On August 25, 2022, I took part in celebrating the life of Mrs. Christina Manley after saying goodbye to her presence on earth the previous Sunday.
There was a tremendous amount of people in the small funeral home. I was overwhelmed by the cars in the parking lot, but I was also overcome with joy that so many people wanted to partake in the celebration. From friends to family to current students and former students… it was beautiful.
There was a table set up with pins for us to take and wear in her honor. My pin says “Sassy & Spectacled”–two words to perfectly describe her. She was sassy in the best, most empowering way possible.
The obituary mentions her accolades for being a math teacher, which I’m sure students of recent years know her for. However, she was my middle school English teacher before she became a high school math teacher.
When I met her, Mrs. Manley had red hair, and it’s changed numerous times in the ten years since I left middle school. She had a style I strived to achieve, a confidence in her looks that carried over in her beliefs. Mrs. Manley was fierce and passionate in her fight for human rights and equality.
I’ve always treasured my time with her as my teacher, but now that I can’t get one of her comforting hugs anymore, I have locked my year with her in my brain and treasure it even more.
I remember the few times she got emotional with my class, in a good way, and I admired how fearless she was with her vulnerability. She was the first woman I remember being around who was okay with being unashamedly vulnerable.
I don’t think teachers realize just how important their roles are in the lives of children. What teachers say and do are more impactful than they think. Children are always watching and taking mental notes. I drew a lot of inspiration for my life and passions from her.
I loved writing short stories in elementary school, but it wasn’t until taking her class in middle school that I realized how truly passionate I am about writing. It has nothing to do with making good grades. The little notes and after class chats and encouragement to join the newspaper club she started showed me I should stick with writing.
I still remember the extra credit assignment she gave us (that only me and one other person did) where we had to write about the meaning of our names–first, middle, & last. It was my favorite assignment, and I have about fifty percent of the paper memorized; honestly, I would not have thought to research and ask about the meaning of every part of my name if it wasn’t for her.
Because of her spirit, comfort, care & love (she’s another one of those rare souls I can be fully free Jamilah around), her class was, is, and always will be my favorite.
I saw Mrs. Manley in person for the last time the week of high school graduations in May 2017. Then I went off to college forever away before a virus took over the world and everything changed. We kept up with each other virtually over the years, but of course, it’s still not the same as an in-person check-in.
I don’t know the extent of the demons she was dealing with, but I know she made sure to only bring light and support to my life.
Personally, she will be remembered as an emotional hero. A fighter in all realms. A massive advocate of kindness. A loving exuberance.
I am more than fortunate to say you were in my life as more than a teacher. You played an important part in me becoming the writer I am today, in starting my journey to freely expressing myself no matter who’s around. You are loved by many, including me.
I love you. I miss you. I am beyond grateful for you.
To honor and celebrate Mrs. Christina Manley, contributions to celebrate her life and impact in the lives of many can be made to:
American Civil Liberties Union
Human Rights Campaign
Tybee Island Marine Science Center