Lunch, interrupted: An unexpected inspiration

22 Dec

This month, we have asked the ALLY SNAPSHOT bloggers to describe someone inspiring they have met in their Public Allies experience. Here’s one of the posts on this theme.

It was just your average Monday. It was 12:00 and I had just sat down to have my lunch when my phone rang.

“Ms. Goldberg your appointment is here.”

I paused and said, “I don’t have an appointment today.”

“Well, someone is here to see you.”

I headed out to the main entrance and saw a small woman with a warm friendly smile standing before me. She looked to be around 60 or 70 years old. I walked up to her and introduced myself.

“Ms. Goldberg, my name is Treopia Washington and I’m here from Bowie State University. I know I didn’t confirm an appointment with you, but I’ve been looking forward to speaking with you and I thought we might talk after my first meeting.”

I had no appointments that afternoon and told her I would be more than happy to meet with her. We walked over to a small conference room in one of the administration buildings at SEED. Little did I know this would be one of the best meetings of my life.

Ms. Washington had been referred to me by SEED’s head of school because he thought we could partner with Bowie State University by having their students tutor our students. During our meeting Ms. Washington and I talked about a lot of things, including education in Baltimore City, training new teachers, challenges with the traditional public school system, the power of positivity, and the ideas we both had about making a change for students in Baltimore. It was then that Treopia began to tell me her story, and how she hoped to share it with the students at SEED to teach them about overcoming adversity to attend and graduate from college.

Ms. Washington grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, at a time where schools were still segregated and Jim Crow laws plagued our country. She told me that she had always wanted to become a teacher because her family emphasized the importance of education and because her own mother was an elementary school teacher.

Treopia’s mother, Lothaire Scott Green, had already been a teacher for several years when she decided to return to the University of Arkansas to earn a graduate degree. Treopia was 13 at the time. She recalled the moment her mother received a box in the mail containing a master’s diploma, tassel, and hood. It also contained a letter congratulating her on her achievement. However, the letter went on to say that because she was black, she would not be able to attend the commencement of 1951. The passion and emotion in Treopia’s voice as she told this story nearly moved me to tears. Then she said her mother crumpled up the letter and threw it in the trash.

After hearing this story, it is no surprise that Treopia’s mother raised her to be an advocate for education rights, and that her younger brother, Ernest Green, volunteered to desegregate their local high school and became one of the Little Rock Nine. For those who may not know, the Little Rock Nine were the first black students to attend Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Her brother Ernest was the first black student to graduate from the school in 1958. At the time Treopia was 19 years old and a teacher in Baltimore City.

For some reason, in early 2010, the memories of the discrimination her mother faced came to the forefront of Treopia’s mind. She decided to send an e-mail to the Chancellor of the University of Arkansas. What Ms. Washington didn’t know was that she had put into motion a chance for the University of Arkansas to right the wrong so many years ago. The University invited Treopia to accept her mother’s diploma at commencement in May 2011 so that her mother’s accomplishment could be given the honor it deserved.

Treopia then said something to me that I will never forget. The lessons she said she learned from her life, particularly from the experiences she shared with me that day, are:

1. Conflict doesn’t solve anything.
2. Always take the high road, it will get you somewhere.
3. When you’re faced with a conflict, analyze it, figure out what you can do to resolve it, then do whatever you can to resolve it!

Since leaving public education, Treopia’s career has focused on creating equitable experiences for under-served populations—which is what brought her to The SEED School of Maryland to meet with me.

I can’t wait to meet with Treopia again. She’s back in Arkansas right now to spend time with her family as her brother Ernest receives an honorary PhD. I hope we can work together to inspire the students at SEED to achieve greatness no matter what obstacles stand before them.

Here’s a video about Treopia’s story

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One Response to “Lunch, interrupted: An unexpected inspiration”

  1. Laura@Public Allies December 25, 2011 at 11:43 am #

    Beautiful woman- how incredible to work with and learn from her! Thanks for sharing this Dara

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