Out of the Shadows
By: Marc Dewitt
Jere Isiah DeWitt was a master conversationalist… a consummate networker, and he was ever curious. Pop was a corporate trainer, a storyteller, but so much more… he was loud and boisterous, proud and arrogant, dad loved his family, and introduced us to “kinfolk” often. To me he was a motivator, a confidante, later, even a friend. But he was an antagonizer and my biggest critic. He was my nemesis… and all the while, my greatest cheerleader. Pop once told me I was a better father than him. It’s the greatest compliment my father ever paid me... Nathan LaMont DeWitt is a world traveler, a husband and father, a runner, a weekend warrior, a voracious reader and a terrible driver. Nathan is Jere’s spitting image and my parent’s oldest child. Nathan is also a corporate trainer, a world class professional, an international lecturer, an adjunct professor, and a consummate storyteller. A great friend. Nathan is my person. One of my fondest memories is being the best man in his wedding. He has quietly guided me my entire life. Although only 18 months my senior, standing 5’10”, or 11” if you ask him, he is to me larger than life. He is my big brother and my best friend.
Through their lived experiences, I’ve finally come to understand, life is short, but worth it. I grew up in the shadow of my big brother, it seemed he could do no wrong… so I did a lot of it. Nate was a great student, a shining example, literally a Boy Scout and choirboy. I was asthmatic, awkward and I missed a lot of school. I wasn’t socialized to students my own age. So I was more than a little unruly. I could not participate in gym, sometimes recess or any extra curriculars until middle school. I did not learn to ride a bike until 10 or 11. Outdoors and physical exertion held every danger for me, and I could end up in the hospital, and often times did. I missed an average of 5 weeks of school a year, until middle school. When hospitalized I always wanted the IV to be put in my left hand so I could draw with my right. That did not usually work, so I became really good with my left. I was a comic book enthusiast growing up, absorbing mountains of comic books.
As I entered middle school I was no longer excused from gym. Then came the ridicule from being big and not good at sports. Luckily the breathing issues were easing up but the “social” animal was rearing its ugly head. Kids are cruel. And I was angry… all the time. Further, I wanted nothing to do with other kids. I was picked on some, but usually my brother ran interference. Nathan was wildly popular too. He could sing, and seemed to enjoy being really smart, and he was. And because of that I was always being called on the carpet by teachers who had Nate the previous year asking, “Marc, what’s wrong with you? Nate was such a good student!” or worse they’d call him down to deliver messages to the parents. Did I say I grew up in his shadow?
Then came high school, Nathan went with his friends and the rest of my neighborhood to Meadowdale. When it was my turn, I chose John H. Patterson Cooperative High School. Where students learned a trade and got jobs while in high school. I didn’t want to go to college anyway. “right!?” Patterson was a little too “open”, or so my Father thought. So after my second year, and a lot of skipping class, Pop sent me to Meadowdale. Insert that really long shadow again. Nate was still… Nate, only more so. He was beloved by teachers and classmates alike… I was an unknown. It was Nate’s senior year. That summer he called the house in the midst of a celebration and told me one of the realest things he’d ever say, “I have to see the world.” After graduation, Nathan went to Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. That shadow that had been there my whole life was gone, but so was my big brother, my interpreter of the world around me. He made it look easy because he was so eager to experience life. Stranger still, he was hours away and while I finally had my own room, it seemed all I did now… was seek him out. Every chance I got I was in Athens, Ohio. After college, Nate moved to Japan to teach English, and live an incredible life. Leaving me with a stop the presses thought. He told me I was smarter than him. While I didn’t believe him, I thought that’s like your parents telling you something intended to push you. I still don’t agree, but it turns out, he meant it. Meanwhile, I graduated from high school and enrolled at Sinclair.
It was Sinclair that would next play a huge role in my life. I was an admissions assistant a week after graduating high school. The job was fun but then I had to go to class. And deal with what I thought was a math disability, which was actually just a phobia. Anthony Ponder helped me with that by not letting me shy away. Challenging me to dig deeper, and conquering College Algebra. Rigor was my next lesson, courtesy of Marc Smith’s introductory Biology class. The next few years would take me to work full-time and a measure of independence. It would also introduce me to Christopher K. Welch. Chris challenged me to take on my first real job, earning for the first time, a living wage. As well as what I did not want to hear, “DeWitt” he said, “you have to go back to school.”
Enter, Central State University. Although I knew it was an HBCU, I was still caught off guard by the people I met. They were from all around the country and the world. But things were different, I was determined to make it. And although I did ok at first, two things happened in the first year. One, I made the decision to prioritize school like never before so I resigned my position and became part time. Two, I met William Henry Caldwell, a relatively small guy from Demopolis, Alabama. He was/is a giant. Mr. Caldwell is probably the foremost authority on Black vocal choral music in the country, if not the world. He served as the Conductor of the Grammy Nominated Central State University Chorus. Caldwell offered me a scholarship, made me a principle voice, a part of something bigger than me. And thereby changed my world. That summer I was one of three students from Central’s chorus that served as guest vocalists for Wilberforce University’s Choir. Their spring tour would be a return visit to Egypt where they toured the previous year. They were invited back, this time, as guests to the US ambassador. We were to sing for his 4th of July Celebration at the Opera House in Cairo. In route, we spent the day (14 hour layover) in Amsterdam, visited Anne Frank’s house, and ate, before our connecting flight to Egypt. After singing at the opera house in Cairo, something occurred to me. My mother was in Japan visiting Nate. Pop was in South Africa on a mission trip for with his church. My step mom and younger brother, Jeremy, were in Europe. No one in either household I grew up in was in the continental United States. My world was suddenly so much bigger, all the while so much smaller.
Central State would afford me a similar experience in Europe touring England and France a few years later. Between Egypt and Europe I spent nearly every term on the Dean’s List, traveled the US extensively, and accomplished the one thing I never imagined growing up; earning a bachelor’s degree in History and Economics. Sinclair and Central State changed my life. I’m thankful to the Most High for putting the men I’ve mentioned in my life when he did. I strive to be that difference maker for brothers I encounter. I am thankful for SaVon Isaiah, Ethan LaVance, Caden Matthew and Landon Thomas DeWitt… you teach your father daily. I love you. Pop keep an eye on them and us.