For my Sons: ManUP lesson #1

“Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang!” – John Proctor, The Crucible

Your last name is everything. It may not seem like it now, but it is one thing that will carry more with it than you can imagine. It is not only an identifier, but it is an identity. That is why it is extremely important that you take ownership of that last name very seriously.

You are your own company

Pick a company — any company you want. Would you purchase the company’s product if it had very bad reviews? Would you purchase products from a company that treated you in a negative way? Would you spend your hard-earned money on that company’s product if you knew that it would make you look like an idiot? I believe you would answer no to all of these questions.

Think about it, your last name is your company.

There are millions of people in the world that wish that they could own companies. They think about the possible financial freedom that comes with it, the awesomeness of being your own boss, and the ability to influence others within the “company.”

The problem is, they cannot keep their own names clean. Seriously, if your company sold a product that was intended to be used on infants, do you trust yourself enough to buy the product and use it on your own newborn. If the answer is no; you have to seriously analyze who you are as a person. Being able to think of yourself as a business is something that athletes have to learn. Some learn it the easy way, and some learn it the hard way. Either way, reality usually hits them like a ton of bricks. They often find out that becoming an athlete and making the team was the easiest part of the journey. They find that teachers, bosses, community members, and teammates hold them to a totally different set of expectations — higher expectations. Talent is not enough to get them through, they need hard work, a set of values and beliefs, and a moral compass. Those who step up to those expectations find that the journey may become a little easier for them. Those who choose to go the other direction often find themselves in trouble the institution and/or the law.

Burning Bridges

There is going to come a time in your life when you are going to need someone to help you achieve a goal. Maybe it is a recommendation for a position that you wish to have, or maybe you need to get into a program and want one of the “higher-ups” to put in a good word for you. Here is a question: Did you do everything you could to make sure that the person you are asking sees you in a positive light? Like I said before, your last name is everything; that person’s last name is everything to them. When you ask somebody for a recommendation, you are asking a person to put their name, credibility, and reputation on the line in order to vouch for you — that is a big deal.

But how are you to know whom you would need a recommendation from? You’re not, which is the reason why you should be very careful about burning bridges.

“It takes a lifetime to build a reputation and only a second to destroy it.”

Chuck.

Back in junior high, I decided to try my hand at organized basketball. It was the sport that I grew up around. The Dream Team was big at the time, and everyone in my neighborhood of us would go to the local park for a pick-up game where we would pretend to be one of the members. In my eighth-grade year, I was excited to try out for the junior high varsity squad.

This was going to be my year!

During tryouts, I would hustle for every loose ball, grab every rebound with authority, and make every type of impossible layup that I could to impress the coach. When tryouts were over. The coach said that he would deliberate and paste a list on the locker room floor. I left out of there feeling like I conquered the world — of course I made it!
Until hours later, when I, along with another friend and teammate were summoned into the head coaches’ office:
“Well, I am going to come right out and say it, you two are at the bottom of the varsity list, so I will give you a choice. You either can choose to be on varsity squad were you may not play very much — if at all, or you can play junior varsity as an 8th grader, where you will most likely start. I will give you a day to think about it.”

Both of us looked at each other and said in unison,
“Nope. We don’t need a day, We’ll play junior varsity.”
Truthfully, we did not give a shit which team we played on, we just wanted to play basketball.

Towards the middle of the season, I started noticing a guy sitting awkwardly in the bleachers after halftime of each home game. He would sit with his back on the above bleachers with his elbows pulled up, chest level rested on them — like he was sitting in a Laz-E-Boy. He was lightly swinging a bottle of Diet Coke in one hand, his legs were crossed, and he was wearing a red and light blue jumpsuit. The expression on his face was as if he did not have a care in the world.

Who in the Hell is this joker?!
Whose dad is this?

Each home game, I would often make jokes about the awkward, guy white-haired guy who sat mid-bleacher.

Until one day, one of the varsity players overheard me.

“Dude, that is Chuck White. That is the head coach of the East Anchorage Thunderbirds!”

I will take this time to add context —

The East Anchorage Thunderbirds are a storied team coached by a legend. They literally were the “New York Yankees of Alaska” — everyone loved to hate us. We are talking about a team that not only won the basketball boys state championship almost every year but also had players going to play college ball somewhere in the country. As far as anyone in our school was concerned, making a Thunderbird roster was making it out of any kind of negative environment that you were in.

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I loved my years of high school basketball.

And so, I found my mission: play junior varsity this year, impress the coach with my play while I had him in the audience during the second half, and make a Thunderbird roster when I got to high school.

And, wouldn’t you know it, my sophomore year, I, along with four others made the team.

Let me be clear, there were significant benefits to making the varsity team. You received:

  • A practice jersey with shorts,
  • Travel sweats with your jersey number,
  • A travel jacket and pants embroidered with your name and number (the same red and blue ones that I would see him wear when in junior high), and,
  • Team shoes. Yup. As a sophomore, I had arrived.

What I did not realize was, making the team would be the easiest part of this journey. In the three years that I was on the squad, Coach White would continue to teach me lessons that I would carry with me for the rest of my life.

  1. Although you are small, you can still be mighty: I have no idea what Coach saw in me when he decided to put me on varsity sophomore year. I couldn’t shoot well, my free throw percentage was garbage, and at 5’11”, I played post — where everyone else was 6’2″ and up. Years later when I asked coached why he chose me, he said, “Just because you aren’t six-foot-five does not mean you can’t play like you are six-foot-five.”
  2. Coach them hard, love them harder: A majority of the tactics employed by coach would not be accepted by parents today. He expected a lot from you both on, and off, of the court. If you were not able to perform, keep promises, or take care of responsibilities, he did not have time for you. Being part of his team meant playing your part a system that required maximum time and effort; not everybody was cut out for that system. But if you stayed around long enough, you knew that you were part of a brotherhood – something that was bigger than you.
  3. A measure of a man is not by how much he uses profanity: Although this is true, I do use a lot of profanity still (Sorry, Chuck). Many would watch this man become splittingly mad (seriously, splittingly). But he would never curse. He would stomp his foot or hit his chair, exclaiming, “GOD BLESS IT!” But cursing was beneath him.
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    He was a fierce competitor as a coach. He yelled but never cursed.
  4. Although people are not perfect. It does not mean that you cannot expect it from your athletes. He would always say. “I know we can’t be perfect all of the time, but we can darn sure work towards it.” Coach paid attention to every detail, which is why his teams would execute every offensive and defensive play with precision.
  5. If your athletes make mistakes, it is the coach’s lack of preparation: Coach did not take too kindly to losing; we barely ever did. But he knew that when we did lose, we were not prepared physically, or mentally. So he did everything he could to help us get another victory.
  6. The “Our Father” prayer: He was careful to never participate with us. But he knew how important prayer was. So, every game, he would give us our pre-game talk, then quickly leave so that we had our moment of prayer.
  7. Not to give a damn what other people thought: I have never seen a person who was hated, but loved; respected, yet revered; accepted, but feared. I thought those things could not go together. But they can. And truth be told, I don’t think he gave one damn who was on what side. I watched him chew a ref out, get kicked out of a game, then joke around with the same referee 15 minutes after the game had ended. He never took it personally.
  8. Fake Hustle. This is something that he would yell constantly. (the other thing he would do – call you by your mother’s name while your mother sat behind you, laughing).
  9. Every tough guy has a soft spot: East High teams were known for their defensive schemes. You had to be able to interpret a crazy numbering system he had and be able to carry out any directives to perfection. This system, when done correctly, made our team one of the most feared in the state. This meant that players had to be in their top physical condition in order to keep up with these demands.We ran.A lot.And after we ran, we ran some more.
  10. But there was a way out of running — his daughter showing up to practice. We had finally found his kryptonite. She was the same age as I and would often go to the practices waiting for her father. When she did, he got a big smile on his face and eased up on the crushers. During classes, we would often beg her to show up at the end — before conditioning, of course.
  11. It doesn’t matter if the other team knows your plays, winning is about execution: Anyone who has played for or against a Coach White team knows the plays 2 High (or 4 High), 4 Low, Kentucky, Open and Basic (there were a few others, but it really didn’t deviate from there). So why did they work? How was he so successful? Because there was a lot of autonomy in those plays. There was always an option B, C, and D if A did not work. He played chess while the opposing coach played checkers.

I could go on and on with the lessons both big and small that I learned from Coach White. But, I was not the only athlete that had the privilege to be under his care. Upon his passing, hundreds of men gave testimony to his caring, nurturing, and tough-as-nails discipline. His 914 wins, 18 state titles, and 81 percent winning average pails in comparison to the impact that he left on so many young men. He gave 45 years of coaching and mentorship to a community that so desperately needed it; his wife gave a piece of her husband and gained many sons; his daughter and son gave a piece of their father and gained many brothers. Learning of his death was a sad day for many. A pivotal figure in our lives went to heaven. What a gift he gave us all. Rest in paradise, Coach. We love you.

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You could hear that laugh from a mile away.

#tbirds

#eagles

#family

A Force to be Reckoned With

When I was in junior high, I had the opportunity to take part in an accelerated language arts program. This meant that I was able to handle a bigger workload and take on more responsibility. The teacher was a plump man with a round face, facial hair, and a ponytail that went down to the middle of his back. He looked like the type of guy who loved books.

No, I love books.

I mean, LOOOOVES books.

The first assignment he gave us on the very first day of school (really, who does that!) was to read Fahrenheit 451 within the first two weeks of school. As I shockingly gazed at the thickness of the book, along with the “further required reading” list that accompanied the book. I knew that this class wasn’t for me.

I went to my counselor.

So my counselor took me out of the program and placed me in one of the regular classes. I walked into the class and gave the transfer sheet to the teacher. This was no ordinary teacher, this was a woman — a black woman, which was weird because I had only ever once encountered a black female teacher throughout my academic career (at that point).

She took the slip from me.

“Mmmmm-hmm. You can sit over there.”

I sat — still in shock.

She had a personality that was bigger than life, she had a loud, booming voice, she had a slight southern twang to her voice, and she did not take shit from anyone.

…and I mean anyone.

To tell the truth, I was scared of this woman for the first quarter of the school year. Every time she asked for a volunteer, I sank a little lower in my seat. When she wanted one of the students to diagram a sentence, I would stare directly at my paper, trying my damnedest not to make eye contact. When it was time to go, I would hurriedly get my shit together and get the hell out of that room.

One day, everything changed. That day, I did not get my shit together fast enough.

“How come you never give the answer?”

She smiled.

Oh, shit.

“What do you mean?”

“I know you have the answer. I know you came from the accelerated class. You need to start answering the questions in class. Don’t hide your genius.”

I was confused as hell. Although I have been trying to avoid her, she has been paying attention to me.

“Tell your mom and your sister, I said hello.”

Fuck.

From that moment on, she would push me academically and personally. She would be one of the most influential people in my life — often giving me lessons not only on being a man but a black man as well. She would teach me about responsibility, she would teach me about perseverance, and she would also teach me about respect for myself and for others. I had a mother at home, and I had a mother at school.

What started out as a teacher to student relationship would years later become a relationship as colleagues as I was hired in the same district that I grew up in, and that she still taught in. What I did not know was that she was always looking out for me and doing what she could to give me every opportunity to succeed.

Sixteen years after I sat in her classroom, moved to another state, and started a family, I embarked on a mission to attain my doctoral degree. In the orientation class, we were tasked with writing a letter of appreciation to the person who got you to this point. To tell the truth, many helped me along the way. But there was one person who took it upon herself to not only discuss just how successful I could be but to hold me to a higher standard based on that potential.

I found out that Mrs. Francine Jackson passed away on May 11th.  I never knew if she received that letter in particular, but I think she knew the impact that she would have on my life and the lives of countless students in our area. I can only hope that I am living my life in a way that would do her memory justice.

1 Difference is Just as Good as 100

So, I had this idea: why don’t I use my non-profit as a vehicle to create an opportunity for fathers or father-figures to read to their children. Afterward, both could go to a local restaurant and enjoy a root beer float together.

…And so I planned, I networked, I advertised. I played and replayed all possible scenarios, which all pointed to a successful event.

On the day of the event, I waited at the venue for people to flood the event. Slam Dunk!

One hour in and only one person came to enjoy the opportunity.

What the Hell?

This seemed like a slam dunk to me. Why wouldn’t a person take 15 minutes out of their schedule to read to their child? The way I see it, it’s a win-win for our community! Kids are read to, thus increasing their brain capacity; the local public library gains more readership, and a local restaurant gains patrons. I sat on the step wondering where I went wrong.

One hour in, I was ready to walk away.

But, just then, I see a father and his daughter walk in and grab a book.

Shit! A glimmer of hope. Would you look at that?

After choosing a book, they both walk outside, sit together under the gazebo, and read together.

…and that made it all worth it.

Maybe the event did not work out as I wanted it to…

Maybe I should have done a better job planning within the logistical side…

Maybe I should have been more aggressive with my advertising – shook a few more hands/handed out more materials.

I could “maybe” this thing all day. Grasping at what went wrong.

What I do know is that I possibly helped make a difference in that little girl’s life. She got to spend quality time with her father, under the gazebo.

Today, she and her father possibly made a memory.

I won.

 

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