During my freshman year, as an undergraduate English and Education Major, I was a very serious student- a little too serious for most. Even I had to laugh when reading the letter that is in the Ask Dr Blaqness section of my website called “Speechless” when a friend described how she recalled the impact of me arriving on campus. I was really hell on wheels to the administration.
I had taken a year off between high school and college working in the print industry. During that year, barely 18, I was put in charge of print projects and convinced the company to let me hire and supervise students out of the hood that were still in high school to do the collating, folding, and stapling of big projects after hours when we were under major deadlines.
I would borrow my mother’s army green 1972 Chevy Impala and pile as many in the car as I could and take them to work with me and lock up when we were done. I kept their hours written down, took them all to the bank on check day and then to whatever store they wanted before taking them home. I still remember the proud looks on their mother’s faces who hugged me and said, “we always knew you would be the one”.
So going to live on campus after a year of that kind of responsibility, I was really offended by the childish behaviour of people who seemed to be taking the opportunity for granted- especially at a historically black college. The reality is, I really needed to loosen up. My academic adviser wanted me to take the standard 12 credit hours just to get my feet wet. I signed up for 21. When he threatened to not approve it, I went to the library, typed up a letter firing him from being my adviser and put a copy in his box and the box of the college president.
After a number of these incidents occurred, that poor president made me promise to come to him before I typed up anything else and he instructed his secretary to never turn me away. You see, even by that time, I had a history of civil disobedience. In high school they made rule changes that I knew was not approved by the board of education. One such rule was that if you were in the hall when the bell rang, you got marched to the cafeteria and had to sign a paper saying you were hooking class and have your parents sign it or get suspended. I deliberately stood out in the hallway then refused to sign the paper. I was suspended on the spot so I walked to the board of education with the student handbook and asked why I was suspended. I was back in school within the hour.
My letters were career killers especially when they made the newspaper. The president knew this so he figured out a way to keep me busy. It turned out to be quite a blessing as I was assigned to be campus ambassador to visiting dignitaries. Of the many speakers that came to campus, the two who most impacted me were former Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, and renown Author James Baldwin.
Both made me promise to never change but to always push for change because they believed I was born to be a force for change. I saw the same light of hope in their eyes toward me as I did in the eyes of the mothers whose children I gave those jobs to. You know every once in a while I wonder exactly what all those people had in mind. Am I really making a difference? What am I really changing?
Over the years I have made a lot of very famous friends. At the end of the day, when they need to really talk, my phone rings-they call the person everybody else calls a fool for turning the limelight down. I have no idea what will ultimately be said of my life’s work. I do none of it for fame or money. Frantz Fanon wrote that each generation, must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission- fulfill it, or betray it. What got me thinking of all this is the recent passing of Maya Angelou. At the end of her days, Maya Angelou fulfilled her mission. Whether any of us become famous or not, her life should serve as an inspiration to us all, to fulfill our own mission, regardless of the circumstances from which we come. -NEO BLAQNESS