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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

Lessons on Mortality

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Mortal Man

Lessons on Mortality

by: Antwawne Kelly

I’ve always believed that I could be something in this life. Even as a young “ghetto child” the world labeled me - I knew I would be something. This life I’ve lived; this is who I am!
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Lesson One

1997/1998 – (a young me) gets an emergency call at work. It’s my mother telling me the doctor said her breast cancer was aggressively eating away at her body. That there is nothing that can be done. To prepare for the worst, that nature will take it's course. What 18 year old wants to hear that about their mother? The first lady of your life, the woman that gives you life! I tried to be strong, tried to concentrate, but the realization of mortality would soon walk through the door.

This is me; Antwawne Kelly - born and raised in Dayton, Ohio by Debra Kelly and Father “unknown” but that’s another story. At the age of 19 I had a child of my own, I was trying to figure out this thing called life and take care of my mother who was dying of breast cancer. Trying to meet all demands in my life at that time had me numb. I tried to figure out ways to save my mother. I did all I could to save her but time was running out and I came to understand that there was nothing I could do but savor each and every day with my mother. I learned the HARD way about balancing time “precious time” to be exact. Losing your mother does something to you that forces you to think about and question nearly everything.

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Life was tough after losing my mother. We had to move out the house we we’re living. Life’s stresses and pressure were mounting at this moment of my life. I found myself alone with nowhere to go; sleeping in my car because I did not want to be a burden to anyone. Calling my then girlfriend “Natasha” asking her if I could come and lay my head down at her house because it was too cold to sleep in my car on some nights. At the time she was living with her mother and grandmother so I would park my car a block or two over late at night after they had gone to bed and sneak in the basement window and stay the night.

Things were bad until my sisters got their own place and made sure it was a three bedroom house. I asked to live with them and they took me in; “they are my angels for taking the stress of being homeless off of me.” Through all of this I was still attending ITT Technical College working towards earning an associates degree in drafting. I found myself concentrating on a war with morality while still trying to be the man I always strived to be.

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Lesson Two

Congratulations - life starts to get better. Three months after my mother passed away Natasha and I moved into our new apartment. I went back to school earned my engineering degree, “there were only 28 people in my class (I was the only african-american).” Living on our own and going to school every day and taking care of a kid was a challenge. At this point in my life my pride as a man had been tested, I had overcome a lot yet there was more to come.

My buddy Jose needed help moving so I told him to let me know when he needed me. I asked him who else was going to help us move he replied, "Sherman and Chris." Sherman was my best friend. The day it was time to help Jose move Sherman was nowhere to be found. We called him several times that day and got no answer. Later that evening my brother Rick came by my house and said, “man something happened down the street at the Jiffy Lube that was by my house." I stayed up that night to watch the news. (Breaking news - man shot and killed at Jiffy Lube) my head was spinning. I saw a glimpse of what seemed to be a familiar car. The whole night I felt some type of way. In my head I was saying “that looks like Sherman’s girlfriend’s car.” I woke up the next morning and my phone had a ton of missed calls. While watching the news that morning I learned that my best friend Sherman had been murdered. Sherman had became a victim of the environment. Sherman Lightfoot was gone due to gun violence. How does a person process this abundance of mortality?

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Lesson Three

Six months after losing my mother I had my first son and followed that up by losing my best friend Sherman to the streets. Mortality set completely in on me. I had to find something to help keep my life on track so I would skate just to release my mind from my wounded thoughts. This period in my life would be one of the hardest tests of time in my life, “or so I thought.”

October 2, 2008 was just another "normal" day in Woodstock, Georgia. I just finished working at Barack Obama’s campaign office. I went to the Police Station/Courthouse to pay a simple fine. I had no idea that I would not make it back that Thursday evening. The first lady that I encountered instantly made me realize that I was being targeted. She was rude and seemed to ignore everything that I was saying. As she was talking I noticed that I was surrounded by three officers. I was never rude, disrespectful or loud. That’s when the reality of where I was and what I was dealing with set in, “remember I said I worked at Barack Obama’s Campaign office in Woodstock Ga.” That is a straight up republican/conservative area and I was trying persuade people to vote for Barack Obama "a black man" through a phone campaign. Every time I worked I noticed that a Woodstock police officer would come in and talk to one specific person and walk around looking at me, “the only African-American.” Things started to seem funny to me so I began to question if my connection with Obama’a campaign played a role in my harassment/mistreatment."

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The female officer at the front counter came out screaming at me. “This is wrong, your file does not state that you owe $25! You owe $75!” I told her I paid $50 towards the fine two weeks ago. She yelled; “NO! NO!” very loudly. I just stood there as she fast walked pass me in the direction of the courthouse. She came back out screaming; “NO! You owe $75 on this fine!” I showed her my receipt stating that I made a payment of $50 but that still did not meet her satisfaction. Another police officer approached and aggressively told me to calm down. I tried to explain to her that it was not me causing the issue but the female officer stationed at the counter. When another officer interrupted and said that it was me yelling and causing a problem I grew weary and made a conscience decision to stand in clear view of their lobby camera. I did not trust them and tried to remain calm. I reminded myself that I was there simply to pay a fine and go home.

I felt as if they were trying to set me up by getting me to respond in a negative way so I silenced myself and tuned out their ignorance, never uttering another word. I believe that upset them. Two male police officers arrived - standing to my left and looking at me at me as if they were ready to wage war. One of the male officers got in my face, standing nose to nose and said to me; “SHUT UP!” I turned my head away from him and said, “get out my face.” From there he turned me around and pushed me violently across the lobby towards a door.

Another off duty officer and his small son was walking through the door. The officer was still pushing me towards the door and almost caused me to bump into the kid. I dropped my shoulders and the officer tried to push me but he missed and stumbled into the wall. The off duty officer and his son came in the door and as I was calmly walking away I was grabbed by the back of my neck and choke-slammed onto the concrete floor of the police station. Four police officers attacked me, I fought the urge to resist. One of the officers had one of my legs, two officers had my arms and the other officer had me by the neck. He was choking me so hard that I was unable to  scream out for help. I just remember seeing a black lady and her daughter hiding behind the building, wishing I could yell out for them to help me. Something told me to stop moving all together, to place everything in God’s hands!

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I was chocked until I passed out. When I woke up my mouth and hands were bleeding. My eyes were swollen and blinking uncontrollably. I was sitting on the ground handcuffed next to two officers that were looking down at me. I told them I needed to go to the hospital and they replied; “No! You are going to jail.”  I was incarcerated from 6:30 Thursday night until 3:00 Friday afternoon when my wife bailed me out. She didn’t look at me until we walked out the police station and I screamed, “LOOK AT ME!” She broke down crying repeating; “what have they done to you?” We went straight to the police station to file a report.

When I arrived at the hospital they said, “you’re lucky you’re here, you suffered a serve sub-conjunctival hemorrhage to the brain.” Meaning that blood stop circulating between my heart and brain stopped flowing. My wife and I went through all assure that the officers responsible for my treatment would be held accountable for their actions. We won the fight against the officers but there was still another fight I had to win – forgiveness. Forgiving those officers and letting go of the anger inside of me was one of the hardest things I ever do in my life. With my wife and family by my side I was able to CONQUORE that war!

 

I’ve faced my fears and stood strong in my battles of life and death situations. But the war continues...
 
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Antwawne Kelly

Lessons In Mortality

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