Growing up in New Haven, CT during the 1920s my mother had only one dream. She always wanted to be a teacher. She can still remember gathering her four best friends in the back yard to play school. Little Helen was always the teacher. And her dream came true. She was the first member of her family to graduate from college and earn a master’s degree.
For more than 50 years children came to our home in Baton Rouge, LA to take piano lessons from her. And she taught hundreds of college students how to be teachers as a music education professor at Southern University from 1960 to 1995. Yes, my mother lived her childhood dream in the classroom, at her living room piano and as a role model for her three children.
She taught me, my brother and my sister lessons every day. If my mother had a lifeclass on the Oprah Winfrey Network viewers would learn these five lessons:
- HONESTY – Always tell the truth. Helen Morton Gist is brutally honest. She never shies away from telling it like it is.
- FAITH – If you want something bad enough, you can find a way to make it happen.
- PROFESSIONALISM – Keep your professional skills up-to-date.
- CARING – Take care of friends and family (your children, nieces, nephews, cousins). She never forgets them on birthdays, holidays, graduations and always.
- SERVICE – As one of the first Head Start teachers in the state of Louisiana in the 1960s, she is a living example of the importance of community service. In 2006, the Southern University chapter of the Professional Association for Educators gave her a “Service to Education” award for using music as an educational tool to help children displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
My mother is known for being direct, no-nonsense and hard-working. Although her communications style is more like Iyanla Vanzant than Oprah Winfrey, she shares Oprah’s love of education. It’s part of her DNA and mine. Thank you, mom, for always teaching me more than music.
Happy Mother’s Day!