Dear Mr. Walls,
The last time I saw you was on Senior Night of my niece’s basketball season just before COVID shut the world down. You were the same joy filled guy I’ve always known you to be. It’s always a joy to run into you when I’m in town and to see your updates on campus happenings on social media.
You were my first and only Black teacher. You taught AP American History, but my counselor wouldn’t allow me to take that course. I remember the day that you helped me advocate to be moved from my assigned history class into your college prep American history class. I had reached my limit with a teacher who had assigned us a coloring assignment and was frustrated beyond belief at the system. You offered me an opportunity to channel that frustration into something productive. I wouldn’t get the opportunity for AP credit, but you created the space within your college prep American history course for me to tackle the same content that students in the AP course were tackling.
There are many impactful things that you did for me, my siblings, and now my nieces and nephews as they move through the halls of my alma mater, but I want to thank you for something specific as we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week. You went above and beyond to truly see me in ways that other folks could not. One of the first papers that I wrote after transferring into your class included as a piece of evidence the story of the first time I was called the N-word.
I don’t remember the assigned topic of the paper now, maybe it was the Civil Rights Movement, maybe it was about the legacy of slavery. In any event, you returned that paper with all the “teacher-y things”: a grade, some spelling corrections (I struggle to this day with spelling, thank goodness for spell check)… and you also included the story of when you were first called the N-word. I kept that paper and the interactive journal from your class with me through college and into my years as a classroom teacher. I am so grateful for that partial year in your American history class. Thank you for being a part of my journey in big ways and small ways as a high school student and to this day.
With love and gratitude,