Second grade children come out to the basketball court. They are all coming from the school next door to the Lincoln Square Park in Chinatown, Oakland. Almost all in uniform, they are all dressed in white tops and beige pants. But there’s one little girl who sticks out. She wears her jet-black straight hair in a ponytail, and is wearing a navy blue skirt and black tights that don’t quite match.
The kids’ homeroom teacher instructs them to stretch. He wears a plain white shirt, blue Nike sneakers, and a yellow and gray baseball cap. The kids line up around the basketball court in a large circle, surrounding the teacher.
“2, 4, 6, 8, and 10!” the children scream as they bend down touching their toes. With a proud smile, the teacher says, “Good job. Now we are going to do jumping jacks.” The children look at him with disappointment and some cover their faces, trying to block the intense sun that has now begun to spread across the basketball court. Squinting their eyes, they yell out: “Awww!”
Like birds in their first attempts to fly, the children jump in place, waving their hands up and down, some of them accidently hitting their neighbor. Exhausted, the circle of waving hands comes to a stop and their children attentively look at their teacher, anticipating his words.
“We’re going to have a race. Who’s ready to win? Line up by the wall,” he says.
The children yell in harmony and rush to line up against a brown shed in the courtyard. Their small bodies crash against the brick walls as they all rush in an imaginary race to see who can touch the wall first. After all the commotion, the children finally line up in lines of seven, and like little soldiers, they all stand firmly as they anxiously wait for the magic word: “Start.”
The seven children in the front row all look at one another, glancing side to side to see who the competition is.
A little girl with black straight hair and a pair of pink square glasses stands out from the crowd. She is small and slim with fine features like a cute little doll. Her competitors are five boys, two of them big, while the other three are skinny. The last competitor is the mismatched little girl, wearing her own uniform colors.
The race is about to begin. Drops of sweat run down the two big boys in the middle. They crouch down in running position, and their hands touch the cracked concrete floor. The teacher yells out, “Are you ready?”
The children nod and some screech “Yes!”
They all shift their focus on the straight white line ahead, only 12 feet away. The court becomes silent.
The children in the back are now paying attention to the first contestants. The silence is broken. A loud whistle travels across the courtyard and a herd of fast footsteps follow.
The little doll-like girl takes the lead, and all the other children follow. She runs past the line first, but suddenly comes to an abrupt stop. The children wave at her and plead with her to come back. It’s a relay race. She doesn’t turn around.