I got an email from Martin Voltaire recently, and it made me smile. In fact, I was downright happy. I followed up on the email, and then we had a phone conversation. After that chat, I was very happy.
Almost a year ago, I wrote a column about Martin, a then-mid-20s student at Southern University who was battling to get a master’s degree, a job and survive the trials of life. The column also outlined his tough lifelong struggles with stuttering. His speech impediment sometimes clouded his dream of becoming a schoolteacher. He reflected on how he thought he was passed over for a promotion because of his speech problems.
The column ended with his joy about being a substitute eighth-grade teacher. He expressed how much he loved the students he was working with. But things didn’t go so well after that.
The job ended, and there were no more substitute teaching position offers coming his way. But he was in midst of finishing his master’s degree, so he was focused on that. In the meantime, he worked at a number of little jobs to make ends meet, including being a water meter reader and selling boiled turkey necks, corn and potatoes for a friend who had a food truck. It was a struggle. “All I ever wanted to do is get my degree,” he said.
I was observing officials with the City of Baker School System the other night hashing out i…
And, then it happened. After some hiccups, he passed his final exams and was headed to complete his first major goal. He invited me to his graduation, but as life would have it, I had to work and couldn’t get there.
He proudly put photographs of himself on his Facebook account proclaiming his graduation. There were no job offers looming. He couldn’t get his foot or hand in the door. But he remained resolute that he was going to be a teacher and work with children.
We talked occasionally, but those conversations were more pep talks and suggestions about job possibilities that were out there. He was working one of his “just-to-make-ends-meet” jobs when he applied for a position with Louisiana's Department of Children and Family Services. If hired, he would be working abuse cases. That was it. That was a job he really wanted. In the meantime, he landed another job. It didn’t pay much, but it helped him pay his mounting bills.
Sometime in August, he was called in for an interview with Family Services. He was excited, but he had been down this dead-end road before. This is usually where he’d get the polite letdown that he won’t get the job. It’s where his good answers are sawed in half by stuttering, and his boat sinks. But not this time. “Mr. Pratt, they really liked my interview,” he said excitedly afterward.
Then came the job offer. “This what I prayed for, Mr. Pratt,” he said, “You just don’t know how good it felt.” He added that when he went to be introduced to some of the staff that “everyone was so nice to me.” He was on cloud 20. And then came the other part.
Moments after I and a group of friends arrived home recently from a five-day vacation, we we…
“Mr. Pratt, I have a desk and shelves and everything. I mean, I have an office and a computer,” he said. Martin is now going through training for his position.
When he was growing up, Martin said he was written off as a slow learner and never destined to go to college. “A lot of people didn’t believe in me,” he said. He wishes his mother were alive to see him now. “She always believed in me.”
His dad has pretty much been out of his life until recently, he said. “We talk a little bit more now and, don’t get me wrong, I love him to death,” Martin said. “But I told him he has had it pretty easy not having to be there for me.”
Martin says he knows his future, which looks a little brighter, will still be tough. A very spiritual person, Martin believes prayer will get him through the difficult days ahead. “That’s all I got, Mr. Pratt.”
I’ll say a prayer for him, too. Maybe we all should. And, I’ll probably give him something to put on his fancy new desk and shelves.
Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman who writes a weekly Advocate column, at email@example.com.