Today I finally found myself with both the time and opportunity to take a walk through my old college campus. I graduated from Morehouse back in 2001, and although I never left Atlanta, I was always so busy that I never really had time to stop back through and see my old professors or anything. At one point, some of the Atlanta University Center schools were offering me teaching gigs, but I didn’t have the time. I was doing things I felt had a bigger impact. So, about 15 years went by.
Today, having retired from a 14-year-career as an inner city educator of – I’ma say it myself although the awards say it too – the highest caliber (cause I really actually gave a damn about the kids)…I was actually free on a school day. I was back in the Black History archives in the AUC’s Woodruff Library (I’ve been digging through their Garvey and Tupac collections. Yes there’s a Tupac “artifact” display there next to their MLK display, and its ill how they’re juxtaposed cause you see the similarities in two rising leaders cut down in their 20s. I got a chance to talk to the sister who set it up, and it’s become one of those intergenerational talking points we need, where the elders (who can’t understand why Tupac is in the archives) can gain understanding from the young, and vice versa.
Anyway, today I had time to actually get away from the library as well. So I strolled up the Strip, remembering all the crazy and ignorant things I did along that 4-block radius – not to mention what I did off campus, since I spent more of my time in the streets of Atlanta than I did on the campus itself – and I laughed to myself, thinking – at least I had knowledge of self. Cause I remember my peers was doin way worse. If they’d had cellphones with good cameras back then, we’d all be covering our faces in the public, but thankfully, that’s yall problem, young folks, not ours. All our dirt, debauchery and dumbness was pre-YouTube. Nowadays you can’t fart too much without it ending up online. Back in the days, you could fart all day and blame it on the fat kid. Hey! Don’t get mad I mentioned the fat kid. Back in the day, we didn’t respect people of different sizes. Now we respectfully call them “people who weigh differently.” Back in the day, in school, they unfortunately that otherwise wonderful motherf*cker the “fat kid.” And it probably ruined that person. Shame on us. Then again, it coulda forced them to be great. In that case, hurrah for us. Who knows? Let’s not talk about it anymore.
So, I don’t expect too many of my old professors to have stuck around. Hell it’s been nearly a decade and a half. In today’s job economy, half of them probably quit and the other half might got laid off. But somehow, I ran into nearly everyone I was looking for. I happened to have in my one hand a copy of When the World was Black, Part Two. In the other hand, a cup of coffee that was medium delicious but nonetheless scalding the hot sh*t outta my hand everytime my cool ass walk made that cup get nauseous. I spilled some coffee on the book too. It looked like diarrhea. If you ever ordered a book from us, and you might thought you seen some small diarrhea spots on your book, rest assured. Not me, nor the baby, nor any other person or animal has diarrhea-ed on your book. It’s most likely coffee, from when I was stocking it, signing it, blowing kisses into it for you ladies, or packing the order and shipping it off. Lol no, I’m just joking, I don’t actually ship the orders. Lol what’s wrong with me? Man what’s wrong with you? Don’t make this all about me.
Anyway, I run into my old Religion professor. Yes, I studied religion. Deeply. For, like, ever. I mighta been reading Confucius and Buddha when I was 11 or 12. Just cause I wanted to have a full understanding, of everything. So I almost majored in Religious Studies or Philosophy. Dr. Harold Bennett, now Department Chair, saw me and recognized me instantly. He told me he was citing ME every day in class. But he didn’t know I’d written any books. He was citing me from when I was his student, debating him on religion and the specifics of hermeneutic and scriptural exegesis and whatnot. I remember him teaching us how, it didn’t dampen his faith in Christ as an example, to know and understand that the historical Jesus was a human being. I share some of what I learned from him in Black God. I also studied Philosophy, but quit the department because it was Eurocentric with few exceptions. yes, at an HBCU, the Philosophy department, composed mostly of white men, taught that Western philosophy was both the foundation and standard for all world philosophy. I used to argue about African and Egyptian philosophy until I got tired. There was one professor who taught an amazing class though, and he was white too. The renowned Barry Hallen was a white man who studied among African spiritualists for decades, living among them and effectively “decolonizing” himself through this study, and in the way that he spoke and treated people – I always sensed that it was real for him. Yet, he wasn’t there. He knew about my work and was excited about it, but I figured I’d catch him some other way.
Then I wanted to reach all the people with my understanding so I changed my major and started focusing on Sociology and Psychology. Finally, I chose History, realizing that, as the Honorable Elijah Muhammad once taught us, History is one of the most rewarding of our studies, and it can be used for us to draw lessons for the present and future. I went to see some of my History professors. I knew it was gonna be a good day when the first I ran into was Dr. Jeremy Clammett. He was another of my white professors. And he was special too, though not in a Barry Hallen way. He was a Eurocentrist, one who taught history from a European-centered perspective. In his personal dealings, he wouldn’t do anything to harm a Black or brown person, at least not intentionally so. Nah, he was that other kind of white supremacist. The one who would give you the shirt off his back if you were cold, the one who help you change your tire if you saw you stranded on the side of the road, but who – when it’s time to align themselves with a political or ideological stance – they align themselves with the views and positions that support white supremacy. So, really, you could say they’re a white supremacist, but they’d never consider themselves one. More on that in another post.
Clammett (they used to call him Klannet) taught us history in a way that overemphasized the European contribution while arguing us down anytime we’d bring up Black people. He was smart though, so you REALLY had to know your facts to argue with him. As freshman and sophomores, most of us quit challenging him after a while. We didn’t think we’d have to argue about whether the first man was Black. All the other professors seemed to know that the Original man was, and is, Black. Not him. He needed you to prove it. I was one of those who never quit. So I hit him with Gloger’s law. He hesitated. The class just held they breath, I swear you could hear a mouse fart. And I knew I got him. And I kept going back for more. He’d shut me down, I’d keep coming back. By Senior year, I chose him for Directed Studies. I would report directly to him and work on a year-long independent research project. I chose the Black “foundations” of Ancient China. It was as “out there” as you could get back then. By the time I was done, I had cited 300 sources. There were graphics and maps. I later put this research into When the World Was Black. I got an A…from a man who would otherwise NEVER consent to there even having been an African “presence” in ancient China.
So when I got a chance to sit with him, and share with him a copy of When the World was Black, it was fulfilling as f*ck. Can you imagine? He was old then, with white hair, and he was 15 years older now. He was still working full-time, and he still remembered me. “You were an angry young man,” weren’t you? I said, “No I was a man on a mission. I was definitely angry too though!” and I laughed. I shared with him how he, as an adversary, had compelled me to become the historian that I am. I had found an old dragon at Morehouse School of Wizardry, and as a young warrior, I was compelled to do battle with it. So I kept on fighting that dragon until I could argue history with ANYbody. Then I went back to that dragon and spoke to him as a man speaks to a friend. I thanked him for giving me a hard time, because it made me raise my OWN standards to meet him at the level he’d set. Now, I was presenting to him a published text that had DNA maps, full color photos, and over 800 sources, and it was ALL about the Black history of the world, and he was amazed. He was thankful. He had no idea he’d played that role, or that I’d be thankful for it. But ain’t life about the challenge, and what we do with it? We play video games for that reason, but when it comes to life, what? Nah? Me, I always preferred the game of life. It’s harder to keep score (cause there’s no score) but it’s the only where the rewards are real.