I will never forget that day in 4th grade at Sarepta Elementary School. I was one of three Black students in the class and had been called on to read. The word that I misread was “come”. I saw it as “cone”. When my teacher, Margaret Clark, corrected me, I told her that I had said “cone” instead of “come” because I thought the “m” was an “n”. She paid me no mind. She did, however, announce to the class that sometimes “they can’t pronounce letters clearly”. I was eight. I didn’t realize who “they” were and even if I had, I wouldn’t have said anything because I most certainly didn’t have my voice back then. I was, however, embarrassed. I told Mama what Mrs. Clark had said when I got home and she was livid. As it turned out, I needed glasses. The other thing that happened that day, though, was my development of my obsession with reading, spelling, and writing.
Even at that young age, I knew that I didn’t want anyone to ever say that kind of thing about me again. Even back then, well before I came into my own and found my voice, I knew I wanted to be smart. I knew I never wanted anyone to think I couldn’t read again. That is when I began reading everything I could get my hands on. I actually started reading the dictionary. I wrote, line-for-line, passages from the encyclopedia. Yeah, I was just that determined. It was just one of those cases where goodness spawned from the crass act of an adult toward a child. I quickly discovered that reading could take you anywhere. I can’t remember the number of times I got in trouble because I was holed up in my room reading and writing instead of doing chores. Mama would always say, “Every time I call you, you back in there reading.” She would be a little miffed that I hadn’t done my chores, but there wasn’t a time when she didn’t smile after saying that. We didn’t have a lot of anything while I was growing up, but my parents always made sure that I had plenty of books to read. I adored summer break because I knew I would be able to read and write for hours at a time without interruption.
Of late, I haven’t been reading nearly as much as I would like to. There are no excuses for it because one thing that I’ve learned about living is that if you want to do a thing, you will make time and find a way. In that light, starting today, I’m going to dive back into those journeys that I’ll never reach other than through the pages of a good book.
T. Shine Hinton