A few weeks ago I posted a poem by Margaret Burroughs titled What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black. The poem was in tribute to the young Blacks that have endured or are enduring disparate treatment by the American judicial system…Shaquanda Cotton, Genarlow Wilson, etc. At this point I could also add The Jenna Six to that group, let's remember these young ones, but that's not really the point to this post.
The post was motivated by a speech I had the privilege of hearing at a job related activity. To understand the significance of the impact of the speaker, you must know that her speech was given right after our lunch break. Yes, we were tired. The day had been enjoyable but long. We were not the crowd I'd like to have been a speaker for. Of course we weren't rude, but the speaker would have to be dynamic to get and keep our attention.
The speaker was Dr. Thomasenia Lott Adams, Associate Professor & Director of Graduate Studies at the University of Florida. Dr. Adams is a thin, petite, dark-skinned Black woman with expressive eyes and shoulder-length black hair. Her academic and research credentials are impressive and belie her youthful appearance.
Dr. Adams spoke to an audience of about 120 people, about 90% women and 80% ethnic minorities. After her introduction, she took control over everyone with her voice. It wasn't a loud, booming, overpowering voice; it was the voice of a teacher with excellent classroom management skills.
She commanded everyone's attention as she proceeded to share a bit of her life story with us. You see, she was born in the Carolinas in a large family to parents with very little formal education. Adams was the youngest child.
As was and still is the case with many Black children, society's messages to her were not positive, encouraging and nurturing. She suffered from a negative self-image and low self-esteem.
One particularly traumatizing experience was a teacher that gave a math assignment that Adams could not do. Adams went to the teacher before class started and told her that she didn't do the homework assignment because she didn't know how to do it. She went on to say that her parents couldn't help her ad requested assistance from the teacher. The teacher told her to take her seat.
When the class began, the teacher asked for volunteers to come to the board to do the first homework problem. In spite of volunteers, the teacher called on Adams to go to the board. Embarrassed, Adams made her way to the board, she couldn't do the problem so she ran out of the classroom in tears.
She went to a counselor who told her she didn't have to go back to that class . For the next two years she spent her math class period with students that were on indoor suspension. When she graduated from high school, much like the rest of the young people from her small town, she went to work in the local peach factory.
For at least eight hours a day, she and many other women stood on an assembly line and sorted out the bruised, rotten peaches from those to be sold. She did that until she could sort out the peaches without actually looking at them; she could tell by just feeling them.
Then she found out she could make more money by working in the blue jeans factory. So for many months she worked the assembly line at the blue jean factory. Her job was to mark the place on the fabric for the five buttons on the jeans. That was her job, marking the place for the buttons. Someone else put the hole in the fabric for the button and someone else sewed on the button. You get the picture.
Again, that was her job for at least eight hours a day until one day she sneezed and the mucus was blue. She wondered if her insides were becoming blue also.
When she went home, her parents told her that she could do more with her life. She had two choices: college or the military. The military was definitely out so she applied to college just to satisfy her parents. She knew she would not be accepted but her parents wouldn't bother her anymore and she'd be fine.
She didn't know anything about college and completing an application. Her grades weren't that good but lo, and behold, she was accepted to South Carolina State College in Orangeburg, SC. Her parents drove her to the college and dropped her off. They didn't make sure she found her way to the right room or help her get settled in. They dropped her off with her luggage, said goodbye and drove off.
She didn't know anything about college but she made her way to her room. Her roommate was there with her family --- her father was a school principal and the mother was a professional also. They'd decorated their daughter's side of the room with all sorts of pretty frilly things.
For two weeks Adams didn't leave her room; she was paralyzed with fear. Her roommate came to her one day and told her she couldn't live with her like that, she had to get up and go to class. She confessed to the roommate that she didn't know what to do. The roommate told her to go see Mr. Briggs, she heard that he helps students.
Adams went to see Mr. Briggs. He was a kind but stern man. She told him her story and he agreed to help her on one condition, she had to take the courses he told her to take.
Briggs registered her for classes and gave her class schedule. Adams was a math major. She was nurtured through her math phobia and graduated magna cum laude. Adams is the first in her family to graduate from college. Her parents explained that they dropped her off at college the way they did because they didn't know what else to do. Neither of them had graduated from high school, they didn't know how to help her.
Adams' message was that all children have "it". We must make sure they know they have "it". They can succeed and be whatever they choose to be. We must encourage them in spite of societal messages to the contrary. Regardless of gender, ethnicity, skin color, language, family background and economic status, we must love them, nurture them, guide them and help them reach their full potential.
I have condensed Dr. Adams' story, but you get the picture. We have the power to lift children up and tear them down. Look around your neighborhood or in your family. Send positive messages to our children. If they believe, they really can achieve.