Meet Marie B. Hill. She has done the unthinkable…
*Over the weekend, I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, when I happened upon a post that stunned me. The surprising headline was rare and certain to change your mind about what an elderly person is capable of doing.
A lifelong native of Suffolk, Virginia, Marie Hill grew up in Hobson Village, a town that dates back before the 1840’s. Preserved by the Black farmers and watermen that founded this small community, Ms. Hill bore witness to her neighbors working together to build a central water supply system and other infrastructure when the city refused to help. As one of nine children, she dropped out of school in the 7th grade to marry, but the lack of education never dwindled her light in the community and its fight against racial injustice. During the Civil Rights movement, Hill and her husband Ernest (who died in 1999), served as a major force in the desegregation of the local school system, and was relentless in integrating Yeates High School’s prom. As the matriarch of her family of nine children and three grandchildren, Ms. Hill strongly emphasized education in their household as the best means to an end. Especially when her’s came to such an abrupt ending 86 years ago.
That all changed in 2012…
Hill set out to change her story. After an encouraging nudge from her daughter and caretaker, Mary Hill, she applied to the local GED program. Her numerous obstacles could have easily overshadowed her goal, since an earlier stroke left her blind in one eye and with a limited use of her right arm. She used a special pair of magnifying eyeglasses to read her coursework. She relied on a faithful team of volunteers consisting of a former principal and teachers to tutor her for sometimes up to 6 hours a day. On testing days, Ms. Hill would travel to the GED prep center where instructors would read her the questions on the test. There were some exams she failed multiple times before receiving a passing score. What took most only one year to complete, took Marie two, yet her determination never wavered.
On June 19th, Marie B. Hill, along with 60 other candidates, became a proud graduate of the 2014 Chesapeake School Division’s GED class. She delivered a speech at the commencement (which was combined with the high school), reciting a poem from memory to an inspired gymnasium full of her family, friends and new fans. After the celebrations, she plans to use her testimony to motivate inmates at the local jail to pursue their education despite their incarceration.
There are a multitude of lessons we can learn from Ms. Hill’s journey, but what impresses me most is there was not one excuse for the unthinkable feat Ms. Hill accomplished. Not one.
Tanya Tatum is the outstpoken host of “The Tatum Talks,” a live Blog Talk Radio show focusing on African-American interests. Check out her best episodes at www.blogtalkradio.com/thetatumtalks. You can also join her for a daily discussion on Facebook and follow her @TheTatumTalks on Twitter.