When best-selling children’s book author Walter Dean Myers, a native West Virginian, died recently, a fan recalled an opinion piece Myers wrote in the New York Times in 2005.
Myers was bemoaning the fact that a branch of the New York Public Library in Harlem was closed for renovations. Those closed doors bothered Myers because he realized what a public library meant to poor kids in Harlem. He had experienced it firsthand.
“As a child growing up in Harlem, I measured my life, and my potential, by what I saw around me. I saw first that I was black and poor. My father was a janitor, and my mother, never very healthy, cleaned apartments when she was well enough to work.
“There was no single event that traumatized me, no devastating storm in my life, but slowly the life of the poor began to grind me down. A murdered uncle, an alcoholic parent, the realization that there was no way I could afford college brought despair to my life. The promising 14-year-old I had been became the 15-year-old chronic truant who had to report to a city agency once a week for supervision.
“But amid the chaos, I found a refuge. It was the New York Public Library ... When I felt least wanted by the world, the library became my bridge to self-value ... The library was the one place in my world that I could enter and participate in fully despite empty pockets...
“For me ... the library was crucial — its doors opened onto the American dream. That’s why, when I see a neighborhood library closed for years, even temporarily and with the best of intentions, I am troubled. How long can we, in good conscience, keep those doors closed?
Please remember Myers and the need to keep public libraries open when you go to the polls on Nov. 4. On the ballot will be a levy to support public libraries in Kanawha County. Vote “yes” to keep the library doors open in our community.
Patty Vandergrift Tompkins