By Farah Jadran
Mi Mamá es la mayor influencia para mi. My Mama is my biggest influence.
Her name is Jeanie, but she is Mama to me. She stands at 4 foot 10 inches, but that is deceiving. Like age, height is just a number. Mama stands out wherever she goes. Her beautiful presence is unforgettable. Mama’s heart is bigger than you can picture with the wildest imagination. She is always ready to offer help, show compassion and kindness, and give back.
Growing up in a big family in one of Mexico’s largest cities, it might be daunting for someone to think about standing out, making a difference or following dreams.
As the second oldest of 12 siblings, my Mama was always encouraged to do her best. Her mother would change what “normal” would mean when it came to what each child would accomplish in their youth and expect out of their futures. While opportunities might have been different for boys and girls in Central Mexico — that did not matter.
“I think she was thinking of empowering her daughters to have higher education or as much as the boys in the house,” Mama shared. “Older generations were more focused on daughters getting married.”
On top of education, her mother would also make sure each daughter learned how to drive. At the time, it was more common for only boys and “wealthy women” to learn how to drive.
Mama’s natural ability to show compassion and kindness would soon shine far beyond the walls of her home in Mexico and the new home she and Papa would make together in a Chicago suburb after they got married in her hometown.
Her hard work led to a degree in business administration and French. She would not stop there. She moved up quickly in management positions at different companies in Illinois. I remember some of them, because I would find myself writing, coloring and eating cookies near or under her big office desk.
It would be Mama’s powerful talent for teaching others that would help her touch the lives of thousands of people. After earning another degree and her teaching certification, Mama taught at several Chicago area school districts designing and launching their Spanish curriculum. That was years ago, but there is no doubt several schools still use the model she put in place.
Beyond sharing her first language with others, she found herself sharing one of her other languages with people from all over the world. For decades, and still today, Mama teaches adults how to speak, read and write in English.
Teaching English as a second language takes time, patience and understanding. Her students come to the United States from places such as Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Macedonia, Mexico, Ecuador, Columbia, Peru, Guatemala, El Salvador, Bolivia, China, Palestine, Iran, Ukraine and Russia — to name just a few.
When asked how she became part of this field, Mama simply says, “I felt comfortable teaching.”
The raw truth is that Mama has and does take calls from students asking questions and looking for guidance in studying for their GED or citizenship exams. Her dedicated students take on her determination and don’t look back.
It takes a special kind of person to be a teacher. Any teacher reading this knows it! You live it. Your heart is special, kind and carries a piece of every student you’ve ever taught. Mama remains my biggest influence because she continues to show me the sky’s the limit. If you lead with your heart, the future is bright not just for you, but everyone around you.
Kindness can change someone’s heart. It can help others realize there is a world around them and more to life than possessions and petty arguments. Kindness can be the message you wear and walk with because you choose to live life with genuine gratitude for each day you are given. Tomorrow is not promised. Why not spend today being kind and being positive?
Farah Jadran is the anchor of CBS5 This Morning and CBS5 News at Noon for CNYCentral in Syracuse. Farah also served as editor of SWM for more than four years after she helped launch it in January 2011. If you or someone you know is spreading kindness in our community — tweet at her — @FarahJadran using #BeKindSyracuse.