From Survivor to educator


Today is my mother, Mary Jane Wilson's, birthday. She was born on December 8, 1950, in Moorehead, Mississippi. My mother is a lifelong educator, having taught 5th grade, preschool and she recently retired from being a YMCA childcare provider.

I write this piece in honor of my mom because of one lesson she taught me which has been at the core of my beliefs as an educator and a man. In general, my work as an educator is driven by the experiences I have had as a child. In part, I do the work that I do to give back what was given to me, but also to correct what was wrong in my childhood.

Our parents are our first teachers. My mom was my first teacher in every sense of the word. She was my preschool teacher at Ham Park's Charles Drew Head Start Program. The foundational lessons I had for my education came from her at school and home. On the weekends, when I got in trouble, she had me stay inside and practice my numbers and alphabet in print and cursive. When she checked my homework and saw that it was sloppy, she'd erase the whole thing and make me start again, even if just one part was not neat. When my grades came, and they weren't the best, she'd tell me I did okay but reminded me that I could do better; she said this for A's or F's. My penmanship, understanding of consequences, attention to detail and pursuit of excellence all stem from those lessons.

But one of the most influential lessons I learned from my mom was what she did after she divorced my dad. My mother is a domestic violence survivor. My dad was verbally and physically abusive. He had a hair-trigger temper, and it seemed as if the sun shining the wrong way could set him off. Fearing for my safety and hers, my mother hid her pregnancy from my father for seven months. At times, everyone at home just did our best to stay out of his way for fear of setting him off. One night, things reached a tipping point that changed the makeup of our family and lead to a pivotal moment in my life. Thank You Mrs. Beaver The last time my dad lived with us, I was six years old.

As a domestic violence survivor, my mom volunteered countless hours for the Los Angeles YWCA where she would support and counsel battered women. The YWCA mission: "We create real change. YWCA works every day to eliminate racism and empower women. Through advocacy and local programming, we create real change for women, families, and communities." I remember tagging along with her to these meetings where she would talk to women for a while; while she spoke to them, I often played with their kids. At that age, I didn't understand where we were going or why we were going; I just wanted to tag along.

My mother empowered women to do what is best for them and their children and she found them resources and a safe haven to do so. How powerful is it when survivors breed more survivors and pass along wisdom that is vital to their healing? It wasn't until I became an adult and looked back on those days that I found meaning in them. My mother used her experiences to help and support others just as I do as I work to support students in Lynwood schools and wherever I have influence.

Mom, today and every day I honor you and the legacy you have built. You have done an excellent job raising all of us on your own. There were many days you went hungry so that we could eat. You went to work daily and came home with barely enough energy to put food on the table for us to eat. You went to bed to do it all over again the next day. You taught us to hold our heads up high no matter how things might have been. You pushed all of us to go after our dreams and never once cast a shadow of doubt on them no matter how lofty they were. And most importantly, you taught us to be safe, stay prayerful, believe in God and do unto others as we would have them to do unto us. When I wanted to give up, you pushed me to press on, and I thank you for that. I thank you for going to noonday prayer every day when you were carrying me in your womb to pray that I would be a great man. Every award I receive, every accolade I am given, every life I touch, I do so in your honor. If I am half the educator and parent you are, Lailah will be beyond blessed.

Thank you for all you do, I hope I make you proud. I love you and pray that God continues to smile on you. Happy Birthday!