So much of my “schooling” was presented by people whose formal education often did not exceed grammar school. For instance, when my daddy’s father became disabled, my daddy had to leave school to help take care of his family. He had only completed the second grade. **

This month I celebrate two men whose words helped to shape my life.


Him: Good morning James Edward, where ya going?
Me: Good morning Mister Buster, I’m going to school. 
Him: Where ya going after that?
Me: I’m going to clean two yards.
Him: Where ya going after that?
Me: Mister Buster, why are you asking so many questions?
Him: James Edward, come sit wit me for a spell. I recon ya to be about 13 or 14 years old?
Me: Yes sir, 14, but I’ll be 15 next month.
Him: Well son, ya ain’t a little boy no longer. I want to know if you know where ya going, beyond today, what kind of direction ya got for yo-self tomorrow; next week, a few years from now. You old enough now, James Edward, to be thinking about whatcha gonna do when it’s time to leave ya mama and papa, what kind of man ya plan to be, how ya plan to make a living to take care of yo-self and yo family, how ya plan to keep yo-self outta trouble—cause the devil wears many disguises that will lead ya to ruin.

Now son, I ain’t asking ya to predict where you’ll be 20 years from now, cause ya can’t do that. But what I’m trying to tell ya, James Edward, is that, even though you only 14 years old, excuse me, almost 15, the earlier ya know where ya going, the better yo chances of getting there. Furthermore, when ya know where ya going ya don’t confuse other people. That’s important son, cause depending on yo behavior, somebody might be of a mind to help ya get what ya want or where ya wanna go.

Now, on the subject of women. Son, ya old enough now to reproduce yo-self. Be careful now around little girls yo age, and I command ya to always be respectful-ta and around all women. And if ya ever raise yo hand to strike a woman, know that it’s the devil guiding yo fist, and if ya strike her the good Lord autta to strike you. Behave yo-self.

James Edward, start thinking about where ya going in life. Be somebody worth looking at yo-self in the mirror, and worth other folks looking up to ya.

Now go on to school.


At the age of seven I walked along the riverbank with a man who was teaching me how to catch fish. We didn’t catch any fish, but something he said that day caught my attention. For more than a half century his words are framed and sit on my desk:

What you is
is what you think you is,
make yourself
what you wanna be.

His gift instructs that I am who I am by my own appraisal and definition. And, if I don’t like who I am, it is my responsibility to change myself. Thus, never forfeit to another person the right to label my identity or to solely guide my destiny.

 ** When I was in the second grade Daddy let me help him learn to read. Daddy died in 1963—after reading and sending me his copy of War and Peace.

Share with your friends