After being robbed of a scholarship, a sturdy teenage girl obtains fire for justice and an equal right to the American Dream. She is Nancy Lee Johnson from Langston Hughes’ short story “One Friday Morning.”
Nancy Lee Johnson was born into an African-American family who moved from the South. She was among the popular kids in school because of her multiple talents, especially her painting prowess. Nancy Lee was so well-received that everybody forgot that, at that time, it mattered that she was Black. And as humble as she was, Nancy Lee, relished the admiration and acceptance others gave her.
It all started when Nancy Lee felt something big was about to happen. It was in the rumors in the cafeteria, whispers in the hall, and the looks in the classrooms. She was sure it was all about her unofficial Artist Club scholarship winning.
One final act that set Nancy Lee’s suspicion in stone was when Miss Dietrich asked her what color of the frame would be best for Nancy Lee’s painting. Although everything points to it, she never told her parents about it. Nancy Lee’s parents were supportive and loving. They deserve the pleasant surprise of seeing their daughter receive an ambitious award in front of everyone who, sometimes, oppresses their kind. Still, Nancy Lee’s decision to omit these thoughts from her parents was powered by the fact that her winning the scholarship is not official–yet.
One ordinary day, Miss O’Shay, the girls’ vice principal, called Nancy Lee to her office after class. Nancy Lee’s heart jumped into her throat, despite knowing she had not done anything for her teacher to suspend or reprimand her. When she saw Miss O’Shay’s bright smile and vibrant energy and Miss Dietrich’s sudden desire to join in the conversation, Nancy Lee’s anxiety turned into anticipation.
Her suspicions were confirmed: Nancy Lee Johnson won the Artist Club scholarship!
Coming home, Nancy Lee was bursting with all the pleasant feelings possible. However, she insisted on not telling her parents just yet. Now that her triumph is confirmed, the truth becomes more exquisite. This was a more pleasant surprise for her beloved parents. They told her that the announcement would happen the coming Friday.
As Friday was yet to arrive, Nancy Lee was asked things about her and her family to provide for the newspaper. She also prepared her speech, which would inspire people who hear it to be proud of their dreams and of being an American–who stands up for “Liberty and justice for all!”. Nancy Lee’s speech was also meant to inspire people of color so that, like her, they could attain recognition and appreciation for their work. Instead of memorizing her speech word for word, Nancy Lee took important pointers by heart so her speech would not lose its meaning and sincerity.
Finally, the day of the announcement came. So, she told her parents to come to school that one Friday morning–no matter what. Her dad would not be able to come, but her mother would.
Nancy Lee wore her best smile and brightest eyes to school that day. Her heart and soul rejoiced for herself and the scholarship’s help to her parents and every Negro who harbors the American Dream.
After the name call for class, Miss O’ Shay summoned Nancy Lee to her office. Anxiety was absent in her chest now, for Nancy Lee assumed maybe the reporters wanted to take her photo for the papers. When she arrived in the Vice Principal’s office, she found that there were no reporters nor cameras–just Miss O’ Shay with a gloomy aura.
The news shattered Nancy Lee’s ambition, the anticipation of the award, the potential financial help for her parents, and her speech: The Artist Club withdrew the award. The club would grant the award to someone not colored instead.
Nancy Lee and Miss O’ Shay proceeded to have an in-depth conversation about their shared discomfort caused by racism by most Americans. When Miss O’ Shay revealed that she underwent rash racism because she was Irish, this caused both hearts to ignite with passion. Not to violently fight for their right to the American Dream but to stand up for justice and equal rights in a brave, loving way.
Nancy Lee Johnson left Miss O’ Shay’s office with her head lifted and her smile just as bright as it was hours ago. Although the bell rang especially for the assembly and the award presentation, Nancy Lee’s heart refused to drop. Instead of demanding her right to the award and hating the committee that dropped her for being colored, Nancy Lee chose hope.
Nancy Lee continued hoping to enter other art schools, other opportunities to be known for her talents, that there would be people like Miss O’ Shay who would help her, and for a future where everyone relishes liberty and justice for all.
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