James, 55, crossed the stage at VAL’s recent graduation ceremony on July 7th in Saint Albans. James was born in Albany, New York, and arrived in Vermont when he was six weeks old. That said, his Green Mountain State roots run deep.
James, in pursuing studies to earn his high school diploma, dabbled in genealogy. He learned that he descends from author Jeffrey Brace (aka Boyereau Brinch). James’ ancestor, born in West Africa, c. 1742, was captured, and then sold by slave traders. He arrived in New Haven, Connecticut—by way of Barbados and servitude as an enslaved sailor in the Seven Years’ War (1765-1763) conflict between Great Britain and France. Jeffrey served in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). He was honorably discharged after five years’ service and was granted freedom. He settled in Poultney, Vermont. He never learned to read and, eventually, lost his eyesight. He, nonetheless, proved a gifted storyteller. Jeffrey recounted his story to abolitionist lawyer Benjamin Prentiss who published his story in 1810 under the title, Blind African Slave. Jeffrey died in 1827, an avowed abolitionist.
“I am so happy to graduate from high school,” James said. “I promised my sister Eunice — I called her ‘Sis’— that I would finish school. VAL gave me the opportunity; they helped me get my diploma. They were always there to help me. I don’t know how to thank them. They believed in me and that really helped.”
“James’s strength and perseverance have been drawn from his own history and his family,” said Amy Cowan, VAL Educational Advisor. “His achievement is so much more for him: a promise kept, an example for his children and grandchildren, a testament to his hard work and his dedication, and a look to the future. When preparing to graduate, I asked James if there was anything else he wanted to learn or study. He said, ‘I’m always going to keep learning. I’ll never stop doing that.’”
What’s James’ advice for folks considering getting their high school diploma?
“Just go for it,” James said