I come to you today, humbled by this incredible honor. I still do not quite believe that I am here, being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Thank you to the review committee, to administrators, faculty and staff, to you students.
I am also am so grateful to my family and friends. I think on the examples that they have shown me, the selflessness, devotion, and loyalty. I learned from them what it is to be a teacher, to live a life of joyful service. My father, for example, worked 16 hour days during most of my childhood to provide for us. When I wanted to take time off between college and graduate school, he told me to keep going, so I did. When I wanted to come home during my doctoral program, it was my mother who said it wasn’t time, that I could not quit. I had work to do with these hands.
Que linda, manita, que tiene bebe, que linda, que bella, que preciosa es
This is a song I sing to my goddaughter, Ava Belle. How pretty is the hand of a child, how pretty, how beautiful, how precious is that hand. I sing that song, because I believe it. What that hand can and will do in the world.
Hands. Guiding the hands of children who will be the change agents of the world and working to inspire their teachers, this is my vocation, how I show my zeal for the divine and the world. I was not always going to be an educator. I wanted to be a journalist. I was the editor in chief of the newspaper here at West for two years, a writer and then junior editor for the other two years. I was on West Net for much of my time here, known as That WestNet girl in my time. I wanted to change the face of the news so that folks like me would be more visible.
I came to education through violence and fear. While I was studying to be a journalist, at my college, a racial tumult was brewing. There were death threats against Black leaders and athletes. There were attacks and stalking. A Black man was killed and his body was found where the racist letters indicated. There were live in protests by students and through that gauntlet of fear, violence, outcry, revolution, banding together of minority and majority groups, in the end, when all was said and done, over and over I heard, “I never knew there were people like me who wrote, who did this or that, until I came to college.” I started to think of how many don’t go to college, and what this world might be like if we learned more about one another, our similarities, differences. What could these hands do to bring about a more just world?
I am trying. I have worked in schools divided by gangs, schools were my lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students were bullied and beaten from their education, schools where my students outnumbered the desks and they had to sit on the floors, a school where my students where being tried for crimes as varied as drug possession or murder, a school populated by the children of the soldiers and officers who serve our country honorably in times of peace and war, children sometimes carrying the trauma that comes from fearing a parent might not come home from that deployment. This summer I will be teaching English at a Christian Brothers school in Sri Lanka, one highly effected by civil war as many of the children lost parents or much of their families in the bloody 30 plus years of horror and political intrigue. I try but sometimes I get tired.
What will your hands do? Great things. Far better than I have done or can imagine. When you tire, perhaps this will help. I think of another song sometimes, when I think of the work of our hands. I heard it years ago while seeing Black Nativity at the Freedom Theater.
I don’t feel no ways tired
I’ve come too far from where I started from
Nobody told me that the road would be easy
But I don’t believe he brought me this far to leave me
May God Bless you as he has blessed me. I am grateful, so very grateful for this honor that recognizes, more than the work that I have done, the work that I am committed to do. Let us work together to see the change, to be the change.