To Mr. Braithwaite, With Love (1912–2016)

E. R. Braithwaite photo taken by Carl Van Vechten, 1962

I’d like to speak briefly about a man I did not know well, but had a profound impact on my life.

You may not know him by name, but you’ve surely heard of the motion picture based on his life, To Sir, with Love.

E.R. Braithwaite was my creative writing professor at Howard University. He was one of the first people that really believed in my writing ability and considering his immense talent — I was truly honored.

This belief manifested itself in having my written words spoken aloud in Mr. Braithwaite’s wonderful, melodious cadence. It was always by surprise, and it was—of course—always incredibly embarrassing.

His encouragement is probably the only reason I still write.

There aren’t many people you come across in life who really encourage you to pursue something. I think of him often.

An aside — my wife and I randomly ran into him a few years ago. As elegant as always, Sidney Poitier was perfectly cast. You would have never guessed he was in his late 90s.

Mr. Braithwaite once said:

“I don’t know if I changed any lives or not, but something did happen between them and me, which was quite gratifying.”

Well you certainly did, Sir.

R.I.P. Mr. Braithwaite. You will be missed.

With Love,