You live in a town for almost 18 years and you think you know it — and then something happens and you realize you hardly know it at all. That happened to me today, when I attended the YWCA’s Women for Racial Justice Breakfast, as a guest of Ann Erdman, Pasadena’s public information officer and blogger extraordinaire.
Sure, I know the basic history of Pasadena’s segregated schools and the federal order to desegregate in the 1970s. And sure, I know about the sad fate of the former YWCA building on Marengo, designed by Julia Morgan in 1920 and now in terrible disrepair. What I didn’t realize was how vibrant the YWCA is today (now headquartered on North Fair Oaks), and how I have a remarkable around-the-corner neighbor who I’d never met.
The neighbor is Marge Wyatt, who’s lived with her husband, Joe, in the Prospect Park neighborhood for 55 years. She was the honoree at the breakfast, because of her decades of service toward the twin causes of racial justice and childhood education, service that continues to this day — even though Marge joked that she’s “so old she doesn’t buy green bananas.”
Marge talked about when her fire for justice was lit. She was a high school student when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and soon she saw neighbors and classmates of Japanese heritage being shipped off to internment camps. She couldn’t believe this was happening; no one even considered imprisoning people of German or Italian descent. With a teacher’s inspiration, she entered an essay she’d written about this injustice in a national Scholastic magazine contest, and she won second prize.
Thirteen years later, Marge, Joe and their baby (three more children followed) moved onto Armada Street, and before long she saw the inequities in the Pasadena schools. Eventually she ended up on the PUSD Board, leading the fight for desegregation; she also founded the Child Care Information Service and remains active there today, as well as with the League of Women Voters.
Her talk wasn’t the only inspirational thing at the breakfast. Keynote speaker Dr. Joy DeGruy proved much funnier and livelier than her book title — Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Enduring Legacy of Injury and Healing — suggests, and she had the packed ballroom laughing and deeply engaged. And the closing singalong of “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” led by a superb quartet from Blair IB Magnet School, was every bit as uplifting as it was meant to be.
The eggs may have been dry and the coffee sparse, but everyone in the room this morning was very, very well fed.