Our Letter to President Barack Obama

Dear President Obama,

Please send a birthday card to my friend Barbara Massey, who was born on December 14. I met Barbara in March 1995 after a school shooting. We sat next to each other at a meeting at Toole Middle School in Charleston, South Carolina, where a community had gathered together to find a way to help youth of Charleston focus on their future instead of hatred. Everyone in the room wanted ot find a way to avoid similar deaths and make our community a better place.

You could not find two people who were more different. Barbara is black and I am white and young enough to be her daughter. I had recently moved to Charleston from New York City. She was born and raised in New Orleans and lived in Charleston for more than 30 years. Barbara was a teacher at A.C. Brown High School in Charleston with Congressman James Clyburn.

At the time, South Carolina was ranked 47th in the nation in education. We believed that often, people are involved in shootings because they are frustrated and they do not have the words to properly express themselves. Together, we started a nonprofit organization called The Dictionary Project, with an original goal of giving a dictionary to every third grade student in Charleston. She told me if you raise the money, I will visit the schools and give the dictionaries to the children. We created the Dictionary Project as a safety net to help improve the education of our students. All third grade student attending public school in South Carolina new receive a personal dictionary and South Carolina is ranked 42nd in the nation.

We are still trying to ensure that the students in the Corridor of Shame in South Carolina will be able to receive a minimally adequate education! I have enclosed a recent article showing that progress is not as quick and easy as we would like to see. It is still hampered by racism, yet we all agree that education is the only equalizer. Ignorance only serves to divide us; education will bring people together.

Strangely if that shooting had not occurred, The Dictionary Project would not have started. Barbara and I met 20 years ago due to tragic circumstances. Although we were very different, our goal was the same, to find a way to change the way people see each other – with love and compassion, not hate and anger. Nearly 26,000,000 students all over the United States and the world have received a dictionary since we met. Every tragedy shows us that we are surrounded by love. People really do want to help each other, giving is a reflex action, its helps us grow.

Sincerely,

Mary French