This year, my first-year seminar was extended to high school students at Lincoln High School in Yonkers, New York. Southern Vermont College undertook the project in accordance with the wishes of Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Dr. Gates has wanted to see a post-secondary curriculum that emphasized family history, genealogical research, and DNA testing extended to the secondary level. Dr. Gates envisioned such a gesture to be a specific attempt to keep young African American men in high school so that they might graduate and seek a college education.
On May 2, those Lincoln High School students and their teacher joined my students at the Bennington Museum in Bennington, Vermont, for a wonderful afternoon focused on our mutual exhibits about family history, genealogy, and discussions of DNA testing (Please see the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/449904741747486/?fref=ts).
The fifteen young men and two women from Lincoln High School were treated to all that SVC has to offer, including discussions with my twelve students and members of the College about what college life is like. After it was all over, one young man, Jency Ahedo, sent this poem to me, which he read aloud at the museum. I suggest that you read his description of why he wrote what he did after reading the poem. Before you do either of those things, view this clip from Dr. Gates. I submit that we have gone a long way to helping him (and Dr. King, Thurgood Marshall, and others, too) realize his goal.
Oh my great tree so many years yet you’re still growing
The formation of new branches and leaves
The sprouting of different colors yet the branches now dangling
Those lost due to season change you still grow yet I still grieve.
I can’t say thank you for the protection which you provided from the harsh rays of the sun
As morning rises so do problems and hardship
Try to climb on to you when things get rough but how long can I hold that grip?
Constantly worry about the things I left for you to burden
The sun is going down but my days only seem to darken.
Oh my child, why worry?
No matter how deep in the dirt you are buried
You in life shall use that sun to rise
And now to remove your mind from
Those dark lies
As your days are only to be bright
Because all great trees blossom from sunlight.
“The whole reason why I wrote the poem is that before my senior year I have never focused on school the way I should've and heading in to my senior year I felt as if I had no way of making a future for myself due to the fact of my low grades but every time things go wrong for me I always have my family to back me up. I understand that's the whole point of family but as an 18 year old I don't want to depend on everybody, I want to make a name out of myself. I didn't know how but with the support of friends and family I learned that life always has its downsides but that also comes with benefits and the ability to learn and grow stronger as a human and with that I will be able to achieve the things I yearn for.
“For the first stanza I talk about the long history of my family and the leaves In the poem stand for the different people and colors they represent and the branches stand for the relationship that connect us together. The season change symbolizes the years that have gone by and the people I have lost. Yet my family still grows I still grieve for the loved ones I lost. Dangling branches stand for the connection or relationship I feel I am losing with some members of the family as time and distance often destroys it.
“For the second stanza I symbolize the sun with the hard times life can bring up as the new day arises. And every time things get hard for me I look back and see that I never dealt with things head on and always ran to my family for assistance. And even though they will help clear up any problems which I would be dealing with, which I symbolize using the sun going down, my days seem to darken symbolizes how unclear I am of my future and not sure what I'm going to do as I get older.
“The third stanza as a whole symbolizes the wisdom which each member of my family and my family as a whole teach me and uses the family tree talking to me as a symbol. So though ending just means the lesson which my family has taught me in my life. I learned that no matter how deep in a hole you’re in and the more problems you go through life is just a way to make you blossom into a changed person.”