Dear Mr. Simon,
I hope you remember me. My name is Greg Gardner, and you were one of my PE teachers at Matilda Hartley Elementary School. I’ve been looking for you and I haven’t really had success finding you on the World Wide Web, but I am hopeful that this letter finds you. I remember moving to Hartley in 1st grade. I’d gone to Bruce Elementary in Kindergarten, but honestly I don’t remember much from my days at Bruce. What I do remember is coming to Hartley and seeing somebody who looked like me, a black male, who cared about all of us and who didn’t let us make excuses. I always appreciated that about you, and my goal at school was to make you proud of me. You kept pushing us, telling stories about your days of growing up barely having enough to make ends meet. There’s a story you told us about hot dog water that I dare not repeat in this post, and we laughed about it then, although it was your truth and the truth that many of us were living at the time. I also remember you encouraging us to get an education to do something great in the world. I never forgot those words. I never forgot how hard you pushed us or how you built relationships to make everyone feel like they could be anything they wanted to be. In 2nd grade, you told me that I was an awesome kid and that I would grow up and do great things. That meant a lot to me, and I believed that with everything I had in my psyche. I remember crying in 3rd grade because kids kept teasing me and telling me I was too bossy. You saw me and told me to wipe my dang face because I WAS bossy and that I would be somebody’s boss one day and that I should be bossy because I needed to be a leader. Yep. You said all of that to my 9-year old self. I must admit that you really had to have some high expectations of me to know that I would understand all of that.
I can remember asking you what “KAY” meant when you wore that red and white hoodie to school. You said, “Oh no, buddy, that’s K-A-Psi. You just remember that when you get older…that’s all I can tell you about that.” You and Ms. Davis laughed about it, and she said, “Guide him right, John.” You said, “I got this one. He’s gonna be good.” 24 years later, and I have my own K-A-Psi hoodie. 24 years later, and I AM somebody’s boss. 24 years later, and I am building relationships with young people, and I now have young guys asking me what “KAY” is because they see the paraphernalia. It’s like it’s happening all over again, and if that’s the case, then something awesome is in the works!
Mr. Simon, you saved my life. I was just a little kid growing up in Bird City (Anthony Homes), and the crazy part is I didn’t even really realize that we were growing up in poverty until I moved out of it. It’s hard to recognize the perils of something when you dwell in it everyday. Growing up in lack was probably the best thing that could’ve happened to me. It caused me to appreciate the people that were around me, and I also think it helped people see the light that was shining within those of us who wanted to grow up and do something great. It caused us to cling to people who exuded the characteristics we wanted to have as adults. It caused us to learn how to think and use our imaginations. It was our key to connecting with others later in life who would travel the same path…a connection that we could use to help them exit the pipeline that can exist for generations and generations.
So today, in front of the world, I want to say thank you. I also want to apologize for the time you tried to send me back to the PE trailer to get those kickballs, and I told you I didn’t feel like it. That was probably the only time you’d ever let me off the hook, but to this day, I know that me saying that let you down as my mentor and as one of the people trying to guide me in the right direction. I guess I also learned that sometimes you let things slide, just to get to the ultimate goal in the end. I don’t have evidence to back this up…it’s all reflection and contemplation.
I remember you leaving us during my 6th grade year. It was like my world changed. I was glad I had Mrs. Colbert and Mrs. Maggie Davis there to still help guide me, but there wasn’t another male in the school building I could go to when I needed help figuring it all out. I learned at a young age that mentoring matters and that seeing a reflection of yourself in your school building was important. Even with the gap in time that’s occurred since I’ve last spoken to you, I have to tell you that there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t thank God for putting you in my life and for showing me what I needed to do to be a great man. You are the teacher that changed my life! I’m blessed to say that I’ve had numerous educators that guided me throughout my life, but the impact you had on me life still continues today. It’s an honor to honor you with this post. I’m not certain that this will ever get to you, but I appreciate you and your genuine concern for making sure I was on the path to success.