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Jacqueline M. Ward is an economist, entrepreneur, avatar and writer. She unschools her three children on the South side of Chicago where she is active in the homeschooling community on a state and local level.

Jacqueline serves as the contact person for the South Side of Chicago for Illinois H.O.U.S.E. (Home Oriented Unique School Experience) a state wide, nonsectarian organization with 17 chapters throughout the State of Illinois. She is also the contact person for the City of Chicago for families who are interested in homeschooling; and the co-coordinator of the Mid-South House group, a support group of 30 predominantly African-American families on the south side of Chicago.

Her family’s motto is “the world is our classroom” and they have traveled extensively domestically and abroad in pursuit of their education. She is currently working on a book on traveling abroad with children for African-American audiences.

A Perfect Day:
A Fable from Under the Baobab Tree** (or is it?)

It was the beginning of a perfect day in Chicago. I ran to the bus stop in my good shoes with a briefcase full of books only to catch a bus with standing room only. Hours ahead of schedule; I could have waited for another bus, but a young gentleman invited me to step ahead of him "ah chivalry, long time no see", I said to myself as I accepted his offer.

On the bus as I was staring out at the beautiful Lake Michigan waters, I counted myself blessed for having the strength to stand. In the middle of my blessing, a sister sitting below me grunted and rolled her eyes because one of my two extremely heavy bags, brushed slightly against her each time the bus made an abrupt stop or turn. I thought to myself, "you have a seat and I have to stand for 30 minutes--can't you at least feel blessed and grateful about that?" But I didn't let her spoil my perfect day as I submerged myself in the wondrous sight from the bus windows; Birds flying in perfect formation against a backdrop of brilliant skies, crystal blue waters, and a city full of beautiful people.

Occasionally rousing myself from my reverie, I noticed that almost everyone on the bus was reading a book. Imagine that, black folks reading! Subjects in order of popularity: the Bible, juicy novels by African American writers, a coupla philosophy books, one copy of Carter G. Woodson's "Mis-education of the Negro" shared by two young men.

Hopping off the bus, I ran four blocks to meet my friend Bill for a quick cup of coffee before getting on the train. Rushing to meet Bill, I noted how angry and unhappy people seemed as they scurried to work down Chicago's version of Wall Street. Remembering my own 12 year tenure on this same street, I sent up a silent “thank you” for delivering me out of whatever version of the corporate nightmare these people were living. Reminding myself that I was no longer part of this “lucid dream/nightmare” I slowed my steps to a walk, no need to sweat, perspire or even glisten on my perfect day.

When I arrived at the coffee shop Bill slipped me a $20 bill to buy him a coffee to go with my Venti Soy Chai tea. A gentleman behind us snorted his displeasure, and Bill politely offered to allow him to go ahead of us. He declined and chose to remain where he was, angrily staring at our backs until he was served. His anger started Bill on a diatribe about how angry people seemed in general but he stopped right dab in the middle of his ranting. “You look really happy" he said, "yes" I replied, "I am having a perfect day".

Two hours, two buses and one train ride later, I entered my class. "Good morning, good morning, good morning", I chirped to the class. "We didn't understand the homework" was their sullen reply "You will" I replied, " today is a perfect day for perfect understanding"...and they did and it was.

Class over, time to pick up my children. Two more buses and a train ride later I arrived at the playground where my three children were playing peacefully with a group of about two dozen other homeschooled children. Looking on were some of the “Ama Mamas” (Ama “protector of history“, also “one who gives birth to divine creation“): Kandase, Kiela, Imani and Nancy keeping a close eye on all the children. A third eye and a fifth hand of support that they have extended to our network of homeschooling families.

“Home“, I thought to myself relaxing in the comfort and familiarity of my extended family. As I joined the other women under the Baobab** tree (well, of course it wasn't really a Baobab tree, but on this perfect day the oak served us just as well); We spoke of things on high. Lifted each other up, moved our collective agenda a little further ahead. We congratulated ourselves (silently via the Universal line) on having survived a challenging year of homeschooling, internal group friction, breakups and make-ups.

The older children, without prompting, kept an eye on the younger ones irrespective of blood lines. "Mama K“, should he be climbing on that?" 12 year old Maat'kara gently inquired, seeming to read little A.J.'s mind, sensing his intent perhaps even before it had crystallized in his own head. "A.J. no!" safely retrieved, grateful mother, perfect timing, perfect intervention on this perfect day.

We sat there for hours; swapped stories about midwives, breast feeding, the best places to buy organic. Other women -- on the surface, of diverse racial and ethnic identities, but sisters under the skin -- gravitated towards the group and occasionally chimed in. Spouses and mates periodically dropped off sustenance so that the children could play a little longer and the mamas wouldn't have to break off their idyllic revelry on this perfect day.

Much new hunger pangs began to edge out nearly exhausted energy, families drifted towards cars, vans, buses. Each vehicle pulled off with at least one additional child who was not of the blood but family nonetheless. Gentle good-byes, hugs and laughter -- partings absent of protests or regrets, because we all knew that there were hundreds of even more perfect days yet to come... Under the Baobab Tree.

"The things that we are conditioned to believe in are not real. That which is real we are hesitant to believe in, perhaps because it seems just too good to be true."

** Reference: "Under the Baobab Tree With Courtney Walton" FUNgasa Magazine, Jan/Feb. 2004.