Monday, July 24, 2017

Thank you, Gus



Gus Trowbridge's book Begin With a Dream tells the story of Manhattan Country School, the progressive elementary and middle school my daughter attended for the first decade of her life in the classroom. It's a memoir of how Augustus Trowbridge, whose forebears made the family fortune as merchants in the triangle trade, would use his privilege to found a school in which there would be no racial or economic majority and where each child would, in the immortal words of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Gus and his wife Marty were utterly inspired to do this work by Dr. King. Gus once told me how he and Marty sat in front of their TV screens watching the brutality that transpired during the 1965 March on Selma, and in that moment they knew they would have to do something to rebalance the scales of privilege in America. They would devote the rest of their lives to doing that. "Differences must be immediately experienced, treasured and understood," Gus wrote in the school's inaugural brochure, "because a school that avoids differences places education outside the context of living."

As an editor, I ended up being a sort of midwife to Gus's book and I believe it is work I was meant to do--work I was honored to do. Perhaps it is why I happened across this small progressive school in the first place, and why its very walls whispered to me that this was to be my daughter's place. Surely it is why, the first time I heard Gus speak at a conference about his life's work, I went up to him afterwards and gushed, "You need to write a book about this." He looked somewhat startled, I was a stranger to him then, and he stammered, "Well, I'm trying to do that." Gus was retired by that time, and was no longer a daily presence at the school. But four years later, he approached me in the living room of the school, which was then located in what used to be a very grand townhouse on the margin of the Upper East Side and Harlem, and he said, "Well, I have completed a draft of that book, and I would like it if you could read it and tell me what you think." It was the first time we had spoken since the day I so presumptuously suggested he write his story.

The next day when I dropped my then fifth-grader off at school, Gus had left for me 600 single-spaced pages in a binder. Over the next year, working together, we reorganized and edited the book down to 353 pages that tell the very moving story of a man committed to a mission despite all manner of obstacles, and a school committed to realizing the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. My daughter is immeasurably richer because of her foundational experience at this school, and its working organic farm. But not just my daughter, our entire family was positively imprinted by our connection to this "beloved community." Thank you, Gus, for the lifelong friendships forged, the minds opened, in a school that sends children out into the world as people of conscience, courage, and purpose, as connectors, as healers, as change-makers. Thank you, Gus, for using your life to pursue our highest good. The world is a better place because you were here. Rest In Peace. You've so richly earned it. Your legacy will live on.


Augustus Trowbridge
August 14, 1934—July 09, 2017

This appeared in "Remembering Gus Trowbridge." I'm re-posting it here for my own record, and because I believe good ripples out. Gus's vision and purpose changed us all.

21 comments:

  1. When I become tired of bad news and lose hope for our world, people like this give me hope.

    Thank you for telling us a bit of his story, Angella.

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    1. jenny_o, thank you for caring about his cause. xo

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    2. I'm sorry for your loss as well; having worked with him you would have even more threads of your life woven with his.

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  2. Bless the educators who truly have a mission for good. Their influence will never not be felt.

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    1. Ms Moon, and bless those who don't get turned aside when the world stacks its forces against them--because Gus had plenty of walls the tear down in achieving his mission. The school was founded in 1966 and three decades later my family benefited. It is so much a part of who my daughter is today, and us as well.

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  3. I can't say exactly why but this made me cry. I'm sorry for your personal loss.

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    1. Joanne, i think it made you cry because goodness and purpose like this, and in one who could had led an easy, privileged life, is moving.

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    1. yolie, his was a life worthy of chills. xo

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  5. Thank you. Thinking of the people Gus influenced gives me hope (in the face of the people we now see so much of in the news and their supporters). I want to think of "children ... as people of conscience, courage, and purpose, as connectors, as healers, as change-makers." Beautifully said, and such a tribute. Mary

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    1. Mary, my daughter and her friends are definitely such children, now wonderful young adults. Just being themselves, living their lives with the consciousness instilled in that school, they are transforming the world.

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  6. But not just my daughter, our entire family was positively imprinted by our connection to this "beloved community."

    And now those of us who read your blog can feel this connection.

    I'm continuing to make connections between the past, present, and future, after having read The Parable of the Sower and watching an interview of Octavia Butler by Charlie Rose. Grateful to have met you through your blog.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66pu-Miq4tk

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    1. am, i hope you enjoyed Parable of the Sower! It must be a strange book to read in these times. Thank you for being here, friend, and for helping the create a beloved community in this place, too.

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  7. A lovely tribute. A reminder that most people are good and want the world to be a better place.

    This post reminded me to check again if I can get the book, Overcome: My Life in Pursuit of a Dream at a reasonable price here in Canada. I can and I have ordered it! :-)

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    1. Birdie, omg you made my day! I hope you enjoy Ellamae's life story. She is an extraordinary woman, 100 years old on her next birthday! She is definitely a soul who has made our world better, richer, more resilient. I tried my best to do justice to her life, her presence, her humor, her love.

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  8. What an inspiration he is.

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  9. Such a lovely post about a remarkable man and a remarkable you for finding him and working with him on an important work. I would not have known, had it not been for you and this post, Thank you. When I can see again (if ever) I would like to rad this book and have it as a sweet reminder on my book shelf.

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    1. Linda Sue, perhaps he found me, I don't know, i only know it felt like work i was on this earth to do. That's the best kind of labor, and the most rewarding. I got to know his commitment up close, and it was as pure as could be. I'm grateful he was here and sad he is gone.

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