Why I’m Still Just A Poor Kid From the Projects

In a recent conversation with a friend, I was attempting to explain how being poor is something that you always think about once you’ve experienced poverty. It’s different than forgetting about how awful Grandma’s pound cake was, and you ate it anyway or how you once wanted to be a transformer  (I’ve always wanted to be Optimus Prime-don’t laugh! ). Once you experience poverty, it sticks with you–even when you aren’t poor anymore.

I still get excited about Papermate lead pencils and Mead trapper keepers. I coveted those two things as a kid growing up in South Carolina. Now I buy myself a pack of Paper Mate lead pencils before school begins each year. I had to do some serious perusing to find them in Staples this year–but I found them and they are in my backpack. Back to school time was a highly stressful time in our family. Each year my mother worked hard to provide us with five pairs of pants and five shirts, a pair of sneakers and a pair of Sunday shoes that could be worn to school and church–often they were charged on her JCPenney’s credit card or placed on lay-a-way and retrieved after Labor Day.

I am so grateful for all that my sisters and I have accomplished in our lives. We all have successful careers in Business, Engineering, and Education. However, I am still extremely sensitive to how hard back to school can be on kids and their families. There’s nothing worse than pulling out your paper and pencil and folder while watching beautiful, big packs of Crayola crayons and name brand glue sticks, along with big three ring binders with dividers and pencil pouches sitting on the desk next to yours. When the teacher collects them and asks you when you’ll be bringing in the rest of your supplies, you lie, “Friday”, knowing full well this is it.

I am not in that situation anymore. However my experiences have shaped the way I learn, lead, think, and feel about school. Often friends will tell me, “but you don’t have to worry about those things anymore”, and I want to say but I do worry. I worry that the kid who doesn’t have their school stuff will be perceived as not smart, unprepared, irresponsible, unwilling to try. I wonder if they are as ashamed as I was to not have everything on the list. I wonder if some even know how hard it is/was to obtain what little some have on the first day of school.

I am still a child of poverty. I always will be. My heart will always have a special place for this. I value education so much. It literally changed my life and the lives of my sisters. We broke the cycle. And that is why I feel so indebted to give back as an educator. I look at things still through the lense of needs vs wants. I have a clarity regarding needs versus wants that I believe few others have and that was established out of necessity.

So as the year begins, I request of you your patience with students who may not have a pencil box, the right kind of folder, a glue stick, or a beautiful 24 pack of crayons. Most of all, I hope you’ll be a hope builder!

Until next time-be you, be true, be a hope builder!

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