photography

Persevere

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mortal man

Persevere

by: Alexander L.A. Huff

Persevere
per·se·vere | /ˌpərsəˈvir/
continue in a course of action even in the face of difficulty or with little or no prospect of success.

At the age of (22) I was diagnosed with stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL). It was something that just kind of happened out of the blue. It was January, 2017 and at the time I worked a full-time job and attended school at Central State University full-time taking (18) credit hours. My days consisted of going to school and on certain days I would leave class about (20) minutes early to make it to work on time. I worked at a group home for adults with special needs and I loved what I was doing because it tied in to special education which is what I’m studying in school. The reason I took the job is because I believed it would give me a clear picture of what life for my students would be like after the (K-12) educational setting. Many of them go to these adult homes and pretty much live in them forever. They go to dayhabs and work jobs that pay less than minimum wage. These are things that I had no idea or concept of so it’s a job that I’m grateful for. This was my routine for about a year. One night I was at work and felt a little stiffness in my lower back. I didn’t think much of it, I just thought it came from me doing too much.

When I got home I took some pain pills and went to bed. When I woke up the next morning the pain had kinda went away but not completely so I took some more pain medicine and headed off to class. This became a recurring routine for a week or so. Finally the pain got so bad that I couldn’t sleep and driving became difficult because it was too painful for me to sit upright. I went to the emergency room and was diagnosed with a really bad back sprain. I was prescribed pain medicine and sent home. The medicine helped with the pain for about a week but right after that the pain came back and it was so intense this time that I couldn’t attend class or make it into work.

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I went to urgent care and this time I was diagnosed with a really, really bad back sprain so they increased my pain medicine and the pain did seem to go away. It would come back in small spurts but not bad enough to warrant another trip to the ER or urgent care. A bit later I went to my doctor for a routine physical and follow up appointment. She ran tests on me and everything came back normal with the exception of my liver count and white blood cells being slightly elevated but not to a level that would cause any concern. Months went by and the pain returned so I underwent more testing. We did tests for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, leukemia, anemia, all types of things and everything test came back negative. After completing these test and not finding anything my primary doctor referred me to an oncologist.

The oncologist ran multiple tests and again everything came back negative. At this point, I also began having very bad night sweats. I would wake up and my sheets would be completely drenched. I thought”maybe I have the heat up too high” so I turned the heat down that worked for about two weeks before starting back again. I finally mentioned it to my oncologist and it’s so ironic that I did because in that same appointment she felt like the combination of my counts not being off by much along with all the tests coming back normal that she’d release me and see me in a few months. My oncologist told me she’d see me in six months and was about to head out of the door and I said “okay, and oh and by the way I’m having these night sweats and my whole bed is wet.” At the time the numbers from my test results weren’t in the range for Hodgkin’s or Non-Hodkin’s Lymphoma so there appeared no reason to test for them. However, the news of my night sweats changed the whole game and although my counts weren’t in range for Hodgkin’s or non-Hodkin’s lymphoma news of my night sweats prompted her to test me for it. 

It was May and I went home to Cleveland to spend Mother’s Day with my mom. My mother doesn’t like to go through my mail so I had a bunch of envelopes and mail to go through. I had bills from Kettering Medical Center, CompuNet and other places… all of these bills came up to about $12,000. Bills for every test that I had ran and from the emergency room and urgent care visits. I found out that all of these visits and tests were happening outside of our insurance’s network. That forced me to transfer all of my tests and healthcare needs to MetroHealth in Cleveland. The paperwork took some time and MetroHealth wanted to run their own tests on me so that was time consuming as well.

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There would be nights when I would feel so bad that I would question “is this what dying feels like?

In July of 2017, I was at an internship in Boston where I was  one of twenty five students chosen to participate in a program in which we did Mock GRE and Mock Graduate coursework all to help prepare us for grad school. I had to leave the internship early to return to MetroHealth for more tests. When I got to Cleveland they told me that my test results came back positive for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma but that later changed because they really didn’t know if it was Hodgkin’s or non- Hodgkins Lymphoma. I was told that I could return to Boston for the last week and a half of my internship but that when I returned to Cleveland I would have to start chemotherapy. When I got back there was still some confusion about if I had Hodgkin’s or non-Hodgkins Lymphoma but either way a bone marrow test would be required.

The bone marrow test caused the most pain that I have ever experienced in my life! They literally dig inside of your bone to get to the marrow and they’re tapping on it so that’s pretty painful. The test results came back in two days or so. It was determined that the lymphoma had spread into my bones which meant that I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. At this time, I was told by the doctors that it would be in my best interest to withdraw from school because they didn’t think I could handle the workload while going trough chemotherapy. I was already about a semester and a half behind in school so I told them that withdrawing from school was not an option. Sick or not ,I was determined to finish school on my schedule so I was committed to push through. The doctors reluctantly agreed to let me go back to school they just instructed me to reduce my credit hours “they didn’t know it but I still took a full load of classes.” 

I returned to Central State University that fall semester and thankfully all of my teachers and professors were willing to work with me. They were flexible and even allowed me complete most of my work online and attend classes when I felt strong enough. My insurance was still out of network which meant that I had to commute between CSU and Cleveland for my chemotherapy. I would leave CSU on Thursdays to have chemotherapy in Cleveland on Fridays. After chemo I would sleep the rest of the day on Fridays, all day on Saturdays and half of the day on Sundays. On Sunday evenings, I would drive back to CSU for class. Even though I wasn’t physically going to class I still needed to be there to turn in my work and to get any new assignments. It was also better for me mentally. I did this for a few months and my treatments were complete.

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I tried to get my life before cancer back as much as I could. It was very challenging for me mentally because there were times when I would wake up in the middle of the night and wouldn’t feel well at all. There would be nights when I would feel so bad that I would question “is this what dying feels like? Am I going to survive? How is it that this can happen to someone like me that has been fairly healthy? Am I going to make it through this?” All of these questions would cross my mind. In these hours I would have to dig deep and really call on my faith. I would remind myself that I haven’t been brought this far just to be dumped off here. I know that better things are coming. I just have to endure all of the sickness and emotions and then also not to forget my own purpose and why I was planted here. So holding onto that faith is what helped me get through because it was a very, very difficult time. I went back for MetroHealth for scans and there was some confusion about the results. Eventually they said that my cancer was in remission.

This past summer I went back for scans and they determined that they wanted to send me back through another round of tests. This time I was under an insurance plan that allowed me to have things done at The James “which is Ohio State University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.” After undergoing all of the tests they found that the cancer had returned and began going over different treatment options. Since the first treatment method of (R-CHOP) chemotherapy didn’t work they decided that they would try the (RICE) regimen followed by a stem cell transplant.  This meant that they would take my own stem cells; cleanse them and then freeze them until it was time to replace them. Essentially they were taking out my old immune system and replacing it with a new one. This process required six consecutive days of around the clock chemotherapy and a hospital stay of (21) days in which I would be allowed to have visitors but they would be required to wear gowns and masks.

It seemed like a daunting task but my whole motto throughout all of this was “Do what you have to do to survive. Do what you have to do to make it to the next day.” I knew it wouldn’t feel good but if it’s going to improve my quality of life and if it’s going to improve how I live life I have to do what I have to do to make it to the next day. With all of this in mind I embarked on this journey again, this time with a different regimen all while still trying to make it through school. All of my classwork at Central State was done and I was at a point where it was just a matter of completing my student teaching. I had twelve weeks of student teaching that I needed to do so I asked the doctors “how can I make this happen with chemotherapy and student teaching?” The doctors weren’t sure if it was possible and tried to talk me out of it. My overachieving spirit wouldn’t accept that answer so I put a plan in place.

This time around my chemotherapy was a lot more intense than the first time so my bounce back wasn’t as strong as I thought it would be. After the first round of treatment I went back to school and felt pretty good. The second round of treatment was a lot more taxing and I had a hard time even making it into the house without throwing up. I’d go to sleep and wake up feeling like I hadn’t been to sleep at all. That’s what chemo does to you. It's a toxic treatment that drains you physically. I suffered a lot of pain, I lost a lot of weight as well as all of the hair on my body. It also effects you mentally. Most people are prepared for not physically feeling well but we often overlook the mental aspect. That’s something that took it’s toll on me. I saw myself healthy and vibrant and then all of a sudden I looked as though I had a foot in the grave - that does something to you mentally. To see yourself with hair and then with no hair at all anywhere; no eyebrows, no mustache, no beard… no hair anywhere on your body - that does something to you mentally. To see all of the weight loss where your clothes no longer fit you anymore and they all fall off of your body - that does something to you mentally. Going out in public wearing a mask and seeing people stare at you - that does something to you mentally.

There were times I felt as if I was fighting three battles at once. I was trying to maintain and make it through school. I was try to keep afloat mentally while fighting for my life, “it’s me or the disease. How do I fight this fight over something that I see wipe people out every day of the week?” I reached a point where I finally stopped going to school and I stopped working. I was living off of support from my family and the money that I had in my savings account. A huge weight was lifted from my shoulders once the chemo was complete. I still had concerns though because I had been here before. You can end chemotherapy but that doesn’t mean that you’re healthy.

It was time for the stem cell transplant and that was very trying. There were times that I couldn’t eat because I still had sores in my mouth from chemotherapy. There were times where I would throw up on myself because I couldn’t make it to the restroom or to the barf bag. When I was going through all of this I was still trying to do my schoolwork so that I could still stay afloat in school. I got out of the hospital and still needed to complete my student teaching. My family and friends told me that I really needed to take it easy. I told them that I would but I needed to get back and for many reasons. I needed to finish school for my own mental well being and also I had ran out of financial aid and if I didn’t finish that would cause me to have to pay out of pocket along with a few other concerns.

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I was back in school three weeks after leaving the hospital so the turnaround time was quick but it was something that I had to do for myself. I just finished student teaching last Thursday and graduation is May 4th. I was able to maintain my honor role status and I finally feel like “I did it!” I know I didn’t do it alone. I definitely didn’t do it alone. God is definitely amazing and good. Without God, I wouldn’t have made it through cancer the first time let alone the second time. So here I am. My cancer is gone, it’s currently in remission. For the first time in two years, I feel like I know what my health looks like. I know what’s going on with me right now. I am optimistic that my future will be great and that my status of being a cancer survivor will be just that, a “survivor”. I will never again have to say that I am a cancer “patient” again. So much comes with that. People hear the word “cancer patient” and they immediately count you out. They look at you like you have an expiration date over you that is soon to run out. 

I aspire to be a beacon of hope for somebody to know that you have a disease but the disease doesn’t have you. You can still live a full life and have cancer. My mission is to show people that you can sill live life on your term. You can still be upbeat and positive about life when you're battling cancer. Overall, I feel blessed and fortunate. I will graduate from Central State University with a degree in Education. I didn’t shelve my goals and dreams. I hope that I have shown people that you can battle cancer with grace, that you can fight through any challenges that may present themselves.

 
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PERSEVERE

Alexander L.A. Huff

Educator | Vocalist | Advocate of Individuals with Special Needs | Fighter | Cancer Survivor

You can keep up with Alexander and offer words of encouragement by leaving comments on the website and by following him on instagram.

@thisisalexander_

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

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

In The Pines with Fantastic Negrito

Fantastic Negrito interview

when i was in louisville to cover bourbon and beyond i had a chance to sit down and talk to grammy award winner - fantastic negrito. we talked music, comebacks and collaborations. It’s hard for me to categorize his music; though my one and only attempt would be: DOPE! If by chance you have not heard his the last days of oakland album i suggest you do so quick, fast and in a hurry! i definitely suggest bangin’; in the pines, hump Thru the Winter, about a Bird, lost in a crowd, rant rushmore… well just play the whole album!

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will you describe your style of music to people who may be unaware of who you are?

FN: i describe my style as black’s roots for everyone.  edgy, raw, blues with a punk attitude. like i have all those mixtures… blues, funk, rock, punk, soul – it’s an amazing garden to pick from.

so you KILLED it on stage! they loved you…

FN: i know how to do a show! that’s what i think i’m best at. I’m a songwriter and a showman!

as an artist it’s tempting to settle into a comfort zone and do “what’s working.” how do you avoid that trap?

FN: my comfort zone is to be uncomfortable. i like to be challenged and to be a contributor. to do this music with the intention of contributing usually works out well.

who are some artists you have worked with recently?

FN: i did a song with zz ward called cannonball that we performed here today and i also worked with mistah f.a.b. and zion i on the oakland resist-mix.

do you have any other collaborations in the works or better yet is there an artist that you’re itching to work with?

FN: i’m on tour with sturgill simpson i think we’ll definitely do a collab, i think we’re definitely gonna cook something up, we keep talking about it.

i’m going to just throw this out there and i know it doesn’t mean anything but i’d love to see you do something with gary clark jr.

FN: i have something in the works with gary clark jr. it’s just a matter of if he gets to it. there’s a song called chronic pain, i don’t know if he’s gonna get on it or not but i hope so.

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do you mind speaking on your past and how it impacts your music?

FN: sure, the road that i’ve traveled… man the things that don’t break us down makes us stronger. my story goes in three phases. i started off wanting to be some big star - got signed to a label for a million bucks. the second phase is losing all of that. i was driving down the street one day in los angeles and i simply woke up three days later i was in a coma, lost my playing hand and then i delved into the underground music life, ran a few afterhours and illegal night clubs - that was fun. and I had a lot of incarnations i had stuff like chocolate butterfly, blood Sugar – i was just having fun then i decided to quit/retire i sold all of my stuff because I never thought that I would play again. i went up to oakland, ca my hometown and decided to become a cannabis farmer.  got out of music for five years and then boom! came back as fantastic negrito. i came back and those have been my three different phases, going out and then coming back and i think that’s okay. it’s okay to quit, put something down for a little while.

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what brought you back to music?

FN:  well i had a son. my son brought me back. i couldn’t put him to sleep one day and i just had a raggedy guitar hanging around the house and i just picked it up and played like a g major and that changed the course of my life because his reaction to it was so beautiful that i decided maybe there’s something to this music. so i slowly started playing again and came up with fantastic negrito and i haven’t looked back.

you can follow fantastic negrito’s journey on his website: fantasticnegrito.com as well as instagram: @fantasticnegrito and on twitter: @musicnegrito

kill the city...

kill the city
whatever dreams or goals you have go about them with the mindset that you are going to kill the city!
— Aaron Paschal

it's funny to me when i hear people talk about "taking over the world" but never put forth any effort to make an impact in their current city/location. being from the gem city of dayton, oh i hear this all the time. i guess i just see things differently... there's not a lot of things here in dayton - which to me means there's tons of opportunities and potential. all you have to do is identify a need, devise a plan and put in work to make it happen. i know it's not as simple as it sounds but that's my approach to life. things may not all ways work out but if i believe in it i'm going to everything i can to see where it takes me. 

there are a lot of talented photographers in the dayton area. i consider myself one of them, "actually one of the best if i'm to be honest!" i have no desire to be average, i want my work and my images to make a statement. the "kill the city" picture that accompanies this article was taken on a photowalk i took this spring when i was out testing an old film camera i plan on taking on future trips. when i saw it this tagged on the sidewalk it immediately spoke to me. before i take on the rest of the world i need to kill the city that i'm in. by that i mean produce killer work that is known and respected throughout the city. to be the first name out of people's mouth "or keyboard" when they mention local photographers.

whatever dreams or goals you have go about them with the mindset that you are going to "kill the city!"