The days are long but the years are short. A common quote referencing how fast time flies by. 2019 is in full swing, but I’d like to reflect over my first full year in Madison. It has been rewarding to acknowledge the opportunities God has blessed me with.

On January 17th-19th, I attended the Black Student Athlete Summit hosted at the University of Texas-Austin. There was a phenomenal panel of keynote speakers including Olympic Gold Medalist Sanya Richards Ross, WNBA player Imani McGee-Stanford, but there were a few athletes in particular that really resonated with me. Former NFL player, Tommie Harris, and former Texas Christian University football player, Caylin Moore.

Tommie Harris shared a heartfelt message detailing what many people in the audience would perceive as a nightmare.

“About five years ago, I lost my wife to a brain aneurysm. I remember sitting in a auditorium just like you are, we were in Indianapolis. Me and her were sitting here and I was watching a man come up also and talk about how he lost his wife. And as I was sitting there in the audience, I was only married for thirty days and I didn’t know eleven days later I would lose my wife”, Harris said.

At that very moment listening to Mr. Harris share his story, I could only reflect to this horrific dream I experienced. When I vision myself in the future starting a family, I am met with this dream being in the hospital with my wife giving birth to our baby girl. In the delivery room, a sense of urgency overcomes me as the medical staff begins to panic. The doctor yells for these two nurses nearby to forcefully escort me out of the room, and as hard as I tried to resist, I could only move backwards. Tears stream down my face. My heart is beating uncontrollably fast, vibrating my entire body. Everything surrounding me is moving in slow motion as if time is ticking by the voice of a young girl counting by Mississippis. The commotion in front of me appears to be the length of a football field away, filled with pitches of voices at max volume, just terrifying sounds. Suddenly I am embraced by this heavy arm comforting my sorrow, wrapping around my shoulder. The hesitating, voice, stuttering, and utters “The, The baby, the baby is, is safe and sound, but, but… Mr. Jackson I’m sorry Mr. Jackson… your wife, your wife did not make it. We, we tried everything. We tried”. The voice simply fades away, and I am awaken.

But it was the bounce back Mr. Harris delivered that altered my perspective. Him rejoicing and emphasizing the need to embrace death and difficult times. Stating “If you understand how to grow through difficult times, you can make it. Death is a thing that happens in life, not to life. No one dies, they just finish”.

Then Caylin Moore, Rhodes Scholar and recent graduate from Oxford University. Shared his powerful experience overcoming poverty in Compton, California to traveling the world as a scholar and inspirational speaker.

“This [summit] is one of the most important speaking engagements that I have ever had in my entire life”.

Caylin opened up testifying about hustling and working multiple jobs such as a janitor at his school to make ends meet to support his mother and younger brother. One day, a student informed Caylin he missed a spot cleaning the floors, because the student wanted to insult Caylin working as a janitor. This connected with my time working at Macys’ feeling like I was at rock bottom. But one lesson that should always be told is that people don’t stay on the bottom forever and they will remember everything exploiting them.

Caylin then told a story being a speaker at various disadvantaged middle schools to educate students about college. As he interacted with students, he talked to a young man exposing that if he wants to go to college, he needs to attend a SAT Prep course. The young man responded that he couldn’t do the SAT prep because his ‘moms doesn’t have the money’. As Caylin stepped back to reflect, he noticed the young man had on the new [Jordan] 11’s. Caylin proceeded to ask him, “How much did that SAT Prep program cost?”. The young man responded “the program cost $125”, Caylin asked how much did those new Jays cost? He said $200. Caylin said “who got you those?” He replied “my mom”.

Caylin expressed “I’m mad he’s walking around in his SAT Prep. He walked to school in his SAT Prep. Somebody [his mom] invested in his looks than in his education”
made the audience reflect to a problem within disadvantaged communities.

Another student caught Caylin’s eye causing disruption with his friends in the back of the room. Caylin called him out in front of everyone to come to the front of the room and inform his peers how to get into college. The young boy, embarrassed with the attention said he didn’t know anything about college and was asked to take a seat. Caylin said, “I’m here because I love you and I see great things in you, but young man I’m not mad at you I’m mad at your barber. It’s not because your hairline look like Interstate-20. I’m mad at your barber because you sit in that seat every two weeks. Pay that man $15 and he has not deposited the information you need to get into college. I’m mad at your barber”.

These small yet powerful references, influenced me to be more intentional as a mentor and tutor to students I oversee in CeO, Center for Educational Opportunity is a diverse, multifaceted, federally and state-funded center that strives to create equal opportunities in higher education. As a CeO scholar, I acknowledge I represent a population of students from economically disadvantaged communities. The importance of having leaders in these communities seeking to further our education, enables a message for current members and future generations to follow. Establishing a template to promote our youth, showcases education as the route and investment for a better life.

Moreover, Caylin returned to him missing a spot, referencing the individual when he was a janitor. Overcoming challenges to be rewarded as a sought out speaker and educated Black male to travel the world, Caylin ended with “You have to dream dreams that are too big”. This exposure motivated me to tell Caylin, “I will achieve these dreams I’ve been dreaming”.

Reflecting back to this event ignited the fire I needed to achieve the endeavors presented to me. Beginning this past summer,I studied abroad interning as a teacher, teaching English in China. That experience to navigate in another country, learning a new educational structure and climate with a demand of native English speakers to teach English was unbelievable. Having students and parents both engaged with their teachers to fully grasp material, was amazing to witness. Students ranging from eight to twelve years old behaving like college students, would have been great for me to be exposed to at their age to accelerate my retention.

In addition, I traveled to Dublin, Ireland presenting research at the International Colloquium on Black Males Education. This opportunity encouraged me to be committed to higher education surrounded by well renowned scholars and leaders.

Lastly, I will finish the year with a trip focused on navigating in new spaces on campus involving the Jewish Hillel Community. To be one of 25 student leaders traveling to Israel, learning Israel-Palestine relations and international conflict, is transforming.

If 2018 is the start of a new standard, I am excited to see what 2019 continues to offer. I was privileged to attend the Student athlete summit to share my experience. I encourage individuals to reflect, to understand their purpose and their “why” that drives them to be the individuals they strive to be, to share and celebrate their experiences.

“At any moment I got time on the clock. I can come back at any moment. I know things have happened in my life, but I can make a change at any moment. We have been made to endure the night but our joy will come in the morning” – Tommie Harris.

Keeping Mr. Harris words of wisdom cognizant, it is important to value every second we have, because tomorrow is not promised.

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