Yes, born and raised on a very small town in Mississippi of about 4,400 people. Actually grew up on a very small family farm, parents were school teachers. My mother always wanted us to leave Mississippi because she thought that there would be opportunities elsewhere. I was initially working for the department of agriculture and one of my supervisors walked in one day and said he was going to be absent on tomorrow because he was applying to a position with the FBI. I thought, well, tell me a little bit about this position you are applying for and he talked about becoming a special agent, conducting investigations.
It really wasn’t something, a career that I ever considered. So, I went home, and this was before the Internet and Google and I got out the encyclopedia and started reading about the FBI, trying to find anything I could about the FBI and I said, you know what? I’m going to apply to the FBI, sounds interesting, had a conversation with my parents and they were not too pleased. They weren’t sure that there would be good opportunities for me, an African American woman to come into what’s already a non-female career and so convinced my dad, you know if you want to be a part of something, be a part of the best and if you want to change something, you need to change it from inside.
I got to tell you this one thing that happened to me when I was in the fourth grade that really I think set things into motion and made me the person that I have. It was the first year of integration in Mississippi. It was forced integration. I ended up having to, me and my sisters and brothers, ended up having to integrate what had been previously the white school. And so, I had always been a straight A student because I liked to taunt my brothers and sisters with my papers, who didn’t really like school that much. So that’s how I got attention was from being a very good student and being studious. It was after the first period of the school year and her name was Mrs. Stevens. I remember it was the first year that I had ever had any contacts with whites in terms of sitting next to them in class or being taught by a white teacher.
So shortly after getting there, even as a fourth grader, I said to my mother there’s something about her, she doesn’t like me. She kind of brushed it off and said just go to school and do your work. I said no, no there’s something about her. So when I got my report card, remember I hadn’t made a grade less than a 96 because I used to keep them as trophies, I had all C’s on my report card and I couldn’t believe it, I was devastated. I went home and cried all night and my dad said I’m sure it’s just a grade-book error. She probably transposed a number or looked at the kid above you or below you; we’ll work it out tomorrow. So the next day, my mother, father, Mrs. Stevens, the teacher, and Mr. Bill the principal, and my dad, I was with them. So he had all of my papers in a folder and he said listen I’m sure this isn’t going to take long, it must be a mistake, here are all of her papers, it’s clear that she earned A’s instead of C’s. And Mrs. Stevens folded her arms and she was looking at me and she said there is no way a black child can ever be as smart as a white child.
By the end of the school year, when we had our May Day program, I was pretty much Mrs. Stevens’ pet. And I remember when I left, she retired after that year, but I think I changed her perspective about African American children and our ability to learn.
It was at that moment that I decided that no one defines me, but me. You may have the problem with my race, my gender, the way that I speak but I’m not going to allow you to define me or what I can accomplish. So I owe a great deal to Mrs. Stevens. I think about her often, particularly now that I am at the end of my career and I am contemplating a retirement. You think about all of those people, men and women, but particularly women, the trailblazers, the women who came before me, who never got to be, for example, a supervisor, or an ASAC or a section chief, or an SES or even an assistant director. The things that they must have had to have endured with being the first ones so that I can really be sitting here today telling my story.