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.

 

“Hair” or “Culture Shock”

Prerequisite: Watch the Blackish Episode “Chop Shop”

Today, my kids experienced something that took them out of their comfort zone. Something that is their birthright. Something that I got to experience as a child and hold dear to me to this day. Today, I took the kids to The Barber Shop.

We are not talking to any barber shop. No.  We are talking about Thee Barber Shop. A place that is a staple in the community. A place where people congregate to talk about a plethora of topics that may have nothing to do with hair – regardless of education (or actual knowledgebase of any particular subject). A place that is the center of fashion, social status, and well-being. A place where it is okay to own your individual style (especially if you are able to take some shit from everyone because of that style).

 

What my kids walked into that day was a venue like no other. They had no idea of the type of culture that existed in front of them. Laughter, loudness, languages, and hair. Braids, tapers, edges, fades, and braids. Hair lotions, spritzes, sprays, and gold chains. The smell of burnt African ancestral hair everywhere. They stood there, looking around – astonished and wide-eyed. And I, well I stood there like a proud father who had just walked his kids into Disneyland.

A taste of my childhood.

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The Shop, During less crowded

As per custom, simply walking into The Shop initiated the rituals of salutations – Acknowledging everyone in the building. There were enough pounds, head nods, daps, points in the direction of, and “wassups” to go around. As I turned around, I noticed the look on my kids’ faces, they now saw me as some type of celebrity.

“Do you even know these people?”

“Some. But that doesn’t matter when you are in The Shop. Everyone gets some sort of acknowledgement.”

Shocked.

We managed to find a place to sit down. As usual the place was damn-near standing room only.

“Walk in, or appointment?”

“Appointment.”

You damn right appointment. I sure-as-shit know better than to walk in an establishment such as this without an appointment unless I had half of the day to wait for an open seat. Don’t get me wrong, if you got the time, the barbershop is the place to sit and bullshit and/or catch the game, whether you need a haircut that day or not was of no importance. The wait was well worth it if you had a favorite barber. Plus, that kind of wait speaks to the quality of the shop. Longer wait = better haircuts.

“Dad, why do you have a winter cap on your head?”

I believe that this would be the perfect time for us to discuss barber shop etiquette. When at the shop, you:

  • do not switch barbers within the same shop. You must stick with the barber that cuts your hair. If you decide to switch to a different barber, know that your actions are giving a clear sign that you think that he or she sucks. This will diminish your loyalty in the entire shop. Now, every barber within the shop will look at you with a side eye.
  • always tip your barber. If you don’t have time to sit, make an appointment. But, if you tip your barber well, he or she will have your back when you are in a bind.
  • never, ever, ever (ever, ever, ever) come inside the shop with a fucked-up hairline. At 38, my hairline runs faster than I do, so I save the money and shave it bald myself. I wore a winter cap because I wasn’t about to be the subject of ridicule on that day, or any other.

“Shut up!”

“It’s because your hairline is messed up, isn’t it?”

She got me.

I was not going to honor that with an answer. She knew what the problem was. The asshole smirk she gave me — my asshole smirk that I give out regularly — was very telling.

My son was called up to his seat. Having had his hair cut before at this shop, he was somewhat of a veteran.

Somewhat…

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“Why is he making that face?”

He was still clearly out of his element. Every time he would look up, he would give me a nervous half-smile as if he were saying, “I’m okay, I’m okay, I can do this…” But it seemed too much for his anxiety.

“Why is he making that face?”

“Shhhhh!”

Twenty minutes later – a quick cut by any means, being that hairline perfection and presentation is key, and conversations are to be had both by barber and those in the vicinity – my son hopped off from the chair with a fresh cut that made him look much older, and much cuter.

“Do you like it?

“Yup.”

“Can we go get ice cream now?”

He truly didn’t give a shit.

“Sure.”

And away we went.

 

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Fresh Cut.

The Gift of Failure

“Failure is so important. We speak about success all the time. It is the ability to resist failure or use failure that often leads to greater success. I’ve met people who don’t want to try for fear of failing.” – J.K. Rowling

2018-04-07 10.48.48

A couple of weeks ago, you tried out for an AAU elite travel team. Now, you already how much I absolutely detest AAU teams – although, I’ll admit, it has allowed me to see some awesome locations, meet wonderful people, and play against some of the most talented basketball players to ever walk on a court. The problem is, I have also witnessed the dark side of elite basketball — but, I won’t get into that now; that is for another time.

Honestly, Honey, as we wait for this letter to come in the mail, I keep hoping we receive bad news.

I honestly hope you don’t make the team.

Bear with me…

Listen, I may be a little biased, but whenever you walk into the gym, you are the best player there. You have the size, you have the speed, you can shoot, you can use your left hand, and you have the drive. But, more than anything, you have fun, you are social, you are humble, and you are smart; and that is what I love (and will continue to love) most about your game. I am proud of you every time you step out on the court because I know your competitiveness will compel you to make the most of your abilities as well as make your teammates better. Yes, I will admit, as your coach, when your team falls short — or when you have a terrible game, I am upset. I am upset until I look over at you, joking and laughing with your teammates as if you guys don’t have a care in the world. Basketball is just a game to you; you know you are good at it, but you are there to have fun and socialize.

That being said…

If you are selected for an elite AAU team, there is a whole new dynamic to consider…

Winning.

Man, o’ man. Little girl, you will be expected to win. Not only will you be expected to show up to a tournament and produce, but, when you do not produce, you will sit the bench until you are able to produce (which could be a while dependent on if your replacement has a hot hand). You will need to practice your craft on your own time — no excuses! It does not matter if you are the best player on any given day; you need to be the best player on that specific day. The expectation is for you to show up to a tournament, hours away from your home, and claw and scratch your way to a championship. Period.

Look, I am not here to bash AAU or crush your dream, but, my job as your father is to protect you. That job requires me to deem what is, and is not, appropriate for you given your age and maturity level, whether that be cell phones, music, movies, boys, and yes, basketball. And frankly, right now, I don’t think you are ready.

Is there a side of me that wants you to make it? Yes! But I have come to realize that it is the part of me that is selfish, self-serving, and competitive. Of course I want to show everybody that I produce the best of the best. But that is not right.

So, here’s to you staying young, having fun, and not making the team.

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———————————————————————————————————————————-

For the record:

Weeks later, I found out that you, in fact, did not make it…

“Unfortunately, She was not selected for our 6th grade team.  We had so many girls at that level trying out this year and looked at each one very carefully before making our decision. 

We highly encourage your daughter to try out again next October.

Thank you.”

Okay. Now, let’s make them regret that decision…

The Highest Honor in Education

All teachers become educators to make a difference in the lives of their students. Tomorrow I will watch a student who became a friend, a friend who became a brother get married to the girl of his dreams. And, he chose me to be in his wedding. There are many awards that I could win for teaching. But, nothing will compare to the honor that I will have to share this experience with Cody and Kate. He often writes about how I was a mentor to him. What he does not understand is how much of an influence he has been on me and my career.

When I look back on my career I will remember the conversations that we had in the weight room about life, about love, and about sacrifice. I will remember the pimple face twerp who listened to my every word as if I knew what the hell I was talking about. And I will remember the day that he came to my home and told me that he had fallen in love and how this is definitely the one.

I hope I have made some type of influence on all of my students throughout my career. I may not have been your best, or favorite, teacher, but I hope that on some level we connected and that you learned something from me whether that was from the content or just from life.

School of Agriculture Fail

While playing with the Little People Farm set…

“Hey, son, what animal is this?”

“Horse.”

“And this?”

“Cow.”

“What about this?”

” A Boka-Bok.”

“Hmmm… No, this is a chicken.

“Okay.”

Highly amused, but concerned, Heather decides to join in:

“Buddy, what is this?”

“Boka-bok!”

Well, shit.

Father of the Year Moment #641 – Leadership (I thank God every day for the mentors I had growing up):

Earlier this year, My oldest daughter and I had a conversation about leadership on and off the basketball court. Since her father is very long winded, she got more than she wanted:
Okay. you want to be a leader, then be a leader. But be careful; you will be criticized for your decisions. Everybody wants to take a leadership role until it is time for the criticism. As soon as the criticism comes, they will tuck their tale and hide in the shadows. Don’t hide from it; Learn from it. Use it to make yourself and the people around you better.
If you want to be a leader, then take adversity head on. If you are truly right about something, then you have to fight for it; be smart about how you choose to fight. Choose craftiness over brute force.
If you want to be a leader, then know that there are two things that are extremely dangerous to you, and to your group – sincere ignorance, and conscientious stupidity. Eliminate both.
If you want to be a leader, you need to be dynamic. Know the differing types of leadership and apply the correct type of leadership as situations arise. Find a balance between using data and using your heart in decision making. Too much data, and people will think that you are cold, too much heart, and people will think you are blinding yourself to what is right in front of you.
If you want to be a leader, then represent the whole. Leaders never speak as individuals, they are always representative of the team. Give the team the credit when things go right, take the blame when things go wrong. When they do go wrong, first look at yourself as part of the problem, then assess if there are people who are the problem – deal with them head on. If you have something to say, then say it to their faces. Never hide amongst the faction – that’s cowardice.
If you want to lead, then be quiet and lead by example. Anybody can be loud and demanding to get things done. Leaders themselves do what needs to be done. Leaders influence others without them knowing that they are being lead. They lead because there is a need. When people see you are willing fulfill that need, they will follow. When you choose to speak up, speak up for things that you are passionate about and are willing to sacrifice for – you may be called to do so.
If you want to lead, then don’t expect a leadership title. Leaders don’t need titles. Even if you get a title, nobody gives a damn. Leaders are leaders because they work harder than the rest. Make sure you work hard when people are not looking at you; share your hard work when they are. You do not need a statue to tell you how nice you are. Let others talk about your work ethic; you don’t need to proclaim it. Work behind the scenes.
If you want to be a leader, then expect to sacrifice greatly. You will sacrifice time; you will need it to perfect your craft. You will sacrifice friends; your friends will see the path you’ve chosen and understand. You will sacrifice relationships unless you choose people who are on your path and/or have common interests. It will be trying, but remember – the difference between a moment and a movement is sacrifice.
If you want to lead, then expect the haters. You will have critics everywhere. People will say, “Well, I would’ve done it this way…” But don’t listen – they’ve never done it. When asked to step up, they never will.
If you want to lead, then expect to be alone. Not so much “by yourself” physically (that will also happen), but mentally. You are carving out a path, and that path holds uncertainty. Uncertainty is uncomfortable. Uniformity is comfortable. If you want to lead, always choose uncertainty.

Leadership is not easily attained and is even harder to keep. Leadership isn’t for everyone. So, if you choose to follow, that’s okay. Just choose who you follow wisely. Don’t let someone tell you that they are leading you to the mountain top, only to find yourself in a crevasse.

Something tells me that she will never ask for advice again…

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