“Again?!” my children sang in annoyance.
“Yes again,” I snapped – I rolled my neck too for good measure.
From time-to-time I have to remind them of their greatness and potential. This message is often delivered in the form of a story – well – okay, one particular story that I may have told them once or twice or a couple hundred times – give or take.
“The lesson is in listening,” I reminded them, pointing to my temple. “You can do anything you put your minds to.”
Everyone’s got their “story” and I take exceptional pride in telling one in particular to my children, I’ve dubbed it my “Duffle Bag” story. I’d like to share it with you:
I was lucky enough to be directed by an incredibly talented high school band director. The man was a genius, apart from playing nearly every instrument known to man –and woman– he helped choreographed the drill team (flag line) and dance line routines. And when he called the band to “ATTENTION” he insisted that we responded to him by saying, “TO THE SKY”. Can you imagine about 70 to 100 kids yelling in unison “TO THE SKY”? It was an exhilarating experience because at that moment, we were no longer individuals we were a band with a purpose.
After graduation, I was accepted into college and although I received vehement protests from some family members and friends, I decided to go – I had to go. I managed to work the summer before and saved just enough to pay my dorm fees and buy books for the first semester – I thought I’d figure it out once I got there. I had to make a lot of beds and fold tons of towels to get the little money I did have; but I didn’t care, I was going to college. I would be the first female in my family to attend a 4-year university.
I was packed. I was ready to go. I was college bound… but I didn’t have a ride…my mother’s boyfriend bailed at the last minute.
I couldn’t wrap my head around what she was saying. I realized that I could go to college after watching The Cosby Show and A Different World as a kid. At first I couldn’t see myself being more than what I saw in my community - I thought realistically I had limited options. My community was made up of people that worked really hard during the spring and summer months, and yet struggled during the winter and late fall to make ends meet, as the area relied heavily upon tourism for revenue.
“I’ll figure something out,” I said under my breath. I got my first job at 12, worked summers as long as I could remember. When school started I worked weekends whenever I could and I’ve been working ever since. I would find a way.
About an hour later, I found myself in my then childhood friend’s room telling her how my ride fell through. “Why don’t you just ride with us?” she offered. Coincidentally she was attending a different college in the same city just across town. It didn’t even occur to me. She requested and received permission from her parents – the only stipulation was that (of course) I couldn’t bring all my things; I could only bring about 1 or 2 small bags.
Later that night, I unpacked and repacked, only taking the essentials. I managed to pare down my belongings to a duffel bag and a small suitcase.
I was packed. I was ready to go. I was college bound. I had a ride.
Later when I arrived on campus and reached my assigned room, I was greeted by my roommate’s things. She wasn’t there, but she certainly came prepared. Her side was beautifully decorated, with plush comforters, a TV, a footlocker, a refrigerator, tons of clothes, pictures of her loved ones. I, in earnest, unpacked my things. I didn’t have much, but I was there. I’d made it to college. The only form of entertainment I had was a small boom box. I switched the channel around until I could find the local R&B station.
You know how God gives you what you need when you need it? Well, as I stood at my dorm window and surveyed the campus watching all those kids say their good-byes to loved ones, I was immediately enveloped in melancholy. At that very moment, a song called “Optimistic” by Sounds of Blackness started to play on the radio.
The song says, “You can win, as long as you keep your head to the sky”.
I still cry whenever I hear it.
My high school band director was right – TO THE SKY!