By Markus Williams
Where shall I fly and where shall I be?
Someone planted a tree.
A tree they may never see.
Pieces were all Rickita Perry had; Pieces of a home, pieces of stability and even pieces of her parents. In spite of this beginning she was able to take those pieces and create a whole. For many of her students, she was the entirety of what they had.
Rickita grew up in Louisiana with her mom, dad and younger brother. These were the happiest times of her childhood. But those times would be short lived. When Rickita was 12 her family moved to North Carolina and then her pieces fell to pieces. The arguments between her mother and her father became more frequent and out of control. Her mother would leave for a quick trip to the store and what should have taken minutes would take hours and eventually days, she would leave and just not come back. One day in one of their fits of rage Rickita’s father began to beat her mother with his gun. Rickita thought this was extreme so she ran out the house in search of help but her father called her back in. Upon her return Rickita received the physical wrath of her father. In an effort to escape, Rickita’s mother left her father and moved to Virginia but she would soon welcome him back into the fold and they would pick up right where they left off. In Virginia, Rickita discovered the source of her parents extreme behavior. Both her parents were hooked on crack and marijuana and her father struggled with alcoholism. Having had their wings clipped as children, her parents were now struggling to raise a family with the only tools they knew. They moved from place to place; they were in and out of jail; and her mother turned to the oldest profession in the book to support their habit.
But in the midst of their stormy life, a rose appeared in mid-winter; her mother was pregnant. Rickita hoped that things would get better with the arrival of the new baby, but they did not. Rickita and her brother decided that their new baby brother would not have the same experience that they endured. Rickita was 16 years old when she came home to find the clipped wings and shattered dreams of her parents being snorted and injected. Rickita called the police. She knew that this would be their third strike, so they would go away for a while.
Both her parents were taken to jail and Rickita and her younger brothers began a life of trying to keep the pieces of their family together in a “child headed” household. The two older ones worked, paid the bills, went to school and took care of the baby. She was on survival mode as she tried to keep it together and protect her brothers. She did well in school, as studying became her distractor. Rickita graduated with honors but that was an event that almost did not happen. In her senior year the baby sitter for their younger brother got sick so Rickita and her brother Ricarlo took turns staying home taking care of the youngest Rickeem. She almost failed her classes but a caring teacher saw the sadness in her eyes and took the time to talk to her.
That teacher helped her to graduate and eventually Rickita would graduate from George Mason University and find herself in a classroom teaching students with life situations that presented challenges. At one point in her teaching career she had several students who were considered homeless so Rickita decided that although she could not change their situation she could certainly help make it better. Every morning she brought those students breakfast and would sit and eat with them showing an interest in their lives beyond academics. In the afternoon, those students knew they could come by her room and get a snack to take home. She wanted them to know that they could survive their current situations and make their dreams come true. They could be an inspiration to their parents who were struggling themselves.
Rickita’s background gave her the ability to be compassionate about a group that all too often falls between the cracks. This compassion would put her in a vehicle driving around; looking for students she knew was without a place to live. This compassion would make her effective when working with her GED program that resulted in her students having the highest pass rate in the program.
Currently, Rickita Perry teaches at Eastern High school in a self-contained class with students who have special needs. Her face lights up when she speaks about her students and what they accomplish. She believes that we should accept the baton as it is passed to us moving humanity forward. She believes we should then pass the baton on giving strength to the human symphony. Her family has accepted that baton. Today they are a stronger family enjoying the fruits of love, forgiveness and reconciliation.
We celebrate Rickita Perry and all teachers who chose to teach. In a time when it is popular to reduce the success of a student simply to a test score many teachers welcome the whole child into their classroom, choosing to see the human and not a number. For so many of us we are everything we are because we were loved by a teacher.