By A. G. Moore 10/19/2012
Barack Obama July 13, 2012: If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.
I feel a little sheepish as I write this piece, because I’m talking about success, about a life I’ve built, but it’s such a modest life that some might not call it successful at all. And yet…there was a time when this place I’m in seemed impossibly out of reach and I despaired of ever reaching it. I am grateful that my journey through life has taken me to a circumstance of physical comfort, and mindful that my progress was abetted through the years by the intervention of individuals, and institutions.
Like many biographical retrospectives, mine begins with the simple truth that I was born poor. As early childhood passed, it appeared that this inferior state would be cemented into the mosaic of my future. The lack of material resources in my home were matched by a paucity of personal resources. School was a wasteland for me. I moved through first and second grade without acquiring academic skills. By the time I entered the third grade, a sad reality was emerging: I was dull.
But fortune smiled on me–and so did my third grade teacher. She believed the test scores which indicated I was a slow learner, but she did not accept these assessments as a final judgment. Under her tutelage, a hidden aptitude was revealed. And all the while I struggled in school, I had a stalwart champion at home, my mother, who never gave up on me.
The years passed, and with them the conviction that I could not learn. But I was still poor, in a suffocating way that only a small, rural community can enforce. There was no transportation, no library, no social stimulation outside that of my family. And around it all a pervasive shame, for in my rural community nothing was private and poverty was disgrace.
Then my family was thrown a lifeline–my mother’s brother brought us to New York City. He helped us find an apartment. The school was good. The neighborhood was safe. A library was nearby, public transportation a couple of blocks away. I learned I was near-sighted and received a free pair of glasses so I could see the blackboard.
In the ninth grade a teacher saw potential but lingering personal issues. She invited me home for dinner. In the twelfth grade a guidance counselor saw ability but no money, so she put together a scholarship package that enabled me to attend a first-rate university. My sister supported me the whole time I attended college, so I could reap the benefit of this gift.
As I stated in my opening paragraph, my life achievements have been modest, but whatever the quality of those achievements, I can never claim them as mine alone. There was my mother, my sister, my teachers, the university, the city that provided transportation, a library, free eyeglasses, safe streets, a stimulating environment. There was my mother’s family and the doctor who told my mother to bring her children in for treatment, no matter her ability to pay.
I cannot cite every person and institution to whom and to which I owe gratitude. What I can say is this: as I did not build my life alone, neither did anyone else. Perhaps there are individuals who were helped less than I was. But unless they were adopted by wolves and reared in the wild, they’ve got someone to thank.
And, come to think of it, even in that case, the wolf might appreciate receiving a heartfelt “thank you!”