A Youtube campaign in August had individuals making videos thanking the teachers in their lives that made a difference. When I saw this, you were the first person I thought of, and though you are no longer here, I wanted to thank you, Ms. Johnson, the only way I know how.
In American Lit at La Salle High School my Junior year, I remember reading Richard Wright’s Native Son as a class, and how you didn’t shy away from explaining the masturbation scene to a classroom of 20+ 16 year-olds. Or how you talked to us like people. You spoke about “impotence of power” with such earnestness I couldn’t giggle, and I had to listen.
As we followed Bigger Thomas around a dark and impoverished Chicago, as we read Wright’s graphic murder scene, you posed a question to us: “What happens to a person who has never seen beauty?”
What happens to a person who isn’t allowed beauty? You asked this, and I have never stopped trying to answer your question, Ms. Johnson.
You taught me other important lessons that I have not forgotten about literature and essay writing, and you were the first person to introduce me to feminist ideas. But it is your question that follows me everyday into the classroom, and it is what I now ask my own students. It is the question I look for every time I open a book; it is what I carried with me in my pack hiking in the Arizona desert; it is what I work for every time I write.
Thank you, Ms. Johnson. You made a difference in my life.