She was eight years old when we met and a wisp of a girl who drew me to her with the light in her eyes and the fire in her spirit. Her name was Esi and little could she know then how she would impact my life.

I am an educator of 30-years in public schools and both private and public colleges and universities.  But no experience at any of those levels outranked the transformation that occurred when Esi and I became friends. You see Esi is a diabetic, a cruel outcome you might say for someone to be diagnosed as a young elementary student. Where you might have expected to see shyness and exhaustion, this little girl was a ball of energy, only deterred when her diabetic challenger would show up and force her to slow her roll.

That’s how I got into the picture.  I happened to teach at the same school Esi attended and became friends with her mother who needed someone in the school she could count on to have her baby’s back. The need was even greater given the fact that we had landed in the heartland of Iowa where few people looked like us or shared our experience as African-Americans. As the Creator would have it, the person Esi’s mom turned to was me and I have been honored and blessed ever since.

Esi had an unusual way of lighting up a room in the most unexpected manner. She was one to ask questions; great big questions no one would expect out of the mind of someone so young. She was also a fan of straight talk and could spot a phony actor a mile away. I learned to be real around Esi. I learned to listen not only with my head, but also with my heart. For someone who bore such a heavy burden given her illness, this vibrant child threw caution to the wind and decided to live the life she had with all her might. No time to waste would be her call and waste time she did not. Esi has literally lived multiple lifetimes within the boundaries of her existence far better than most folks live even one.

I found I wanted to know much more about Esi and how she managed to snatch so much joy from every day. The opportunity came when I decided to create a safe space for black kids in my classroom after school. Esi was joined by her sisters and my daughter and son who were all experiencing the challenges of acclimating to the culture of Eastern Iowa which at the time had very little ethnic diversity.

We shared stories, snacks, dreams and lots of laughter in that space. I felt assured that providence would find a way to keep these babies safe until they were strong enough to take their rightful place and live out the destiny uniquely designed for them. They would each go on to pursue many different paths in life; some doctors, some teachers, entrepreneurs and more. Each one of them have brought a commanding sense of caring for others that has transcended their work over the years.

With Esi, her diagnosis became a clarion call that she answers every day as an adult now turned public school consultant to the deaf and advocate for the under-served and children with special needs. On any given day you may find Esi before the TV cameras being interviewed about a protest to increase low salaries for classroom aids. Or you may find her attending the prom of one of her special need students to encourage them to live their dream no matter the limitations they face.

And then there is the glam queen who will step before the photographers camera for a photo shoot to rock her God-given beauty to the world-A world  that won’t even know her challengers; the limited vision, the constant surgeries to maintain her sight, the never ending battle to live her life no matter how hard this disease blocks her way. Esi will only find the biggest ladder around and get to climbing. Challenges might impede her for a bit, they may even slow her roll some days, but I guarantee you they won’t shut her down and before long she’ll be out there kicking that disease and any other challengers to joyful living in the butt and out of her way.

Where once there was a young wisp of a girl now stands a full blown, fierce and fabulous woman who has taught me lessons in determination, joy, patience, promise and love for life that won’t let you give up or give in. Thank you, Esi, for living such a life in front of me and all you have loved and inspired. We salute you and more over know that because of you so many others have dared to live out their dreams, grab hold of life and hang on for the sheer joy of the ride.

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