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Monday, February 6, 2017

One Black Teacher's Legacy forever written into my White Heart

She isn't famous, she isn't on the list of famous African Americans, but she is etched in this heart forever.  I am a better man, a better human being, and a better teacher, because my teacher was Mrs. Gloria Boulden Stanfield.

I was blessed to have Mrs. Stansfield. She was Black, and our Honor's English teacher. She taught everyday like everything in the world depended on her teaching, and years later I realize how much it really did. God rest your beautiful soul Mrs Stansfield, thank you, thank you, and thank you. She prepared me against the silence and the apathy of the masses with Langston Hughes's Let America be America again. It's worth returning to the poem, and her Let America Be America lesson during this alternative facts in the White House era.

"Let America Be America Again
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.

Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.

O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?
Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine—the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!"

We were young, urban, and of course responded as young people do...It's cool, and kind of like it is written for now Mrs. S, the hook was baited, and she had us on her line. Ah, she never let us off easy, no we did not write a five-paragraph essay, or any persuasive essay. We studied it, we dug into it, we compared and contrasted it to a dozen other poets, and we studied the historical context of slavery, immigration, poverty, racism, and the labor movement. 

I can't imagine any teacher taking the time to do that in this insane time of covering the Common Core. Although something deep in this soul tells me there are teachers still breaking the mold, and honoring our profession by doing just that. Thank you, thank you, thank you mold breakers! You know it's you the crazy ones we love!

Well back to the lesson. It went on well over a week, and we read numerous other poets from all around the world making universal connections. In the end we ended up with something like Langston's poem makes us see what most would rather be kept secret. That dark side of that elusive American dream. An America not so beautiful, not so promising, an America not discussed in the news.

It is as relevant as that old gospel: "Let justice roll down as waters and rightness as an ever flowing stream!" And yes she brought her bible in, and yes she brought Dr. Martin Luther King's I have a dream speech in. She brought it all in, remember she taught like life itself depended on her teaching. We even read Marcus Garvey. I fell in love with Marcus Garvey in her class while she played Bob Marley's "Redemption song for us." She knew the secret that every great teacher knows, she taught us like we were her children, and she passed it on to me.

Oh, I almost forgot I don't remember one single teacher being observed by any administrator in my entire schooling, or any newspaper believing printing our test scores worthy of print. Certainly no one evaluated Mrs Stansfield. Oh, and none of what she taught was on the curriculum. Why this beautiful Black Peal brought it all in, and I am the better for it. Her teaching core wasn't common, it was extraordinary.
Students are blessed not by the teachers who toe the line, but by the ones who break all lines. They certainly won't be blessed by those who toe the Common Core line
Hear's to you Mrs Stansfield with my deepest love and appreciation. It is in your honor that I teach, march with Black Lives Matter, and am a proud member of Moral Monday CT.
You are my teaching heart hero,
Jesse The Walking Man Turner

If you like to listen to the song that started my morning walk today its.... Play For Change's version of "Teach Your Children" . 

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