How We Got to Today

A Conversation with Don Bell

In our last post, Participate: Transform your World, we invited you to “…transform your world by listening to a possibly different view of American History than you were taught.” We hope you were able to join us, but just in case you were not, we are posting Don’s presentation today and inviting you to join in the conversation by making a comment below.

In his presentation Don begins by sharing his experience on January 6 of this year watching the TV coverage of the certification of the United States November 2020 election results. If you watched it, you probably shared his astonishment and wonder leading his to ask himself: “How did we get to this?” Don being a retired higher education administrator, a community activist and a history buff had some ideas, ideas he agreed to share with Northside AARP Community Group at our February monthly meeting. 

At our February meeting, Don mentions racial reckoning and invites us all to suspend our beliefs and venture beyond what we were taught opening ourselves up to another view. If you are like me, you were taught: that the American Continent was settled from East to West; that Africans first came to the United States in 1619; that only Africans came here as slaves… Don points out some discrepancies in these “facts”.

Don talks about our common ancestry and how we all came out of Africa thousands of years ago. He points out that “White” is not biological trait, but rather a socio-political one–a measure of ones status in our society. He reminds us of men like Benjamin Banneker and Jean-Baptiste DeSable. He tells us how free Africans helped establish the oldest American city, St. Augustine, Florida .

Thanks, Don for an enlightening and challenging presentation of a history I personally was somewhat familiar with, but with little of the laser focus you presented. I personally never thought of “White” as a social-political quality. I thought of it as a biological marker. I now know that I was mistaken. I knew a little, but very little of the facts you present from the US Census Bureau. Wow! so much injustice. Thank you. You have given me much information I need to think about but maybe more importantly begin to do something about.

Dan O’Donnell retired from Chicago Public Schools where he taught at the now closed Montefiore Special School from 1970 – 1980 and then again from 1997 -2007. From 1980 to 1997 he sold life insurance as an Agent for the Mass Mutual and broker for many other companies. Presently Dan spends his days writing and developing online learning opportunities. During his sixteen-year hiatus from teaching he remained in contact with Montefiore serving on the PTA and Local School Council as the community representative. 

To the total chagrin of his sister Marianne, a stay-at-home mother of four, Dan’s proudest recognition came when Montefiore Principal Bernie Carlin nominated him as the Parent of the Year. Dan, as Marianne would tell you, never spent one night up with a colicky child… 

Dan’s work experience taught him to respect and learn from people whose life’s paths differed from his own. Dan believes, that despite often feeling like an outsider, he belongs right where he finds himself, and that all that is gift. 

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