From “What Makes You Come Alive: A Spiritual Walk with Howard Thurman” by Lerita Coleman Brown
After his father’s death, a grieving and lonely Howard spent much of his time outside alone. Silence and solitude offered solace to Thurman, and in nature he frequently experienced the presence of God, or oneness. He sensed that something larger and more expansive than him underlay the universe. He also spent time reading to Grandma Nancy, a formerly enslaved woman turned midwife and laundress. She shared stories with Howard and modeled for him how a person of God thrives in a hostile world. One way that she survived the horrors of slavery was to remember what a traveling enslaved preacher told her and other enslaved people each time he visited: that each of them was a holy child of God. Grandma Nancy wanted young Howard to internalize this belief, to make it central to his identity. In many ways, she was attempting to inoculate him from the oppressive circumstances in which he lived.
In the early 1900s, in Daytona Beach, Florida, African American children were only permitted to receive formal schooling to the seventh grade and were excluded from a high school education. Thurman’s community came together to ensure that this very bright adolescent received private tutoring so he could earn the necessary certificate to enroll in a residential high school. Thurman graduated at the top of his class from the Florida Baptist Academy in Jacksonville. Exhausted by both schoolwork and the job he maintained to cover most of his school expenses, Howard actually collapsed before his valedictory address at graduation.