Over a year ago, I drove a 26’ U-Haul truck through the night down I95 to start my first year at GA, I remember having a hard cry about what was, and the unknown that lie ahead.
I did not want FEAR to guide my decision to move from a VERY safe and cozy situation to the promise of a new life. What was I thinking?! Change is VERY HARD.
I appreciate this opportunity to share a little about how resiliency plays a role in my journey.
First, I want to introduce you to my mother who had special talents. She could create something out of very little. I remember the orange seed that grew into a little tree and the canning of fruits and vegetables to take us through the winter. But these cold winter evenings remind me of the quilts that she made from tattered clothes and discarded feed bags used to store pig feed.
Today, I would like for you to use your imaginations as I share a few panels in what I will call my Resiliency Quilt.
Panel: Tiny House Living:
I lived in a rural farming community, in a very small house, in southwest Virginia outside of Roanoke in the Shenandoah Valley, not far from the state line of West Virginia.
Inside that tiny house lived five children. I was the second oldest. I never knew my biological father in word or deed. I had no yearning to know.
Illiteracy limited the father figure who came and went. Let’s say it did not always create a nurturing learning environment. That father figure created physical and psychological harms, such as fear and self-doubt.
Living in this situation made me realize at an early age how hard life would be.
Panel: Fertile Imagination:
Tiny house living was very restrictive. There was no childcare when my mother was working dining services at Catawba Hospital. So we were left to our own devices. Fortunately, we lived at the foot of a mountain. We spent hours out in forest playing games and building forts out of broken tree branches bind together with vines for ropes. Also, our boredom created afternoon softball games with relatives and neighbors. It was rough and tumble and disagreements had to be settled on the field of play. And if you didn’t get your way, hopefully you were the person that owned the ball and bat.
I learned to be more resilient by exploring, creating, and problem solving in the forests and field of play.
Panel: My Mother as the Epitome of Resilient:
“Nothing is easy. The more I work, the more I have to.”
That’s my mother working in the garden and hanging clothes on the line outside our tiny house. She grew up in Jim Crow Virginia. Imagine the barriers she faced. She had no choice in where she would attend school. She never drove a car. Envision the sense of dependency as we lived in a rural area.
When my brother and I were toddlers, all the schools closed in Virginia. It wasn’t because it was a snow day or the Covid. There was a fear of little Black girls and boys attending school with little White girls and boys.
I am so appreciative of my mother. I don’t ever remember her saying an unkind thing towards the people and systems that made life so challenging for her. She always reminded us to TREAT OTHERS THE WAY YOU WANT TO BE TREATED. In the omnipresent trials of her life, she possessed a deep and abiding sense of dignity. Never missed a day of work. She walked the mile or so if there was no ride. I can remember those 5 am wake up calls to my brother or me to give her a ride to work. She never complained. She was the epitome of resilience.
Think about Who models resiliency for you, day in and day out?
Panel: A book and a quote.
"The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is what they become." --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I have learned that if you are open, individuals will emerge in your life to help you envision possibilities unimaginable.
In last year’s commencement, I appreciated Jonas’ talk on how hard he had to work in a particular subject in HS and College. That is very familiar to me.
In high school, I had a girlfriend who was from a different race and socioeconomic background. She graduated 16th in a class of 365. Let’s say I was JV compared to her academically. Her father was a family physician and medical professor.
But it was this friend’s her mother, Joy Patten, who saw my promise. She could see a future in me that I could not yet see in myself.
She gave me one of the first books I recall reading cover to cover; the Biography of Malcom X by Alex Haley. Reading that book was a big deal on so many levels. One, the fact that I could stay still long enough to complete it, and I was not a fast reader.
And two, it grew in me a whole new awareness of my own possibilities for the future, regardless of where I started out in life. I remember her driving her daughter and me on college visits. I begin to see education as the way in which I would take on empowering myself for a future.
I wonder what books, ideas, and people are inspiring and empowering you to press on in an unknown future?
Panel: Upward Bound:
(This is a picture of me on the campus of Roanoke College my junior and senior year of high school from late June-early August.)
In the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson was a proponent of something called The Great Society. This ideology created a law and brought into existent a program called Project Upward Bound. For six weeks in the summer the program offered instruction in math, science, composition, and literature. Project Upward Bound was my summer vacation. I excelled there and returned as a Counselor at Roanoke College and UNC Chapel Hill.
I must give a Shout out to the many GA students who assist and encourage fellow students in our Writing Center. But most importantly, to the students who are taking the time to ask for assistance; to be open to feedback. For some of us, writing is not always easy. I was a regular at the Elon University writing center as an undergrad. They were so helpful and encouraging!
I struggle sometimes in asking for help. I don’t want to be perceived as being not good enough. Sometimes we suffer needlessly. To be resilience is also to marshal resources outside ourselves.
Last Panel is my African American Studies Class:
They are discussing a concept called The Ethics of the Person, taught by Anthony Weston at Elon:
The Ethics of the Person affirms that persons are special, precious, and have a dignity that demands respect. No one is to be reduced to a mere means to other’s ends. Society relations require fairness, justice, and equality.
So, in facing life’s challenges and transitions, in all humility be guided in your specialness, preciousness, and a purpose that longs to embrace you.
I wish you well in creating your own Resiliency Quilt. And, if you need help with a stitch here and there. Ask for help.
May your lives be a blessing and gift to others.