Charles E. Richardson

What ‘couldn’t’ and ‘wouldn’t’ learned from my mom

Sometimes I think back to my childhood and shake my head in embarrassment. I had no idea what pressures my mother was under to keep a roof over my head and food in my belly. She was always working, no sitting around waiting on a check for her. She came from good, hard working, Arkansas stock, and I wonder why she didn’t knock me into next week more often.

Her work ethic, however, rubbed off on me, quite frankly because if I wanted it — whatever “it” was — I had to work to buy it. There was no allowance coming my way.

As I’ve been thinking about our village, I keep coming back to the one magic bullet that’s a sure cure for all the village’s ills. It is the one thing my mother — sounding like a broken record — never let me forget. If she said it once, she said it 10,000 times: “You’ve got to be 10 times better to get a fair shot.”

Some folks might take offense at that, but in the 1950s and 60s, it was and is, reality. She set a no excuses standard she expected me to meet. She knew I could be 10 times better. She also said, maybe in the same breath, “Could whipped couldn’t ‘til he said he could, and would whipped wouldn’t ‘til he said he would.” It took me a while to understand — I’m hardheaded, just like her. But the key, she always told me, was, and still is, education.

Every time I came home saying I couldn’t do something I’d hear it, “Could whipped couldn’t ‘til he said he could, and would whipped wouldn’t ‘til he said he would.”

She believed I could do anything and she made me believe it too. And I still do.

I didn’t set out to be a newspaper columnist. It was education, pure and simple, that allowed me to walk through a door when it opened. Nothing special. Read. Write. Comprehend. Think. Many lessons learned didn’t occur in school, but many of them did. My teachers had high expectations and it didn’t matter that I lived in the projects.

I believe too many of our children aren’t hearing the primary message that they “can do” because we aren’t saying it loud enough or often enough.

When we’re born, we’re a blank slate. Our environment shapes us. If we’re in an cesspool, we’ll learn from that. If we’re in a nurturing environment, we’ll learn from that. But just because we might grow up in a blighted neighborhood shouldn’t limit access to the education escape hatch. Somebody’s got to fire the magic bullet.

Most likely it will probably be a teacher, but it could be a youth coach or pastor. It could be an uncle or older brother. It could be a Roger Jackson or Ray Rover or a Sam Macfie, a deputy sheriff or a Boy Scout leader. It could be a friend met at a Boys & Girls Club. It could be you.

Every opportunity we get to impact the life of a child we should take it. The people mentioned above are already doing some of the heavy lifting. Roger Jackson’s Motivating Youth Foundation, Ray Rover at Heritage at Houston’s Streets to Success and Sam Macfie’s golf program or Future Farmers of America. All of the successful programs I’ve seen have one thing in common. They believe in children.

Many years ago, Bobby Jones, Ph.D., told a story of one of his teachers who didn’t accept his inability to grasp what she was teaching and wouldn’t — by her sheer will — let him fail. No, she didn’t let him pass. She made him learn. It was her way of exhibiting, “Could whipped couldn’t ‘til he said he could.” It’s hard to believe Bobby’s been gone for 16 years.

So how do we rescue the village? Standardized tests won’t do it. Believing in our children will. We cannot allow our children, no matter where they come from, no matter how no account their parents are, to give up. We have to drum it into them that they can be great.

As a society, we need to take the other burdens off educators so they have the time to continually fire education’s magic bullets.