• By Thomas Marshall III, M.Ed.Honoring the Arms that Lift Us – Southern Stories from Our Black Staff • February 2022 • Thomas Marshall

Growing up Black in the South is my story and my song. Being involved in the policymaking space in Texas and the broader U.S. South has given me a unique lens into how I view education, and I constantly see myself within this work. I see a little Black boy who doesn’t know it yet, but he is the product of Title I public schools and will grow up to advocate for students just like himself.

My educational journey began at Pine Grove Elementary school in Columbia, South Carolina, a small but growing city. My first teacher in kindergarten was Ms. Wilson. She was a Black woman who taught me more than just identifying months on a calendar or time on a clock. She instilled in me the value of hard work and service that I take with me today.

I come from a family of educators. Aunts, cousins and countless Black women within my family have taught in classrooms across the South. Though never living out her dreams of being a teacher, my mother taught me such valuable lessons about respect, faith and kindness.

When I think of the current attacks on diversity, equity and inclusion within our schools, I can’t help but remember my first Black male teacher Mr. Gause showing us a documentary on Emmet Till in seventh-grade history class. It was the first time I heard about this horrific tragedy, yet his boldness in introducing this topic led me to think we must listen to these stories.

We cannot erase our history. We owe it to our brothers and sisters who stood before us to tell these stories authentically and equip the next Black generation with the truth. Our power comes from the truth we learn from our ancestors. The lessons that I have learned have allowed me to “do the work of love” for Black students, and I am the person I am today because of a generation of Black teachers, family members and the community who raised me.

[©2022, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the February 2022, special edition of Honoring the Arms that Lift Us – Southern Stories from Our Black Staff by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]