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Niece resisted aunt, pursued own path
She remembers sitting on the front porch of her aunt's house on Ossie Court, the sun slanting through the jalousie windows. It's 1966, and her aunt is asking her to do something that brings tears to her eyes: go to a white high school instead of Jones High School.
"That was the hardest I ever cried," said Celinder Ware, 57 , a nursing supervisor at Jackson North Medical Center in North Miami. "I wanted to be with my friends. I wanted to go to Jones."
Emma Gaines Little, her aunt and the woman who raised her, never told Celinder about being one of the eight parents who filed the lawsuit to desegregate Orange County public schools. All Emma said was that she wanted her niece to be one of the first black children to attend a white high school in Orlando.
Celinder's tears dissuaded her.
"What can you do when your child is crying?" Emma said. "She cried and cried. I was afraid if I took it [going to Jones] away from her, she wouldn't learn at all."
It was one of the few times in her life that Celinder changed the mind of Emma, a domestic maid and nanny with a seventh-grade education. Emma was strict in her ways, unchanging in her expectations for the girl she took as an infant from a younger sister to raise.
"She is very firm. I had to do a lot of crying for her to change her mind. I was surprised she did," Celinder said.
'I wanted to be a nurse'
And so Celinder Ware would go to Jones High School, where, as a member of the Para-Medical Club , she found how she could fit into the world: taking care of sick people. "I think I decided around ninth grade that I wanted to be a nurse. My grandmother, she had a hand in raising me, too. She was sick, and when I saw my grandmother laying there, I decided I wanted to be a nurse," Celinder said.
In her senior year, Celinder was crowned as Miss Paramedic, which made her look and feel like a homecoming queen.
In high school, Celinder was out-going and sociable - a little too sociable for her aunt. "She made good grades. The only thing is the teachers said she's talking too much. I couldn't break her of it. She still talks," said Emma, 87.
When Celinder wanted to join her friends for movies at the Carver Theatre, Emma wanted her at church prayer meetings. When Celinder wanted to hang out at the youth rec center, Emma had her taking piano lessons. In Emma's mind, teenagers together meant trouble later.
"We knew that was no good, so we broke that up," Emma said.
That didn't stop Celinder from sneaking out to meet her friends - Pat, Annie B. and Veronica - at the teen-center sock hops.
"We called ourselves the Fabulous Four," said Pat Jones, 57. "Aunt Em was extremely protective, overprotective, but Celinder would slip out and go."
In a 1967 picture of the Jones High Para-Medical Club, Celinder Ware stands in the front row of 35 black students. Seven years later, she was one of seven blacks among the 24 nursing students at Broward Community College. The shift from an all-black school to an integrated one was as subtle as it was meaningful for Celinder.
"The only thing that was different is the skin tones changed," she said.
Her education at Jones gave Celinder the confidence to compete in an integrated world. At school, and home, she was taught that no race was superior to another, no person better than another.
"We developed confidence in ourselves, and we felt although we were black, no one was better than us," Celinder said.
Race just a part of identity
One thing Celinder Ware understands is that race is only one piece of a person's identity. On the desegregation lawsuit, she is identified as Claudia Ware. It's a mistake that goes back to when she first registered for school. Someone wrote the name down wrong, creating an identity crisis for Celinder, who m family members call Linda.
"Everywhere else I was Celinder or Linda, but at school I was called Claudia. I told her [Emma] we have to get this changed," she said. "I wanted to be Celinder. I felt more like Celinder than Claudia." As an adult, Celinder Ware would be all the things Emma could never be: educated, professional, worldly. Today, she lives in a condo in Pembroke Pines and commutes to Jackson North Medical Center, where she supervises nurses on the night shift.
In her spare time, Celinder likes to travel, taking trips and cruises to England, France, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, the Caribbean, Chicago and Las Vegas.
"She wanted to look the world over while she was still young. And she did," Emma said.
Emma revels in how far life has taken Celinder. Celinder credits Emma, and her generation, for making her success possible. Everything she has, and is, she owes to those whose sacrifice, courage and blood changed the world. The image Celinder holds in her mind of her Aunt Emma is a little old lady going into a voting booth.
"If it's time for me to vote and I don't feel like it, I think about how they were out there really for us to have that privilege," Celinder Ware said. "I feel guilty and go out and vote."