My Journey To Literacy
I thought I’d begin this by sharing an essay I wrote for my last English class at the University of Cincinnati. I want to thank my mentor, Jo Anne Moore for her continued encouragement and support! God truly blessed me the day I first walked into the studios of 1480WCIN. I hope you enjoy!
Try to imagine a mime encountering a ‘wall.’ You’re that mime; at every turn you’re hitting that imaginary wall. You’re living your life with constant restrictions; there are more ‘can’t do’s’ than ‘can do’s.’ Like that imaginary wall, you can see what’s going on around you but you’re not a participant. While you appreciate the safety and security of the box, you’re still fascinated by what is happening on the outside.
There’s a Bible on the coffee table, King James Version. Any other translation is unacceptable unless it’s the Amplified Bible; that’s because it only ‘amplifies’ what we read in the King James Version. I can hear my aunt calling the family into the living room. It’s time for family devotion and prayer before bedtime. It didn’t matter if it was just a regular day or if it was a Wednesday or Sunday and we’d just gotten home from evening service. The day always ended by reading and prayer; it was the only life I knew. There are memories of times before that, but no other ‘routine’ made me feel safe than the one my aunt and uncle gave me.
I always knew there was more outside the ‘safety’ of the box; I’d seen it from time to time. You see, unless I was staying with my mom, I wasn’t able to watch television; it was wrong. Don’t even think about listening to the radio; that was the devil’s music! Within the box no one ever complained about what they were missing. They weren’t missing anything; they had it all. If anyone felt differently they were wise to keep it to themselves. It wasn’t out of fear of getting caught; it was being exposed as a fraud.
“You may notice we say ‘brother and sister’ ‘round here. It’s because we’re a family and these folks are so near. When one has a heartache, we all share the tears, and rejoice in each victory in this family so dear.” (Gaither) The first verse of Bill Gaither’s “Family of God” pretty much summed up life within the box. The ‘box’ wasn’t a cult; no, far from it. It was what some would call ‘Organized Religion.’ Children respected their parents and elders. The Bible tells us, “Children obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.” (Holy Bible, King James Version, Eccles. 6:1) Stories were told and scriptures memorized and recited.
I don’t want to say everyone looked and dressed the same, but there was consistency within the formality of the outer man. All of the women had long hair and no makeup or jewelry unless it was a wristwatch. The dresses always fell below the knee and ladies, young or old, never wore pants. The men were always in their Sunday best whether it was a suit or dress slacks and a well pressed shirt. Their hair was kept short with nothing below the ear or neck. This was the norm within the ‘box’ until ‘cracks’ began to show.
Leaders studied, researched, and realized there was no Biblical backing for things such as makeup, jewelry, television, radio, etc. We began to see that not everything outside of the box was meant to hurt us. While some chose to embrace the changes and remain in the safety of the box, others slipped through the cracks in search of what awaited them outside the box. It was easy to tell who had secretly longed for what was on the outside. They went to extremes in search of what they believed was true happiness. I watched families fall apart because they weren’t willing to find that middle ground that provided safety even when living on the outside.
Within a few years, the walls came crumbling down. I had sensed things were falling apart and made the choice to leave the place I used to feel safe. I could take what I had learned while inside the box and take it with me on the outside. What was waiting for me, while scary, was a challenge I was willing to accept. There was only one problem: How do I catch up with all I’d missed?
Names like Dickens, Hemingway, Shakespeare, and Orwell were both familiar and unfamiliar to me. I knew the names but never had the opportunity to read what lie within the pages of their books. It was in my readings that I went to extremes. I read Jackie Collins and V.C. Andrews; these were books that would have shocked those still on the inside. I found myself visiting worlds I’d never imagined, worlds that intrigued and fascinated me. Later it was Eric Jerome Dickey, E. Lynn Harris, and Omar Tyree. I could spend hours in bookstores reading the backs of books or reading news, sports, and entertainment magazines. It was in those hours I found enjoyment, something I was interested in pursuing.
A year attending the Ohio Center of Broadcasting afforded me the opportunity to intern at a local radio station. One of my strengths was writing; my grandma always said I never went anywhere without pen and paper. That holds true still to this day. I could see a listing in the yellow pages and write a sixty second commercial within a matter of minutes. I could read the newspaper and write an entire newscast in no time. My writing assignments seemed effortless.
Here I am ten years later and those strengths still remain. I don’t write as much as I used to unless it’s a journal or homework assignment. Who knows? Maybe these next several weeks will awaken a part of me I thought I’d left behind. I’ll never regret the life I had within the box; it molded and shaped me into the strong, confident woman I am today.