A memoir is defined as a narrative composed from personal experience. These personal experiences can create, enhance, promote discovery, or destroy certain aspects of our lives. Often, we go through life allowing certain events, objects, circumstances, or even people to shape our perceptions of who we are and what we will become. We fail to really examine how this can play a vital role in our lives and the lives of others. In this memoir, I viewed several objects while closely examining each and how they relate to me on a personal level, cultural level, and how they have played a part in my perception and my reality. The objects examined were an image of me as a child standing in front of a small Baptist church in my Mississippi hometown, my college degree from an HBCU, and a picture of my former students and me from grades seventh through twelfth. Each of these objects holds a great significance and allowed me to discover cultural values, who I am, and provided me the opportunity to make connections on the expectations I have for myself and classroom.
Discovering Cultural Values
Examining several objects, I have been able to discover some known and unknown information regarding my culture. I noted an image of me as a child standing in front of a small Baptist church; this picture represents my first time being exposed to religion, black struggle, and oppression. I remember growing up hearing the pastor talk about “the struggle,” but he never really addressed anything about prosperity or abundance in general; I also can recall hearing religious rules, references, and condemnation regarding money and other areas of living, but never anything about hope, love, forgiveness, etc. It inflicted more oppression into my mind than anything else, and all, of our maybe fifty to sixty church members, looked like me. At an early age, I believed that because I was black, I would always encounter some struggle or be left behind. This church is where I first developed a perception of what being black in society, well…being black in the south, meant. In the African-American culture, the church is a major deal and a part of our DNA. My reality was being shaped before I had an opportunity to choose for myself.
The next object was my bachelor’s degree from Jackson State University, which is a historically black college and university. Attending this school has been pivotal in my life, circumstances, and beliefs; during my attendance here, I witnessed the beauty of being a minority in a diverse society, black and brown excellence, and I discovered my spirituality and developed a more personal relationship with God. For the first time, I could see minorities from all regions of the world, and not just African-American students, enjoying each other’s presence. We were learning about our history after not being told our history in high school. We were all working together to achieve greatness and desired more regardless of what walk of life we came from, unlike what was and still portrayed in the media. Attending this school was a surreal experience and culture shock to me. The poverty mindset was broken from my mind after completing my matriculation here.
The last image was a picture of me surrounded by my Latino, Hispanic, Ecuadorian, and African-American students on our last day of school, which was also my last year teaching them. This picture signifies purpose, a fight for social justice, equality in education, and bridging the achievement gap. I gained a new-found respect and love for the Hispanic and Latino culture; I had a genuine opportunity to witness the richness of a culture other than my own daily. For the first time on a secondary educational level, I saw how a diverse group of students interacted and desired to learn more about each other’s life and culture. I witnessed how they helped each other academically and emotionally even amid poverty and violence; with these students, I discovered my purpose, and they realized they wanted more for themselves and their families, not what societal statistics had determined for them.
Discovery My Truth through Life Experiences
Over the course of my life, I have learned who I am, whose I am, and what I am not. With each life experience mentioned prior in this paper, I recognize that I am not a statistic, not average, and I never have to conform to society’s perception of my race, environment, or circumstances, and that my culture is beautiful. Although growing up I saw more people struggle first before thriving in my culture, and the fact remains that even in the struggle, it did not define them as an individual, but instead fueled them to keep working and believing greater exists and is possible. This has created a sense of urgency and importance for me to be a ‘light’ of hope, faith, tenacity, and fearlessness for those around me; it is also important to me to help others discover their identity and be a part of shifting and changing lives and mindsets. As an educator, I believe that it is my responsibility and purpose to build, restore, reach and teach all students beyond the classroom. I value being a servant-leader, humility, love, faith, and tenacity. None of these values happened or developed in me overnight.
Many people in my life including my close friends, peers, mentors, strangers, and students have challenged the weak areas, limitations, and beliefs that I once held; these challenges helped me to see and break free of limitations, become more open-minded, and understand life from a different perspective.
Relocating to a larger and more diverse city and state also allowed me to see more opportunities outside of what I was exposed to, does exists within our society and culture. I have learned that it is okay to be culturally conscious, but it is also important to be open to learning and understanding the culture of others.
After completing this memoir and discovering my cultural values and how it has shaped my perception, it is evident why I am the student-centered educator I am today, and why I hold very high expectations for my students.
I challenge my students to not focus on their circumstance, rather focus on what they desire for themselves. I expect my students to understand that it is up to them to determine where they go in life, not the media, not their teacher, circumstances, social class, or ethnicity.
I encourage them to acknowledge the gifts that they hold on the inside and expect nothing less than greatness from them. I do not believe in allowing them to stay average, because they are not. I know this has much to do with the way I grew and came into knowing who I am. I also encourage them to seek knowledge, not just be told what to find. I also believe in allowing them to make mistakes and not chastise them for those mistakes, but instead encourage them to try again and redirect when necessary. I think that it is crucial for everyone to develop an open-mind, and be respectful of cultures and beliefs that do not resemble their own. My values have shed light on the issues that exist in social injustice, the beauty in others, and encouraged me to reflect on the difference that we seek. This memoir has given me the opportunity to reflect on my past and present perception and reality consciously.