My Mom: The Greatest Teacher by Pamela B. Marshall : An Abundance of Good

My Mom: The Greatest Teacher by Pamela B. Marshall

by An Abundance of Good on 09/18/16

My mom was born in 1926, a black child in the deep south on a county farm in rural Madison County, Tennessee. Life for her was hard. My grandfather died when she was a child, so she and my grandmother struggled to get by. My grandmother was a child bride herself, 16 years old, with no formal education. At 16 years of age, my mom and grandmother moved to Illinois, during the time of the Great Black Migration, in hopes of a better life.

Believe me, living while black in Rockford, Illinois in the 1940’s was no great picnic. While enrolled in 10th grade, my mom faced many prejudices. She had a guidance counselor who did not know what to do with black students, or should I say, she put forth no effort in helping them achieve.

(The irony of this story is that I had that same guidance counselor, at the end of her career, tell me in the 1960’s not to take French, Algebra or Geometry because “as a light skinned colored female” the best I could aspire to was to be a secretary. So she tried to guide me towards typing and shorthand. Needless to say, I was not having it. Not only did I aspire but I achieved and was inducted into The National Honor Society. I went on and completed college in 3 years because that is what I do when opportunity is denied me.)

During my mom’s first week in her new school, while participating in a gym class, the students were to get a partner for a game. Nobody wanted to be my mom’s partner because she was the only black girl in the class. She stood there humiliated until the teacher made someone her partner. That single experience shamed my mom and stayed with her until she died. She always expressed the pain and humiliation she felt.

Because of that, it made me a teacher who would not allow any child in my classes through the years to be hurt, bullied, singled out or humiliated. For I understood how deep emotional scars may heal over, but they never go away. I learned that from my mom. I could not remove her pain, but I could make sure no child ever felt that under my watch.

My mom gave in to the times she lived in. She dropped out of school that same year in the 10th grade to help bring in income. She gave up her dreams of a high school diploma for herself.

But a bit of that dream never, ever died within her. She passed it on to us. As early as I can remember, we were surrounded by books. In the 1960’s, she bought us a set of “Negro Encyclopedias” which came in a set of 5 books and turned me on to the accomplishments of black inventors, explorers, scientists, and scholars. We always had National Geographic magazines and books around the house. She drilled into us that the key to success was education whether it was formal or self-taught. Because of her, I always had a book in my hand and a dream of being a part of a world much bigger than the space I lived in.

My mom lived her life working as a janitor in a factory. She took pride in her work. Yet, she always wanted her high school diploma and got as close as within 1 point of passing her GED while in her 70’s. But her greatest accomplishment, I believe, is that she actually lived out the role that Colossians 3:23 states: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters." This is what she did and what she exemplified.

My mom always told us “Don’t be like me”. Be somebody. Get an education. But I can honestly say “Mom, you are exactly like who I want to be." I learned from you how to dream. I learned what it takes to achieve and persevere. I
learned from you how to love God, family and friends. And most importantly, I learned to never, ever stop reaching for my dreams. You taught me to dream big! Your life is and will always be my greatest teacher.

Pamela B. Marshall is a blogger in Brown Deer, Wisconsin. Visit her at

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