For months since the publication of Shades of Gray I have searched for the principal and assistant principal that had the gumption to push towards creating a dropout prevention program at the NYC high school at which I taught twenty plus years ago. Who knew that one small leap of faith would be enough to not only change the lives of some of my past students, but also alter my own path – and all for the better? I wanted to send them my novel and a big, fat thank you for saving my job that winter when the dropout rate had been so exorbitant that many new teachers lost their jobs mid-year. It wasn’t just the fact that I remained employed, but moreover that, because they saw something in me that I didn’t even know existed yet, I (and two other lucky teachers) co-founded the original ACE program that my book is based on. Without their faith, Shades of Gray wouldn’t have been written, I wouldn’t be going around encouraging further programs for at risk students and I wouldn’t be able to proudly say that some of my old students are remarkable adults with children of their own; some of which actually attend college now.
I hadn’t had any luck finding either of them….until the other night. I walked into a book club prepared to discuss Shades of Gray, as usual. The reviews from the group were positive. I was excited, simply because I love book clubs. They are intimate enough to have lively conversation that generally leads to the real issues, the reason I wrote Shades in the first place. And then the oddest and most wonderful thing happened. In walked Ms. Medina. Ms. Medina, a member of that same book club, was the assistant principal who invited me back to create Martin Luther King, Jr.’s first dropout prevention program. She was the administrator who reprimanded a young and naïve me how to remove a weapon from a student’s possession. She was the supervisor who always had a smile in her eyes and a sure way about definitively overseeing a program that allowed us to use slightly atypical methods to teach and keep our kids coming to school.
I began my usual schpeel and looked out at the women gathered to talk about Shades and there sat Ms. Medina. At the risk of embarrassing her, I had to express how meaningful it was to me that she appeared that night; that in truth, if not for Ms. Medina’s vision and insight for a young(er) and greener me, I wouldn’t today be parading my own visions about; hoping to encourage other untried teachers to not be afraid to put the love into their teaching and push their kids however they have to. Make a difference; I scream daily as I hope to inspire others to take that same leap of faith that sent me on my way…and what a pleasant trip it has been. And it is not yet over. Thank you, Ms. Medina. Thank you.