James Woody: Our Children's Heroes | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

WAMU 88.5 : News

James Woody: Our Children's Heroes

Play associated audio
James Woody is the executive director of Bishop Walker School for Boys in Southeast D.C.
Dana Farrington
James Woody is the executive director of Bishop Walker School for Boys in Southeast D.C.

In 1997 I was profiled in a local newspaper as a "doer," someone who was making a difference in the community. As part of the profile I was asked a rather perfunctory question: "If you could have lunch with anyone in the world, who would it be?" Without hesitation, I answered, "Desmond Tutu."

I could think of no greater transformative figure of the 20th century. His outspoken insistence on equal rights and understanding of the power of forgiveness and cooperation was an inspiration to me.

A personal highlight of my life occurred 10 years later, when I had the privilege of having lunch with Bishop Tutu as part of a group that came together to launch a tuition-free private school for boys in an underserved community in Southeast D.C. in honor of Bishop Tutu's dear friend, Bishop John Walker.

The following year, just after the historic 2008 presidential election, Tutu visited the school and read to our pre-K students from his children's book, "God's Dream." At the conclusion of the book, Bishop Tutu asked our students what they dreamed of becoming. The first student to speak enthusiastically and passionately answered, "Batman."

The floodgates had been opened, and this initial reply was followed by a loud litany of superheroes from the other boys. Somewhat embarrassed, I tried unsuccessfully to steer the conversation in a more serious direction. In a wise and gentle way, Bishop Tutu offered that while there is nothing wrong with wanting to be a superhero, perhaps our boys could consider a more down-to-earth aspiration, like president of the United States.

Having been born at a time when the prospect of an African-American man becoming president was beyond my comprehension, I was suddenly struck by the realization that the recent election, regardless of one's political persuasion, had changed the course of history. I only hoped that our young students would one day appreciate the fact that one of my personal heroes had told them that their dreams could realistically include something that I had for most of my life considered to be unattainable.

A few weeks ago, the same group of boys who had so attentively sat at Bishop Tutu's feet in the winter of 2008 had the opportunity to visit the White House. After touring the East Wing, I couldn't help but wonder if they had any real sense of the significance of the place or its current residents.

Just when I doubted that they did, one of the boys casually, but firmly, announced that he wanted to "live here one day." His nearest classmate, without missing a beat, cried out in the same voice that had once proclaimed his passionate desire to become Batman, "Me too!"

Perhaps Bishop Tutu's earlier words had sunk in after all. At that moment I remembered what I had always known. Our job as adults is to plant seeds. With the right amount of nurture, cultivation and positive examples, we can influence -- or if we're really lucky, become -- our children's heroes.

NPR

Deggans Picks 'Gotham,' 'Black-ish,' 'The Flash' Among Fall TV's Best

As the fall TV season begins this week, NPR TV Critic Eric Deggans gives his picks on new shows to watch and a few to avoid (or hate watch, if you like).
NPR

Syrup Induces Pumpkin-Spiced Fever Dreams

Hugh Merwin, an editor at Grub Street, bought a 63-ounce jug of pumpkin spice syrup and put it in just about everything he ate for four days. As he tells NPR's Scott Simon, it did not go well.
NPR

Hillary Exhilaration Helps Energize Generation Z

Many young people are excited about the 2016 presidential election — and the chance to make history.
WAMU 88.5

Cellphones In Class Are No Problem In One Maryland School District

An Eastern Shore school district is allowing teachers to treat students' cellphones, tables and laptops as a resource rather than a nuisance.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.