By Jay Thomas Willis, Senior Columnist
The Mid-South Tribune and the Black Information Highway
I was born in a rural area ofEast Texas. My parents were dirt farmers, but my father worked in an oil refinery on theGulfCoast, my mother ran the farm. My father came home when he could. Our farm consisted of approximately fifty acres of overused farmland. Our shotgun, rusty-tin-roof shack, stood at the end of a three-mile trail. The trail was only navigable by horse or wagon, until a dirt road was constructed when I entered first grade. Rarely did people venture that far off the beaten path to visit, so we were relatively isolated.
We had no electricity until we got the dirt road. We had no gas until I was a sophomore in high school. No telephone or indoor plumbing until I was a sophomore in college. We finally got a well dug sometime during my elementary years. Prior to that, we got our water from a spring a ways up the hill. In elementary school during English class when we got to the subject of telephone etiquette, I could only deal with the subject abstractly, because I had never used a telephone.
My mother graduated the eighth grade, and my father dropped out in the second grade to help his parents on the farm. They had no vision of their children getting an education. If anything they discouraged their children from getting an education, and couldn’t see where an education would benefit their children. I never saw my mother or father reading a book except for the Bible. For a long time Blacks weren’t admitted to public libraries. They came along at a time when even if a Black man had an education there were few job opportunities. It is felt that this influenced their lack of vision for their children’s education. Their main interest was running that small dirt farm, and this was there limited vision.
No one in my family thought to introduce me to the alphabet, my numbers, colors, or geometric shapes before I entered school. I never had toys to play with like normal children. Because of the school district’s policy, I couldn’t start to school until I was seven-years-old. My birthday didn’t come until October, so I had to wait until the next year. There were also no Head Start, kindergarten, preschool, or daycare in my community. If there had been my parents couldn’t have afforded to send me.
I did easily learn to read in first grade.Readingcame natural for me. But no one in my family encouraged me to read. Also, none of my teachers encouraged me to read. In addition, the only book in my home was the Bible. The only books I was required to read were my textbooks. I only read them sporadically. I can’t recall an elementary or junior high teacher ever suggesting books beside the textbooks to read. For a while I didn’t know there was any book but a textbook, and had never heard of a novel or another nonfiction book.
It was the same in high school. Mostly all we read, when we read them, were the textbooks. I recall one English teacher requiring each of us to write a book report on an outside novel. This is when I read my first novel, Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. It was the only novel I read in high school.
I spent most of my high school years roaming the countryside, after my brother bought me a car when I was a sophomore. If I had known any better I would have spent my time reading instead. I had a lot of farm work to do, but there were always some quiet evenings, late hours, weekends, and holidays that I could have spent reading. Had I read more in elementary, junior high, and high school; I would have been in a better position in terms of getting admitted to the college of my choice, and in maintaining my grade point average. The thing I regret most is that I didn’t read more during my youth.
At college I did a lot of reading. This reading helped to straighten me out, to improve my general fond of knowledge, and to find some directions for myself.
Since college I have been a vociferous reader. I have read everything I could get my hands on that I thought relevant to plans for my life. At age sixty-four I sometimes go to the library and re-read books like To Kill a Mocking Bird, Great Gatsby, and Grapes of Wrath. When I ask for such titles, the librarian, whom I know very well, usually ask, “Didn’t you read these books in high school?” I’m quick to reply, “I’m playing catch-up, because I didn’t read much in high school.” I will probably re-read such titles until my vision becomes impaired, or I don’t have the ability to concentrate.
It has been said that children today don’t read much, and have short attention spans, because of playing so many video games and dealing with other techno-gadgets that require a limited attention span. But if you limit your reading you thereby limit your ability to express yourself orally and in written form.
You especially need to be an avid reader if you’re going to further your education past high school. The more knowledge you have, the less you have to strain to obtain your college goals. If you’re going to make a decent score on college entrance exams you must be able to read well.
My point is young people should read every chance they get, and every book they can get their hands on. This will serve them well as they go out into the world and attempt to build a future.
Mr. Willis is a Senior Columnist and Political Analyst for The Mid-South Tribune ONLINE and the Black Information Highway. He is the author of twenty-three books, fifteen professional journal articles, a number of magazine articles, and over 300 newspaper articles. His books can be reviewed at http://www.jaythomaswillis.com. Email him direct at firstname.lastname@example.org . For more on Jay Thomas Willis, travel on the Black Information Highway at www.blackinformationhighway.com . Welcome, Travelers!