I wrote this essay in 2008 for Julia’s school’s (Georgetown Day School) magazine, Georgetown Days.
“A child is born with a heart of gold. The way of the world makes his heart grow cold.”
As a teenager, this notion from the seventies super group Earth, Wind & Fire brought so much of the world around me into perspective. Hearing those words sung answered a visceral need to understand how and why horrible things happened. It told me how young people my age could steal, shoot and kill. It accounted for the resentment and the slow burn I felt in my community. I associated it always as a way to understand the negative things in life. Thirty years after I first heard those words, my daughter Julia Blount, taught me differently.
As a sophomore at Georgetown Day School, Julia was busy fulfilling her community service commitments as a participant in the Monday Night Tutoring program. She, along with many other GDS students, acted as reading tutors and role models to kids from inner city DC public schools. Julia had been tutoring the same young man, less than a year her junior, for a year and a half when it happened. It was closing in on Martin Luther King Day and she was working with her student. As they worked and discussed the significance of the day, it became increasingly clear to Julia that much that should be was not. For instance, her student had heard of Martin Luther King, Jr., but he had never heard of The March on Washington. He had never heard the I Have a Dream speech. Julia was stunned. So she took him to a computer, called up the speech and played it for him. The look on his face saddened her. It told her that he hadn’t been aware that black people could be capable of such deeds.
He had been a child and the way of the world had left him ignorant, even about himself. But Julia would not accept the fact that ignorance would cause his heart to grow cold and she promised herself that she would not be a part of The Way of the World as I saw it. Julia intervened. In her mind, the song lyrics wouldn’t just be an explanation of the root of so much frustration. To Julia, the words would also serve as a wake-up call. A sort of this is how the future will be unless we choose to change the present. She identified two areas of concern – reading and civics. She began to plan a strategy to bring the two together.
At the end of her sophomore year, Julia visited GDS Community Service Director, Elsa Newmyer. She asked for permission to create a curriculum within the Monday Night Tutoring program that would create more interest in reading and serve as a vehicle to help students understand their civil rights, their constitution, and their place within our democracy. Elsa gave her the green light.
By now, her mom and I knew what was in the works and we watched from afar as Julia became more and more passionate about her challenge. She took a summer job at Tree Top Kids where she sold books and she began collecting suitable works to compliment her curriculum. She paid for them with her own money. We passed her room on warm summer nights when she would have otherwise been out and about, only to find her hard at work at her computer like it was a school night. By summer’s end she had a plan.
At the dinner table, where lots of things are revealed, Julia explained her plan to her mother, her brother and me. She said that most of the reading they had been doing didn’t reflect the environment of the kids who were being tutored. She had her book list to help fix that problem. She’d also come up with a twenty-one-lesson civics guide. It consisted of moderate sized explanatory paragraphs and questions to answer that shored up the lessons learned. Elsa Newmyer would later tell us that Julia’s guidebook had become “the backbone of our program.”
Julia had one more need. More help. So, as student head of Monday Night Tutoring, she recruited the largest number of GDS students ever to help her implement her new program. It was a successful junior year.
However, it would not stop there. Over the summer, even on vacation in Maine, Julia could be found holed up in a quiet space working on curriculum revisions for the upcoming school year. This time, though, she would have help. We would meet her co-heads, Zach Groff and Lilly Jay. An old family friend, Nicole Ross, appeared on the scene. There was a long meeting around our dining room table. Phone calls, email and attachments were exchanged. By the beginning of Julia’s senior year, something very special had been accomplished.
I didn’t see how she could have done it much better than the previous summer, but with her friends at her side, she did. They created what is, in my estimation, a full-fledged textbook for Monday Night Tutoring. A bound and printed curriculum entitled Kids in United States History…Kids in Current Events. Full of maps, charts, diagrams, photos and text, it covers our nation’s beginning and takes on modern day controversies like the battle over school prayer. It puts the reader on the ground in the aftermath of Katrina and in the troubled land of Darfur. There are first person histories as told to Julia, Zach, Lilly and Nicole. They help to personalize history and to provide more dramatic reading material. When I hold it in my hands, I recognize the fruition of an incredibly significant undertaking. An undertaking that they performed twice, writing it at two different reading levels in order to service a wider range of students.
To say that we are proud of Julia just doesn’t quite do it. It is simply one of those situations in which words are not enough. For us, it has been a bit like watching from the stands as she plays volleyball. We let her know that we were there and we cheered her on, but we knew that being a part of executing the game plan was her mission alone. And she and her teammates served up nothing but aces. In the process, she taught me a lesson.
Julia reminded me that The Way of the World did not have to be a fait accompli. She reminded me that we could alter our paths and make things better for ourselves and everyone around us if we only cared enough to try. She stepped outside the box and displayed an amazing concern for her fellow man, which in turn, reminded me that there was more to that song I had heard so long ago. I looked up a complete copy of the song lyrics, which included these words in the final stanza…
“That’s the Way of the World. Plant your flower and you grow a pearl.”