It was a pretty warm morning as I got on my knees to get a better angle to take a photograph of my father’s headstone. It was Memorial Day 2016 at Port Hudson National Cemetery.
Edward Rose spent five proud years in the U.S. Army during the Korean conflict, rising to the rank of sergeant. I took the pictures knowing I would put one of them on my Facebook page.
As I was leaving the cemetery, I could see and hear someone playing a trombone off in the distance. I thought I knew the young man making the soulful, sad music. A TV station camera person that I know was standing near me. “I think I know that, guy,” I told him, just before he asked if I would intervene to him get an interview.
That trombone player was Martin Voltaire, a hardworking young man I had met when I worked at Southern University. He was playing the trombone in honor of his mother, who was buried just in front of him.
I had met Martin about a year earlier. He had visited my office a couple times with my nephew who was also a student at the time. Martin is a sincere young man who really wants to succeed.
He is my Exhibit A of our great young people who struggle in anonymity to make a life. You feel his determination as he often takes great pains to complete a sentence. Yes, it’s his speech that’s tough for him. Martin stutters. It can be disconcerting to some.
To Martin, too many people judge him by the stutter and not about what is in his heart and the importance of his words.
I grew up with stutterers. I have a cousin I am very close to who stuttered as a child. There was another young man I grew up with from first grade. He stuttered badly, but by high school, he and I were trying out for some of the same roles in school plays.
The last time I saw Martin, we bumped into each other at a convenience store gas station. He talked about how he believed he was passed over for a job promotion because of his speech impediment. “I know that job should have been mine,” he said.
He had landed another job, but he saw no upside in the position, neither financially nor professionally. It was a job, and it paid his bills. Martin seemed depressed.
I talked to him about compartmentalizing things and setting short-term, achievable goals. Set one or two goals with five or six-month deadlines. “If you see positive progress, things will probably seem better for you,” I told him.
He talked about how hard he tries in the classroom, on his job and in life. It just seemed like nothing was coming together.
I encouraged him to take a more positive outlook and to just try to make one good thing happen at a time. A week or so later, we conversed shortly on social media, and then I lost touch.
Then about two weeks ago, I saw on social media that he was teaching some young children in a classroom setting. Martin was dressed in a suit and looked like quite the educator. The students looked interested. But the information on the page did not say where he was.
An entry on his Facebook page mentioned his students. And, it sounded so much like him: “MY STUDENTS SAID THEY NEVER HEARD A TEACHER TELL THEM THAT THEY LOVED THEM — WELL, CALL ME DIFFERENT BECAUSE IT'S THE LOVE THAT KEEPS ME WANTING TO MOTIVATE THEM, AND I BELIEVE IN EXPRESSING THAT TO THEM.”
He left a message on my Facebook page on Wednesday congratulating me on getting a new job.
He called on Thursday saying he is a substitute 8th grade math teacher. “The students love me. I love them. I really like what I’m doing,” he proudly announced. The next step he said will be to try to get on as a full-time instructor. He will have his master’s degree at the end of the spring 2017 semester.
Martin’s last name of Voltaire made me think of Voltaire, the famous 1700s French poet and historian. Voltaire must have been able to see into the future, because one of his quotes clearly describes Martin: “Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her; but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game.”
Yep, that pretty much sums up my friend Martin Voltaire. If you see him, tell him that you believe he can make it.
Email Edward Pratt at email@example.com.