During the program’s intermission, a friend came backstage. She asked if I were nervous. I don’t remember my response. I do remember her telling me that she thought I may not win because my talent was ‘speaking’.
I was competing against girls who danced, played instruments, and sang.
The question at hand was, “Who speaks in a pageant as their talent?”
She was genuinely concerned for me. I simply smiled – because I was passionate about my subject matter and confident in my delivery.
My talent was a monologue relating to social injustice. I still remember how it felt that night as the crown was placed upon my head and the cape draped around my shoulders. I imagine now it felt much like an American Idol finalist feels.
It was 1982, I was 16 and about to graduate from high school. I was passionate about civil rights and social injustice. As an avid reader, I was well aware of the tainted history dealing with race relations in this country. My textbook heroes were Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi, and Marcus Garvey (I just realized the pattern of all first initials ‘M’).
I believed I would one day make a difference in society like them. They all had different ideologies and approaches (violence or nonviolence – this didn’t matter to me). I just knew they walked in power and people followed. They stood for something relevant and were willing to sacrifice their lives – that meant a great deal to me.
I was young and did not really understand everything that was going on politically, but I had courage and was willing to do whatever it took in defense of the marginalized in America. I was gifted oratorically and I knew it by the way people responded when I spoke. I had a voice – just like my heroes.
Well, time passed and through many life trials and poor choices – my voice faded. I used it less and less.
Today, 30 years later, I am starting to use my voice again – especially in the Lyons Den (my middle school classroom). I am engaging my students in meaningful dialogue about courage, resilience, persistence, trust, and the social and emotional issues that matter to them.
I believe it is my responsibility to motivate and inspire youth to use their voices – future generations will depend on it.