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Honoring Maria Burrell aka Teacher Dearest, My Gradeschool Teacher + Mentor Who Saved My Life




I met Mrs. Burrell when I was 9 years old, and by then I had already experienced the trauma of losing my father, so God knew how desperate I was for something to believe in.



Looking up to her I saw a queen who resembled the women you caught while flipping through the pages of Ebony and Essence magazines. Her linens crisp and pressed, her hair ‘fried, dyed, and laid to the side’. I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to be in her class and to see what kind of teacher she was. I did school really well and I wanted her to know that. Literally, I could not wait! So one day I walked up to her in the school yard during recess and made casual conversation like most nine-year-olds do. From that day forward she became my teacher and later was my mentor, my friend, my soul model.


Once officially in her class, she cultivated and supported my creativity just as much as she reprimanded my defiance. She had a special way of recalibrating my behavior by allowing me to communicate my coming of age frustrations through my natural talents. She encouraged me to write, to draw, and to dream in a myriad of colors.

She was patient. She was compassionate. She cared to understand.


Maria Burrell also had a special way of using her sense of humor to make her students feel comfortable about the growing pains of self-discovery. She taught us how to hold ourselves accountable without judging ourselves for making mistakes.


Her guidance and instruction helped to narrow the margin. She taught me to see life and opportunities beyond the borders of my neighborhood. SHE EMPOWERED ME. I learned how to celebrate other women because of the way she celebrated me. My Teacher Dearest prepared me for the marathon, cheered me on during the race, and stood proudly at every single checkpoint just to tell me “You’re an awesome little sister. Keep pushing.”


She was ALWAYS there.


Mrs. Burrell died in April, but her loving spirit outlives the metastatic cancer that weakened her body.


I am humbled to have grown in the eyes and heart of an angel.

Read her obituary here.