I loved Mrs. Fontaine. She was my first-grade teacher back in the stone age when so-called “desegregation” was a divisive issue in my small town. She was the first Black person I had ever met. She was loving and kind, and her smile and laughter were the bright spots of my days. I just knew that she loved me as much as my classmates, both Black and white. She hugged us, was patient with us (especially this wild-child), and she tried to teach me math.
Today, I realize how huge a challenge it must have been for her and how much scrutiny she must have been under as the first Black woman to teach in North Salisbury Elementary School in 1966.
I looked up to her as a child and her memory inspires me still. It may sound trite, but in tough situations, I sometimes find myself asking “What would Mrs. Fontaine do”?
I also wonder whether she would be satisfied with the progress we are making toward racial and women’s equality.
Women and our male allies have heroes. Kamala Harris, our vice president, became the highest-ranking female official in US history, as well as the first African American and first Asian American to be elected to serve in the post. The elevation of Dr. Rachel Levine as the nation’s assistant secretary of health makes her the first openly transgender federal official in history. Delaware’s own Sarah McBride—the first transgender state senator in the country—is the highest-ranking transgender elected official in history,
We all know there are so many major hurdles yet to overcome, especially when it comes to systemic racism and LGBTQ equality. But we are making some progress, at least when it comes to parity for women.
There have always been women, many of whom are transgender and lesbians—and our allies—at the forefront in the fight. Audre Lord, Beyoncé, Hillary Clinton, Laverne Cox, and so many others.
We have heroes in Delaware, too. We can be proud of women like Mary Ann Shadd Cary, an anti-slavery activist, journalist, publisher, teacher, and lawyer. She was the first Black woman publisher in North America and promoted equality for all people. Mabel Vernon was a member of the American Woman Suffrage Association and one of the principal members of the Congressional Union for Women Suffrage. There are numerous other Delaware women who shattered glass ceilings and spoke out for equality.
This issue of Letters is about women like these—those who have influenced, motivated, and encouraged us to be more, do more, and demand more.
Women like the luminous actor and singer Angelica Ross, featured in this issue, who is rewriting narratives and demanding transgender representation. We also spotlight the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, Maya Lin—who went on to create the Civil Rights Memorial in Alabama, and many others.
Then there are our CAMP Rehoboth heroes highlighted in this edition, like Kathy Wiz and Muriel Hogan, the architects and founders in 2011 of Broadwalk on the Boardwalk as part of Women’s FEST. And Kim Nelson, a Founders Circle member of CAMP Rehoboth who, during the pandemic, has been volunteering as a CAMPcierge and a CROP (CAMP Rehoboth Outreach Program) volunteer, delivering meals to families being housed through “A Sheltering Heart.”
These women, and so many others, are moving all of us forward.
On a related topic about breaking barriers, we also feature an exclusive overview of the Christina School District’s enactment of a new policy protecting transgender students in this northern Delaware school district.
Also in this issue, in true Letters tradition, we offer articles about our many other dedicated members and volunteers, new places to dine out, the latest on the arts scene, and so much more.
So enjoy and stay safe!