"College in Georgia, you say?"That settled it.
[in hushed voice] "Do you know there are black people there?"
"Yes. Yes, I do."
While the class voted me "typical" and "best hairstyle" (I'd traded the spire-o-hair for a bounty of permed curls), I received the most important vote of confidence from my English teacher, Mr. Johnson. At the end of the year he returned my final paper (on Oscar Romero) to me with a short letter. I will be forever grateful for his words:
I don't make it a practice to give gratuitous praise, but in your case I want to make it clear that you have one of the best minds I have encountered in twenty-six years. . . .I hope that your intelligence and your sensitivity will bring you happiness and success.He wasn't lying. He didn't give gratuitous praise. He hardly acknowledged me if we passed in the hallway. His comments in tight red script on my papers were concise, direct, and constructive—complimentary when needed, but equally critical when needed. It shouldn't be implied that he was uptight and reserved. In front of class he could be quite saucy. More importantly, though, he loved literature and loved writing and his enthusiasm was contagious. He made the dead live again. It was from him in his class that I first heard "Upon Julia's Clothes" recited from memory. Quite influential. Made me want to steal books.
And that letter from him did more for me than good grades and a diploma.