Wilma Rudolph

As a way of acknowledging Black History Month, I like to do a google search for “prominent black women”, then share photos of them, often women I haven’t heard of,  in my Instagram account and on Facebook, with blurbs about how they made their mark.

I have never been a good reader. I have trouble focusing on the words, keeping the plot straight, and sticking with it. My recall of the topics which usually held zero interest to me was abysmal, and test results in school were horrid as a result. I knew I wasn’t dumb, but couldn’t seem to prove it through testing.

I remember reading Great Expectations and being incapable of getting through any number of pages without falling asleep. I recently wondered if falling asleep night after night in my dad’s arms as he read to me at bedtime when I was a kid resulted in some Pavlovian reaction which caused me to slip into a deep sleep at the sight of words on pages which are bound together.

Even today, I struggle to sit still to read, and much prefer audiobooks when I’m driving (especially considering reading a book while driving is very dangerous).

During my Black History Month search today I came across Wilma Rudolph, which brought me back to high school english class, and a memory I haven’t thought of in a long time. It was senior year when we were asked to read a book of our choosing and present an oral report. I went to the library to find something to read for this English class assignment. For some reason, I chose a biography about her. I had never heard of her before, this record-breaking Olympic runner, and I don’t know what compelled me to choose the book with a photo of a woman running in profile on the cover (I wasn’t really an athlete, so reading a bio about one doesn’t seem like the obvious choice).

But I did choose it and was completely engaged with the contents of the pages. I do not remember details aside from, oddly, the section where she talked about the discomfort of having to run while having her period and how men never had to worry about such things. I’m sure, however, that there were racist experiences that moved me, in addition to learning about her incredible accomplishments despite whatever setbacks she experienced.

I have vivid memory of giving my oral report. I had notes that I had written down, but needed them very little. I eagerly told my classmates all about her life, her challenges, and her triumphs. I remember my (surprised) teacher asking me questions about her, and me being able to answer them with complete confidence, even with some elaboration. The book and it’s heroine had inspired me to the point of being able to retain all sorts of information about her. I learned about her, as opposed to memorizing and regurgitating facts that meant little to me.

I was happy to be reminded of her, and was surprised to find out today that she died in the fall of my senior year in high school. Had the book been published prior to that, I may not have even known she was dead as I made my oral report.

I found a little write-up about her if you want to learn more. CLICK HERE



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