mentor

Brotherhood

Frederick L. Cox

Mortal Man

Brotherhood

By: Frederick Leon Cox

FIRST of all, SERVANTS of all, we shall TRANSCEND all.
— Alpha Phi Alpha

I have always felt a sense of loneliness. For many who know me, they wouldn’t believe that. I was raised with multiple siblings, two older (by 5 and 7 years) and three younger (6-10 years), seemingly a big family but I always felt alone. When I heard J Cole’s Middle Child lyric, “Dead in the middle of two generations. I’m little bro and big bro all at once”, I felt that in my spirit. In my family, I always wished I had a roll dog. Someone close to my age that I would ride for and they would return the loyalty. With so many people around, I felt awkward, it caused me to isolate myself. 

As I transitioned throughout grade school, my personality made me one of the most social people in the room. While it was natural for me to be extroverted, there are multiple memories of feeling like the most awkward person in the room. I attended an Arts high school where I majored in theatre. From a very early space, I learned to be comfortable being laughed at, and to shake it off as if I wasn’t bothered. Graduating high school I received the superlative Mr. Stivers High School, an individual that exemplified the most high school spirit. It was proof that I knew how to wear the mask well. 

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I then matriculated to the University of Dayton, at that point the institution was no more than 3% black and so the feeling of isolation met me at the front door. It didn’t take me long to realize that I may need to leave the institution. I had two friends that felt similar and instantly we began discussing Greek Life. As I considered which organization would best suit me, I realized that I identified with Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., more than any other. Not only was I inspired by the history, but the intellectual brothers that helped shaped black ideology confirmed that I would be in good company. The lack of black students at the university made the idea of joining a Historically black fraternity seem like the answer to all my challenges at the time. Not only would I have the opportunity to bond with over 200,000 Black men all over the world, but I would be able to travel to other universities to make my college experience larger than what I was currently being offered. In short, those feelings of isolation would end. 

On March 7th, 2009, I joined the best fraternity in the entire world. It didn’t take long for me to become a recognizable Alpha in the area. I soon ran for statewide, regional, and national positions within the fraternity. I tried to get to know every Alpha I could and I traveled to support brothers as much as possible. Striving to be the best Alpha made me feel like I was truly living the mission of our fraternity. I met some of the strongest, forward thinking, family centered men that I had ever known. Needless to say, I had no regrets. Years after college, I not only remained active but as exuberant as I was the day in which I became a member. Two months ago I celebrated 10 years within the fold and as I look back at my experience, I realize that I have returned back to that space of isolation. But how? My dream came true, I was a member of a leading Black Male organization with tons of connections.

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I began therapy to look more into this. As I explained my circumstance, I was guided to understand that isolation was centered in my genuine friendships with other Black men. I thought about how my entire life I was able to create strong and affirming relationships with black women but was missing that with my black male peers. Examining my relationships with the black males in my family, it became clear that they weren’t as strong either (four brothers not close to me in age and a father that I had yet to build an authentic relationship with). Specifically in the context of Alpha, I pledged with the hopes of building relationships, but I spent the majority of my time working to serve the organization rather than sitting back and building relationships with my brothers inside. Therapy helped me realize that in my friendships with men, I compete. Rather than sharing and supporting, I fight for leadership roles and often isolate myself from the general experience.

That was tough pill to swallow.

Alpha Man

As I approach my 30s, I realize that I don’t just need to passively be part of a brotherhood and directly invested in the business. I realized that I am complicit in my own isolation. I was so focused on leading the brotherhood that I hadn’t taken the time to focus on what I truly needed with the group. This even allowed me to think about the ways I was complicit in my surface relationships with men within my family. I joined Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated to be part of brotherhood of back men. Black men bonded by their vulnerabilities, not just their professional acumen. If that was what I wanted, I would need to focus on being more vulnerable and judging the actions of others less. Most importantly, I realize that my contributions to the fold isn’t solely based on leadership roles but my ability to truly be my brother’s keeper.


I shared this story because what I gained from this fraternity was reality that brotherhood is an exchange and not just shared space. As I continue on my journey to build healthy relationships with black male peers, I’m able to consider the roles I play. These next few years will be filled with apologies, listening, sharing, asking questions and taking on intentional leadership roles that feed my needs. Brotherhood is no longer something I long for, it’s something that I am an active agent in creating. 

Frederick Leon Cox
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. develops leaders, promotes brotherhood and academic excellence, while providing service and advocacy for our communities.
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Brotherhood

By: Frederick Leon Cox

Son | Brother | Uncle | Godfather | Alpha

Be sure to keep up with Fred on social media:

Instagram: @coxfredl

Facebook: Frederick Leon Cox

The Lamb is the Lion

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Mortal Man

The Lamb is the Lion

by: amaha sellassie

I am beginning to ponder life and how much of it I could possibly have left.  While some may find this to be morbid or unhealthy, for me it is becoming liberating because it is propelling me past my fears and internal obstructions into walking in my medicine on the road we call life.

I find myself understanding my role in the human body, which is giving me the courage to say no to great things that don’t line up with my highest self. It is giving me boldness knowing that the lamb is the lion because the Sheppard is Supreme.

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Pondering my mortality has given me patience.  What is five years of intense focus if in the end I can utilize a PHD for 50 years towards emerging equity and collective hope on the earth as we emerge the heart of humanity?

It is said when an elder dies a library is lost.  How do I share now so when I am gone all those who have freely poured into me live on in future generations? Dr Twe always teaches us to leave the earth better than we found it, I pray for the power to do that.

I want my daughter to inherit a world where as Stevie puts it “hate is a dream and Love forever stands”.

To birth Love we must give Love, therefore by grace I give my life to be Loves domain that humanity can know and make Love Supreme.

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As we walk in the Way, we make the way known. The older I get the more I realize the power of action, walking out vision and re-imaging a world that honors the dignity and worth of every human being. The power of being the invitation thru occupying grace and acknowledging my interrelated interdependence with all things in the single garment of destiny. Ubuntu, for the supremacy of Love is the underlying assumption.

By grace I am a conductor on the above ground railroad, walking with humanity as we press towards higher ground, cooperation and mutual understanding. 

The conductors of today are building an ecosystem of equity that structuralizes the dignity every human being posses in order to release their potential for the benefit of all. I am learning to forgive in this exodus into One Love.

I am because we are.

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The Lamb is the Lion

amaha sellassie

Practitioner Scholar, Social Healer, Health Equity Seeker, Public Sociologist, Community Based Participatory Researcher, Roots Doctor, Lover of Music & Comics and Friend of Humanity


Thankful participant in West Dayton Strong and Gem City Market

You can connect and build with Amaha on:

Instagram: @international_morality

Twitter: @intl_morality

Facebook: amaha sellassie

Out of the Shadows

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Mortal Man

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. 

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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.  

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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.

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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.

 
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Out of the Shadows

By: Marc DeWitt

Son, Father, Brother, Educator, Artist, Mentor, Alpha, Student Advocate

Keep up with Marc on instagram at:

@6__5

Winter in America: a journey in education

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Mortal man

Winter in America:

a journey in education

by: Christopher James

A journey in education is a look at the path that is all too common to the everyday walk of young black males.  Through various interactions and experiences, the feelings of inadequacy and the lack of confidence are easier to embrace than the motivation to try.  For any growing child the embrace of love is what’s wanted, but often youth do not know how to seek that love.  The love that an educator gives can inspire a student or shield a student from challenges that can instigate self-assurance.  

All throughout my educational experience, I was told that I could be anything I put my mind to. If I just get good grades the rest will work out, I will get a good job, good money, and be able to buy the car of my dreams.  This all sounded good but even in the fourth grade, I knew that this was not all that I needed.  Every day I saw my parents working hard, father preaching to the masses, and my mother teaching youth my own age at the time.  

In the early 90’s when Starter jackets were the greatest symbol for being fresh, my brother headed off to walk to his middle school with his friends as he did every day.  He was excited because he had on one of the most sought-after Starter jackets, the infamous Georgetown Hoyas with an embroidered bulldog logo on the front and back.  As he turned off of his home street, he heard a car come to a screeching stop beside him.  My brother stopped with a friend who were both curious to the abrupt stop when a guy in a black hoodie jumped out wielding a Smith and Wesson.  I remember the explanation of the gun because that was the first time I heard of Smith and Wesson as a gun manufacturer, I only heard the name in reference to rap duo Smif – N- Wessun, now known as Cocoa Brovas.  

Thankfully, my brother survived the incident without physical harm, but the toll was greater on my mother and father who felt helpless.  Here they are working to provide the best for their children for an incident to occur down the street from where we laid our heads.  

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That incident sparked my parents to sacrifice more and send my brother and I to prestigious private schools.  My brother went to a private high school while I was sent to a Christian elementary school to start fourth grade.  My experience was anything but Christian.  I was forced to repeatedly apologize in the front of the class for proclaiming my innocence and not taking accountability, which in the fourth grade I didn’t know what it meant.  I was threatened with suspension because of a design in my haircut due to the school being against gang activity.  An experience that my parents reminded me of that I must have purposefully forgotten was when my class went on a school field trip and one of the school workers who was tasked to take me, and three other minority students back to school decided to drop us off at a near gas station because she didn’t want us in her car.  

After all of these incidents, my parents called a meeting that they insisted I be a part of with school administration.  Here I am, a child whose chest was barely at table level while sitting.  I remember vividly the discussion at the meeting.  I never saw my father mad aside from when I would break something, but today he carried a wave of calculated anger that appeared calm but deliberate. 

My father asked the teacher and the acting principal, “You asked my son to apologize for incidents he was not a part of? You’ve held him back from activities, and tried to suspend him for a squiggly-line in his hair? Will you apologize to us and him for our inconvenience?”  The principal jumped in “That’s a reasonable request and on behalf of the school I do apologize”, my father stopped the principal.   “Thank you, but I am asking the teacher.”  The teacher played with her keys and without making eye contact said, “You know, I do not have the courage to apologize right now.”  

As a child sitting at the table, I was hoping that the teacher would stop playing with the keys, I knew what my mother would do to me had I been playing like that.  I also immediately thought about that word “accountability”.  I had been hounded to write that word and what it meant for pages and pages and my teacher could not put that word into action.

Needless to say, that summer we moved from the urban-city environment to the suburbs.  In retrospect, these years planted a question in my mind as to why my environment was so different from this new community.  This new community was building new stores, homes, and in the process of building a new high school.  Years later, the urban neighborhood I grew up in looked the same as it did the morning my brother was robbed.   

This new community was great because I didn’t grow up worrying if I too would be robbed for my Air Force 1's, or my Sean John jacket.  This was a new frontier and a different type of challenge to conquer.  As a black student I was accepted, I was told that I served a purpose and that purpose was sports.  Sports was often said to be my only access to college.  The biggest thing with this experience for myself and other black youth, I received love due to my physical abilities and was not taken seriously in any other facets of the school. 

Prior to the beginning of my senior year as a family, we moved out of state so my father could take advantage of a new position/promotion within the church.  This was a complete culture shock for me.  I had been in class with white students before, had white teachers, black women teachers, but never a black male teacher.  This standard did not change as I entered this new school for my senior year.  Instead, I was faced with the reality that I would be a member of a group that represented only 5% of the students in the entire school.  This new normal meant that I would be the only black student in the class, and when questions of race, slavery, or affirmative action came up, teachers would use me to confirm that the country was in a good place, even to my objections.

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The experiences in grade school prepared me for the perceived utopian society that college is and the real world stipulations involved.  In an environment where students are eagerly finding themselves and searching for representations of who they wish to become it was especially difficult to find myself in this space.  As an American male who is black, I did not have a black male teacher or professor until my final year in college.   

The effects of limited representation continued into college as I dealt with finding myself in an environment that was not conducive to young black men.  The college experience is tough as it is, being away from home, student responsibility, and the yearning to make a difference in a world unknown.  I was taught many lessons in college while trying to find myself in all of these mentioned roles.  I was faced with professors who allowed their implicit bias to calculate my grades, a professor kicked me out of class because she thought I wasn’t human.  I like to refer to her as Mrs. Turnpin, a fictional character from a book we read in that course of a lady who thought she was righteous by upholding standards even though those standards were rooted in racism and bigotry.  Lastly, the staple in a black youth’s life, the rite of passage of being harassed, mocked, arrested, and falsely charged by the finest in blue.  This was a journey of discovery to move from a black youth to a black man fighting for distinction.   

To bring this full circle, I have always wanted to be a representation for my community but mostly for youth that are searching for an authentic person that can represent and support them.  With this motivation driving my passion I jumped to the opportunity to be an administrator in a K-8 elementary school in Cleveland, Ohio.  In this role, I was the quasi-assistant principal tasked with ensuring school engagement in the community and finding ways to support students and staff needs.  As I began to find my way in this new role I was rocked with a tragedy that would gain national attention.  A student that took a liking to me and began a relationship with was gunned down in a “good shoot” police encounter.  The school student body looked to me to help navigate them through this traumatic experience with the killing of their classmate, Tamir Rice.  As Dean of this school, I attempted to seek out any and all organizations and supports to help students with trauma until my efforts were hindered by leadership that wanted to operate this traumatic event as a normal occurrence.  Missing the point that this decision would reinforce the stigma that urban youth do not matter. 

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This brief scope into my educational experience is not out of the norm for students who share my skin tone. The importance of representation goes beyond just seeing someone who looks like you in a position of success or power.  Representation is about having individuals of different experiences and insights that will have a say and seat at the table where the variety of experiences, cultures, and philosophies will add value and sensitivity to decision making.  My inspiration for helping youth in education, community, and life is driven from a motto I learned when I decided to enter the teaching field, “your job is to get at least one student to listen.”  

At the time, I thought this idea was right.  I no longer feel that way because I found out early that the students who listened to me were often the cast-offs or troublemakers.  This revealed to me that all students can be great if they’re taken seriously, given unbiased time and attention, and know that someone cares.  Instead, we choose to forget them.  Just like the forest beneath the highway never given a chance to grow, and now it’s Winter in America (Gil Scott Heron). 

 
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WINTER IN AMERICA

A JOURNEY IN EDUCATION

Christopher James

Father, Educator, Nupe, Community Advocate, Freedom Fighter

Keep with Christopher on instagram at: @bionik_man_man

The Highest Human Act Is To Inspire

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Mortal Man

The Highest Human Act Is To Inspire

By: Faheem Curtis-Khidr

Living in poverty does something to your psyche that I’m not sure how to fully quantify.
— Faheem Curtis-Khidr


My mother prays…a lot. In the Christian colloquial reference, she would be considered a, “prayer warrior.” I’m convinced the summation of her prayers and my behalf have a played a significant part in my survival and now current success. Growing up those prayers and God sent mentors were necessary life lines for my often reckless and wrongheaded behavior. Living in poverty does something to your psyche that I’m not sure how to fully quantify. It creates odd insecurities that are not noticeable to the human eye, but very much effect how you interact with the world around you. I made the chitlin circuit of poverty living in Dayton. I spent time in Olive Hill homes, Westwood (off Brooklyn Avenue), and Riverside. My mother worked two full time jobs and was in Nursing School. My father was present in my early life, but I would see him once or twice a month for much of my younger years. I resented him for that and am still working on my daddy issues as a father myself, although as a man I better understand why he made some of the decisions he made even though I do not agree with them. 

My older sisters/brothers/aunts/cousins were responsible for my care in my younger years (ages 1-10) while my mother was at work. They did their very best to shield me from the pitfalls of poverty and inequitable living. I love them for that. I was surrounded by love and affection. Even with their best efforts there are certain environmental staples that you can’t avoid. I remember eating cold hotdogs, having cold cut sandwiches several days straight. I didn’t know it was because the heat was off, or we couldn’t afford much else besides deli meat. It didn’t matter to me. In fact, I didn’t even know I was poor until my mother made the choice to send me to a parochial school, St. Peter’s in Huber Heights. I was one of eight black students in the entire school at the time. It was a very uncomfortable experience for me. The teacher did not have a culturally sensitive or responsive pedagogy and was not able to communicate with me effectively. My experience from preschool through kindergarten had been with black educators who were in tune with how to communicate and ingratiate minority babies into activities etc. As a result of this culture shock my behavior was less than ideal. When I was living in Riverside (which is right next to Huber Heights) I became cognoscente of the reputation of the area for being poor. I would often lie to my peers in school and say I lived in Huber Heights. Huber Heights did not have the stigma of poverty that Riverside did, and I resented how I would be approached when that came up. That resentment often spilled out in outward aggression. I would fight without much room for recourse for other solutions. I began to get a reputation for being hostile. My reputation provided a safe-haven to protect myself from the jeers of being associated with poverty and the racialized tension of being black in majority white bigoted school. It did result in my temporary placement in a juvenile facility and later military school. I remember the sheriff coming to our duplex to pick me up. It was surreal. 

As my difficulties at St. Peter continued, the teachers and administration told my mother that they thought I had a learning disability. Anything but take accountability for the toxic learning environment I was in. She refused to accept that thankfully. I took what was then a standard national assessment called the California Achievement Test. I tested well…really, really, well. My scores were at the top of my class and near the top of national scores. The discussions changed quickly. Even to the point where they began to pinpoint other students’ behavior as being the catalyst to provoking some of my violent outburst. It was weird to see the about face. My mother grew frustrated with St. Peters and took me out of the school. She took me to Mama Renee Mclendon seeking a fresh start and perspective on the learning experience for me. Mamma Renee had a learning institute located off W. Third Street. It was exactly what I needed. The trauma of the St. Peter’s experience left me jilted and distant. Mamma Renee wrapped her arms around me literally and figuratively and helped restore my confidence, and love of learning. There is not enough ink available to express to her my gratitude for what she did. Her mentorship was healing and transformative. Inshallah I can reach my students the way she reached me. 

We soon moved again, this time to Harrison Township. My mother enrolled me at St. Rita Catholic school. It was not ideal for me, but it was less than a 5 minutes’ drive to our new home. My initial time there was rough. The teachers I had were very similar to St. Peters’. I was fortunate to have other minority students and parents who readily identified with minority exclusion who became lifelong friends. Desiree Alexander, Logan Allen, Nick Dean, Andy Smith thank you for your friendship. Those persons parents understood some of the institutional difficulties for minority children of putting your child in a position to receive a quality education. Mr. Allen and Mr. Alexander always went out of their way to make sure I was doing ok and give me words of encouragement or scold me when I was wrong if that’s what was needed. I’m thankful for the extra love. Most of my teachers struggled to manage me in the classroom, finally they moved me to Ms. Maloney’s 8th grade classroom when I was in 5th grade. She had a reputation of being a stern disciplinarian. She involved me in classroom activities, challenged me to do the work, and be accountable for my behavior. It went well. I preferred being in her room compared to other teachers and even got in trouble on purpose when I was agitated with the 5th, 6th and 7th grade teachers to be sent there. She was an amazing history and government teacher. Her passion and authenticity made it easy for me to be fully engaged in my learning experience. 

Football has always been an outlet for me. I love the game, and still do. It was one of the few things I could have a legitimate conversation with my dad about that wasn’t awkward or lead to an argument. He played collegiately and then professionally for several years. From all accounts he was good. One of my dear friends’ father who went to college with him even mentioned he should be in the college athletics Hall of Fame. That’s high praise. I wore 78 (his Highschool, college and pro number) from grade school through college to honor him. I never told him that maybe I will one day soon. I relished the full speed collisions and imposing my will on my opponent for 3-5 seconds at a time 40-60 times a game. It offered me an opportunity to be violent and hostile and get rewarded for it. It was encouraged. 

My high school coach Jim Place is a great man. My grades at Chaminade Julienne were horrid 3/4ths of the year. The spring semester I would turn into a 3.5 student to be eligible and then go back to be a bad student during the season. I drove Coach Place nuts. A week before I was to be moved up to varsity my freshman year, I tore ligaments in my right ankle. It was the first time I had ever gotten hurt in any meaningful way. My surgery and rehab went well but I was depressed and angry at my circumstance. My grades were poorer than usual that year and my Spring grade rally wasn’t enough to make me eligible for the first half of the season the next year. I was heartbroken, but I put myself in that spot. Coach Place sat down with my parents and told them I had the ability to play high level collegiate football if…I took school seriously. My sophomore year I practiced with varsity all year despite being unable to play in games. It kept me focused and attached to the team. My teammates Brandon McKinney, Tim Crouch and Michael Thompson kept me encouraged and pushed me in practice. I was able to start the first playoff game against Eaton. I’ll never forget the feeling of walking out onto the field again, feeling vindicated that I didn’t fold or quit. I went off that game. The next week in practice I reagitated my right ankle and sat out the rest of the playoffs. As college coaches began to more frequently ask about me Coach Place recommended, I step up my academic performance to help with my qualifying score for the SAT. He would have me over to his house to work with tutors on study techniques etc. I took it for granted at that time, but he was investing in me not only as a player but a person. I scored a 1250 on my SAT. But my core gpa was 1.9. I remember Coach Place calling me down to his office my senior year after the season was over. With tears in his eyes he went through a list he had and on big whiteboard. They were D-1 colleges who called or came by the office and wanted to offer me. Big names. But because of my gpa they didn’t think I would qualify. 

I attended two different junior colleges. My first stop North Iowa Area Community College was eye opening. It was a rural location. The college was outside a small town called Mason City Iowa. It was known as the crystal meth capital of the world. Quite the distinction. While there I struggled to adjust. There were literal corn fields in between campus buildings. The coaching staff who recruited me and gave me a full scholarship (which was unheard of for JUCO at the time) left before the season started. We later found out it was over control of the athletic department. I no longer had the support system I was accustomed to in Dayton and it showed. I only received 3 out of 15 credits that Fall Semester. The three credits I received were for being on the football team. That Spring Semester I was shot hanging out a friend’s off campus home. The shooters were looking for someone who happened to look like me. I remember the burning feeling of metal spiraling through my flesh and laying on my back on a wooden porch before I lost consciousness, thinking this is the way and place I’m going to die - in Mason City Iowa.

I transferred the following year to a JUCO in Minnesota. My good friend Ishmael Wright from Dayton (between Ish and my guy Diamond they were the best cover corners I played with high school or college) was there already, and the coaching staff recruited me during high school. The familiarity helped a great deal. Minnesota is a different type of cold. 5 inches of snow in six hours means nothing to them. After being there for a year I transferred to a four-year college, North Carolina A&T. Coach Patterson recruited me, but my credits were an issue. I was blessed to have two friends Jesse Junius and Robert Palmer who were already students at A&T and working in the admissions office. They had a good repour with the Dean of Admissions at the time Mr. Lee Young. Initially after viewing my transcript the university told me I was not likely to get in. I began to look at other options from schools who had offered primarily HBCU’s like Southern, Texas Southern, Lane and Arkansas Pine-Bluff. My friends lobbied hard with Mr. Young. Although my academic performance was trending upwards my off the field behavior was erratic, and I was attached to sectors of society that were not idyllic for a college athlete. My friends wanted to keep me close. I’m thankful they cared that much about me. Eventually the admissions office in conjunction with the NCAA granted me a letter of acceptance stating I was academically compliant and could enroll in the summer. I came into A&T under strict academic guide lines. Mr. Young played a pivotal role in my life, eventually my football career faded, and I was struggling to find my balance without being an athlete. His mentorship was critical in my development as a man. Injuries took me away from the game and I struggled to find my identity outside of being a football player-- it is after all why I was even able to go to college. Although I did not recognize it at the time Allah had already placed a cohort around me to push into the next phase of my life. With Mr. Young the standard was the standard and the expectations were for me to meet it. I feel short multiple times, but he never gave up on me and I’m thankful for that. I had several great professors who helped to mold me as a historian and academic at A&T. I lived in Gibbs Hall, in Bluford Library (Club Bluford during finals week) and my professors offices. Dr. Millicent Brown, Dr. Quaye, Dr. Roberto and others challenged me academically and pushed me to levels cognitively that I did not know I could reach. I’m thankful for them, even though when I was writing multiple 20-page papers for them I was not their biggest fan. 

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Being from Dayton and teaching in higher ed locally adds a certain level of anxiety for me. I understand what my students who are from the town are up against and the hurdles they must clear just to come to class regularly, let alone graduate. I understand the value of visual cues to validify your existence in the classroom and to have representation in the larger institution. There is a sense of urgency I have for my students because time is not always guaranteed to be on your side. I think back to my own educational experiences and how wildly they varied, and the settings that promoted my own academic success. When I thrived, it was because someone saw me, and not a statistic or derivative from an Affirmative Action compliancy initiative. Inshallah I can have the same influence on some of my students that Mamma Renee, Mrs. Maloney, Dr. Brown and Dr. Young had on me. Allah knows I’m trying. 

 
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THE HIGHEST HUMAN ACT IS TO INSPIRE

Faheem Curtis-Khidr

Muslim, Historian, Professor, Data Guru, A&T Alumni

instagram: @histprof1911