Flashback Friday Moment of The Week: 2/19/2021

by Juan Thomas
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As I look upon the landscape of America today and see many people who look like me struggling in day-to-day life, hoping their talent and resourcefulness will lead to better opportunities, I’m reminded of just how blessed I am to be in my position. One of the most impactful quotes in the notebook of quotes I keep (it’s actually a file on my computer these days) is “Life is the sum of all your choices” by Albert Camus. Sometimes, I feel so incredibly fortunate that I’ve made wise choices. Throughout my 20s and 30s, I’ve seen what the impact of bad choices leads to. Heck…I’ve read about what poor choices and unfortunate circumstances have led to in the annals of history. That brings me to this week’s Black History subject in the Flashback Friday series: Phillis Wheatley.

How I first came across this Black History subject? I was first introduced to Phillis Wheatley as a 6th grader at Wilkerson Middle. A year before I landed in Mr. McKinney’s Music Appreciation class, I was in Mrs. Shack’s English 6 class. I remember penning a poem about Christmas and snow in December 1996 and Mrs. Shack—she was Miss Holt at the time as it was before she got married over the Christmas holiday—being impressed. I guess she didn’t forget it as I was assigned Phillis Wheatley for the Black history poster project.

What it meant to me then? My research on Wheatley uncovered a very talented woman. Of course, reading about her poems had me and my father going to 3 different libraries just to get my hands on her book, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. I actually photocopied one of the poems and included it on my poster. I can’t remember which one but I know I definitely had a Phillis Wheatley poem on the poster alongside my write-up and pictures of her. At that time, it was just another Black history project.

What it means to me now? The plights of Phillis Wheatley didn’t come to me until I was a junior at Huffman High. I remember writing a poem that pretty much detailed a 5-year stretch of my life as a project kid trying to escape and get better. My 11th grade English teacher—Mrs. Reynolds-Jemison—was impressed. She mentioned that it reminded her of Phillis Wheatley. Of course, I responded that I was nowhere close to being as talented as the 1st African-American author of published poetry but she countered that the struggle was what she was referring to, not the works specifically. I had to find out more and I did. For as great and groundbreaking as Wheatley was, she died in large part because of poor choices…by her and those around her. Her story is an everyday reminder for me that what I’ve earned in this life and what I still have left to give in this life can be lost in an instant by making poor decisions. This is why I’m so calculated in my choices and why I always seek to play the game of life in black and white as opposed to the different colors.

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