Eighth-grade English teacher Emerald Hall doesn’t play. She expects her students to work hard, just like she does.
I could tell that Hall, 44, meant business the moment my 14-year-old daughter told me about her. For example, to my daughter’s surprise, Hall carefully read and graded each page of the jumbo-size packet of eighth-grade study material her students brought home during spring break.
I can’t say that if I had a class of 30 or so students I would spend my evenings and weekends reading all of their papers. I know what I can realistically handle; so I’m sure that if I were a middle school teacher, a colleague like Hall would put me to shame.
But as a parent, I am so glad she was my daughter’s teacher.
In March, I had the pleasure of meeting Hall during parent-teacher conference day. She told me how surprised she was to find an article written by my daughter in the March issue of Neighborhood Voice. Then, when she found out I’m a writer, she invited me to speak in front of a group of girls Saturday, March 23.
That’s how I learned about the Chrysalis Project, a program Hall founded for 10- to 17-year-old girls. It’s named for the phase of a butterfly’s life when it grows inside a protective covering, the time before it breaks free and takes flight.
I discovered that even in her spare time, Hall continues to educate young people. Like I said, she doesn’t play.
The Saturday event took place at Bethel A.M.E. Zion Church on the corner of East 110th Street and Lee Avenue in Glenville. Hall invited women to tell the girls how their lives began and where they are now career-wise. Her idea was for our stories to inspire the girls to set high goals and not give up until they reached them.
“I wanted to help young ladies who need that extra push to succeed,” she said, remarking that she had been a girl who needed that kind of push.
A variety of professionals spoke, including one with a law degree who chose a business career over law and another who loves being a cosmetologist. Cleveland School of the Arts assistant principal Kendra Halloway shared her experience as a Case Western Reserve University student and Ursuline College graduate who considered careers in theater and engineering before becoming an educator.
However, of all the stories, Hall’s may have been the most gripping. She revealed that she grew up as a child of two parents who were both addicted to drugs. She shared how her best friend, the lawyer, faced childhood struggles like those Hall faced and helped Hall keep going when she wanted to quit. She also gave big credit to the Rev. Deborah Hines, the woman Hall calls “Mama,” whose guidance and support also carried Hall through tough times.
The Chrysalis Project is part of MyHope Inc., a nonprofit corporation Hines founded to help girls and women reach their full potential.
Some of the girls at the gathering weren’t Chrysalis members yet, but all of them seemed interested in the presentations they saw that day.
I asked some of the girls what they learned from the speeches they heard.
One said, “Be yourself. Go through what you go through. But always have a back up [plan].”
Another said, “You can always change your mind.”
A third said, “Follow your dream.”
A theme that ran through the presentations and the girls’ comments was that the road of life may not take you where you expected, but if you keep going, you might be happily surprised about where you end up.
Chrysalis classes are free and take place the first Saturday of the month at Collinwood Recreation Center, 16300 Lake Shore Blvd. Hall and other adults present topics like self esteem and empowerment and provide academic and cultural enrichment activities such as African dance. Each session includes lunch, and new girls are always welcome to attend.
Call 216-694-8042 and email email@example.com for information and to make donations, which Hall said “are needed very much.”
~ Written by M. LaVora Perry, a writer living in East Cleveland.