Willie Was My Friend
A Friend of Mine
Back in the 70's, when I was a beginning teacher in south Georgia, I was placed in a school that had a totally Black or African American population of the students and the majority of the faculty were Black Educators. As I struggled in my first school as a beginning teacher, I had few friends and only two others at the school were White. My first few weeks at the school. a junior high, were filled with a lot of time consuming work and stress. Because I was a White person there, I was perceived as unique to the situation. The children there were suspicious of me at first and stood away from me in our relationship as teacher and students. I worked very hard and finally was accepted as someone who was genuinely interested in the well being and the kids began to warm up to me there at the new school. I began to call them by their first names as I learned them and this meant a lot to each child that I taught. During my early weeks there one fellow teacher, made an effort to get to know me and befriended me. He would speak to me in the hallway in front of the kids and this also meant that I was an accepted part of their school. Willie was a friend that I could count on from the beginning. He would tell me about which kids to watch out for in their behavior, and those that were needing a little extra tender loving care , because of poor home life and living conditions. With Willie's help, I was able to make a lot of headway in the first few months while I was at my new school.
Willie was a social studies teacher and I was an art teacher. I found out right away that I would have to buy many of my own supplies, because the school system would not fund all of my needs.There were paper.paints. crayons, scissors. paste and many more needs that we all needed to take part in a bonafied art program at our school. Wiliie was also an assistant editor of a local newspaper and I found out that he had access to a lot of blank news print. He gave be a generous supply of this paper and I was extremely grateful for this. It helped me to get by with my supplies for a long time that year. Willie was one teacher, who spent time in the teacher's lounge on our one break and at lunch, who talked to me about school program matters. He would often relate the job tasks that he also shared as assistant editor at his local Black newspaper. The year was 1970 and there were a lot of hard feelings in the community at this time. There were protests and the Black Panther organization was also in the news back then. The fact that I was now in a school where I was was a definite minority , did not seem to matter to the faculty that year. Later the guidance counselor became my friend. This came about after I took the time to take a child in my class to the doctor. His hand was badly burned in a cooking accident at home and his mother could not take him. I got permission from the principal and took the boy myself. The doctor later told the counselor that the child may have lost his arm if I had not acted when I did in bringing him. The more folks got to know me and I showed that I was dedicated to my job, things began to really improve in relations for me at the school.
Eugene was one child who has been badly burned on his face. He was extremely self-conscious about this and I took him under my wing and spent time encouraging him and counseling with him, I worked with the guidance counselor and together we helped the boy overcome his feelings at school that were preventing him to excel in his classes. He was very bright and his grades began to improve that year. My concern for the kids and their needs began to blossom and I soon made the decision that I needed to change my major to Special Education and where I would have the opportunity to work with and help kids with special needs.I was able to work on my master's degree in this special field and continue to teach the following two years until I had finished the work necessary in completing the degree. During my first year at the junior high, I was treated with the greatest respect and more humanely than any of the twenty- five years that lay ahead in my future teaching career. Willie was my friend and on some days after school we would go out to the local tennis courts and play a few sets of tennis. Willie warned me on the first trip there that he was considered a champion tennis player back in his days of college. I really found out about this fact on that first set. He was a rock- solid player with a great service and his returns were dynamite. I learned that I was toast when I tried to hit one of his ace serves and he really put me to a challenge in just trying to keep up with his barrage of well aimed returns, that always seemed to land just at my feet, and giving me little time to react. Compared to Willie's playing ability, I looked like a joke, even though I had played on the college tennis team for two years. Willie was a man in his community that was highly respected, and when he took the time to play tennis with me as a teacher at the junior high school, it carried a lot of weight and impressed the others that I was an accepted fellow teacher and helper in the big responsibility of caring for the children there.
Willie always spoke highly of me and about my teaching at the junior high school that first year. Our bond became strong there and my respect for the Black Community soared to the highest ranks in the field of education that year, down in south Georgia.The educators were all dedicated and well trained professionals and took great pride in the jobs there in the school, that they taught. I made many new and unforgettable friends there, in the children that I taught, and the faculty in which I shared this genuine privilege. My first year had been the most meaningful to me in my chosen field of study, that of teaching, and also helping kids there that were desperate for attention, and loving care of people just like them, who really cared. I will always remember with greatest fondness, the year that I spent there in that little school and my friend, Willie. To me, he was not only a great friend, Willie was my inspiration and set me on the right pathway to a world of serving kids in need. It gave to me the most wonderful feeling of self worth a human being can be blessed in having. It has been truly a gift of love that I have received.