In third grade, I did my first book report. It was for my favorite teacher, Mrs. Nagel, so naturally I wanted to read a book about a teacher. After all, both of my folks were teachers- and most of my exposure to positive adult role models had been my teachers. So I trolled the school library for the perfect subject to research. And I found her, starting back at me in a 117 page, 50 cent paperback. The Story of Mary McLeod Bethune, She wanted to read by Ella Kaiser Carruth.

I devoured the book… and proudly handed in a 3×5 index card which summarized the story in my thick blue scrawl. The following year, I had to do a one page report. So, I neatly printed out a longer tribute to the great black educator. In fifth grade, we had to do oral reports. I became Mary McLeod Bethune, affecting a southern accent and teaching my classmates how to read, telling them how I built up my school from six students to an entire university. I showed them how I fearlessly faced the KKK and I explained to them how I worked on FDR’s campaign. Each subsequent year, I’d integrate the Mary McLeod Bethune story into one of my papers, projects, reports, studies. By the time I graduated from high school and had done over ten reports of varying length and depth, I felt like I knew her. And it felt great to spend so much time with such an inspirational woman over the years of my childhood.

I truly believe that Mary McLeod Bethune is one of those few brilliant examples of how someone should lead her life: A visionary who wasn’t afraid to go after her dream and who helped a tremendous amount of people on her journey.