My mom’s name was Carol Marie Chandler, and she was born Dec. 30, 1939, in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan. She was an amazing woman and inspired many. Lots of people offer similar sentiments when it comes to a loved one, but with my mom, it was validated by many to be especially true. If you were a member of an underrepresented minority community in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn and are between 35 and 60 years old you probably knew my mom. There is also a good chance that “Miss Carol” was your teacher, as she was an elementary and special education teacher for more than 40 years.
She was one of the neighborhood den mothers — both unofficially and officially, because she was actually a real den mother for the local Cub Scout troop. Our neighborhood was made up mostly of working-class families with parents who were often unavailable to pick up their children (my friends) from school. Mom would often bring them (and occasionally a new student whom I did not know) home with her. We would all eat together, do homework, and then play games. Mom would have our guests ready when a parent came to retrieve them. This illustrates the essence of who Mom was. She was just someone who always offered a listening ear or a warm shoulder to cry on.
She and my father, Willie (who passed away 13 months before she did), raised five boys in a house full of love, energy, and discipline.
I remember her telling me: “It’s not about how much money you make.” It was: “What are you doing with what you have?” “What are you doing to give back?” And “How will you bring someone else along?” She was a huge advocate for youth and young adults. She would often say that it is our job to make the lives of those we meet better.
My affinity toward the field of education and appreciation for its life-transforming power comes from my mom — both by osmosis and learned behavior. She always wanted me to be in front of a classroom. When I accepted my first job in education as the chief information officer for a K‒12 school district, she said: “You’re getting there. You’re getting closer.”
She retired in 2000. She and my dad moved to Florence, S.C. After enjoying a break for 10 months, she decided to start teaching again, and in 2009 she officially retired … again. She was a big fan of “The Golden Girls” TV series and loved, loved, loved music. We grew up in a household where there was music playing regularly, mostly jazz, and some R&B. Mom had a great singing voice and would often accompany a great crooner whose song was playing on the radio, and occasionally she would grab the hand of the nearest son and force us to dance with her.