May 8, 2018

20 Years Ago...This "Crusader Teacher" KNEW!

Queen Mrs. Rainey
Queen Mrs. Rainey

Teacher Appreciation Week 2018 is being celebrated May 7th-11th. We all have teachers to thank for doing their parts in  giving us the tools necessary to navigate this thing called adult life. Crusaders and 98’ classmates, Kefentse Booth and Dionna Roberts (Williams)  had a conversation about a champion in education that left an indelible mark on their lives. They both have reflected on twenty something years ago, when they met the teacher who intentionally spoke life, love, and encouragement into their situations . The two decided it’s only fitting that they present her with her proverbial flowers, together, to honor her during this national week of appreciation. She is the voice that called Kefentse’s  undeniable writer’s voice out of hiding and encouraged him to publish his work for the world to read. She is the reason that Dionna decided to dedicate her life’s work to educating young people and educators in the area of literacy. This blog post is dedicated to a champion. A woman who chose to teach with her whole heart; Mrs. Elaine Rainey, English teacher, MLK High School.

 

I was in love with the brick and mortar; the bold colorways of the black and gold. It was the marquee name in lights of Americas martyr, leadership within a race of people that needed guidance to get to their mountain top. We sat in classrooms lead by the offspring of marchers, their passion to instill promise and hope into the children carrying the torch of change. Insert the teachers; the parents away from our homes. They were the shoulders to cry on, the push for greater, and the round of applause that echoed our promise that we as a class would amount to far more than the statistics that crippled our generation.

 

The collective staff within our high school could win any award for valor and dedication. They were our front line of defense as they shielded us for a fight named reality that lingered outside M.L. King Jr, Sr High School’s compound. The staff were our generals, they smiled at us with admiration as they saw our innocence. Yet, they stared with red eyes as they passionately prepped us to be more than dreamers. It was their voices that settled within our mental cortex of long term memories that dreams were meant to produce reality and not be deferred. That we were more than the graveyard of lost hope and broken promise that surrounded the city like exhaust fumes from production vehicles. The teachers were our role models that groomed the characteristics of excellence we travel with daily; weaving in and out of trials and tribulations only to end up being held up by the same friends that walked the hallways at one point with us.

 

Each teacher told us to look around and see. Take note of the network of great minds that communed together each day we stepped foot inside 3200 E. Lafayette. Get to know each other because you never know what a person is going through and how you may be able to assist them in breaking the chains that stunt their growth. Individually, they were a birth of fresh air each period of class. Together they were the much needed wisdom our yearning vessels seeked.

 

I have the honor of telling my story about how one teacher (within this collective) believed in me while I hid in the shadows of my grayscale writings. Her name is Mrs. Elaine Rainey. Though I never had Mrs. Rainey as a teacher, my writings graced her presence one day as another English teacher presented her with my assignment. For me it was just another few lines scribbled inside my notepad, my way of releasing the images behind my eyes that screamed for a voice. Who knew Mr. WIlliams would let his colleague look it over and be mesmerized by the content? Who knew she would approach me as the English department structured a program to highlight the writings of the students. I still remember her smile as she smiled and pleaded with me to read this aloud in front of the student body and the parents, which I declined and thanked her for the opportunity. Truth of the matter I was afraid of what people would think about the one gift I kept to myself, and refused to share it with the masses to condemn.

 

Somehow, someway that piece that I refused to recite found its way into a national writing contest. See that’s the thing with my King High staff, they screamed for our excellence even if we couldn’t see it. As we approached graduation I found that loving smile upon Mrs. Rainey’s face and asked if she would sign my yearbook. Without hesitation she did. The way her pen graced the fibers of the page was a familiar presence for me. Her thoughts married with the sentence and the outcome was prophetic. June 3rd, 1998 I received a message that I ran from for 18 years of my life. As she hugged and spoke that said excellence over my life we departed. Little did she know I found her confidence in my gift months later as I was awarded placement in the writing contest she helped to enter me in.

 

How do you thank someone that believed in someone when you didn’t believe in yourself? You search for them to give them their roses while they can still smell them. I hunted for Mrs. Rainey for years but always came up short. Then I started releasing my thoughts to my peers on Facebook without the fear of being condemned. Seventeen years after I walked out of King High as a student I helped out another English teacher Mrs. Donna Lopez with a fundraiser. Out of nowhere she said “If i can do anything for you please let me know.” And it was, I needed to find Mrs. Rainey to thank her. I sent her a picture of my yearbook post and Mrs. Lopez messaged me back with a simple “Answer your phone.”

 

As the phone rang from an unknown number I answered. On the other end was that same sweet voice that coached me to not be scared and to use my gift. The voice of belief in my talent, outside of my mother, that has me painting pictures with strokes of my pen. It was the person that gave my dream its introduction into the reality I am living now. “Be a voice for your generation through your writings” she told me the day I visited her a couple years back. Yet it is the last sentence of hers within my yearbook that moves me daily. “May life offer you nothing but ACES, the BEST.”

 

-Kefentse Booth (CPLA/MSAT)

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“So, Mrs. Roberts, please tell us about a teacher who inspired you as a young person and why.”  I remember this question clearly during my interview process for Kalamazoo Public School back in February of 2003. Having recently graduated from college with a BS in Elementary Education, Minor in English, I was both excited and terrified. For four years I studied and practiced the art of teaching preparing for this moment. “Well, there are at least four teachers that I’ve had over the course of my educational journey that I would call inspiring. I could tell you specific anecdotes about each of them, but there is one that undoubtedly is the reason that I want to dedicate my life to teaching. She was my 10th grade English teacher and she went above and beyond what was typical of most teachers that I’d encountered until then.”  

 

I went on to describe to my panel of interviewers how Mrs. Elaine Rainey and her English class were instrumental in changing the trajectory of my life’s story.  Perfection was an unrealistic goal that I placed upon myself at a very young age that crippled both my creativity and confidence. As a high school student, this self imposed punishment persisted and I found myself being withdrawn and quiet. Fear manipulated me into not fully engaging in classes where I didn’t feel the opportunity for being something even close to good was given.  That was until 1995 when I found myself assigned to Mrs. Rainey’s English class. That year, she became the teacher who inspired the quiet kid to be loud with her pencil if necessary and gave her permission to get lost in stories to escape her own tragedies. As a tenth grade student, I was attempting to navigate some rather tough home situations that I was ashamed to articulate. Those secrets were negatively impacting my everything!

 

Somehow, Mrs. Rainey discerned that there was something going on with me and perhaps, I was in need of more than just a teacher. She respected the fact that I was quiet, but did not allow me to sit in silence. She encouraged me to read and write often. She somehow made me trust her enough to share things that I was afraid to share with other adults at the time and gave me wise counsel. Instead of going to lunch (which I hated), I would often journey to her classroom to gather my thoughts or help her to grade papers. She invited me to her office to talk about those non-classroom related things that made her feel more like an auntie than a teacher. She learned that I worked at Sam Goody, so we’d talk music often.  I loved being able to surprise her with a cd from time to time in exchange for all the extra time offered to me.

 

Later that same year, Mrs. Rainey recommended that I take an advanced journalism class on the Campus of Wayne State University. With this opportunity, I began to understand the true power of words and how they could  be used to inform and heal myself and potentially others.

 

Through Mrs. Rainey’s sophomore English class and our unexpected friendship,  I was forced to outwardly become everything that I secretly was through her intentional interactions with me. My perfect shyness and awkward creativity finally had a home and was welcomed in a classroom. She would remind me often to “write it out”, which is a tool that I still utilize as an adult when needed. She taught me to accept my imperfections and deal with the reality of situations. My stories that I was once too shy or ashamed to share developed an empowered voice—even if it only screamed from the pages of my private journal. She made me believe that I was good enough and that was more than enough.

 

When I graduated from M.L. King Jr., Senior High (CISC), I had convinced myself that I would go to college, study business and become an accountant. During my freshman year, I somehow found myself in a conversation with an upperclassman about my planned major of study. After much reflection and conversation, I realized business wasn’t what I wanted to spend my life doing at all. I wanted to write, no I wanted to teach, wait...I wanted to do both! I wanted to be something like a Mrs. Rainey to as many young people as I possibly could.

 

Here I sit all these years later, having taught a couple hundred elementary students. Every school year I  made sure that I listened to each of them, got to know their stories, and encouraged them to use their words ALWAYS! Mrs. Rainey taught me how to be much of who I am as a professional educator. I want to thank her for that.  She helped me to realize the importance of loving myself and believing that I could do the hard things. It wasn’t until I took the time to look back in my high school yearbook and read her words that I realized the potential Mrs. Rainey saw in me, that quiet girl well before I ever did. Dionna,I love you so much! All the talks, the poems, the writings, the smiles, the CD exchanges, the laughter and the tears are all of the things I’ll miss about you. You have given me hope for the future and maybe, just maybe you’ll teach one of the ‘little Rainey girls” how to write.”  She saw the teacher in me. She sowed intentional seed in a student that is now cultivating all kinds of fruit. I cannot thank her enough. She is beyond appreciated.

 

There were many teachers that worked within the brick and mortar of 3200 E. Lafayette. Many that helped mold us into the adults we are today. We are so thankful for their wisdom and willingness to provide the groundwork for our excellence. Today we highlight Mrs. Rainey’s unforgettable work as she championed Dionna and I, but who were some of the names within the collective that you credit with giving you this feeling of excellence?

Dionna Roberts-- (CISC)-

 

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