Therapeutic Tuesdays: A’s B’s and F’s

Recently, I took on the task of volunteering to be a writer for the alumni magazine of my alma mater, Tougaloo College. This is the draft of my first article for publication:

There are times when I believe that I really have not appreciated the richness of my Tougaloo experience until much later on in life. As I sit and watch the sun rise over the horizon from my porch, there is crispness in the air. It reminds me of those early mornings in the fall, and winter, walking briskly to Dr. Jerry Ward’s class, and as such, this is one of those underappreciated moments. I remember being a freshman, very green to the ways of the world, and seeing this “smallish-man” walk into the class. I say “small-ish”, but Dr. Ward was the kind of man whose stature was far greater than his physical height. Without saying a word, he intimidated me. I don’t know about my classmates, but I was quiet. I knew he would say something that would rock my world, but I wasn’t quite ready for what came out of his mouth.


“In my classroom”, he began, “there are only three grades given. A, B, and F.”


This seemingly innocuous comment set my brain on fire. I wanted to raise my hand and ask for clarification, but I waited. I saw other classmates shift in their seats slightly. My thinking was that I could use my freshman year to ease in to the college experience. I had been an A-B student all of my life, and fancied myself as a relatively smart person, but somewhere deep inside of myself, I felt that I could give myself an allowance for a C or two, or three, this year to help me in my matriculation from high school brainiac to collegiate scholar. My thinking was interrupted as Dr. Ward continued,


“I know what you are thinking. No C’s or D’s, Dr. Ward? But why? Quite simply, there is no room for average in my class, at this campus, or in this world.”


With that, he was finished. He went into explaining his syllabus and giving the first assignment. I don’t even remember what any of that other stuff was, because my mind was frozen in a loop, replaying what he had just said. It struck me then, as it strikes me now. The only difference now is that I can look back over my life and see very clearly how my interpretation of those words has driven my worldview.


There is no room for average in my class, at this campus, or in this world.


What are we doing then? The air has a certain scent. The atmosphere is crackling. Our black voices are rising from different areas, angry over different events, or our differing interpretations of those events. Black on Black crime is not simply an incident of physical violence against others of our culture, but rather stinging remarks flung from those who would speak up, against those who have not…. yet. There is no room for average, but who defines what average is?


“There is no room for average in my class, at this campus, or in this world.”


I learned in Dr. Ward’s class that average is simply doing the minimum amount of work needed to get by. I got many F’s in his class before that hard truth set in. He was no sufferer of fools, and before I could gain his respect, I had to show him that I was ready to put away my tomfoolery and do what was within me to do. I knew my ability. Many in this world do not. Is it possible that many of us have to go through extended periods of failure where we see what is happening in our communities, before we finally wake up to the abilities within us? Is it possible that the angry voices protesting and rebelling against the “machine” are the Dr. Ward’s out there pushing and prodding all of us to step it up? To navigate the nebulous channel of “average” and press on toward the excellence that God has placed within every man and woman on the face of this earth?


Or are we being average when we cut down anyone for not being as we are?


There is no room for average in my class, at this campus, or in this world.”


I hated Dr. Ward until I understood him. Hate is a strong word, but I did. I was a good writer. My high school teachers had told me so, but Dr. Ward said I was average; therefore I earned F’s until I got to know him. Once I knew him, I saw through his eyes why what I had been was no longer good enough. I understood why average was failure, and then I loved him fiercely for it. Today, I see why average is failure. Average surrounds us; it tries it’s best to cover and suffocate us like wet blankets without pores to breathe. I offer no solutions in this article. I only can recommend that instead of baring our teeth at each other, and biting the flesh from already showing bones, we need to rely more on the understanding that while not everyone my be as we are, vigilant, voracious, and vibrant, that same light and passion lies within them. As an African-American community, we cannot rise until we find a way to unite. When we unite, the subsequent rise will not be average. We will no longer be simply average.


We will change the world.

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