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Mary Had A Dream…

The year was 1958—only four years after the Supreme Court ruled on the landmark case Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas, unanimously agreeing that segregation in public schools is unconstitutional—and a young 17-year-old African American woman by the name of Mary Tinker ignited her dream: to get a college degree.

Back then, finishing high school was accomplishment enough. African American children did not go to college and get an education, especially women. That’s not the way it worked. However, Mary would hear none of it. “Baby, your father and I want to support your dream,” said her mother, Pauline, “but we can’t afford to send you to college.”

Undaunted, she started working to save enough money to pay for school. Soon after, she met a young man, fell in love and got pregnant. Her dream would have to wait.

One child, two, three and then four…and then, divorce. The brilliance of the flame grew dimmer. After the last child completed his education and she was an empty nester, then maybe, just maybe she could pursue her dream. Next came the grandchildren born to single parents. She couldn’t forsake her blood for her own selfish dream, duty called. Supporting her children and grandchildren for several more years would pass.

Now in her 40’s, the voice of reason grew louder as her dream grew darker…“You can’t do it now Mary…you’re too old…your time has passed…be realistic.” Despite the noise, the flame still flickered.

Then her mother took ill. The Rock of Gibraltar in her family now needed her shoulder and siblings to lean on. She could not forsake her blood, her own mother, for her own selfish dream. Duty called again.

Shortly thereafter, God called her mother home.

In the grief, the dream, though faint, whispered, “Don’t forget me Mary. I never forgot you.” After that the voices returned. “C’mon Mary, now look at you? Your children are grown; you’re too old to get a college degree. That’s for young people. Your time has passed.” Though it all made logical sense, the pull of the dream remained barely alive.

A half century of life on earth came and went. Without a formal education in the field and now working with the mentally challenged, Mary was driven to find a way to assist them in their greatness more so than she was doing. This mission led her in exasperation to share with a colleague, “I want so bad to help these kids, I wish there was something more I could do!”

“How serious are you?” the colleague replied to a startled Mary.

“Very,” Mary responded. “OK, then fill these out.”

“Fill what out?” Mary thought until she looked and it was an application to college. The voice of reason returned, “I’m too old to go to college, I can’t do this now, how would I afford it, my time has passed.” Only this time, the voice of reason was met with the renewing of a flame that never went out. The barely visible flicker of a 52-year-old dream turned into an inferno.

Fifty years later, almost to the day that the flame was lit, it will be extinguished once and for all. Unfortunately, Mary thought she had a dream. What she never realized was that the dream had her. On May 15, 2008, a 67-year-young Mary Tinker graduated with a degree in social sciences from Ivy Tech Community College. I was there.

Never…ever…give up on your dream.


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