Childhood Playmates Reconnect, Rekindle Friendship That Transcends Race And Distance As part of our Missed Connections series, NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro reunites Sharony Green and Beth Hegab, former childhood friends who drifted apart, according to Green, in part because of race.

Childhood Playmates Reconnect, Rekindle Friendship That Transcends Race And Distance

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

There are times when we can connect with someone and then never see them again - a missed connection. We've been trying to help some of you connect with people you've been trying to find. In the 1970s, two little girls met at an elementary school in Miami, Fla., and became close friends. One was black. And the other was white. Dr. Sharony Green is now an assistant professor of history at the University of Alabama. And she said her friend Beth helped her during a tough time.

SHARONY GREEN: I was among a group of African-American students who were integrating Biscayne Gardens Elementary in Miami - early '70s. And everyone was, generally speaking, very kind to us. But something about my relationship with Beth was pretty special. I have the most vivid memory of arriving to Biscayne Gardens on the yellow school buses. And sometimes, she would stand on the sidewalk and wait for, essentially, the black kids to get off the bus (laughter). And she would hold my hand. And we'd go and play together before the first bell rang.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what happened? How did you drift apart?

GREEN: I think by our preteen years, you sort of have this unspoken expectation that maybe you should be more with your own kind. And so I remember dancing to sort of prove to some of my black friends that I wasn't - they used to sometimes call me white girl. And that was pretty hurtful. We never said goodbye. I know that she always meant something to me because I looked at my scrapbook. And I wrote next to Beth, one of the best.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why did you want to find her?

GREEN: As a professor at the University of Alabama and as a history professor in particular, I have lots of opportunities to talk to my students about how much has changed and how there's still room for growth as we progress socially in America. Martin Luther King - one of his well-remembered speeches - he talks about a moment when little boys and girls, black and white, can hold hands together. And that sounds really corny.

I actually see students from very different backgrounds trying to survive whatever it is we're going through. And from time to time, when I lecture, I tell my students, you know, when I was a lot younger than you are, I had a friend named Beth. And she didn't look like me. And, boy, did I love her.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, we looked for your friend Beth through social media. And it turns out you guys are not very far apart at all. And you're both part of the academic community.

GREEN: Oh, my God.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And we're going to bring her on now because she was listening to you...

GREEN: Oh, my God.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...And that very moving speech you just gave. Dr. Beth Hegab is a senior lecturer in industrial engineering at Louisiana Tech University. You both went from students to teachers. Say hi to each other.

GREEN: Hi, Beth.

BETH HEGAB: Hi, Sharony. It's been so long. It's so good to talk to you.

GREEN: Good to talk to you, too. Oh, my God. I can't believe you're so close (laughter).

HEGAB: Yeah, I'm only two states over.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Beth, I'm going to ask you, how is your memory of the friendship?

HEGAB: I do remember Sharony coming over to my house and us having a great time many, many, many times and her being at the sleepovers and her just being a constant part of my life all through elementary school - the Girl Scouts and just lots of different things.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: When you hear Sharony talk about how much that friendship meant to her and how she still talks about it, what do you think?

HEGAB: I'm very, very touched. I always thought she was a very special part of my life. And I think about my kids. I think Miami was actually more integrated than Louisiana. But my kids have had African-American friends. And I'm glad that they, you know - they don't see a problem with that just like I didn't. And I always hoped that was a, you know - I passed on that people are people. And, you know, you look at them and look in their hearts - and which ones you're going to be friends with based on that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Did you ever see Sharony after elementary school, Beth?

HEGAB: I remember running into her in a department store when - Sharony, do you remember? I was - we were about 18, maybe.

GREEN: No. I remember...

HEGAB: Did you work at a makeup counter?

GREEN: Yes, Burdines. Yes, Burdines.

HEGAB: That's where it was. I was in there. And you recognized me. And then we talked for a little while. And that's the last time I remember ever seeing you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I just want to know if there's anything that you want to say to each other. Sharony, you first.

GREEN: I just want to say - and this is crazy. I just love you, Beth. And I'm so glad that we found each other (laughter). And I hope that we can stay in touch. And I especially want you to know that you were really a rock for me. I don't know if you know. My mom was often sick when I was a little girl. And you were often just a really safe space. And Biscayne Gardens was, too - just a place to kind of clear my mind and not worry so much. And I want to thank you for that.

HEGAB: Oh, that's so sweet. I love you, too. And actually, when all this came up, I was very sad. I lost my dad 17 years ago...

GREEN: Oh, my God.

HEGAB: ...And I lost my mom last November...

GREEN: I'm sorry.

HEGAB: ...And I was very sad that I couldn't go back to them to talk about you because I know that they would just love that we were reconnecting.

(SOUNDBITE OF LYMBYC SYSTYM'S "PARABOLOID (EVENINGS REMIX)"

GARCIA-NAVARRO: After we spoke to them, both women exchanged phone numbers and emails and a couple of more I love yous before promising they'd make plans to meet up and revisit that cherished childhood friendship. And if you have a missed connection that you want us to help you find, write in or send us a voice memo - weekend@npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF LYMBYC SYSTYM'S "PARABOLOID (EVENINGS REMIX)"

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