My parents are the college educated the children of sharecroppers. My maternal grandmother had between a 6-8th grade education. My maternal grandfather less than that. My paternal grandmother had a 3rd grade education, and my paternal grandfather was functionally illiterate. I am a third generation reader, and I was born in 1981.
I was taught that education, like death, was the great equalizer. I was taught that the powers that be hide the most pertinent information in books so that black people won’t access it. The exact quote I heard growing up was, “If you wanna hide something from a ni—- put it in a book.” It was my mother that read to us, my father whom taught my siblings to think and question, with my grandmother’s house that had more books than TVs. It was my Aunt Myra who played ‘school’ with me and my cousins. Education was paramount to my immediate and extended family. I have made the decision to be a life long learner and have raised my children to be that as well. Completing the first of 2 college degrees did not deter that.
I started school in the Saint Louis Public School District in September 1986 at Bryan Hill Elementary. It was at this school that I developed my love of reading (moreso) and I felt valued. My blackness was normal here because everyone else of importance and shaping was black. It was in the public school system that met the following teachers whom shaped my life:
1-Ms. Lois Algee (KG), Bryan Hill Elementary-SLPS
She taught me that I was valued and special and smart.
2-Mrs. Schafermeyer (2nd grade)- Bryan Hill Elementary, SLPS
She affirmed that I was indeed ‘young, gifted and black.’ She was determined to push me to be better.
3- Ms. Constance Kelly (3rd grade)- Lowell Elementary School, SLPS
She told me that I could write. This was life changing and was the catalyst to me writing all the time.
4-Ms. Annie Green (4th grade)-Lowell Elementary, SLPS
She challenged me to keep learning, to be disciplined and not take any from anyone. She gave me my first journal to write in. She believed in my talent.
5-Ms. Brown (8th grade)-Yeatman Middle School, SLPS
8th grade English; She knew I could write, and encouraged me to submit my work EVEN BACK THEN.
6-Mr. Stephen Batchelor (10th grade)-Jennings High School, Jennings School District.
He told me that I indeed had potential to make a living writing. One of the 4 teachers I had ever let read my work. He lauded praises on my work to the point that I truly began to believe I could do it.
7-Mr. Henry “Hank” Barrere aka “Coach Barrere” (11-12th grade)-Jennings Senior High, Jennings School District.
He told me to never stop learning. He sent a letter home to my mother saying he had never had a student as brilliant as I was (I had him for high school Psych, Soc and Honors American Studies). This was the first white man that challenged us as a class to THINK, not just regurgitate facts. He affirmed my love of history. He was most definitely WOKE. He is the teacher whom told us in 1997, and I quote, “Nothing becomes a problem in this country until it effects white middle class America.”
At the confirmation of Betsey DeVos, I can only marvel at the devaluing of the mind of the American student. In place now is a woman whom has no idea what it is like to have to fight to become educated. She has no idea what is to be brilliant, but broke, and needing federal monies to attend college. The Secretary of Education places no value on the educators. Those that have chosen as profession to instill these same principles into the lives of all those that enter classrooms and purposed to leave different. She has no idea what is required of teacher in order to teach in a system that is constantly upended by privilege and money. They are asked to shape and mold young mind in a sphere that is constantly morphing to exclude their influence to truly reach the children assigned to them. In holding such a high office, it would only be reasonable for her to have some respect for those whom she will supervise and account to. However, she has bought such influence and believes that to be respect. It is not.