Politics As Usual: Part 1

By the age of ten, I had developed a robust enthusiasm for the field of American history. Visits to my grandparents apartment in our hometown of Hempstead, Long Island would often lead me across the the street to the public library. It was there where I developed my bibliophilic nature. This was how I sojourned — it was through the bookshelves of history that I learned about topics ranging from the great Hannibal of Carthage and his legendary achievements in the Second Punic War to memorizing Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to diving deeply into King’s theory on nonviolence coupled with the SCLC’s strategy to win equal rights for our people. This was my escape from the cacophonous noise that was my world, from all the things I would see or feel and yet could not comprehend. This was my calm during the storm, my peace that was to be still.

By the time I had reached High School, much of that pre pubescent fervor had ebbed. I was now a teenager more concerned with two of the things most boys coming of age fancy themselves with: girls and sports, notwithstanding in retrospect, I was rather mediocre at pursuing. Now, Hempstead High School wasn’t the most golden of educational institutions; in fact I would constantly hear or read in the news as to how the State Education Department was just a blink away from stepping in for a “hostile” takeover of our district. However, this never caused any personal confusion, especially as when it pertained to where my loyalty stood. I mention this because it always seemed that when reported, the media wanted us to hate each other and those who ran the district. While I don’t have concrete evidence to back this claim, I was coming of age and my third eye was seemingly starting to develop.

I was a Tiger, born to bleed blue so talk of anything else was something of which I was deeply uninterested. Had I been indoctrinated? Possibly. However, I had come from multiple generations of Tigers before me and was constantly showered with stories of the “glory days” — days in which Hempstead sports struck fear into every opponent who dared to challenge the dominance of Big Blue. However, by this point, the indoctrination had subsided and I was driven by a passion to be apart of that legacy in my own right, to have my name mentioned with the greats who had worn the blue and white. That goal would never happen in the way I envisioned. 2003, my junior year of High School was a game changer for me in ways that were previously unimaginable and unsought.

Rick Voigt, the mediocre assistant of the 80s glory days had inherited the crown of stewardship of Hempstead football from the legendary Buddy Krumanacker. For just as the historians tell us that Richard the First was not fit to fill the shoes of the bold Henry the Second, and that Richard Cromwell was not fit to wear the mantle of his uncle, I’m almost certain they might add in future years that ole Rick Voigt did not measure up to the footsteps of Bud Krumanacker. The 90s and early 21st century proved this to be true. So, it would be much to our delight when Voigt announced that he would retire after the 2002 season. His retirement lead to the hiring of a former Hempstead great, Antoine “AD” Moore who had played Division 1 ball at both Georgia Tech and Rutgers University.

The summer of 2003 marked a turning point for me personally. I had been told by Coach Moore that I would be in competition for the starting quarterback role, which were big shoes to try and fill. This was both daunting and simultaneously exhilarating. It gave me a platform to shine that I had hitherto lacked. Everything was going extremely well as we started our customary summer two-a-day training camp. I was learning the playbook, looking extremely sharp and possessed a deep yearning to take in every lesson both large and small from the extremely wise Coach Moore who would consistently remind us to “disregard extraneous stimuli.” That statement, didn’t have much meaning to me then but would later serve as a constant reminder of how to both respond and react in moments of deep confusion that were sure to come in the years ahead. However, all of Moore’s advice was not heeded, especially his strict no extra activities rule.

On a rather hot August day, after an exhausting day of practice I decided to head over to a family friends home to play some pick up basketball. It would turn out to be a decision I would regret in the short but one that I to this day have convinced myself lead me down the path which I now walk.

After about 25 minutes of two on two games, I could remember going up to dunk and then coming down only to awkwardly land on the foot of a friend who had been playing with us. This landing was not normal, it was one that I had never experienced and instantly I knew something was seriously wrong. After constant protest from both my friends and one of their fathers that it only seemed to be a sprain, I was taken to the hospital where it was revealed that I had torn multiple ligaments in my right ankle. On the outside I showed no emotion and took the news in stride even as the doctor revealed how long the convalescing time and subsequent rehabilitation would actually be. However, on the inside I was devastated, not so much for the injury or the pain that I had felt but because I would surely miss out on the football and possibly basketball seasons. It has been the only thing really on my mind the entire summer and the only reason for which I was happy about starting my junior year of High School. This was a major turning point because now I pondered on what I would do? I had been only a mediocre student up until this point and not on ability but rather effort. And, the only thing that seemed to keep me going was the fact that I could play sports.

As the school year started, I needed something to do, something to focus on that would provide some sort of solace. I began to seriously focus on my academics to the point where both the ability and effort matched and a lot of that pre pubescent enthusiasm for books and learning returned. It was at this same time that I met the man who would be my first real mentor. A history teacher, with a funny Caribbean accent who seemed to know just about everything about anything, Donald Jackson was a man whom I deeply admired and respected. He became both intellectual advisor and friend. We would argue and joke but most importantly, he was the first teacher who I believe has taken an active interest in my education and the path of which I headed. He could come off as abrasive and downright annoying but I knew this was only because he actually did care about my success. He would introduce me to the the great political thinkers both past and present from Rousseau, Voltaire, Thoreau, Lincoln, Douglas, Turner and John Brown to FDR, LBJ, Gandhi, MLK, Malcolm, Carmichael, Rap Brown and Huey Newton. I would stay extra hours after school to discuss current events, world history and the state of the Democratic Party, which at the time was gearing up to try and prevent a second George W. Bush term. Mr. Jackson was the first educator that made it fun to learn and helped me to eradicate the stereotype that I was selling out by loving to learn. He in essence helped to plant the seeds of my initial awakening.

As the days went on, I began to quickly forget about my football dreams and turned my passion to politics, law and advocacy. I felt I had graduated into a serious teenager and it was all because Mr. Jackson had tapped into that previously dormant potential for greatness. With his help, we revived the inactive student government and with his encouragement, I ran for and won an election as class President. However, this was only the beginning of my transformation.

If I had successfully navigated my way through junior year with a new sense of purpose, my senior year would provide me with an opportunity to reclaim what I felt had actually wanted since the previous summer. By the time my senior year of High School had come around I was fully healed from my injuries of the previous year and had the opportunity to actually earn myself the starting quarterback role. While I preformed exceptionally well, (leading my team to a playoff berth, which we would lose to, ironically the Buddy Krumanacker led Farmingdale team) I didn’t have the passion that had once been deeply embedded. Reality had sank in and I knew this would probably be the last time I would play football, and not because I doubted my abilities but because my focus had shifted to what I would describe as “things that mattered.”

Senior year on the “things that mattered” front would be exciting. I had won reelection as Senior Class President and now focused on ensuring that student rights and redresses were addressed in proper fashion along with my peers who had been voted by our classmates as representatives. It started off with our class trip, a battle we won by hijacking a School Board meeting with a large group of students and exposing a plot by the Deputy Superintendent at the time who was hellbent on preventing us from having any type of fun. It was a battle that gave us great pride because it showed the establishment that we could organize, state our case and present demands coherently. It was the first time that I had actually lead such a “movement” and while it was small in terms of overall struggles, I took personal solace and delight in the fact that our efforts had been successful. It ignited a flame that still burns to this day.

From this point on I knew it wouldn’t just be politics as usual….