PHD to Ph.D.: How Education Saved My Life
NEW CITY COMMUNITY PRESS/PARLOR PRESS, 2013
by VERSHAWN YOUNG on JULY 11, 2013
Elaine Richardson recounts the Jamaican mother wit that her “mama dished out…in artless artful sayings” but that Richardson “tried to desperately dismiss” in her new literacy narrative. Yet, it is those sayings that undergird Richardson’s theorizing about African American and Jamaican identity, education, gender, literacy, and sexuality in her compelling autobiography.
Exemplifying her mother’s West Indian saying about “ ’Shame chree dead’ (shame tree is the spirit of self-worth inside you. Shame chree dead is said when that spirit is broken)” (2), Richardson paints vivid, emotional word pictures about the ways that her home values collided with and ultimately helped her overcome a life as a street worker, drug abuser, and petty thief in the streets of Cleveland, Ohio.
But what’s perhaps most stirring about Richardson’s story is that she never wanted to live nor tell any lies; so after obtaining her PhD and taking her first academic post she walks into the office of her supervisor and reports:
“ ‘Terry, I’m a former prostitute and I used to be on drugs,’ I blurted out to my new boss who was the director of Academic Affairs. I am who I am. I never wanted to put on airs and make myself out to be someone who I wasn’t. I’m a girl from down the way, an ex-junkie, ex-ho, a baby mama, and I’m still just as good as anybody else on this planet” (239).
Totally unphazed, he smiled and said, ‘well, shit, welcome to Minnesota. Half the population is in recovery’” (239).
While Richardson isn’t advocating a mass confessional of the demons stored in the closets of academics, her truth telling and soul-baring are done for the betterment of others, of other girls who may be “caught up.” It is also what makes her book a marvelous achievement and a must read for all interested in education, literacy, and the life of African American girls and women.