Monday, June 04, 2007

Goodbye to a Mentor and a Friend

I have to say goodbye to a coworker tonight. Someone with whom I have shared the fight to better public education in Massachusetts and New York State for the last six years through policy changes, leadership development and good old fashion grass roots organizing.

An amazing woman who is smart, strategic, and thoughtful. A woman I admire and look up to. Someone who beat a great many odds to be in the place she is today, although she would say it was hard work and God’s blessing.

I don’t have the same faith in God but I do have faith in fate. I do believe things happen for a reason. I’m not sure what she’s taken from meeting a bossy, opinionated lesbian like myself, but I know what I took from her.

She came into my life and saw me as smart and capable.

I saw myself as a mother of three young boys, desperately trying to keep up with the laundry.

She sought out and listened to my opinion. She squeezed out of me all the knowledge I had about the Upstate New York environment; from the years I spent as a funder in the area even though I was quick to shrug my shoulders, completely underestimating myself as just a housewife.

In turn, she shared hysterical stories about her boys and how she managed to get her way in a powerful, yet subtle way. I still use the one about swearing- you can swear anywhere, she told her son who had been caught using the “f” word, just not in front of me. Or your father. Or anyone at church. Or anyone at school, or the neighbors… the list went on and she finished by saying, as long as you do that, you go ahead and say those words all you want.

When my son was in trouble at school, she offered me advice from her experience not only as a former principal but also as a parent who went in and fought for her kids. I defended my son and maintained a positive relationship with the principal. It was good advice.

And then there was the self-improvement time. An hour after dinner, every night, her kids had to do homework. If they had no homework? It was self-improvement time. She stood firm and made her boys work every night. I stopped letting my kids watch TV at night and we now have self-improvement time, too. Unless the Red Sox are on.

She was willing to call out a problem despite the fact that so many people said, you can’t do that. You can’t say it that way.

She did. She said Black Boys in America are suffering in the pubic school systems and something must be done. She didn’t talk about all children of color or African-American boys. She took a stand with powerful words, recognizing the power of those words.

I don’t know what words to say to her tonight to let her know how deeply moved I was personally to watch her stand up and say, no, this is what I believe. I watched her and am doing the same in my own community. Because if I don’t, who will? She followed her passion, the voice inside saying this must be done, this must be said.
I don’t know what words to say to let her know how proud I am to be her friend. Because somewhere along the line over these last six years, we became friends.

The only consolation is that I know we will continue to work together. I still have much to learn from a woman so passionate about her community. And I know we will remain friends. She can run all the way out to Nebraska and New Orleans but our paths will continue to meet.

Because she knows I’m not just a housewife. And I know, given time, her passion and drive to protect the most vulnerable children, will make her a national leader.

But tonight? Our roles will forever shift. I have to acknowledge that. I don’t know how I’ll say goodbye, but I will.


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