If my father was my benefactor, my biggest fan in the family was his brother’s wife, my godmother.  My father is very laid-back, which is where I get it from.  My aunt was the one who would stick up for me (all of us really) if someone was bullying us.  I chuckle at how many times I pouted my way into a Happy Meal whenever my older cousins picked on me.  The first job I ever had was as a bagger in a grocery store.  My grandfather made his sole visit to Kansas City, and the family was taking him to a Royals game.  My boss told me straight up not to come back if I took the night off.  Well…I told my aunt, and long story short, I got the night off paid and still had a job.  My godmother was that black woman.

Not long after that, my godmother was diagnosed with cancer.  The downfall was quick; the chemo left her bedridden after only a few months, and she passed before my senior year of high school.  Deniece did make it to my high school graduation; I was the ‘black’ student speaker at Commencement.  But our dynamic had changed.  She was a year older than me, so she went to college first.  The phone calls and hanging out became a lot more sporadic.  Losing both her and my aunt within a 12 month span put me in a very ill mood, truth be told.   I didn’t understand why college was such a big deal, but I would stand corrected soon enough…

Spike’s movie about Malcolm had made black nationalism as ‘cool’ as it had been in decades.  I started to mimic Malcolm physically (horn rimmed glasses, goatee), and in terms of speaking out.  I joined my high school speech team and took to it pretty quickly.  I had my first couple run ins with the police, so I wrote a speech about the stereotypes young black men always face.  I ended up winning a few contests and started to get noticed.  The first time I appeared on TV, it was on the Kansas City version of the ‘Black Perspectives’ show that airs on Sunday at 3:30 in the morning.  My teacher/coach took a shine to me and asked me if I had any interest in acting…

The first acting piece I tried was based on the play ‘The Meeting’, a short piece about a fictional meeting between Malcolm and Dr. King.  I picked the scene apart and started breaking down the cadences of each man until I felt comfortable in each role.  I was 17 years old, so nobody was calling me the next Brando now, but again I would win competitions and end up going to State.  I enjoyed it but I didn’t care for the attention just yet.  All of this looked good on my college applications…

I had dreams of filmmaking so you can guess what my college choices were: NYU, Columbia, USC, UCLA.  A tier below that I had some contingency schools, Florida State, Northwestern, TCU and Xavier showed interest in me.  I got a letter from Harvard which was nice for my ego, but I knew I wasn’t going there.  Naturally I had a couple HBCUs on my radar: Grambling and Prairie View to be specific.  After I filled out my film school applications, my father took me on a College Road Trip through his alma mater and Texas.  I still had respect for these places, but I wasn’t a kid anymore.  KC had made me way too ‘city-fied’ to want to spend four years there.  I came back home ready to mail in my apps to film school proper.  One problem.  Moms had thrown out all my film school apps.

There’s a sequence in The Shawshank Redemption where Andy meets a kid who can prove his innocence.  So the Warden has the Kid murdered, and Andy’s sent to the Hole for a couple months by the Warden as a way to set him straight.  This was how it went down with me and her: all the different daily arguments about my hair, my clothes, my grades were love taps compared to this.  This wasn’t the Argument of the Day; this was my life.  I had done everything that was asked of me, and I come to find out it didn’t mean shyt.  I had to start questioning my father too; if he wasn’t part of the plan, he was enabling it.  In retrospect, I had no business in LA or NYC at 18.  The real issue though was I wasn’t given a logical excuse (like money, since all the top film schools were at private schools).  The reason I was given was ‘distance,’ which coming off a massive road trip through the South smelled of extreme hypocrisy.  Of course I lost this battle.  What could I do but take it?  So for the first time in my life, I was waking up every day pissed the phuck off.

Like Andy, I had to momentarily take my sentence and deal with it.  Four years without the possiblity of parole.  I no longer trusted anyone; it was a hard way to learn it, but I began to appreciate the fact that playing by the rules and being the ‘nice guy’ sometimes leaves you assed out.  Sometimes to get your way, you just have to straight be an asshole and hustle your way out. 

With a chip on my shoulder the size of a Redwood, I made my way to my version of the Hole.  Also known as the University of Kansas.

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