Pruitt column: Reflections on Sept. 1

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 1, 2022

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I wasn’t too sure how I would feel when Sept. 1 rolled around this year.
Probably somewhat nervous as my daughters are in their first weeks of high school at two different high schools. That’s plenty of logistical gymnastics unto itself, with learning new routines and pick-up and drop off procedures and teachers and schedules and well, the normal things parents of teenage daughters have racing through their minds on any given day.
One of my daughters will be a freshman at West Forsyth. She decided to follow a lot of her friends from Clemmons Elementary and Clemmons Middle and become a Titan as we live in the West district. She will be just fine once she settles into her routine.
My oldest daughter will be a senior at Mount Tabor. She chose to attend Mount Tabor four years ago because I worked there. She felt more comfortable because I was there with her. She has navigated through freshman anxiety, a year and a half of COVID and remote learning and masks and loving her experience as a Spartan.
And then Sept. 1, 2021, happened.
And as we’ve seen the world continue to churn on its axis, ours is still turned upside down — but it’s trying to tilt back enough to some sense of normalcy.
Sept. 1, 2021, is when the Mount Tabor community lost one of our own to gun violence in our school. And our world, and dare I say the worlds of all the students, faculty and staff at Mount Tabor, was rocked to the core.
There’s not a day that goes by where the memories etched in my brain from that day don’t surface somehow. The call for a school lockdown at 12:03 p.m., just after first lunch started. The pulling of kids into classrooms to keep them safe, just as we were trained to do. The periodic updates from law enforcement and school personnel over the intercom. The text messages I was getting from friends and family asking how I was and providing me reports of what they were hearing about how serious things were — most of which, thankfully, proved to be untrue. The frantic messages from my wife asking me to please find our child, and my helpless voice letting her know I was doing everything I could while locked in my classroom.
There was the 52 minutes where I had no contact with my oldest daughter despite many efforts to reach her on her cellphone to make sure she was safe. As it turned out, she had left her phone in her book bag in the cafeteria and ran out the back of the building with another teacher and an assistant principal, before being escorted back into the building by a S.W.A.T team. It was when she reached the auditorium that her newspaper teacher and her math teacher messaged me at the same time that she was indeed safe and with them.
I don’t think I’ve ever hugged her longer or tighter as I did when we were reunited around 2 p.m. that afternoon. I don’t think I have ever hugged my youngest daughter any longer or tighter when we finally made it home around 8:30 that night. And I don’t think I hugged my wife any longer or tighter after my youngest daughter finally released her grip.
That’s my story and remembrance of that day. And there are 1,700 others from that day — students and staff — that have their own harrowing accounts.
Even more harrowing in the aftermath of that day was the impact it ended up having on my oldest child. Her anxiety issues developed into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) several months later. And the second half of her junior year was a struggle. It became more and more difficult for her to even step into the building. Loud noises in the halls caused immediate fear. Slamming doors were another source of worry. There were plenty of days where we would get messages to come and pick her up because of the extreme uneasiness she was experiencing. There were days when we would arrive at school, only for her to look at me with fear in her eyes and tell me she couldn’t go in the building. There were days when we arrived at school and she got out of the car, took a few steps towards the building, only to turn around and get back in the car in tears. We ended up turning around to go home. A lot. Being out in public became a rarity for her — and still is.
She ended up doing her work from home for most of the second semester. Back to remote learning, to an extent, with the tremendous support of all of her teachers.
She had a great experience this summer at a program at UNCSA for filmmaking and has been back roaming the halls at Mount Tabor a few times to readjust, including attending Open House last week and being around a larger group of people again.
That gives us hope.
And then I learned a few weeks ago that West Forsyth was going through the process of naming its basketball court after Chris Paul. It was unanimously approved by the WSFCS Board of Education last week.
The date they picked for the ceremony — Sept. 1.
I go back with the Paul family from my time working at the Central (now William G. White) YMCA in downtown Winston-Salem in the early 1990s. I was lucky enough to have him play on an AAU basketball team I helped coach for several years. I watched his rise as a player, and I saw his maturity as a person. He invited me to Simpson Gym when he signed his National Letter of Intent to attend Wake Forest. And his father called me two days later to let me know his grandfather, who I had a long conversation with at the signing ceremony, had been senselessly killed in another act of teenage violence.
I saw him score 61 points — one for every year of his grandfather’s life — one day after they laid him to rest.
I followed his career closely at Wake Forest and beamed when he was selected as the No. 4 overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft. I have seen him play in New York, New Orleans, Oklahoma City and Charlotte during his pro career.
I’m not sure I know finer people in this universe than Robin and Charles Paul, Chris’ parents, or his brother C.J. They are pillars of the Clemmons Community.
I’m not sure there is anyone else who so richly deserves a recognition to have their high school basketball court named after them than Chris.
Everyone is this area, in New Orleans, in Los Angeles, in Oklahoma City, in Houston, in Phoenix, probably has a Chris Paul story they can share. And another chapter in his story will take place today, and more people will remember this day and this ceremony and have stories to share about it.
Just like the stories that 1,700 students and staff from Mount Tabor can share about Sept. 1, 2021.
It was Jim Valvano who said in his famous “Don’t Give Up, Don’t Ever Give Up Speech” that there are three things you should do every day.
“You should laugh every day,” Valvano said. “You should spend some time in thought. And number three is that you should have your emotions moved to tears. Could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day.”
I’m anticipating Sept. 1, 2022, to be a heck of a day.
Peace and comfort to all the schoolteachers as they embark on a new school year — especially to my former colleagues at Mount Tabor.
And congratulations, CP3. What a well-deserved honor.