In my opinion, people do not take the power of literature seriously enough. They also take teachers for granted. People have no idea who they are influencing, and they do not know who is watching them. After I drop my son off on Friday mornings, I gear up for StoryCorp on NPR because I know every Friday my eyes will be teary before it’s over. Yesterday was no different. I was driving along when I heard Judge Olly Neal tell his story. I have spent my entire adult life trying to help make sure that disaffected youth can have a story similar to Judge Neal’s. When he was a teen, he was not different from some black male teens today who try to camouflage their intelligence and/or their interest in reading. He said he went into the school library looking for a book, but because he wanted to maintain his reputation for being tough, he did not want to be seen checking a book out of the library. He stumbled upon a title by Frank Yerby and decided that sense he could not check it out, he’d steal it. He took it home, read it, and enjoyed it before sneaking it back into the library. When he sat it on the shelf, he discovered a new book by Yerby, so he stole it too. This happened several times, and Judge Neal eventually became an avid reader. Years later at a high school reunion a librarian informed him that she saw him when he stole the book. She said she started to confront him, but thought better of it. Instead, she and a fellow librarian drove several miles in search of more Yerby books so that when Neal returned there would be another one waiting for him. Black literature was not on many bookshelves in the US at the time, so the librarians went out of their way to make sure he had more books he was interested in.
That’s what I want to do when I grow up. I want to be the person who helps librarians and teachers put the right book in the right hands.
Enjoy stories like Judge Neal’s at http://www.storycorps.org/listen and on NPR.