I was called down to my guidance counselor’s office in tenth grade. I will refer to her as Mrs. G. And I noticed when I walked into her office, my cumulative folder was on her desk, and I could see my name and address, 823-C Hardy Drive. I recall vividly, she never looked at me directly; she stood there with her back to me. And she said, “Good morning,” and we exchanged pleasantries. And she asked me, “James, what are your future goals and aspirations?” I said, “Well, Ms. Garrett, I’m going to college.” She jerked around and said to me, “College? You need to get that notion out of your head and take up a trade.” Immediately, I was devastated, I didn’t know what to do. If I responded in the way that I wanted to, I would probably be expelled. I got up, I went out in the hall, and I boo-hooed and cried, in the tenth grade. Ms. Josephine Whitsett came out — she had taught second grade at Jefferson, and she was now a guidance counselor at Lane — and she said, “What’s wrong, baby?” I said, “Mrs. Garrett told me I would never go to college. I don’t ever want to go into her office again. Would you please be my guidance counselor?” She took me in her office, and she calmed me down. She knew and had taught my sister in second grade at Jefferson, she knew my mother, she knew the whole family. And so it was there that I found comfort and validation of who I was. I guess she assumed, because here again, I lived in public housing, that I didn’t have any dreams of going further in my education. “Take up a trade.” And there’s nothing wrong with trades, I am a very strong advocate, and I believe that all students should have options when they graduate from high school. There’s nothing wrong, but I knew that my strengths were not in trades. My strength was in education, and that was my desire, to go to school.
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