• By Morgan Craven, J.D. • Honoring the Arms that Lift Us – Southern Stories from Our Black Staff • February 2022 •
I feel lucky to have known my four grandparents for a good portion of my life. Three were educators, and the fourth constantly asked my sisters, cousins, and I questions, like “What have you done to help Black people today?” As I reflect on why I believe what I believe and why I do the work I do now, I realize what an impact it had on me to grow up in a family in which both being deeply involved in education and helping Black people were basic assumptions about the way we should live.
My paternal grandmother, Ruth Craven, taught home economics in the now-infamous Loudon County, Virginia school system for much of her career. Whenever I visited her, we could not go anywhere without a former student walking up to say hello and letting her know how much they appreciated her as a teacher. I got to talk to my grandma and get her perspective about the work I do now, especially around school discipline policies. In true grandmother fashion, she thought everything I was doing was right (she also thought suspending little kids is useless and gave me a “What the devil?!” when I told her corporal punishment still happens in schools).
My paternal grandfather, Adam Craven, first began teaching at Page-Jackson High School – a school in West Virginia named after his grandfather, Littleton Lorton Page, who was also an educator and was born enslaved in the 1850s. My grandpa went on to have an incredible career as a teacher, school administrator, counselor and coach.
My maternal grandfather, Alfonso Carlton, sold life insurance. After he died, I began hearing stories about his work to make sure Black families, in particular, had access to resources they could pass on to their children, allowing them to build intergenerational stability that had been intentionally denied to them for generations.
My maternal grandmother, Mildred Carlton, taught second and third grade and was a reading specialist. I have clear memories of her helping me learn to read as a child. She opened magazines and had me circle all the “and,” “but,” and “the” words I could find. I often think how lucky her students were to have a kind and patient teacher who loved them the way she did.
I am so grateful for my grandparents and the way their choices, personalities and beliefs shaped my own. While I love the many famous events, movements and people highlighted during Black History Month, I really love reflecting on the people, like my grandparents, who were well known and loved within their families and communities, and whose work, struggles and talents continue to have impact.
[©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.]