About the Writer

GravatarChrystal Schivell is a retired teacher, author, blogger, and white woman who has spent her adult life pondering questions about race.

I was raised in Greenwich, Connecticut, a community of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants who worked in New York City. It was the second wealthiest town in the country at the time. Jewish people kept a low profile, though they had a country club of their own, one of the thirteen in Greenwich. Black people lived either in the homes of their employers or were segregated at the edge of town in a section known as Chickahominy. To the white residents, black people were useful but peripheral, even invisible.

From kindergarten to college, I went to private schools that were located in bucolic settings and that admitted primarily WASP’s, like me. But the civil rights movement peaked while I was at Wellesley College. The civil rights movement punctured my isolation and ignited the idealism that took me to a job in a mostly black, urban school.

Years later, I was finally able to undertake a mission I’d fixed upon at my Wellesley College graduation ceremony, when the keynote speaker urged us graduates to serve others. Now that my husband’s job at Princeton University had brought us near an urban center, I would be able to join black people in their struggle for equality. I was certain I’d been prompted by God, whose voice was a combination of Wellesley, Greenwich Country Day School, and Martin Luther King, Jr. I didn’t recognize that it wasn’t the 60’s or that my idealism might not only frustrate me but also seem condescending to others.

To add to my difficulty, I’d known very few black people. Most had been servants in the Greenwich homes of childhood friends, to whom I’d been taught to be politely distant. And I’d been raised by a mother who looked down on anyone different. But I was confident. I’d rebelled. My cause, rooted in the civil rights movement, was just. I knew what was politically correct and had even taken a course in black history. I was ready for my mission.

Wrong. But it took me ten years to find out just how wrong. My experience as a special education teacher at Trenton Central High School is the subject of my memoir, Baffled by Black and White: Teaching in an Urban School and Unlearning Assumptions about Race.

I taught at Trenton High for 23 years. I was appointed faculty adviser to the Student Government Association and was elected to the Faculty Senate, serving as secretary for 13 years. When New Jersey mandated School Management Teams to implement whole-school reform and oversee the budget in each school, I was elected one of Trenton High’s teacher representatives to work with administrators and parents.

My husband and I mentored and supported two Trenton High students, an investment that has paid off in their spectacular success in the fields of medicine and education.

Since retiring, I’ve been active in the anti-racist organizations Not In Our Town and the Campaign to End the New Jim Crow.

Now my hope is to host a safe, civil website where my voice and your voices can contribute to the much-needed conversation about race.

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