#MyBlackHistory: Veunita’s Coats of Many Colors: Remembering the Detroit Teacher Who Changed My Mother’s Life

1965.

It was a rough year for one young lady.

Her mom had passed away two years before. She and her siblings were sent to different foster homes. She now lived with her second foster family.

Every day she came to school in a little windbreaker no matter how cold it was. It was all she had. She washed her few outfits every other day and made sure she pressed them well.

Walking down the hall one day her sewing teacher called out to her, “Veunita, come to my class first thing tomorrow morning, understand? First thing!”

Veunita just knew it had to be bad news. After all, she was often distracted in class, staring out the window thinking about her life. The next morning as Veunita knocked on the teacher’s door, worry filled her belly.

“I have noticed that every day you come to school with that little jacket on,” her teacher said. “I don’t know what your situation is but I brought these for you. It’s our secret, just make sure you take care of them.”

The teacher unzipped a garment bag exposing two of the most beautiful full-length winter coats. One was tweed with double-breasted buttons and a belt that tied at the waist.

“I know they are a bit too big for you but you can always tighten the belt or move the buttons over,” the teacher said.

Veunita did not know what to do. For the first time in a few years she felt that someone cared. Someone was paying attention to her and wanted to help.

She took the coats home and begin to tailor them to fit her. A few nips and tucks here and there and no one knew they were once four sizes too big.

She wore those coats every day. Kept them pressed and neat. The teacher never said another word about it. Just smiled every time she saw her.

That foster child found favor in a teacher at Northern High School on Detroit’s storied Woodward Avenue that day. The school became Veunita’s home away from hell. The staff at Northern exposed the students to every extracurricular activity possible.

It was Motown’s heyday, and music filled the hallways. There were talent shows where you might just be chosen as the next big thing. The year book was like black-and-white stills from the movie “Greased Lightnin,’” only with Black kids playing the roles.

We often think of heroes during Black History Month. The ones everyone knows about. The educators who made great strides to assure we have a right to good schools. Rarely do we hear about those teachers who carried the torch and left ever-lasting marks on our parents.

My mom, Veunita, would tell us the story of that teacher often. I wish I could remember her name. I don’t know if she ever knew how much those two coats changed my mom’s life. How many years she would go on to tell the story over and over, even to her grandchildren, of the lady who kept her warm when she thought no one knew or cared.

Educators are a saving grace to students and sometimes their only hope for humanity.

What story do you want your students to tell about you 50 years from now?

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

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