"Mother to Son"
Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor --
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it's kinda hard.
Don't you fall now --
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
(Spoken word has been a part of Black life in one way or another - forever. I performed this poem in the Miss Rivers High School contest in 1974. I came in second place. Then it mattered. Today, as I still remember it by heart, it remains a very important and lasting part of my history.)
I'm a soon-to-be 52 year old mother of two grown sons with fond - no, make that life-changing memories of a teacher, like Mrs. Kamminga, who, in the 9th grade, taught me English, French, Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Gwendolyn Brooks, Toni Morrison, Nikki Giovanni - and me. Mrs. Alfreda Jenkins instilled in me a love of learning, self-respect, a pride in my blackness and a belief in my intelligence and abilities that I will never, ever forget. She believed in the "village" and its ability to care, guide, lead and transform and she showed it every single day of my high school life.
Tonight, I watched "The Education of Ms. Groves" on NBC. It was moving and tear-jerking and then some. Young Ms. Groves started out teaching her kids, leaning on today's established mores of education and it wasn't working. I thought aloud, "It's the village, don't forsake it - it WILL serve you." As I watched, her love of learning become a struggle which morphed into a tried and true return to the "village," the children blossomed!! She'd called on those abilities to soothe, inspire, understand and above all else, hold them accountable and it paid off.
The little girl from Mrs. Kamminga's class, though she'd not grown up as they did - got it, used it and passed it on to her kids (whether she knows it now or not). The love of learning her 1st grade teacher had instilled in her was a huge cornerstone upon which a wonderful career in teaching has, and is being built.
I am so, so proud of young Ms. Groves today. This little pint-sized woman, with such a big heart, will have one of these 6th grade students one day, feeling about her, the exact same way she felt about Mrs. Kamminga - and the circle of education will continue to be unbroken.