“On Saturday, February 18, 2012, the Frederick Douglass Foundation of New York presented the first Spirit of Freedom award to Jada Williams, a 13-year old city of Rochester student. Miss Williams wrote an essay on her impressions of Frederick Douglass’ first autobiography the Narrative of the Life. This was part of an essay contest, but her essay was never entered. It offended her teachers so much that, after harassment from teachers and school administrators at School #3, Miss Williams was forced to leave the school.
We at the Frederick Douglass Foundation honored her because her essay actually demonstrates that she understood the autobiography, even though it might seem a bit esoteric to most 13-year olds. In her essay, she quotes part of the scene where Douglass’ slave master catches his wife teaching then slave Frederick to read. During a speech about how he would be useless as a slave if he were able to read, Mr. Auld, the slave master, castigated his wife.
Miss Williams quoted Douglass quoting Mr. Auld: “If you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there will be no keeping him. It will forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master.”
Miss Williams personalized this to her own situation. She reflected on how the “white teachers” do not have enough control of the classroom to successfully teach the minority students in Rochester. While she herself is more literate than most, due to her own perseverance and diligence, she sees the fact that so many of the other “so-called ‘unteachable’” students aren’t learning to read as a form of modern-day slavery. Their illiteracy holds them back in society.
Her call to action was then in her summary: “A grand price was paid in order for us to be where we are today; but in my mind we should be a lot further, so again I encourage the white teachers to instruct and I encourage my people to not just be a student, but become a learner.”
This offended her English teacher so much…”