Black Teacher Project

Colorful wax crayons arranged with their tips pointing towards the center of a playful tic-tac-toe game drawn on paper.


By Tyo Gill

When I was a young boy living in Barbados, I enjoyed reading and writing. English was my favorite subject. At the age of four, I read with such fluency and strong comprehension. Reading and writing was and is still a huge deal in the Caribbean. 

One day, I was in the car with my aunt and my cousin heading home from school. It was our custom to read out-loud together every evening so we can become stronger readers. My cousin stumbled over a few words while I read fluently. My aunt, his mother, turned to 4 year old me and asked, “Do you think you can read better than J*****?” … 

Now what kind of answer do you think any 4 year old child would have given? 

Proud and with such confidence, I said, “YES!” 

She responded, “Shut up! You cannot read better than J****! You are not better than J******! You are a NOBODY!” 

I am now 30 years old and I can still remember how I felt at 4 years old. After, she spoke those angry words to me, I stopped talking, reading and writing. The power in her words threw a temporary wedge in my destiny. I returned to school the following day afraid to speak or do anything for weeks because I was called a “NOBODY”. 

My kindergarten teacher noticed the abrupt change in my behavior. I no longer wanted to help. I no longer wanted to raise my hand and participate. She knew something was wrong. 

One afternoon, my teacher kept me in with her for lunch and we ate in silence. Then she said, “I’ll pay you any amount of money you want if you tell me what is wrong.” 

I told her what my aunt said to me. Immediately she took me in her arms and spoke life into me. I remember her words, “Ty, you are going to be an incredible man when you grow up! You are going to excel in everything you do!” 

Her words shattered the spell of doom that hovered over my 4 year old life and in no time, I was back to myself again. I went back to reading and writing bolder than I did before. 

I vowed in my heart that I would be that teacher to many children some day. 

Every child has the potential to excel and do well and they have the right to do it without a broken spirit. 

Even if their brokenness is beyond you, remember broken crayons can still color!” 

About the author: Tyo Gill is a 2nd year 5th Grade General Education Teacher at P.S. 256 Benjamin Banneker Elementary School in New York, New York