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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Valentine

Team Work Makes the Dream Work

If you want to be incrementally better: Be competitive. If you want to be exponentially better: Be cooperative. ~Unknown

On this pivotal Election Day, I thought it would be wise to write about bridges. This may seem strange, but give me just a few minutes. After everything is said, done and counted, we still need to work together. One of the advantages we had when we had a large majority of veterans in the Congress is that they understood the importance of playing for the team - putting their differences aside to work for the common good. In our current environment, we just want to get our way without the benefit of compromise. In compromise, everyone gives up something for the common good.

One of the wonderful things I could see from my childhood window was two beautiful bridges that connect Harlem to the Bronx. The symbolism of connecting two destinations reminds me of the need to cooperate. Every time I see a bridge I remember the need to reach out past where I am comfortable. The most wonderful things happen when people cooperate.

I had the privilege to attend a private elementary school up to grade 6. Mildred Johnson was the founder and principal. She was related to James Weldon Johnson, one of the writers of the anthem Lift Every Voice and Sing. You know from that fact that we learned extraordinary things at The Modern School. All of the teachers and office staff were professionals and were teaching because it was their responsibility to empower this generation with the knowledge and motivation to be successful. My favorite teacher was my 6th grade teacher Mrs. Williams. She was the wife of a doctor. Harlem had a large population of educated professional people. Mrs. Williams was definitely one of them. She dressed elegantly every day. Some days she wore her pearls and she always had great classroom command. Not only did we learn our subjects, but we learned to enjoy choral music and drama. Each year the entire school put on a production. One year I had a role that required me to cry. When Mrs. Williams said to cry, you cried!

Our teachers would even check our fingernails to make sure we had properly groomed ourselves before coming to school. It was just that serious. Mrs. Williams really stretched us. Her main focus was to give us a thorough understanding of history and our responsibility in it. She was very clear to explain that important historical fetes from the Underground Railroad, Civil Rights, the Voting Rights act and the light bulb were all effective because of the collaboration between black and white people. This was so tremendously empowering. When I got to an environment where people weren’t as informed about these accomplishments, I knew it was due to Mrs. Williams’ sage instruction. She even had a representative from the New York Times come to teach us how to read and fold the paper on the train. He taught us that the most important news was printed on the first and last column. This made it easy for you to fold the paper while riding on the train without disturbing other riders. Mrs. Williams told us that she hoped to be able to read about one of her students in the Times someday. This is still one of my personal pursuits.

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I carry her urging for cooperation with me today, always looking for ways to bridge the divide among people. My sons have been taught to evaluate people based on their merit – not their skin color, affiliations or family. We have found wonderful friends that look or have different experiences from us. This is a great opportunity to learn. So on this very important day, let’s remember the words that frame our nation – One Nation, Under God, Indivisible!

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