This month we celebrated one of the most remarkable men in United States’ history, in my opinion…Dr. Martin Luther King. Especially at a time when our country has exhibited so much unrest, I continue to be in awe of Dr. King and his peaceful protests and words of wisdom. If you can spare some time, it would be well worth it to watch his “I Have a Dream” speech in its entirety. It can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbUtL_0vAJk . I believe my favorite quote from that speech is
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation
where they will not be judged by the color of their skin,
but by the content of their character.
Martin Luther King, Jr. 28 August 1963
Another memorable quote of Dr. King’s has helped me through the past few weeks and months has been
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
You may only be one person, but one person can have a huge impact on the lives of people around them. From my research it seems Carl W. Buechner should be credited with the words frequently quoted by many "People may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel." The following story justifies support for my belief in this as well.
This is a story about a teacher and a student, but more than that, it’s a story about how one person, in a position of leadership, can change another person’s life. I want to share a tribute to what a student remembers ~ almost 70 years later.
This is the story of Floyd Burt ~ described as a man small in stature but huge in talent. He was a violinist in the forties who had played professionally before starting his teaching career. Instead of teaching music to kids, he taught kids, using music as the medium. He is remembered as never attacking the student, but always attacking the problem, with his orchestra and band playing with the highest percentage of correctness.
Mr. Burt was known for his caring concern for all students, but there was one student in particular who was struggling ~ a 7th grader who detested school at the time they met, named Dave. Dave was the son of a very loving mother, but had an alcoholic, abusive father, and school was the last thing on his mind. He would frequently cut classes that he didn't find appealing, but due to his great interest in music, band and orchestra, he would always show up for rehearsals. This behavior did not endear him to his teachers or the principal and resulted in lots of detention. Since the music organizations were large enough, Mr. Burt didn't really need him and it would not have had any ill effect on the program if this delinquent child had been kicked out. But Mr. Burt never gave up on him.
Mr. Burt believed in Dave and influenced him beyond measure. He continually talked with him about his behavior in a positive way, never "yelling" in attitude or volume. Mr. Burt showed his support by making him the band manager, giving him a feeling of self-worth. Realizing this young student couldn't afford to buy a ticket to the local concert series, Mr. Burt put him in charge of operating the lights for the house and stage which put Dave backstage where he was able to meet many famous performers. Because of Mr. Burt’s caring attention, Dave was able to graduate from high school.
He started working construction ~ making lots of money but hating it. He missed his involvement in music and began to wonder if he could be successful in college. Since his high school record wouldn't support any thinking along that line, he called Mr. Burt to seek his opinion. Without any hesitation, Mr. Burt gave his full support, taking it upon himself to contact the Music Department Chairman at Murray State University and express his belief in this young man. Because of this influence, he was able to go to college, graduate, get married, have a very successful career, and raise 4 children – one of them being me. Dave is my father.
Mr. Burt had requested that there be no funeral or memorial service upon his death, but his legacy lives on in the lives of many people. My father went on to graduate from Murray State with a degree in teaching, and spent the next 37 years sharing his talents at what was at the time Towson State College, and in Harford County as a teacher and a highly respected music supervisor.
My sister, brother, and I are all teachers, and we credit Mr. Burt for seeing something in our father when no one else did. So many times we don't see the effect we have on other people, but many times the differences we make grow at an exponential rate. In this case, Mr. Burt’s actions truly saved my father and shaped generations of a family – I can honestly say that I would likely not be writing this today had it not been for Mr. Burt. Unknowingly, this man changed what could have been a cycle of abuse and alcoholism, disappointment and unrealized capability, and turned it into generations of love, achievement, positivity, and a sense to always give back.
What makes Mr. Burt different from anyone else? Did he have anything special about him? No – what was special about Mr. Burt was that he realized that he was in a position of leadership, and he used it to do good things.
I wrote an article about this story that was published in an issue of “Harford Schools” a few years ago. Shortly after, I was contacted by another teacher in Harford County and in the words of Paul Harvey…this is the REST of the story. The teacher wrote
"I want to tell you that I was moved to tears by your article in the February issue of Harford Schools. Now that I've read about him, I, too, owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Burt. When I was in the fourth grade, I started out playing the trumpet. In fifth grade, I had a band director who humiliated me in front of the entire fifth grade band and told me that I could no longer participate in instrumental music unless I switched to the baritone. I wanted so much to play in band that I made the switch. The following year, when I was in the sixth grade, a brand new school, Riverside Elementary, opened, and that was where I would be attending. To my delight, there was a new band director there. He was a kind, gentle and patient man, who had a slight Kentucky twang...just like my family's! His nurturing nature inspired me to practice and improve, and eventually I went on to major in music education. After I graduated, this same kind, caring man hired me to be a teacher and he was my supervisor for several years. Twenty-nine years and a couple of thousand students later, I still feel that I owe Mr. David Roberts my deepest gratitude. When I get discouraged or things get difficult, I like to think about Mr. Roberts and how he would handle the situation...probably with a joke and a chuckle! Thank you, Mr. Roberts, and thank you, Mr. Burt."
Mr. Powers, a 38-year veteran teacher, was that student of my dad's and the legacy continues. Mr. Powers is still teaching today and is instrumental (pun intended) in the Band Together program in Harford County. This is a program in which instruments are donated and collected from people who no longer want them and puts them into the hands of students who do. This program has been growing strong for 13 years, with students in 4th through 12thgrades at 51 out of our 54 schools. Last year alone, 350 instruments that were donated through this amazing program were being used by students of Harford County Public Schools. Mr. Powers has affected thousands of students, many of whom have continued their love of music by majoring in music as well or are sharing their passion through playing professionally. I can confidently say that these things wouldn't have happened without Mr. Powers, and in turn without my dad. And I really don't think my dad would be alive today without Mr. Burt. That is just one line in the strong lineage of people who are affected by just one person.
I would like to use Mr. Burt as a way of remembering how just one person can make such a difference in the lives of others and we can all work to make this world a better place.
The M stands for…mindful. Be mindful of others. Smile at strangers, hold the doors for people behind you…make others’ days a little brighter. Don’t judge a person by their outward appearance. You don’t know the storms that might be raging on the inside.
The R is for recognition. Recognize that sometimes life doesn't give you something you want, not because you don't deserve it, but because you deserve more. So many times things might not have gone the way I had originally hoped, but in the long run turned out better than I could have imagined. You've probably heard that when God closes a door He will open a window. My hope for you is that you find peace while waiting in the hallway.
B Build each other up and make sure your friends are being the best they can be. Sometimes the relationships that you build in college will last for your entire lifetime. Be there and watch out for each other.
U Understanding…Understand that there are students in your classes, like my father, in which school isn't their thing and home isn't their safe place. These probably aren't those people who I would deem as "easy to love", but they need all the love they can get.
R Respect yourself. John Wooden said "Worry about your character, not your reputation. Your character is who you are and your reputation is who people think you are." I like to think that your character is how you act when you think no one is looking.
T Treat others as you would like to be treated…always. Some know it as the golden rule. It has been around for a while and has been tested over time.
"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.
If you want to be happy, practice compassion."