I grew up in a community that is now known as one of the poorest counties in Mississippi. When I return home for family visits, poverty is on every corner. Buildings that once housed prosperous family businesses are now boarded up or burned down. Most residents work out of town or are unemployed. Whenever I ask my mother, a lifelong educator, about the stark contrast from the town that was part of my childhood, she replies in a sad voice, “Education, education, education. We stopped teaching children to read for the love of reading. We stopped teaching children to dream big dreams. This is what you get.”
To my mother, education and economics are inseparable. She often told me, “Without an education, options are few. An educated community is crucial to its survival. Part of that survival is teaching children to learn to enjoy learning.” One of my mother’s core beliefs is to teach children to love to learn and they will become big dreamers. Big dreamers invest in their communities.
My mother taught me to love to read. My reading led me to become a dreamer. Dreaming taught me to face life without fear or hesitation. Reading was also my escape from country life. I grew up in a household with very little in the way of extras, but I had an abundance of everything – I was surrounded by educators, professionals, and kinfolks who showed me how things were done by allowing me to see them in their career settings. I also saw them with books in their hands at every turn.
I read books before I started school. My earliest memory of reading was to my grandfather. He would sit in his Lazy Boy chair rocking back and forth while I read to him from my small chair. Because he was hard of hearing, I read at the top of my voice. He had the patience of Job as I read one story after another. Reading to my grandfather was a routine I continued to end of his life. As an adult, my return visits to my grandparents always included stacks of magazines and newspapers from other cities. I would eagerly share with him who I had met and where I had been and read to him articles from places he never got to visit. He would smile and grin and give commentary on the politics and economics of municipalities as if he lived in each one.