I was fortunate to have received an excellent middle-class education in Buffalo schools at a time when classes included civics, U.S. and world history, grammar (an auxiliary verb requires a subjective complement), and instruction in language and writing.
Having a retentive memory with almost total recall is an incredible gift from God, but when I was in school I did not realize the significance of The Gift.
I was almost 12 years old when I entered ninth grade at School No. 47, many decades ago. (I started school at age 3.) Our teacher, Miss Gertrude Hannon (who terrified me) made it clear she would accept nothing but our best.
My transition from grade school to ninth grade was not easy, and freshman algebra provoked profound disaster. But, as a result of what I considered extreme pedagogic torture, I graduated with a B average. I still remember the names of the 30 children in my ninth grade graduating class.
During sophomore year at Hutchinson-Central High School, our English literature teacher introduced us to the language of the Bard. In her production of "Hamlet," I was assigned the central role -- only because no other student would volunteer to commit Hamlet's lengthy soliloquy to memory. I am sure I was the only African-American, female, child Hamlet in the world, and I remember his soliloquy to this day.
I was unaware that The Gift was already at work in my life. At age 18, I wrote to the president of Morris Brown College, a traditional African-American institution in Atlanta, to request acceptance with a full scholarship, for I had little money. On the strength of my high school record, I was accepted.
At Morris Brown, I scored high on the entrance exams and even dealt successfully with algebraic propositions, a tangible benefit of the lessons emblazoned on my brain during ninth-grade strife. My penurious state was relieved by employment as secretary to the dean and the director of the English department. Personal issues kept me from returning for a second year, but I continued to take college courses near home.
I went on to be sworn in as the first African-American woman police officer in the Buffalo Police Department. I matriculated at Erie County Technical Institute, and earned my associate's in applied sciences degree in police science.
It was The Gift that propelled me to a candidacy for inspector of police, the highest civil service rank in law enforcement. It translated my concern and responsiveness into aggressive leadership and innovative action.
As captain for the Juvenile Bureau and the Sex Offense Squad, I also assumed the role of motivational speaker for young people. As an adjunct professor at Erie Community College, I urged students to pursue excellence in all things and to be aware that the only limitations are those they placed on themselves.
The Gift helped me enter the graduate criminal justice program at SUNY Albany and receive a master's in urban affairs in Buffalo. The Gift contributed to my citation as Outstanding Woman in the Professions in Western New York, and the bestowal of two distinguished alumnus awards.
It avows that education is the key, and excellence is the standard on all levels of life and is indeed the key out of poverty. It produces an overabundance of blessings that are simple and powerful and change lives.
A highly retentive memory is a blessing from Heaven. Students need the expertise of discerning teachers to develop that intelligence to its fullest potential. It lies subtly ensconced in the nether regions of consciousness, waiting to be translated into exceptionalism and greatness.
I thank God for The Gift.