I’m a proud 70s kid who hails from Detroit, Michigan. Teachers play a large part in a child’s academic success. I was blessed with a list of influential elementary teachers: Miss. Shirell in kindergarten was loving and fun, Ms. Johnson 1st /2nd-grade split, handled her classroom with seasoned expertise, Mrs. Porter in 2nd grade was my Shero. I spent a day in her home playing with her two youngest daughters who attended school with me.
Mrs. Bayer 4th grade was different only in that, she was white and fluffy. I adored her. We had extended school that year. Teachers went on strike demanding better pay in late August. Ms. Bayer brought in Wyler’s (I liked it!) not, Kool-Aid mind you, so we wouldn’t melt trying to concentrate in summer weather, without air conditioning.
Ms. Milliken the stately auditorium teacher would be the first person to place a microphone in my hand on the auditorium stage, the first to introduce to me to a life long passion for writing by taking me to Oakland University for a youth creative writing conference. She was significant in my winning a city-wide writing contest and receiving a key to the city for my short story in fifth grade.
I was also sweet for the librarian Ms. Gwendolyn Dudley-Warren. She made me fall in love with books and journeys to far away places. They were all beautiful and serious about the business of educating young people. I enjoyed school and worked to please my teachers. My parents were educators who took pride in their chosen professions. My best was expected.
My absolute favorite, though, was Ms. L. Marie Mitchell. Sixth graders at Mac Dowell Elementary in Northwest Detroit considered themselves lucky to land in her homeroom.
The other choice, Mr. Mitchell, (not related) a by-the-book white male, was voted least favorite by students. I lucked out. I would spend sixth grade in the presence of a black goddess. I vowed to be her favorite. All the girls wanted to be like her, and the boys, well, they simply lusted after her. Smitten, I was on both sides.
Cocoa brown skin, light brown hair with blonde streaks, intense brown eyes, a killer smile with a diastema, that pulled me in on our first meeting. Ms. Mitchell had favorite auntie flavor. The kind of flavor that would chastise you, and hug you up at the same time.
Ms. Mitchell was the first woman I knew to demand “Ms.” be used when greeting her. I was impressed. She never said, “Using “Ms.” was act of colorism, womanism, or feminism.” Still, her insistence on defining herself was empowering for me.
Ms. Mitchell wore the baddest, colorful, form-fitting two piece skirt-suits, and dresses I’d ever seen. My mother was fashionable. Ms. Mitchell with her Pam Grier figure was not only fashionable she was smoking hot.
You wanted to impress her. She was smart and sassy. “Don’t come standing over me if you haven’t brushed your teeth! I will e-m-b-a-r-r-a-s you!” We knew she meant it.
The other teachers on the upper-class wing seemed to keep their distance. I’d spent time in the teacher’s lounge at my mother’s school. Her circle of teacher friends were either popping by the house or we were dropping by their place. I didn’t sense any closeness between Ms. Mitchell and her peers. Was it ownership of her femininity and warrior spirit that threatened them?
On Fridays, if we had completed all our work and not given her problems during the week, Ms. Mitchell allowed us to bring in popcorn. In a corner against the wall, she kept a record player. We students eyed it longingly Monday through Thursday. It was genius really. Using a record player to reinforce good behavior, it worked. If Danny acted out he had to answer to the rest of us. We all wanted music and popcorn after lunch while we completed quiet work.
We’d bring 45’s in and bags filled with popcorn, which Ms. Mitchell would transfer into a large garbage bag. Thirty pairs of grubby sixth-grade hands reached inside placing their fare on brown school issued bathroom paper towel. We lived for Friday!
My classmates and I went home for Christmas vacation that December. During break, our families were informed via US postal mail, that we would be entering Beaubien Middle School at the close of vacation. Had there been a moratorium placed withholding this pertinent news? Why hadn’t anyone told us? Heck, why hadn’t anyone told ME? This was huge, an outrageous, grossly wrong error of magnificent proportion. Ms. Mitchell was my world. Adults and their illogical thinking.
Thankfully, I had the rest of vacation to prepare mentally for what caused me grave concern over my ability to go on. I mean there were abandonment issues to consider. Tweendom is a hard enough stage. You aren’t a baby anymore, but you haven’t quite entered the seemingly awesome zone of teenage years. I doubted that those in charge of Detroit Public Schools ever considered how traumatizing their untimely decision to separate me from Ms. Mitchell was.
Being pulled away from elementary school without warning was a lesson in life. That it happened during puberty makes it that much more significant to me. To excel, students need a sense of self, spirituality, cultural/heritage knowledge, racial pride, a solid foundation in the basics, and to be challenged, academically and creatively.
I could have used those additional months of familiarity with Ms. Mitchell and the rest of the teachers I’d grown to love. My parents divorced the next year. Maybe, Ms. Mitchell was sent to help prepare my spirit for the many changes I’d be facing.
Whatever the reason for her surprise entry and quick exit from my life, I thank her and the beautiful teachers from my early school days. They gifted me a bountiful box of resources.
Women’s Herstory month calls for recognition of all the great women past and present whose shoulders we stand on. I give honor.
Copyright 2018 by C. Imani Williams. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.