***SHE For HIM***
“‘A man ain’t nothing but a man,’ said Baby Suggs.
But a son? Well, now, that’s somebody.’”
From Beloved by Toni Morrison
Missing Dr. Donda West
By Dr. Rhonda Sherrod
November 8, 2018
My job in the legal field was demanding, but my love for great literature overwhelmed the intricate logistics of getting to Chicago State University a few evenings a week. Plus, I wanted my curriculum to include a rigorous examination of the stunning works of people like James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Richard Wright. And, Chicago State presented an opportunity to study under Haki Madhubuti, a bard of the Black Arts Movement and a strong voice chronicling the travails of life for many young Black males. This was the 1990s.
In a rhetoric class, I wrote a paper on the prison industrial complex and how it dragnets Black bodies. My professor shared the paper with Dr. Donda West who, as the chairwoman of the English department, immediately summonsed me to her office. That discussion, in which she confessed that she knew nothing about the myriad ways the criminal justice system unfairly undermined and compromised Black life, began a series of long, impassioned conversations about any number of social issues. She requested that I give her a copy of everything I wrote in my classes because she had learned so much from my paper. Complimenting my “extraordinary” writing ability, Dr. West asked why I had not enrolled in the program to earn my master’s degree? Why was I just taking classes?
As I matriculated through CSU, I would drop off copies of my papers to Dr. West and, inevitably, we would discuss them in her office. Through these deep, penetrating, and sometimes personal conversations, I had the pleasure of getting to know her. She was a generous and inspiring educator who understood the central role a Chicago State education played in the lives of her inner-city Black students. She recounted an incident when, as a doctoral student at Auburn University, she had embarked on a trip with her classmates. A professor had callously exclaimed, “Let’s be sure to sit in the back of the bus, so Donda can be comfortable!” As a result of her life’s experiences, she was demanding, but compassionate, effective, and caring.
After I graduated, I left the state to work on my doctorate. Never a Hip Hop aficionado, I was, nevertheless, taken by the beauty and range of College Dropout. So, one evening, I researched this Kanye West. It had never occurred to me that he was the son about whom Dr. West and I had shared a few laughs. She had told me about this son of hers who was into music—who was even working with Jay-Z—(“They say he’s pretty good”); and expressed the disappointment she had felt when he dropped out of Chicago State. “I’m thinking, I have a Ph.D. and I’m an English professor and my son drops out of school, right?” We laughed as I consoled her with the idea that Kanye could always go back to school if this music thing didn’t work out.
I will never forget reading in a Chicago newspaper about how Donda West had dropped everything and caught the next thing smoking to get to her child after he had been involved in a car accident. What? This is the son of whom Dr. West had spoken? I could not wait to call her. She was not in her office when I phoned late on a Friday afternoon, but that Monday morning, first thing, she called me back. We had a wonderfully inspiring conversation! Because we had agreed that I would call her as soon as I finished my doctoral program, as she had wanted me to work with her on a foundation to serve inner-city youth, I had no idea it would be the last time I spoke to her.
Dr. West was gracious beyond measure as I praised her son. I told her although I am not a hip hop head, I thought the album was genius. She was happy that I appreciated, as did she, how Kanye traversed genres and boundaries with his music. As I gushed about how much I liked Slow Jamz and “the song about the spaceship,” she mused that, but for “a few mindless pieces,” it was a “really nice CD.” Leave it to Dr. West, I thought, to keep it real. I had decided that I would not mention those songs, but it was clear Dr. West was not one to prate about anything her son did, despite his phenomenal success. In fact, I was blown away when she took the conversation in another direction. What was I doing? Was I married? And more importantly, was I still writing? She said, “You are such an exceptional writer with really important things to say. Please tell me you are still writing.”
Nowadays, every time Kanye pops off about something, my baffled friends call to interrogate me. Each time, I have to patiently explain that I am not an authority on Kanye. I have never met the man. In fact, I don’t think his music has ever been as lofty as his first CD, so I haven’t even followed his musical career. I have just wished him well and taken pride in the fact that I knew his mom.
As astonishing, bizarre, offensive, and in some ways, traumatizing as some of his behaviors and comments have been, I feel deep compassion for Kanye. And, as we get closer to the 11th anniversary of the day I sat in front of my computer weeping about the death of my friend, Donda West, I can only hope Kanye doesn’t completely tarnish his image or destroy himself before he can get the help he appears to need. Above all, though, I miss the kindness and support Dr. West always offered, as well as our great conversations. I can only imagine the depth of Kanye’s pain.
Dr. Rhonda Sherrod is a lawyer, clinical psychologist, and former HBCU educator with a master’s degree in English from Chicago State University.
Pictured below: The newly named Gwendolyn Brooks Library at Chicago State University
William Henry Lewis and William Clarence Matthews: Brilliant Pioneering Black Harvard Athletes Who Didn't Just Shut Up and Play
By Dr. Rhonda Sherrod
September 17, 2018
One of the many fallacies advanced in the past has found currency, once again, in some parts of the public square. The notion that Black athletes are unintelligent and should, therefore, shut up and play, is now openly asserted among right wing conservatives. With a president who is not averse to calling a Black player who kneels in protest an “SOB,” and who insinuates that a socially conscious athlete who opens a school is dumb, conservatives think the president’s utterances lend credence to their position. They could not be more wrong.
Black athletic brilliance and activism stretches back more than a century and reaches into the most exalted halls of recognized academic excellence. In what is now the Ivy League, one could study the first Black assistant attorney general of the United States, William Henry Lewis, who was considered one of the best collegiate football players in the country when he competed at Harvard in 1892-93. Lewis had been the captain of his undergraduate team at Amherst College for two years prior to enrolling at Harvard Law School where he still maintained eligibility under the collegiate rules then in effect.
Before Amherst, Lewis had attended what is now Virginia State University where Attorney John Mercer Langston was president. Among other accomplishments, Langston had served as the first dean of the Howard University Law Department—which he helped establish—and he helped Lewis transfer to Amherst. Langston’s strong scholarship and activism likely influenced Lewis’ decision to study law just as John Mercer's life’s work strongly impacted others. Both the town of Langston, Oklahoma and Langston University are named after him.
After graduating from the law school where he had been an All American during his two years of play, as a Harvard coach, Lewis wrote one of the first books published about the game, A Primer of College Football in 1896. He also wrote a chapter on defense in Walter Camp’s annual book, Spaulding’s How to Play Football.
Lewis was the first football coach at Harvard to be compensated. In 1898, he devised plays that put Harvard in the winner’s column against a fearsome University of Pennsylvania team whose “guard’s back” strategy rendered them a force that was considered unstoppable. Harvard shut them out 10-0 while blazing through an undefeated season to a national title. Lewis was considered a mastermind on defense, and he conceived the “neutral zone” rule, adopted by college football in 1906, to decrease some of the brutality of football by keeping players apart at the line of scrimmage. More than 100 years after his outstanding playing days came to an end, in 2009, Lewis was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Another Harvard graduate and football enthusiast, Theodore Roosevelt, undergraduate class of 1880, took notice of Lewis. In addition to football, the two men shared an interest in politics. While Roosevelt was governor of New York, Lewis was elected to the Cambridge Common Council from a majority white district in 1899 before serving in the Massachusetts legislature in 1901. As president, Roosevelt appointed Lewis, who was still coaching, the first African American assistant U.S. attorney for Boston. In 1907, his legal responsibilities expanded into the supervisory realm when Roosevelt promoted him to assistant U.S. attorney in charge of immigration and naturalization for New England. Finally, Lewis relinquished his Harvard coaching job.
Despite opposition from southern senators, President William Taft made Lewis assistant attorney general for the United States, which was then the highest federal office ever held by a Black person. Lewis was one of the first Black members of the American Bar Association, again despite racist opposition. After two years of public service, newly elected Woodrow Wilson, the first southern president since Reconstruction, segregated the federal government and dismissed Lewis. However, his legal fame and success continued as a private practitioner.
At Harvard, Lewis had coached and mentored another extraordinary Black athlete, William Clarence Matthews. A native of Selma, Alabama, Matthews excelled academically while playing football and baseball at the Tuskegee Institute. The college president—and most prominent Black leader in the country—Booker T. Washington, helped Matthews get into Phillips Academy in Massachusetts where he played football and was the first Black captain of the baseball team. In 1901, Matthews went to Harvard and played varsity quarterback his first year before playing defense under Coach Lewis.
A multi-talented athlete, Matthews played great defense and was an exciting base runner as a shortstop with a high batting average. The Boston Post declared him Harvard’s “greatest big league prospect,” and “no doubt the greatest colored athlete of all time.” Yet, the team, one of the best in the country, felt compelled to cancel its games in the American South fearing the antagonism their Black player’s presence would provoke at the turn of the century. Today, the winner of the Ivy League conference title in baseball receives the William C. Matthews trophy.
In 1905, Matthews played a summer at shortstop for the Burlington, Vermont professional baseball team. Despite stellar play, he suffered tremendous racial trauma and abuse from Northern League opposing players and, despite rumors, was unable to ascend to the big leagues. Although many fans and some newspapers and coaches supported him, the racial dynamic was too much and the unfairness too great. In the fall of 1905, Matthews enrolled at Boston University Law School.
Matthews had a distinguished legal career. He served as legal counsel for Marcus Garvey and his Universal Negro Improvement Association from 1920 to 1923 and, as a Republican political leader, he helped Vermonter Calvin Coolidge win the black vote. He followed in Lewis’s footsteps when President Coolidge appointed him assistant attorney general of the US.
Matthews was outspoken in his quest to see Black players in the major league. He once declared, “As a Harvard man, I shall devote my life to bettering the condition of the Black man, and especially to secure his admittance into organized baseball.” When Matthews died at age 51 in 1928, he was highly respected and admired for his athletic talent and his intellect.
Extreme right wing thought contradicts documented Black athletic activism excellence. Attempts to suppress Black athletes’ constitutional rights to free speech are attempts to diminish the important work they do to promote equality for Black people. Examples of Black athletes who have brought a complex analysis to American racism include Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson, John Carlos, Tommy Smith, Muhammad Ali, and Arthur Ashe. Many Black athletes have committed significant money and extraordinary works to marginalized communities; and, today, LeBron James, perhaps the country’s most high profile player, offers a clear-headed, thoughtful critique of racism and searches for intelligent ways to dismantle some of it. Fortunately, he has no intention of muting his influential voice. Colin Kaepernick aligned with an effective Black patriotic tradition by engaging in non-violent protest a la the many historic civil rights marches and gatherings and Black Lives Matter.
When I taught psychology at a historically Black college, athletes were fond of taking my classes despite, or maybe because of, my reputation for being a no-nonsense academic. My mantra with college athletes was, “I’m not asking you to do anything that hasn’t been done already.” Many of them accepted the challenge and stepped into scholastic greatness.
"Heretofore, out of shame and shame and shame, and a need to appear invulnerable and impervious to pain, Black men have done the best they could to manage all their suffering. Now, we need them to be free to name their pain and to care for their whole selves. Sisters, we can help with this healing work for Black men. Indeed, in ALL our relationships with Black men and boys -- as wives, significant others, sisters, daughters, mothers, aunts, cousins, friends, teachers -- we are essential to the healing work."
Dr. Rhonda Sherrod quoted at a SHE (Surviving, Healing, and Evolving) seminar conducted by The Need To Know Group about the significance of the Obamas' relationship.
JUNE IS MEN'S HEALTH MONTH
Posted June 7, 2018
“The guy walked in the room, and the look in his eyes said it all.
He wasn’t looking at me like, Keyon’s lost his damn mind.
He wasn’t looking at me like, Keyon’s a psychopath.
He was looking at me like, Keyon, what’s going on? What can I do to help, my friend?
It was [Coach] Doc Rivers.
I will remember that look for the rest of my life.”
Excerpted from: Running From A Ghost
In a powerful and moving essay, former Boston Celtics guard and NBA journeyman, Keyon Dooling, details his harrowing experiences with paranoid delusions and debilitating anxiety that landed him in a "mental institution." He also speaks, with deep gratitude, about the warmth and compassion his coach, Doc Rivers, displayed toward him as he struggled.
June is Men’s Health Month and we herald the journey of Keyon Dooling, as well as the courage he displays as he helps destigmatize mental suffering by using his platform to share his story. We also salute Coach Doc Rivers for his masterful handling of a delicate situation.
We encourage you to check out Dooling's article: Running From A Ghost in The Players' Tribune online.
"She is a friend of mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather
them and give them back to me in all the right order. It's good, you know,
when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind."
From Beloved by Toni Morrison
(c) by Rhonda Sherrod
On yesterday, I bounced onto the bus, en route to downtown Chicago from my suburban home, briefcase flying one way and my purse another. When the bus lurched forward as I was advancing toward a seat, my attempts at maintaining my equilibrium ended with the papers I had been reading at the bus stop high-flight sailing all over the back of the bus while I tried to take a seat with as much poise as I could muster. Nevertheless, it was a decidedly less than graceful moment.
Just as I was sucking in air and about to breathe a disgusted little sigh, two brothers bolted from their seats, practically fighting over who would rescue this damsel. Finally, the victor caught the papers, before they even hit the filthy floor of the bus, and served them up to me.
“Thank you, thank you so much,” I gushed to my hero. Then I turned to his competitor and enthusiastically thanked him, too – for competing.
Both smiled that coolness that brothers exude as another brother, flanking me on the other side, engaged me:
“Got somewhere important to go?” he ventured, smiling sweetly.
“Yes, I am.”
He waited… so, I continued: “I have an important business luncheon. I just started my own business not too long ago.”
“Wow? I hope it goes well,” he said with such sincerity and genuineness it startled me. This stranger, whom I had never seen before, seemed so invested in my success – a throwback to the way it used to be.
“I do, too. I do, too.” I smiled, warmly.
“Well,” he said emphatically. “I always start with ‘I will.’ You know, ‘I will have a good meeting. I will get what I need to make this business go.’”
“Okay,” I said, by now lost in his thoughts.
Eventually, I returned to reading the papers that had cascaded out of my hands. When I looked up again, I stared at each of the three Black men with whom I had just interacted, scrutinizing them. One was looking out the window with his headphones on, his face tight and weary from life, but still comfortably lost in his music for the moment, I supposed. Another was, no doubt, exchanging amusing texts judging from the delighted little expression on his young boyish face; and my “philosopher,” the sweet, elderly philosopher, was scanning his environment with what I came to realize was a perpetual smile on his face.
Suddenly, I was overwhelmed – overwhelmed with a sense of grief and sadness. My thoughts centered around how unfair it is for Black men to constantly fight the vicious stereotypes long put forth by the dominant culture that portray them as anything but who they are: good, kind, generous human beings doing what we are all doing. They are trying to make it in a tough, often cold world. Then, to have to carry that reprobate baggage that others have draped around their necks, like a huge oppressive weight, well, anybody can grasp just how unfair that is…
On my way home, from a successful meeting, I sat down on the bus and heard an excited, “Hey!” I looked up into the smiling face of my philosopher. What were the chances that I would run into him again on my way back…
He interrupted my thoughts: “How did it go?” he asked with the same intense sincerity he had manifested earlier.
“It went really, really well.”
“Wonderful,” he exclaimed. “I knew it would. I’ll see you later.”
He bounced off the bus, still smiling.
Aah, brothers… I wish you were free of other people’s sickness (and free from internalizing other people’s sickness to your detriment).
The essay is from the book: Surviving, Healing, and Evolving ©
Question for the Month (October):
"Brothers, when was the last time you cried and why?"
Send your answer through the Contact Us tab, and we will post a few of them.
"I teared up last night-- when I read this page! This is good work, Rhonda." Eric
"Rhonda, thank you for this." Akbar
SHE for Him, what a concept. Love it. Love you. Derek
Love the essay and the quotes from you and Toni Morrison. Thanks, Rhonda. Perry
"It's a lot of brothers out here like that are fighting this cold, cold world. Thanks for the inspiring words you blessed us with; and actually I just cried the other day looking at a picture of my son and thinking back to that age and saying he has his whole life ahead on him. Tears of joy from a young Black man." Cortez
SHE for Him
Surviving, Healing, and Evolving:
Essays of Love,
Dr. Rhonda Sherrod
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Quote of the Month
If you can control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his action. When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to concern yourself about what he will do. If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself. I f you make a man think that he is justly an outcast, you do not have to order him to the back door. He will go without being told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one."
Carter G. Woodson
Intellect, Academic, Historian, Author, Institution builder
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Carter G. Woodson
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“You are your best
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"I’m sick and tired of
being sick and tired.”
Fannie Lou Hamer,
Human rights Activist
"I am a woman -- gorgeously designed, brilliant, charming, mysterious, funny, bewitching, cool, and, most of all, uniquely purposed. I am my own phenomenal being, and I own and govern myself!"
Dr. Rhonda Sherrod
"Dipped in Chocolate, Bronzed in Elegance, Enameled with Grace, Toasted with Beauty.
My Lord, She's a Black Woman."
GET TO KNOW YOURSELF
BE TRUE TO YOURSELF
What makes you happy?
FIND YOUR PURPOSE, SO YOU CAN BE HAPPY!
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