On the first day of second grade, my alarm clock woke me up. Before I could turn the lights on in the bathroom, she was awake, too, and flying around the apartment. She got dressed, and we did hair and ate and did a little math. She bounced out of the apartment, out of the car, into the building.
I stopped to talk with an administrator on the way out, so I actually left after the morning bell.
Except there was no morning bell. They don’t have any bells at this school, just announcements, and a school-wide recitation of the pledge, and sometimes a singing of the school song and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” I wonder why the bells were set aside? I rather liked bells as a kid, that sliding into home feeling of sitting in your seat just as the rattle began, and the fire-rocket of departure at day’s end. When I was a teacher, I often yearned for the bell, the clatter that would rescue me from my own limits.
In chapel, today, the bell rang at 10:57. It’s supposed to ring on the hour, but it’s early. It’s been that way for years. It’s only because I had bells on the brain that I bothered to glance at my clock to figure out how early the bells are.
Fifty years ago today, a young preacher riffed off his existing sermon notes and wished to hear freedom ring from places I’ve been to and places I haven’t. He sought a world where little brown girls like the one that captures my heart can sit down with little white girls like I once was. I thought about the self-selected segregated tables in my daughter’s second grade class this morning. The teacher said she’d assign seats after the bell, the bell that doesn’t ring.
So at three, we rang the bells at the divinity school. This is no easy task. The bell is high. It is heavy, and the rope that dangles has been repaired often, and always threatens to break again. We ring it by hand only at commencement and let the automated system ring it 3 minutes early every hour the rest of the year.
Today at three, we rang the bell to commemorate a speech that happened before I was born. Two students agreed to ring the bell, and they ended up needing help from others, as well.
Nobody told us what we were to do while the bells rang, so a handful of us just ended up on the quad, standing around and waiting.
It took a while to get the bells going. I could hear the groaning gears before each pure clamor. They rang for just about two minutes.
And we stood there. Just four or five of us.
We stood there.
And then it seemed like there needed to be something to do, so we sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Most of us stopped after the first verse, but one student kept singing. I opened my phone to find the words to the other verses, and those around me joined her, huddled around a phone, singing about the day earth and heav’n ring. And then one of the bell-ringers prayed, his shirt drenched from the effort of ringing.
Ringing the bells requires effort, it seems. And it requires companionship. And a bit of sweat.
Selam says that today they rang bells in music class, because Dr. Marvin King wanted everybody to drink out of the same water fountains.
Then she remembered a song from kindergarten, and sang it for me, “Dr. King, Dr. King, Dr. King was a civil rights leader, Dr. King, Dr. King, he had a dream.”