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Giving Back with Gratitude

I have always been thankful my life for the simplest things. I love just the ability to breathe. That might sound funny, but it is important to me that I am thankful and give gratitude for the small things in my life. Even though they may seem small I’m quite sure you will agree with me that breathing is huge.

So, one day I awoke and started to think about my life and what I wanted from it. Like everyone, I wanted to be happy and have a prosperous life and not just monetarily. I wanted to be happy internally and I realized that I wanted to give back what I had received from the universe. I wanted to give back the love and wisdom I had and continue to receive from so many people I have met over the years. I wanted to give back because that is what I saw my mother do. I wanted to give back because from my vantage point, there were and are so many people who need a helping hand in so many ways.

But sometimes the opportunity to give back is presented to you in such a way that through giving back you are blessed in more ways than you can ever think of. One such event has happened to me and has expanded not only my thinking but also my humanity. That opportunity came about I now realized because of the groundwork that was laid over 30 years ago.

Dedra Patrick and I were classmates in St. Matthews, South Carolina and had gone our separate ways once we finished high school. She went on to get her PhD and became an extremely successful teacher. I played basketball, travelled to different countries around the world and after a while, I settled in Woking, England, which is about 30 minutes from London by train. I like Dedra, also went on to become a teacher, where I worked in a variety of schools in the UK, working with students and staff to digitise their curriculum. I also teach computer studies, or ICT as it is called in England, but the digitisation of content and the ability to have students, teachers and parents’ access their children’s curriculum is one of my passions.

Every summer, I go back to St, South Carolina to re-Americanise this particular summer, and myself I happen to see Dedra. I have always been very interested in her career and I have always viewed her as an extremely bright, articulate individual, even as a kid, so the opportunity to talk with her and even just exchange pleasantries was rewarding. Besides, she was my classmate and during the years we had shared many laughs together.

Our conversation, however, took on a different tone this summer and one that made me sort of re-evaluate how I was going to give back to the world. So as life would have it, I went back to England and Dedra back to her life in South Carolina. However, my life was about to change forever just from the conversation we had.

That year I decided one of the ways I was going to give back was that I was going to write a book.  My mother had been telling me for years that I should do so, but you know how life just happens and you just ride with it.

I thought that I would write a book based on my life that would tell stories about events which occurred in my life, which I thought, would genuinely help other people. So, one Sunday morning during a 4-mile walk, I began to think about what I was going to put in a book. Then, all of a sudden these thoughts just started coming to me. Thoughts such as, whom did I think I was that I was going to write and book and to be honest who would care? It is amazing how if you let it, your mind will talk you out of doing anything. But for some reason today, I said, “mind, I am not having it”. And then suddenly, like a raging river, all this content that I could write about, just started coming to me. I mean talking about data overload. I quicken my pace back home and begun to write. Seven months later I had the book that my mother told me I should write.

I then shared this book on Amazon and begun to use social media to advertise the book. This is when Dedra and divine intervention decided to step back in. Dedra brought the book and begun to use the book in February 2018 as part of her Black History month program in her school. I was just completely blown away by the idea that my life could possibly help someone else hopefully live a better life. We then had a discussion via Google Hangouts and Microsoft Messenger and we decided that it would be great if I would mentor her students from afar. So, we put a plan into action where I would first meet the students via videoconference and they would ask me questions about the book and being an author. So, we had our first video session in February and amazing does not even begin to express how proud of these children I was.

For me personally, giving back never felt so good but being able to just see and listen to the elegant way that they asked the questions and how polite they were which made me so proud of them. There are 25 students in her class and when I spoke to them via videoconference I noticed two things straight away. Number one was how polite they were and number two just how great they looked. You see on certain days of the week, the students dress up with ties, button-up shirts, and dresses or pantsuits. This was amazing. Just to see these students who were between the ages of 9 and 10 and experience their classroom setting, took me all the way back to when I was that age in class.

All of this took me back to my parents and them caring but two names kept ringing in my ears. Coach Oscar Dayson and Kenneth Creekmore. You see those were the two men who took the time to mentor me while I was growing up. Those were the men who made sure that during the afternoons and nights that I had a positive and safe environment to thrive in. Coach Dayson did this by opening the basketball gym during the afternoons and nights while Mr Creekmore made sure he took me through my paces during band practice. I played the saxophone. So, all that I do now is to constantly try to pay back what I was given. It has become and is my life’s work.

OK back to the story.

I was so blown away by these students that I decided that I was going to find a way to reward them for reading. So Mrs Patrick and I decided that it would be great if I could give away prizes for the students who showed the most promise with reading. But then we thought, how can I ask them to read if they have never seen me or heard me read. So Mrs Patrick and I thought it would be a fantastic idea if we did another videoconference session where I would read to the students. Talk about pressure. Lol, lol, lol

Well, the day came that I had the opportunity to read to the students. I can tell you I think I was more nervous than they were. Nervous because of the responsibility I felt to make sure that the students understood how important they are human beings, nervous because what they didn’t understand was that I was so pleased that they gave me the opportunity to give back to the world in ways that I had never done before. Nervous because I had to make sure that both Mr Dayson and Mr Creekmore would be proud of me. I was nervous also because from my experience as a teacher, I believe we have a problem in our society I think when it comes to young children reading especially young boys, so it was very important to me that I showed them that reading should be an extension of them. Something that they do everyday of their lives, something that was natural, something that could take them to places where at the moment it is impossible for them to travel.

During my conversation with the student, the first thing I noticed was that they were not only prepared but they were dressed immaculately. After a few pleasantries, I read chapter 13, the Pig chapter. After I finished reading, the students were prepared and ask me questions about the chapter. Phew! The questions were tough and personal. For instance, one of the questions was, “What would your grandparents think of you now?” At that moment, I was stopped dead in my tracks and I had to compose myself because I never thought of that before. Tears flowed from my eyes but I managed to keep it together. What would my grandparents think of me now? That is a question and feeling I will take with me the rest of my life.

I made another decision that day, the decision that regardless of where I go in the world, those children would travel with me. So everywhere I go, I record videos so they can come along. I make sure that I have a motivational message in the videos to help hopefully inspire them. It is not so much that they think that it is nice where I am at but that they think that if I stay in school maybe one day I can travel there also. I was recently in Dubai and created this presentation for them. Please click here to view the presentation.

My job now is trying to find a way to help at least five of those students and Mrs Patrick to England. I need to get those children here because they need to understand that there is bigger world than the one they live in now. I need to get them here because they should understand that with just a little ambition and hard work that they can become whatever they want to be. It is a big task to get flights, hotel room and extra spending money for them to visit places but it is something that is on my heart because I really believe it is the right thing to do.

I need to bring them here because it is what Mr Dayson and Mr Creekmore did for me. I have no idea how I am going to get it done but I am going to try. It is just the right thing to do.

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The author

Renaldo Lawrence is an e-learning developer and educator recognized by Adobe, Apple, TechSmith and Microsoft. Renaldo develops and deploys interactive learning resources for staff, faculty, and students as an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Advanced Skills teacher. He also consults and trains across the United States and Europe on how to create and use digital media, web design, and elearning applications in the classroom. Renaldo is an Adobe Education Leader, Apple Distinguished Educator, Microsoft Innovative Educator and Educator Trainer, and an Advanced Skills teacher. He holds his masters in education.

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