Inspiring Message for 7th Graders
New York 1 News Anchor and author Cheryl Wills visited Pelham 7th graders on Tuesday, March 26 to share an inspiring message about perseverance, fighting for what is right, and discovering your family roots.
Wills, an award-winning television personality and journalist, spoke about her journey seeking to discover her family’s history after the death of her father. At her father’s funeral, she said, Ms. Wills discovered for the first time that he was born in Tennessee.
From there she dove into her family history, discovering for the first time that her great-great-great grandfather Sandy Wills (Grandpa Sandy) escaped slavery from a plantation during the Civil War and fought for the Union Army. In recounting the family story, Ms. Wills asked the students to reflect on different aspects of the slavery era, such as why owners made sure slaves could not learn to read or write and or why Grandpa Sandy insisted his occupation be listed as “farmer” rather than “slave” when signing-up to fight for the army.
In their responses, students shared examples of their own family histories, such as one student being the descendant of a former slave in Cuba and another coming to America on the Mayflower.
She also spoke about her great-great-great grandmother Emma’s fight to receive a military pension following Grandpa Sandy’s death, which involved a lengthy court battle to ensure that she was treated the same as white military widows. Grandma Emma eventually won the court battle, which Ms. Wills said was an example of the value of perseverance and helped shape her most current fight to ensure that her ancestors’ remains are exhumed from a mass grave and buried with proper honor and respect.
Throughout the lecture, Ms. Wills sought to encourage the students to discover their family history and inspire them to use their education as a tool to achieve their dreams.