Saturday, April 5, 2008

Courage: Alferd Williams Lives a Dream

"A Rainbow, bursting though....", originally uploaded by Right Eye.

Alferd Williams kept his word.

At the age of 70, he's fulfilling a promise that he made to his mother years ago: He is learning to read.

There's more to the soundbites about the humble man who sits in classroom of first graders on a stool that is meant for someone a quarter of his size. Alferd has faced unusual circumstances, the kind that would make most people shy away from such an idea.

But he's not like most people. He seems neither concerned with what people think, nor interested in the fame and recognition he's received. He's simply focused on fulfilling a promise, motivated by a deep, lifelong need within to learn and grow. So when Alferd saw that the possibility to realize his dream was within reach, he pursued it.

Still, it wasn't easy. Alferd had to overcome obstacles that mounted over the years. After Alferd's father died, his mother needed him to work in the fields of their family farm, harvesting cotton, in order to help feed his eleven siblings. He had to forego a formal education, but always wanted to learn to read. Over the years, there had been other times when Alferd reached out for someone to help him, but he was unsuccessful. He needed someone who wouldn't make him feel stupid, foolish or inferior.

As he kept walking to and from school with the children in his care, Alferd noticed how their teacher spoke to them. He wondered whether she would be willing to teach him. But the history of failure and confronting obstacles had taken their toll.

It took a long period of observation before he got the courage to seek her out. "In two years, I never heard her treat a kid bad,” Williams said. “I thought, ‘This is a person who could teach me to read.”

When Alferd finally asked, he didn't receive an immediate "yes". But the very next day, she agreed. By volunteering in a first grade classroom, Alferd has become a servant-leader, teaching the children lessons as he learns with them.

The kids show enthusiasm and gratitude that Alferd is with them. The teacher says he's a role model, whose presence is an inspiration. She notes that he "has a never ending smile", adding, “Alferd has totally changed the way I think about teaching school.”

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