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StoryCorps in Oklahoma: "And All That Schooling Paid Off." (ENCORE) (Feb 17, 2012)

Hiawatha Bouldin grew up in Chicago in the 1960s, and like many African-Americans who came of age in the Civil Rights era, lessons he learned as a child taught him to take the high road when he encountered discrimination later in life.

“I ended up going to Catholic schools from sixth grade through high school,” Bouldin said. “And I think my parents did that because they probably knew something that I didn’t know. We weren’t going to be able to go to college right away. They weren’t going to be able to afford that. But they knew that if I had good, positive secondary education – that may be all I would need at that time.”

Bouldin fondly recalled one of his teachers, Sister Roberta, as a classic “hit-you-on-the-hand-with-a-ruler” nun. But despite her stern classroom demeanor, he said she still did “great things” with her class.

“In 8th grade they took us on a field trip to go see Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” Bouldin said. “And for that time, which this was about 1967 or 1968, to see people who don’t like you because of what you look like, it was amazing that we could discuss that as 11-year-olds, 12-year-olds, not knowing that it was going to be so viable and important later on.”

After high school, Bouldin enlisted in the Air Force and became a radiologist in a dental clinic, where he encountered a patient whose reaction during the X-Rays showed Bouldin that his schooling had paid off.

“He walks in and he brings his daughter, and he’s a tech sergeant, so he’s been in quite a while,” Bouldin said. “As I’m taking his daughter’s X-Rays, he says to me, ‘So I see they let y’all do this now.’ And I just looked at him, and I tried to ignore it, but I walked on into the back, and I said, ‘So you need to come back with me behind this screen.’ And he came back there and he said, ‘Hey, didn’t you hear me? I said they’re finally letting y’all do this now.’ Now, this guy’s in the Air Force, I’m in the Air Force. But what I told him was ‘Sir, you don’t realize how easily I could slide this door open, talk to the gentleman across here, and you will never set foot in this clinic again, just by saying things like that.’”

Bouldin says the client realized then that the color of his radiologist’s skin did not mean he wasn’t well-versed in the military’s anti-discrimination policies.

“And if you really think about it, culturally, certain places, people don’t think you know things,” Bouldin said. “That’s the thing that I learned right there. Just because you know something, you have to show people that you know it.”

Produced for KGOU by Brian Hardzinski, with interviews recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to recording and collecting stories of everyday people. The Senior Producer for StoryCorps is Michael Garofalo.

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