Today I’ll be in Martinsville, Virginia. It has a major significance for me. It was the first city I visited outside of my hometown of Wilmington, Delaware but it's also the place where I learned a very important lesson.
The high school choir of P.S. DuPont was on a tour when we made our first stop in the hometown of our choir director, Mr. Leander Morris. He had told us stories about growing up in Martinsville. His family was poor but they got by and every one of his siblings had gone to college.
When we got there we sang a concert for what seemed like everyone in the town. In addition to singing in the choir, I sang with a trio of friends; Kathy and Tia who sang first and second soprano to my alto voice. I also sang a solo and often won state competitions with the only song Mr. Morris allowed me to perform.
“Bertice, when you sing “If you Believe” you make everybody cry. He told me in his southern drawl. I wanted to sing something that played on the radio, but the hit song from the broadway show, The Wiz was as close as I was going to get. I had few clothes and only one performance dress. My shoes were well worn but Mr. Morris was right, when I sang no one saw my poverty. Instead, they felt the power of my belief in that song.
“If you believe within your heart you’ll know, that no one can change the path that you must go.
Mr. Morris was an amazing teacher and mentor and was well loved and respected. He had arranged for the choir to stay in the homes of people in the town and everyone was excited to be someplace new.
We performed to an appreciative audience receiving ovations and requests for more. We sang songs ranging from Ave Maria to Go Tell it on the Mountain. Our trio sang and I sang on my own. My friends teased me as I went to the mike mouthing the words to If you Believe. I paid them no mind and was rewarded with another standing ovation.
After the concert, we were tired but happy to be someplace new. Everyone was dropped off at the homes of the families they would be staying with. We were excited to see all of the different suburban houses that seemed brand new and much nicer than what we had come from. Kathy, Tia and I wondered when we would be let off the bus. We waited and watched as each home seemed nicer than the next but when no one else was left on the bus but Mr. Morris and the trio we figured he had saved the best for us.
The driver pulled out of the sub-division and drove into a not so new section of town. We asked Mr. Morris why we didn’t get a new house and he smiled and just said, “Don’t you worry about that.”
We were dropped off at a little house that leaned to the left. An old woman greeted us kindly and showed us to our room. We wondered what we had done wrong. The place was old and hot. There was no air conditioning and behind my bed, there was a hole in the wall. We whispered all night about ghosts and witches moving from to fear to laughter until we finally fell asleep.
The next morning we awoke to the smell of heaven.
We washed (the shower didn’t work) and dressed and went down to the kitchen to find the old woman whose name I (sadly) cannot recall. She had made a breakfast of eggs, grits, bacon and pancakes and she had also fried chicken and fish, made greens and sweet potatoes and had baked the best pound cake I have ever eaten. We ate until we were past full and then she packed a huge bag of food. The woman hugged us and cried. She said that she hadn’t had young folks in the house for a long time. She told us that she was so glad that we had picked her. We were ashamed that we had judged the woman and her house but were grateful that Mr. Morris knew better than we did.
When the bus came for us, it was already full of the rest of the choir. We boarded the bus and everyone laughed and mocked us saying things about the beat up house that looked even more worn in the day light. Everyone talked on and on about the modern conveniences of the houses where they stayed and my little trio just smiled.
When they were all done bragging and making fun of us and we were well on our way, we each pulled out a piece of the delicious pound cake and ate without offering anyone a morsel.
Mr. Morris was grinning from ear to ear because the old woman had given him and entire cake and because he knew what we had learned; that just because something is not new and polished on the outside doesn’t mean it isn’t wonderful and unforgettable on the inside.
Since that first trip with the choir, I’ve traveled all over the world but I will always remember the lesson of Martinsville. There I learned to believe in myself, my abilities and talents and I learned that great things and people come from humble places.
· Today, reflect on your travels.
· See the lessons that have brought you where you are.
· Open your heart and home to a young person and share what you have learned.
Be you, be well, Believe
Bertice Berry, PhD.