As a child, I wasn’t taught the importance of an education, let alone how to use an adjective. I lived in the projects, and it smelled of despair. The only way out was by playing professional ball or hustling.
We never talked about school as the ticket to a future. School, for me, wasn’t about classwork. I was given 25 cents and a free lunch ticket five times a week. My mama signed on the dotted line to make sure I got the lunch as I needed it. I was in classrooms, but I wasn’t there to learn how to write or read or even speak. Being unable to verbally formulate what it was I was feeling inside kept me angry. I was in a classroom full of — for the most part — mentally challenged students. But I wasn’t better than them. Teachers handed out worksheets I couldn’t comprehend. When it came time for me to read, I wanted to hide; I was ready to vomit almost all the time. I cried constantly — not literally; my tears fell inside me. I was 13 years old, but I already hated being who I was.
I had an English teacher, Mr. Creech, who was part of my nightmare. He knew. Heknew I was assigned to only two regular classes a day and that the one class I attended the majority of the day was full of mentally challenged students. He knew I couldn’t read. And he found it necessary to expose my secret. He would turn to me: “Anthony,” he’d say, “why don’t you read the next paragraph?” I didn’t even know what a paragraph was. I would try to read what was in front of me. Valiantly. But the mere sound of my voice incited instantaneous laughter.
It was a lack of craving for an education.
For years I dwelled inside the walls of my inadequacies, attempting to dismantle them brick by brick. Knowing my own failure, though, made me reluctant to fix it; I hated the thought of reading because I knew I couldn’t do it. It was a cycle I couldn’t break out of. How did this happen? It was the school and the teachers who didn’t encourage me, but it was also my parents who never told me to focus on my education, and it was me for giving up.
I was 41 years old when I flew back to Texas to visit friends and family. On my way from the airport, my best friend suggested we have a drink at a nearby bar. As my friend and I sat at the bar, I saw someone across the smoke-filled room. It was Mr. Creech, leaning over to buy himself a drink. I rushed over and reached into my pocket to pay for him. “Do I know you?” he asked. “Yes, sir, you do know me,” I answered. “My name is Anthony Hamilton, and I was in your fourth-period class.”The look on his face told me that he remembered the boy he’d once shamed. “I’m so glad I had a chance to see you,” I said. “And Mr. Creech, I have great news to share.” I told him. I had learned to read. But that wasn’t all. I had become a published author and a motivational speaker. I told him I wanted him to do me a favor. He asked what it was. “The next time you get another Anthony Hamilton in your classroom, please teach him how to read.”
The experts say that what once disabled me has a name: dyslexia. I can tell you it was something else as well. It was a lack of craving for an education. That’s far from my life today. My belly now hungers for the verbs and the adjectives, the synonyms and the paragraphs. I write to be the author of my life and for Faith in another sort of Author of my life. If it were not for my Father in Heaven, I would possess no expression. And I write to give back. I write because of the boy in the community college classroom here in Hayward, California, who read my book, for the teacher who put my book on the syllabus and for the people who have read me and tell me, humbling me, that they found some kind of meaning in what I have put down in words.
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Anthony Hamilton is a writer who lives in Hayward, California. He is the author of several books, including The Autobiography of Strong Child and Shattered Lives.