Early in the day on April 27th, 2018, NPR’s Morning Edition listeners throughout the United States heard Charisse Minerva Spencer telling her son, Myles Spencer-Watson, about what it was like growing up in the 1960s in Cavalier Manor, Portsmouth, Virginia, one of the largest predominantly black suburbs in the nation at that time.
As Charisse tells her son, “I could stand in my backyard and listen to Ku Klux Klan meetings.” Their conversation was originally recorded for StoryCorps in 2009, and was selected to be featured on “Morning Edition.” StoryCorps is a nonprofit which helps people interview loved ones in order to preserve the wisdom of the past for future generations by archiving conversations at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
Charisse goes on to tell Myles, “by the time I was in the fifth grade, my parents told me I was going to integrate an elementary school in a white neighborhood not too far away. And there were going to be five of us that were doing it.” She remembers how this community responded to having their schools integrated: “Some days, gangs of white boys would spit at us, throw cigarettes at us, they’d have growling dogs … and you just kind of hunched together, and you just kept going.”
In addition to being a mother, StoryCorps contributor, and helping to confront the segregation of public schools in the United States, Charisse is also a member of iBme’s Guiding Teacher’s Committee, as well as a member of iBme’s Board of Directors. As a mindfulness teacher, Charisse brings vast expertise in the arts, science, and youth development. After earning a Bachelor’s degree in Medical Technology, Charisse’s passion for art — especially dance and choreography — led her to earn a graduate degree in Performance Studies concentrating in the Anthropology of Dance from New York University. Charisse is known for highlighting and clarifying how mindfulness is practiced in many ways throughout many cultures, and she powerfully integrates music, drumming, movement, and creative expression into her teaching in order to create multi-cultural mindfulness practices which are relevant to the needs of young people across richly diverse communities.
Reflecting on the harassment she and her peers endured as they began integrating a predominantly white school, Charisse tells her son, “That’s a lot of strength to ask for a child. But we did really good at that school. We had to. We were representing our whole race.” She goes on to tell Myles that she hopes to pass on her civil rights legacy to him: “Hopefully you’ll be inspired with that and have a lot of pride in it, and keep up the struggle.” NPR listeners across America heard Myles emphatically respond: “I do.”
Charisse will be sharing her wisdom and powerful mindfulness teachings at iBme’s 2018 UK Retreat for Young People. We invite to also learn more about iBme’s amazing teachers and mentors and check out the schedule of upcoming retreats happening near you.
Heard on Morning Edition, produced by Kerrie Hillman and Emma Bowman, April 27, 2018.