To say that Leslie Barger had a transformative impact on my life would be both honest and a gross understatement.
Since she left this world on April 14, countless individuals have come forward to express their sympathy and the overwhelming sense of loss held deeply by the community of people that she had surrounded herself with during the almost half-century she spent spreading love and wisdom, breaking through walls and barriers, and inspiring people to be better, more complete versions of themselves through introspection and an honest exploration of what potentially awaited them in the world.
I met “Mz. B.” during one of the darkest times of my life. It was a lonely time; I was confused and hurt by the things I had experienced up to that point, the consequences of which still follow me today.
She taught my second-year (and third and fourth) drama class at Tunstall High School. I wasn’t comfortable with public speaking or performing on stage. Mz. B. saw to it that I had to do as much of that as possible. She did that for all of her students. She pushed us to overcome the boundaries we brought with us into her classroom. As a teacher, she was unconventional and, consequently, unforgettable.
Ms. Barger challenged me to look beyond my immediate circumstances and my own established perceptions about the world and how it supposedly operated, ultimately allowing me to open my mind in such a way that not only allowed me to survive the harsh people I faced on a daily basis, but also to thrive in the knowledge and the confidence that I was–I am–special. I know that must have been a challenge for her, because I was a pretty tough cookie to crack and could tell she was frustrated with me at times.
She never gave up on me.
The lessons imparted on me by one of the most important teachers I ever met made me strong and continue to make me stronger as I carry them into new experiences and challenges and as I try to open myself up more to the possibilities and the happiness I know she always believed were within my grasp.
I love you, Mz. B. You helped me. You touched and changed and saved so many lives during your 49 years. I know you are resting peacefully today and I hope you will look down on us from time to time as we, all of the people you love and who love you, exemplify your lessons and your legacy.