Fall 2015

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Purple Prose
Illustration by Anna Parini

Trust Yourself

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Lisa Braxton ’94 MS of South Weymouth, Mass., a former newspaper and television reporter and anchor, is completing her first novel.

Lisa Braxton recently caught up with Qu'Amere. Find out what he's up to now.

Tell us what you think. E-mail comments or questions to the editors at letters@northwestern.edu.

A broadcast journalist faces a daunting challenge as a volunteer Sunday school teacher — connecting with a first-grader.

"I don’t have a father,” Qu’Amere said. His voice was barely audible. “I don’t know my father at all.”

The other children seated with him at the craft table met his eyes. After an awkward silence, they looked away and returned to their coloring activity. They didn’t know what to say, and neither did I. I was a new Sunday school teacher in the New England city where I had grown up, back after years of working in other parts of the country as a television news reporter. Single and in my mid-30s, I’d come home because the regional cable station offered me the evening news anchor position.

I began attending services at my old church, a thriving institution in a blighted neighborhood. The church was looking for Sunday school teachers. I raised my hand to volunteer and envisioned teaching kids at the junior high or high school level.

I’d done volunteer work with teenagers in the towns I’d moved to in my career; it had helped me to get to know the people and the community I’d be reporting on, and feel that I was making a contribution.

The church put me through a lengthy training program. Afterward, the director of Christian education asked me to take the first-grade class.

I told her I didn’t have any experience with that age group, but she wouldn’t be deterred. “Don’t worry,” she smiled, “you won’t be on your own.”

After the first few classes, in which my voice trembled with nervousness, I began to feel more at ease. It was reassuring to have an assistant — a high school student. But nothing could have prepared me for Qu’Amere, the 6-year-old who’d experienced so much pain in his young life and shared his feelings with his Sunday school classmates.

“You two have a good time,” Qu’Amere’s grandmother shouted after us as I walked him to my car on a bitterly cold Saturday afternoon. I’d gotten her permission to take him to Christmas Village to meet Santa.

As I buckled Qu’Amere into the back seat, I wondered if I was taking on more than I could handle. I struggled to make conversation with him.

By the time I returned him to his grandmother, I was drained. Being an effective communicator was central to my career, but with Qu’Amere, I felt inept. I had wanted to take away his sadness about his father’s absence from his life for one afternoon but felt I had failed. Then his grandmother approached me one day after church.

“My grandson really enjoyed the time he spent with you,” she said. “That’s all he’s been talking about.”

I thought she was sparing my feelings, until the day Qu’Amere stayed after class. “When are we going somewhere again?” he said. “That was a lot of fun.”

Qu’Amere and I became buddies, hanging out a couple of Saturday afternoons a month. I learned that the best way to have a conversation with him was to let him talk when he was ready. He’d tell me jokes that brought me to tears of laughter, say how mean his teachers were and share stories about his yellow Labrador, Cinnamon. His grandmother marveled at how well behaved Qu’Amere was when he was with me. He’d gotten a reputation for being bad. Sometimes I’d get a phone call from his grandmother hours before I was scheduled to pick him up, canceling our plans because he was being punished.

One day Qu’Amere climbed into my car, shoulders slumped. “You’re the only one who understands me,” he said, his voice breaking. I swallowed hard to push down the lump building in my throat; I was beginning to realize how much he valued having me in his life.

When we got in line at the bowling alley, a man recognized me from television and shook my hand. “What’s it like to be on TV?” Qu’Amere asked a little later.

“You can find out for yourself,” I said.

He narrowed his eyes. “How can I do that?”

The cable station had recently launched a pet show. I had Qu’Amere come on with Cinnamon. Days after the show aired, I took him inline skating. As a skater whizzed past, he spun around and shouted, “I’ve seen you on TV!”

“Wow! He recognized me.” Qu’Amere said. He was beaming. I was fairly sure the skater was referring to me but decided not to point that out.

“How does it feel to be a celebrity?” I asked.

He pumped his fists. “I feel like a million bucks.”

I understood. I felt like a million bucks too. I had discovered fulfillment volunteering with children  — made all the richer by a little boy who helped me see that all I had to do was trust myself in order to make a difference.