Victoria Adelaide: At age 11, you got sick and slipped into a vegetative state for almost four years. But before that happened, what sort of child were you?
Victoria Arlen: I was a very healthy, active, and rambunctious little girl, and I didn’t have any health issues. I’m one of four siblings. I have three brothers; two of them are my triplet brothers. I’m the only girl in the family. I was always on the move with them and had a very normal, beautiful childhood. There wasn’t anything out of the ordinary until I was about 11, I’d say.
VA: So, what happened when you were 11?
VA: I developed two rare autoimmune conditions that attacked my central nervous system. One of them was transverse myelitis, and it struck my spinal cord, and the other was acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, which attacked my brain. Those two conditions created the perfect storm and took away every motor ability I had; I slipped into a vegetative state…
Victoria Adelaide: What started your interest in mankind?
Jane Elliott: My father said, “Never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. If it hasn’t happened to you, don’t criticize somebody for responding the way they do to something that never happened to you.” He also said, “Never judge a book by its cover; open it up and look at it first. You want to understand it first before you start complaining. You don’t know what the hell that person has lived through and, until you know how that person has lived, you don’t have the right to judge her.” He also said his mother forced him to go to Sunday school until he was 15, at which point he refused to ever go back. He learned that “You judge not, lest you be judged.” He used to spout Bible verses to us and we thought, “Well you don’t go to church, what’s your problem?” Then I realized that what he was doing was telling us how to live a moral life. That was about as far as he was concerned.
VA: The day that followed the death of Martin Luther King Jr., you experimented with your Blue eyes–Brown eyes exercise for the first time in your classroom with your students. Looking back, how did it impact your life?
JE: It absolutely changed the way I see myself and my fellow human beings. After the exercise, I began to realize they were my fellow human beings. We are all cousins. There’s only one race on the face of the earth and when you abuse one of my cousins, you’re going to have to tangle with me…