Happy 75th, Mrs. Frances Parks: A story of good Carolina love
A shot-out to a Baltimore City Public School System Shero ... and educators across America
By Doni M. Glover, www.bmorenews.com
“If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there's shouting after you, keep going. Don't ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.” – Harriet Tubman
(BALTIMORE – August 19, 2012) - I had the distinct opportunity this weekend to spend time with my second and third grade teacher, Mrs. Frances Parks, and her family and friends. She was boldly and brilliantly, gorgeously and vivaciously celebrating 75 years on the planet.
As I am in the middle of writing my first book, being around her brought back memories of my days in the Baltimore City Public Schools. After all, I am a very proud product. You see, Mrs. Parks did a wonderful job with us as students. In retrospect, I can see where they’re not making teachers like her much more.
To know a little something about Mrs. Parks is to know your aunt or neighbor or church member who is also a school teacher. Many people know her today as the principal, but I know her from the classroom. And while that was a long time ago, being around her this weekend reminded me of the love … the love … the love that she pours into all around her – beginning with her family.
I learned a couple of things about Mrs. Parks that I didn’t know. For instance, while I recall something about her Alpha Kappa Alpha family, I had no idea she was from Charleston, South Carolina. I should explain that I’m a Carolina fan – for real. Having enjoyed the Wilson Family Reunion down in the Triangle some time ago, my life was forever changed after a weekend in the Carolinas. This is where black folks and the family tradition are a reality. And you have to experience it to truly know what I mean.
In New York, for instance – and I love the City – they will give you all the liquor you can handle. However, New Yorkers are conservative with the grub. On the contrary, in the Carolinas – my experience was a lot of family feasts, a lot of good times, and a Sunday Service to boot – with another big ol’ family style meal after church. There is also a lot of love – in the faces, in the people’s hearts, in the food, in the music.
My trip to the Carolinas was a strong reminder that will forever flow in my heart, and it says that black folks sure know how to love each other. That is the premise in my mind when I hear about the Carolinas – that despite all of the horrific things that have happened over the centuries to black people in this country just because of the color of one’s skin, there is still a God in heaven “Who sits high and still looks low.”
Again, you really owe yourself a visit to the Carolinas - especially if you’ve never been.. You really and truly want to experience that unconditional love. There is nothing like it – such that even a newcomer is embraced and loved.
One other thing about the black folks I’ve gotten to know from the Carolinas is their thirst and hunger for education. The folks I know from there are so serious about learning and moving forward. Maybe it’s in the water.
There’s another reason the Carolinas are dear to me. And it’s not just that my father’s father was from Orangeburg. I heard a lot of Glovers hail from there. What’s most fascinating to me – or, I should say who – is Denmark Vesey.
One summer back in the 90s, I spent time researching with and for then-Morgan State English Chair Dr. Eugenia Collier as a part of the Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program I was in at Coppin. That summer back in the mid-90s, I learned about a man who attempted to pull together what would have been the most elaborate slave insurrection in the Western Hemisphere. However, it was thwarted because a slave by the name of Prioleau snitched.
Vesey is believed to be of the Akan people of Ghana. My understanding then and now is that they did not tolerate being enslaved and fought ferociously. I consequently named my son after them: Asaan. He was raised in Haiti, home of the most powerful black man to ever live in the Western Hemisphere – Toussant L’Overture. Because Vesey had epilepsy, he couldn’t work in the fields. So, he worked on a ship helping Captain Vesey. He would come to know the slave trade business pretty well, and he learned to speak and read in other languages.
Although he failed to overthrow Charleston, he made a statement. Don’t believe me? I’ll go so far as to tell you that he was so powerful that there would be no Citadel if it were not for Denmark Vesey. I can also say that his story touched all four corners of America, and his name even became a battle cry by Frederick Douglass for black troops – including the 54th in Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.
To say the least, I learned that summer that not all black folks took slavery (as has been often depicted) in a pacifist way. Some blacks – like those historically noted in Jamaica – fought back fiercely and to the death.
And that’s what this weekend brought me – a lot of reminders of where I come from, the beauty of the black history therein, and, most of all, the beautiful people the good Lord has put in my life over the years.
I have always made it my business to stay in touch with my Baltimore City Public School teachers over the years. They helped make and mold and shape me into the person I am today. Mrs. Parks taught me at Matthew Alexander Henson Elementary, School #29. Since then, so many of the kids I grew up with didn’t make it: Darryl Motley. Reginald Matthews. Eric Scott. I thought they were brilliant, too.
Nonetheless, when I got the call from Nate, Mrs. Parks’ son, he asked me what I charge. For once, I was speechless and the entrepreneur in me had to fall back to the appreciative person I really am. I had to drop my price … some … because of all that Mrs. Parks and other educators across America do for students. They are underpaid and overworked. Back then, we didn’t know. We just knew that Mrs. Parks meant business, but if you did your work – she would be your biggest fan.
Like a lot of her colleagues, she comes from a time and place where the value of an education is priceless. All it takes is five minutes around her friends and family and you immediately notice that every single one of them gets it: Education equals knowledge equals power.
In closing, the Happiest of Birthdays, Mrs. Parks. Thank you for all of your years of service – of empowering young minds at the most critical stage of one’s development. We know that if it were not for you and your beautiful colleagues – more of us would not have made it. If it were not for you and people like you who love teaching children – and in this case, little black children – Lord knows they would be building twice as many penitentiaries as they are building now.
Thank you for loving us and for teaching us how to love ourselves – even in hostile territory.
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Hi Doni, You did a wonderful job MCing the birthday party. It was good seeing you again. I'm happy that you remembered your visit to the Wilson Family Reunion many years ago. We are still going strong and you are welcome to come again. Thanks for continuing to speak for all of us. This is an inspiring article. Keep up the good work.