How my illiterate grandmother raised an educated black man

My grandmother, Inez Starr, could neither read nor write...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

From as early as 10 years old, I awoke to my grandmother tapping the ceiling directly underneath my bed with a wooden broomstick at 7 o’clock each morning during the school week. I rolled from underneath my covers, bathed, then made my way downstairs to the kitchen, where she would have a bowl of grits, a side of bacon, and a glass of orange juice ready for me on our kitchen countertop.

Ever-watching the clock, she would make sure I finished breakfast in time to be out of the house at half-past seven, so I would make it to school on time. Before I left, my grandmother would often ask me if I had completed any homework assignments teachers had given the day before. I was good student, so I almost always said, yes. But even if I didn’t do my homework, she would have no way of knowing.

My grandmother, Inez Starr, could neither read nor write.

In fact, she could barely write her own name, and I often had to handle any important business affairs on her behalf. Still, I never met a woman who cared more about education than she did. She, as some of my family members recall, put books in my hands as early as 3 years old. Never mind the fact that both of us couldn’t read the words on the pages.

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