A Force to be Reckoned With

When I was in junior high, I had the opportunity to take part in an accelerated language arts program. This meant that I was able to handle a bigger workload and take on more responsibility. The teacher was a plump man with a round face, facial hair, and a ponytail that went down to the middle of his back. He looked like the type of guy who loved books.

No, I love books.

I mean, LOOOOVES books.

The first assignment he gave us on the very first day of school (really, who does that!) was to read Fahrenheit 451 within the first two weeks of school. As I shockingly gazed at the thickness of the book, along with the “further required reading” list that accompanied the book. I knew that this class wasn’t for me.

I went to my counselor.

So my counselor took me out of the program and placed me in one of the regular classes. I walked into the class and gave the transfer sheet to the teacher. This was no ordinary teacher, this was a woman — a black woman, which was weird because I had only ever once encountered a black female teacher throughout my academic career (at that point).

She took the slip from me.

“Mmmmm-hmm. You can sit over there.”

I sat — still in shock.

She had a personality that was bigger than life, she had a loud, booming voice, she had a slight southern twang to her voice, and she did not take shit from anyone.

…and I mean anyone.

To tell the truth, I was scared of this woman for the first quarter of the school year. Every time she asked for a volunteer, I sank a little lower in my seat. When she wanted one of the students to diagram a sentence, I would stare directly at my paper, trying my damnedest not to make eye contact. When it was time to go, I would hurriedly get my shit together and get the hell out of that room.

One day, everything changed. That day, I did not get my shit together fast enough.

“How come you never give the answer?”

She smiled.

Oh, shit.

“What do you mean?”

“I know you have the answer. I know you came from the accelerated class. You need to start answering the questions in class. Don’t hide your genius.”

I was confused as hell. Although I have been trying to avoid her, she has been paying attention to me.

“Tell your mom and your sister, I said hello.”

Fuck.

From that moment on, she would push me academically and personally. She would be one of the most influential people in my life — often giving me lessons not only on being a man but a black man as well. She would teach me about responsibility, she would teach me about perseverance, and she would also teach me about respect for myself and for others. I had a mother at home, and I had a mother at school.

What started out as a teacher to student relationship would years later become a relationship as colleagues as I was hired in the same district that I grew up in, and that she still taught in. What I did not know was that she was always looking out for me and doing what she could to give me every opportunity to succeed.

Sixteen years after I sat in her classroom, moved to another state, and started a family, I embarked on a mission to attain my doctoral degree. In the orientation class, we were tasked with writing a letter of appreciation to the person who got you to this point. To tell the truth, many helped me along the way. But there was one person who took it upon herself to not only discuss just how successful I could be but to hold me to a higher standard based on that potential.

I found out that Mrs. Francine Jackson passed away on May 11th.  I never knew if she received that letter in particular, but I think she knew the impact that she would have on my life and the lives of countless students in our area. I can only hope that I am living my life in a way that would do her memory justice.

To Be Young, Gifted and Black…

By now, you have either seen or heard it…

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/05/08/mayor-reportedly-said-her-city-isnt-ready-black-leader-council-member-went-further/?utm_term=.e70aa4383b15

Yes. Discrimination is everywhere. Racism is everywhere.

But, it is no longer the person who stands outside your house and burns a cross in your front yard; it is no longer the person who calls you a nigger (or some variation of it) to your face; it is not in the signage around town that prohibits you from using a certain fountain, or entering through the front door of a business. It is systematic. It is when people accept the status quo; It is when people say, “Well, that is how it has always been.” It is when people stand by and refuse to get involved because it is “none of their business.”

There is one line that hit me really hard in this article.

“I can’t imagine anyone is going to be applying for anything in that city anytime soon,” Fuller said. “I can’t imagine businesses are going to want to move in there with the current leaders in City Hall.”

This is where I will concentrate this post.

I live in a town where few African Americans live. Are there people in the town who are blatantly racist? no. Have I been discriminated against and denied opportunities because of my race? yes, but mostly because of the ingrained ignorance that sometimes exists within the community. Ignorance that allows people to discriminate against ethnic minorities.

Most unknowingly. But they do not get a pass.

…which is why it is my duty to make sure that they have no choice but to see me for who I am.

Young, Gifted, and Black.

I did not ask to be black, but I am. My parents taught me that being black comes with responsibilities:

You must be the best.
You must work the hardest.
You must put yourself in a position where saying no hurts them, not you.
If you can help it, you must live to see another day.

When they told me these responsibilities, they did not say:

You must be better than white people.
You must work harder than white people…

It was indiscriminate. They meant all people.

My parents made me realize that being black was the best gift my ancestors ever gave me. I, along with others, get the responsibility of carrying centuries of history on my back. My people were built for this; we made the world go around, we made economies grow, we built cities from the ground up.

And I am the fruit of all of that labor.

I will teach your children,
I will coach your children,
I will sit on your boards and councils,
I will create your businesses, and (God willing), I will be called Doctor.

I will do this because there are more like me. There are more blacks that are driven to accomplish the same goals that I want to accomplish. More brothers and sisters who believe that accomplishing these goals are a responsibility that is owed to our people – a responsibility to your people as well. Your community is not whole without us.

So, although the community in this article may not have been ready, I hope you are ready; you don’t have a choice.

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