day to assume I was sleeping.

Sometimes what you think you see, when you look at a person on the outside, can be surprisingly different from what you’d see if you could look beyond her skin.

Her eyes may be closed.

Her mouth might be drooling.

She could even be snoring louder than Pastor Carol.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s sleeping.

Maybe she is just waking up.


  1. Children can be our best teachers. This was a fantastic article, Sharon, and a reminder that to “wake up” is to understand how much our similarities can outweigh our differences.

  2. Kate Sciacca says

    Wow. Maybe 15 years old but still absolutely beautiful. I could picture all of you 🙂. What a blessing to share that time with those sweet kids! I’m watching Hidden Figures and your column was a perfect accompaniment 😉. Thanks!

    Rest well…. I’m sure you’ve earned it!

  3. Fantastic memories of your fantastic bus trip. I once volunteered to chaperon a school bus of high school kids to see Nixon’s inauguration in DC. Memorable, but great memories. I don’t remember sleeping/snoring! Katie.

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