Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Mentors: Franklin Elementary School

BOND: What effect do you think it had on your life personally? You said earlier, "I really blossomed at Franklin Elementary." You told the Tribune in 2003, and I wonder if that was because it was an integrated school with greater opportunities or what — ?

RUSH: Well, I think it was more — it was the relationship that I had with my teachers, and they encouraged me a lot, and I think that's what I meant when I talked about it. It was not so much the systemic but the personal kind of inspiration that I got from my teachers, and you know, I'm a person who — most of us are — we're people who love to read. I love to study and I love to do those kind of things. And so to have teachers who would not only award you for it, but help really encourage you and give you the kind of positive feedback — that was what was important to me.

BOND: I've heard you talk about a teacher, Marian Smith. What did she do?

RUSH: Oh, this is the exact — a real good example of what I'm talking about. Miss Smith would encourage me to read. I was a transplant from Albany, Georgia into this urban center called Chicago, into this large school, and I really had a — it was a foreign culture to me to a great extent, but she saw in me this drive to succeed, the drive to read, and she — in spite of my drawbacks, she would just encourage me and I remember her telling my mother and I won't ever forget it. She said, "This boy loves to read so much." And my mother said, "Yeah, he loves to read. Sometimes he'll go to the bathroom. He'll have a box of detergent. He'll just start reading that." Because I just had this enormous love for books and being able to read, so it was that kind of encouragement and in spite of some of the — you know, I was a country boy with a southern slang in my voice, and sometimes would be the object of scorn and ridicule from some of my co-students, but Miss Smith just saw something in me and I think she really helped me to make a decision that in spite of attitudes and opinions, you should strive to be the best that you can be. You should strive to understand who you are and move forward and, frankly, that made such a big difference in my life. I didn't get discouraged.