I had another topic I was going to write about, but the news from Dillon County in South Carolina today was so overwhelming that I had no choice but to put it aside. CEO Darryl Rosser of Saugus International, a classroom furniture supplier, must have felt the same way I did when I saw the story earlier this year about Ty'Sheoma Bethea, a middle school student from Dillon, S.C. who wrote a letter to President Obama pleading for help for her school. Rosser visited J.V. Martin Middle School a few weeks ago, and was inspired enough to mastermind an effort to deliver 2000 pieces of brand new desks and school furniture, organize volunteers, and then coordinate a new paint job for a secret school makeover that took place this past weekend.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but this picture of Ty'Sheoma is worth ten times that if its worth one:
The new paint for J.V. Martin Middle was as important as the new furniture. I helped my brother paint a few rooms in the foreclosure he bought after he moved in. The walls had been painted in garish colors, with an unevenly painted band that wrapped around many of the rooms, as if they had tried to reproduce some special effect from a 70's movie. The trim was dingy. But a part of the purchase deal had been the installation of new carpet.
So we worked. We spackled. We sanded. We spackled some more. We sanded some more. Then we taped off the trim and the carpet. Applied one coat of paint. Touched up a few areas. Then laid on a second coat. He had gotten tired of the whole thing about halfway through. It wasn't until we finished the first room, and pulled the tape away, that he understood what all the fuss was about. It looked like a room in a brand new house in a brand new subdivision.
I imagine that's what happened when the kids at J.V. Martin came in yesterday morning - they thought they were in a brand new school. I know you don't read this blog, Mr. Rosser, but thank you for taking the initiative to do something about the deplorable state of Ty'Sheoma's school.
As heartwarming and tearjerking as Darryl Rosser's gift was, though, it couldn't obscure some of the other, less congratulatory feelings about the people responsible for letting this school get this way in the first place that has been ripping at my gut since I saw the pictures. I don't see why the state school superintendent or the politicians who gathered at an assembly for Rosser showed their faces. I don't even own a gun and I feel like shooting somebody. Actually, I feel like I want to "Jack Bauer" my entire home state government - blacks, whites, Democrats, Republicans - the same way the Keifer Sutherland character tortures those who get in his way on the TV show "24". Waterboarding is too humane for these showboats and charlatans, who have let what little progress they had go to hell in a handbasket.
And for all of you people who have been saying "why can't these people pull themselves up by their bootstraps?" under your breath as you read this, why don't you call the CEO's at Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan and ask them the same damn question? Watching Wall Street's smart guys squirm away from us even as they take our money is like getting to see how a magic trick is done. All of a sudden, it doesn't look so hard.
Business is important, but how long can a business stay viable if we don't educate our children well enough to work in them? How long can they hope to book profits if the populace doesn't have enough basic knowledge to be able to be trained to perform the kind of complex tasks even the lowest skilled jobs demand these days?
The paint and supplies my brother bought for us to paint his house? It didn't cost more than $250 for the two bedrooms and the living room we ended up painting. How much could it have cost for the paint that was used at J.V. Martin? The desks? The Associated Press says somewhere in the neighborhood of $250,000. Could it kill the state superintendent's staffers to use their laptops a year longer? Go on one less trip to a training seminar? Would it reduce penny pinching Mark Sanford to a pile of blubbering flesh if he could figure out a way to splurge on the one thing - education - that is almost guaranteed to pay dividends in a declining marketplace?
It would be easy to rag on my home state of South Carolina, but since I live in Georgia, which is exactly the same state if you take Atlanta out of the equation, I'll have to spread it around tonight.
If you are a governor of a state below the Mason-Dixon line, you need to quit patting yourself on the back and get those policy wonks you've got slaving over Roe versus Wade or the latest rebuke to the gambling industry to redirect their efforts.
If you are a congressman or a state representative from a state below the Mason-Dixon line, you need to tie one hand behind your back everyday after you get dressed, so you are constantly reminded of how handicapped your constituents who don't have access to a quality education are.
But these people are mere representatives, mere ciphers for the real hopes and fears that lie behind the breastbones of our citizenry. It is us, the great unwashed, along with those who may feel that they are enlightened because they have read a few books or taken a few classes at some esteemed institute of higher learning, yes it is us who will ultimately determine whether we really care about education.
And if you want to get right down to it, then it is really us as black people who have to regain a sense of ownership of our communities, if not in literal sense, then in a metaphorical one.
We as black people need to repurpose our religion. Some of us worship so much its a wonder we find time to get anything else done, but worship we do. We worship fervently, we worship devoutly, and we worship often, even as our own communities crumble around us.
If we burned the churches down, and met in the schools, we could kill two birds with one stone. Because I haven't seen a house of worship yet that doesn't have working air conditioning, regular maintenance, roofs that are sound, and walls that are solid. And some damn good paint jobs. Think about it - if you happened to run into a few kids after school on your way to choir practice, or football practice - maybe even your own kids - well, that would be all the better.
Quoting the scripture, or Malcolm X, or Martin Luther King, Jr., or even Barack Obama will only get any of us so far. For a lot of us, like my home girl, Ty'Sheoma Bethea, we've had enough inspiration these last few months to last a lifetime.
Now, my people, it's time for some perspiration.