Carla Young could have easily been mistaken for an art teacher Wednesday night as she talked to a troop of preteens at an art exhibition at Southern University.
I couldn’t hear her, but her hand gestures and eye contact with the children left me thinking she was explaining brush strokes, patterns and colors to her crew. She moved slowly from artwork to artwork, pointing and talking, her audience hanging on every word.
My job at the exhibition was to take photographs, but I couldn’t ignore Young. Those children seemed so interested.
I was so interested in what I saw that I walked up to Young and asked whether she was an artist or art instructor. I wasn’t close.
She smiled as if I given her a compliment. As it turns out, Young never finished high school. She was a mom at 15 and admittedly, a bit of a wild child.
Judging by our conversation, it appeared that Young has gone through some tough days that she didn’t want to discuss. Yet, there was a strong sense of pride in her voice.
So I asked what brought her to the exhibition.
“Well, I just didn’t have the opportunities to do anything like this when I was their age,” she said pointing to the children. “I didn’t have any structure.” While we talked, the five children stood by quietly as if waiting for her approval to move around the gallery without her.
“But, you know, when you get older, you get wiser,” she said. “I wanted my children to see the things I should have seen.”
Only two of the children — an 11-year-old girl and a 7-year-old boy — were Young’s. “I told my daughter’s friends they needed to come to this, too, she said.”
Over the years, Young said, she made it point to take her children to art and music presentations, especially African-American art, adding that she doesn’t want her children “too feel out of place in places like this. They need to be exposed to so many different things like art and music and people like this.”
I asked her daughter what school she attended and she gave only part of the name. “No, tell him the whole name of your school,” Young said to her daughter, who quickly responded with the complete name. Her son got the message and instantly blurted out the whole name of his school.
Young said she is also trying to show her children that they should not be overwhelmed by bad situations in life, like she was as a child.
“I want them to understand that you can take a negative and find a way to make something positive out of it,” she said.
Okay, I admit it; I was awestruck by her attitude and outlook.
Young is 35 years old and has four other children. The oldest is 20 and the youngest is 2 years old.
She is proud when she describes how she volunteers at her children’s schools. “I try to tell the kids that when they are finished with their lessons they need to get a book and read,” she said.
Young has her own education issues, saying she wants to get her GED. But, other issues, along with rearing her children and volunteering, eat up a lot of free time.
“One day I’ll get it. And then look out, I’ll be going to law school,” she said with a smile.
I’m pulling for her.
Ed Pratt is a former Advocate editor. He is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.