I don’t know where Hazel lives today. She and her sisters could be anywhere in the world. But my schoolmates and I owe them a debt of gratitude. Fifty years ago through Hazel and her sisters we learned that friends are friends no matter what the colour of their skin. That laughter is laughter, pain is pain and love is love no matter where we find it. We learned to acknowledge the otherness while enjoying the sameness, to gradually understand that we all belonged to the same human family. In sending Hazel and her sisters to Ireland to be educated I’m sure that her father believed he was doing a good thing for his girls, but I’m sure too that those girls paid a high price for their education, separated from home, culture, family and the sights, smells and sounds of Ghana.
As a result of getting to know Hazel, I found myself in my teens well able to recognise racial prejudice when I saw it. But it took me a long time to link the two. Encountering racial prejudice in my extended family, I knew with every fibre of my being that discrimination against or rejection of another soul simply because of their race, was just plain wrong. And though it took me many years to understand why I had that certainty , one day the penny dropped: I had learned it as a child, thanks to my classmate Hazel and her sisters.
Association with someone from a background so different to mine had changed me in fundamental ways, broadened my mind, educated me. I could not sit in a classroom with this girl every day and not learn about our common humanity. In a mono-cultural country, as Ireland was in the ‘sixties, Hazel and her sisters were a gift to us, opening a window on a world very different to our own.
Prejudice in any form destroys the foundations of society. I was lucky. By chance I had learned an important lesson as a child. Without ever having to think about it, without ever having heard the word ‘racism’, I came to know Hazel, a person, a human soul, and not a racial type, and that made a difference in how I deal with racial prejudice. And I hope that Hazel learned something positive too.