I did the math. My grandmother would have been 83 years old today. She would have wanted to celebrate by having a homemade southern dinner, where her closest family members and friends ate, laughed and sang happy birthday to her, before she blew out her candles. Although there will be no dinner in her honor today, there is still a reason to celebrate. Today was the last day of school for our four children. I am proud to say that after 10 months of long nights working on math problems, loads of projects, an incredible amount of Arabic, English, Math and Social Studies test, weekly trips to the library to instill and maintain healthy reading habits, Smarty Ants, IXL, essays and Quran memorization each child has been promoted to the next grade level. Grandma Rickey would be proud of her great grandchildren. If she could have attended their award ceremony today she would have come bearing her big warm smile and gifts for all. And seeing her great grandchildren be promoted to the next grade level would be the perfect birthday gift for her. Two of our children have already had the opportunity to go further than she did. As a matter of fact, next year, our youngest daughter will enter 3rd grade, and this is the highest grade Grandma Rickey completed.
Born in Alpoca, West Virginia in 1934, to a determined domestic worker and a hardworking coal miner, who was killed when she was around 6, my grandmother was unable to finish school. She, like many girls born in the early 19o0s, were made to work on the family farm instead of attending formal school. Education, at the time, was not considered a necessity or priority, especially for women. Despite this, a minimal education did not hinder Grandma Rickey from making a decent life for herself. She traveled and enjoyed life to the fullest. She was a wise woman and as a supervisor at her job, she used her position to encourage and inspire younger people to reach their highest potential. However, she did realize she could have understood and engaged with the world as it changed around her, especially with technology, if she had just obtained more education. Toward the end of her life, she even signed up to begin taking computer classes at a community center. She thought this would prepare her to communicate with her grandchildren who lived miles away from her. Unfortunately, she succumbed to her second fight with cancer and died before she was able to start computer courses. One day I asked Grandma Rickey what she thought the most important thing in life was she responded, "Education...education... education."
When my grandmother first spoke those words to me several years ago they sounded cliche. At the time, I didn't have children, and I felt like she just wanted me to stay in school forever! It would take a few years for me to digest the essence of her message. When I was a little girl and didn't understand things my mother would tell me, "You will understand it better by and by." Those words used to annoy me, but she was correct. With aging, motherhood and experience, I now have a better understanding of my grandmother's words and as a result my vision of the future has been clarified. Her message was never just about me, nor was it just for me. She saw the world through the eyes of an African American woman who was born in the United States during the times of Jim Crow and lived through the Civil Rights Movement. She was a second generation domestic worker and very limited in her options when it came to employment. She may not have been a fan of Malcolm X, but she would have agreed with his statement, "Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today." With each passing year, it becomes more and more apparent that each moment our children spend enriching themselves, and immersed in education they are completing necessary steps towards preparing for their own future.
So there will be no family gatherings to celebrate Grandma Rickey's 83rd birthday. Instead today her great grandchildren celebrate the ending of a chapter which is the close of another school year. Today they received awards for their accomplishments and words of motivation from their dear teachers. As I look through my children's varied awards, and reflect on how much they have accomplished this year, I can't help but get a glimpse of what my grandmother saw so many years ago. Grandma Rickey, wanted the next generations to use education as a tool to go farther in life. Her mother was a domestic worker and so was she, but that didn't mean the next generation would have to continue to shine silver, fold laundry and complete other menial task. Her vision then, was greater than mine. Since my grandmother uttered these words, "Education, education, education," my mother and I have both obtained a master's degree. My mother is a social worker and I am a teacher and it is the education we received that has afforded us the opportunity to obtain these positions. Today, when I reflect on those same words I am moved to action. I am moved to continue my own education and to support my children in continuously pursuing education for themselves. Our children have successfully completed another year of school, and with the completion of each year they get closer to going further than the past generations. They get closer to determining their own futures. They get closer to more options. They get closer to a future that is not possible without, "Education, education, education."