The solace of the library


When I was in eighth grade, I was forced to attend a public school that had a bad reputation. It didn’t help that it looked like a massive factory. This was one of the most challenging years of my schooling career. Up to that point, my mother had struggled to keep my sister and I in private schools because of her poor experiences with public schools growing up. She wanted a better education for us and sacrificed a lot to give us one. Unfortunately, for that year, she simply didn’t have the finances to keep us in private school.

I entered a world that I didn’t know how to survive in, let alone thrive. Bullying reached a peak unlike anything I had ever before experienced, like they could sense fresh blood in the water. I distinctly remember running home some afternoons through the projects that were next to the school because kids would start chasing me. I hadn’t learned yet to take the long way around to avoid them.

Things were rough, but one day I discovered that the school had a library. The librarian was an older white guy who smoked in the back with the window open. He was my savior that year. When I came into the library, the kids wouldn’t follow me, it was a bit of solace in an otherwise chaotic environment. I discovered that if I simply kept my head down during class and quickly finished my assignments, my teachers would allow me to go to the library. I did this in every class where I had the opportunity.

The librarian and I became good friends. I would sit in the back with him and we’d talk. He’d tell me about how things were going for the day and he introduced several books to me that I hadn’t heard of before. Classics like the hobbit. I was already an avid reader by that age, and that environment allowed my love of books to flourish. I eventually started helping with library tasks like putting books back and keeping things organized. For me, the work didn’t bother me, the library was my haven. I would do anything to keep it.

At the end of that school year, during the graduation ceremony, that librarian got up on stage and awarded me the librarian assistant of the year award. He gave me a massive dictionary and called me up on stage to receive the award in front of all the kids who bullied me throughout the year. It was a moment that made me smile, the first award I had ever received in my academic career.

I tell this story now because I realize that it’s people like that librarian who helped me get to where I am today. He helped me get through a rough time and was a friend when I needed it. I don’t know if he’s still alive today, but I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. You gave a young black boy hope in a world that wanted nothing more than to crush him.

This past week has been a rough one for me. On top of all of the normal stresses of fatherhood and life, I lost my grandmother last Friday. This has caused me to reflect on all of the people who have influenced me in one way or another in my life.