Luajuana Brasfield smote me at once with her enthusiastic vitality. She believed in what she had to say. She responded to my questions like a high-speed firehose, speaking from an enormous well of stories that surprised and enthralled me. She flashed a smile lit with bright red lipstick and met my eyes and my inquiries with confidence. It was obvious how sincerely she cared about the things that she spoke. Luajuana introduced me to a deeper level of beauty and significance in the life and works of a teacher than I had ever known before. She transcends her duties as an educator; she pours her love into the lives of her students and shines the light of grace and forgiveness into the murky shadows of their past.
Luajuana spent 25 years of her life as a mathematics teacher in middle school, high school, and college, but invested the past 10 years in assisting and supporting teachers in differentiating instruction. She authored four Math Helper books during her tenure in the Alabama School System, yielding students’ success and growth in difficult concepts. Luajuana’s agenda as an educator encompassed more than mere academic development; she desired for her students’ spirits to be uplifted, their hearts to be loved, their hopes to be mended. Luajuana writes, “My job was to teach well-planned, engaging, well-implemented math lessons; my gift to them was to teach them what a good mamma ought to teach them. Really teach them. Mend hope in the children.”
Luajuana views her vocation as a serious and beautiful calling. “My goal is to fill the gap, that hole in the heart of those who don’t have a good father or a caring mother. I can do things in the bigger picture with these people.” Her heart for the every-day, commonplace, hurting children—who are seen so often by the world but noticed so rarely—is painfully convicting. She directs the eyes of world to the raw, bleeding wound in the heart of the small town, and then shows how to soothe and heal this pain with the story of her life.
Luajuana’s hope-mending mission was inspired and watered by people who mended hope in her own life with their loving actions and wisdom. Luajuana’s compassion for the needy was aroused in her by the example of her father; “a big, strong, brave man, yet genuinely caring and humble.” It was her father who encouraged Luajuana to record the stories of her students in the recently published Hope Menders.
When Luajuana’s father passed away, Luajuana found herself drained, terrified, and devastated by the loss of such fundamental figure in her life. It was in this period of need that Luajuana met another life-changing hope mender. Ernestine Jackson Shakoor was Luajuana’s new coworker in the small school in Union Springs, where Luajuana started working a month after the death of her father. Mrs. Shakoor met Luajuana’s deep feeling of loss with words of truth and kindness, and rallied her spirits to re-embark into life’s challenges with peace and confidence. Luajuana experienced firsthand through her relationship with her father and the friendship of Mrs. Shakoor, the life-saving effects of sincere love and kindness.
Luajuana has persistent faith in the power of love and encouragement in the lives of hurting humans. Many of the students under Luajuana came to her wielding an attitude of resentment and distrust. They had become used to disappointment; their fathers hadn’t shown up, their mothers hadn’t cared for them, and often their teachers had given up on them. Teachers and students alike had expectations of academic failure— but Luajuana refused to accept their predictions. In her mind, she cleared the slates of their reputations and gave them her sincere confidence that they could rise above their situations. Luajuana found that the best way to instill hope in these children was to show them that she genuinely cared about their lives and that she believed in their success. “Become their cheerleader, because they don’t get that at home. No-one’s ever really invested in them.” Luajuana, through simple acts of kindness and one-on-one conversations, found the places where they were aching—the catalysts of bitterness—and spoke healing words of encouragement. “Take those angry, broken-hearted ones and turn them into a phoenix. That is the goal of a teacher.”
Luajuana believes that educators can make an enormous difference in the world if they use their words to build up, and their time with the children to develop relationships. She quotes 1 John 4:7 to support her belief that love is the crucial calling of the Christian: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love is of God.” She believes that love in action is the true evidence of the power and presence of Jesus. In the words of Luajuana Brasfield, “We can change the future one child at a time, community by community, by mending hope in the hurting children of poverty, abuse, and neglect through love that does.” 78
Hope Menders: A Journey to the Heart of Education is now available for purchase on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0972829709
For more information, please visit www.hopemenders.com.
Photos by Al Blanton