Young People doing great things. 24 Hours in Atlanta.
Meet the young man in this photo, Khadeer Codrington, and remember the face.
You will be seeing a lot more of him. Khadeer just started his acting career recently in the Hollywood movie, “THE DARKEST MINDS,” AND has won several national dance competitions. He’s self-taught when it comes to dancing, and when I asked Khadeer who taught him to dance like that, his answer was simple, watching videos of the legendary Michael Jackson.
We attended Khadeer’s football game on a hot Georgia Saturday morning, and watched him, as a very fast running back on offense, and linebacker defensively. His proud parents were in attendance, my long-time friends of 40 years, Christine and Randolph Codrington. We sat in state of the art bleachers and even “chick fil a” chicken sandwiches were for sale by other parents working the concession stand. Another long friend John Williams was also there to support Khadeer. John gives of his time, when he’s not working, coaching young men on a Basketball team. We’ll come back to John.
There was a time when on a road trip, 20 years ago to Atlanta, the moment me and “my dogs,” (long-time friends) arrived in Atl, it was party time. Hitting the clubs in Buckhead until the wee hours of the morning, followed by an early morning breakfast. Then sprinkle in maybe a few hours of sleep. Hit the party reset button and do it all over again the next evening.
But it’s funny. 20 years later, we don’t hang out like that anymore. 20 years later, many of us are grandfathers and have settled down. Partying which was once a top prerequisite to life for us, is no longer such a priority.
It’s important to understand the big picture here. That all of my friends….we buy into the notion that African American men are endangered species.
We are all African American men from the “hood” in the Bronx New York. You know, the “hood” that rappers talk about in their songs or is depicted by Hollywood? Only it’s interesting. My buddies and myself, we don’t brag about where we are from. We are proud of the success of the rappers, AND equally proud that we made it out the hood alive. Some people we grew up with are dead, some are in prison.
These days, we are looking forward to, dear I say…our Golden years. Growing up, none of us ever thought about that. Certainly we didn’t talk about it. I was convinced that I would never live to see the age of 40. But then a very important friend told me to stop saying that because words are very powerful. It was a tremendous life lesson. I’m proud to say I made it past 40, and I’m now 54 years old.
As the kids say, “don’t get it twisted,” we still have a good chuck of time BEFORE our Golden years, but one common denominator me and my buddies all share is legacy and looking to the the future when it comes to young people, particularly young African American males.
We marvel in the fact that our kids growing up in front of our own eyes have upbringings that we could have never imaged.
The night before Khadeer’s football game , my buddies Randolph, John and I went to the Atlanta Falcons game against the Kansas City Chiefs at the new Atlanta stadium. On a side note, I was in shock. A large soda was only $4.00, and the Mercedes Benz stadium provides UNLIMITED refills. For contrast, soda at Met Life stadium in New York starts at about $8.00, and believe me when I tell you there are no refills.
Randy, who we have called “Scobie” from when we were little 11 year old boys living at 365 E. 184th St off of Webster Ave in the Fordham section Bronx, loves football. John hates the Atlanta Falcons with a passion. Randy had a root canal just hours before kickoff, but he still made it to the game. John with his hatred of the Falcons, only wants to see the NY Giants. He attended kicking and screaming, but John still made it after working all night at his Marta job. Atlanta’s transportation system. You see, the three of us got the bigger picture. This was a chance for men of color to bond.
I start my 24 hour Atlanta clock, which gives me hope for the future with young people, on a Saturday morning at Khadeer’s Football game. He attends a prestigious private school here in Georgia, but the games (there were several teams/jamboree) were held at another private school which is know as the Whitefield Academy. We could have never imagined that all these years later, kids would play on beautiful fields, with carefully manicured lawns, and state of the art scoreboards. But hey, isn’t it all about making life better for the future generation, for our children?
It does take a village to raise a child
Khadeer’s grandmother, and Randy’s mother Ronnie Cumberbatch, is an amazing, amazing woman and has always been a tremendous role model for me. I never had a father, and when we were little boys, I would watch Randy’s mother from afar, with great admiration go to work each and every day. This is important, because as a little boy Ms. Ronnie helped teach me work ethic (No excuses) that I have today as a journalist. Some other women in the Bronx building had the same work ethic. Our other friend Ty, his now late mother Evita would work all the time, and would relax sitting down drinking her nightly Diet Coke religiously. What touches my heart in the deepest possible way is when my grandmother Anna Pearl Carter, didn’t have any money for us to eat, we would be down to nothing, forced to eat baloney sandwiches, and Ms. Ronnie would quietly give my grandmother a few dollars to make it to the end of the month, and then my grandmother’s Federal SSI (Supplemental Security Income) check would come on the first of the month. It makes me cry tears of happiness, like right now, whenever I think about what Ms. Ronnie did for me. She not only raised her own kids, but believed in me, when no one else did.
It’s interesting how God works, and the blessings that are put in our lives.
After watching part of the football game, I had to rush to a Starbucks about 25 miles away to meet a young lady with an outstanding future ahead of her. Her name is Crystal Stevens. I love staying at Marriott hotels, so at first I was at the Residence Inn in Buckhead, and then they were sold out, so I moved to the Residence Inn about 20 minutes up the road in Dunwoody, one block from a Walmart and nearby Perimeter Mall. The Starbucks where I was meeting Crystal, was across the street from the mall. (It was built like a nice cabin)
Crystal just completed her senior year at the University of South Carolina. She’s 22, full of life, and is a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, just like my daughter Courtney Carter. Crystal is majoring in Psychology, and our paths crossed when I gave my testimony, speaking at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Columbia South Carolina, which is led by the great Pastor there, Rev. Dr. Anthony A. McCallum. Crystal came up to me after church and explained her senior thesis was on African American women, and the topic of Mental Illness. African American women trying to do it all for their families. Being forced to become a sort of “superwoman.” Considering my mother suffered from severe Mental Illness, and I have written a book about it, “No Momma’s Boy,” I was quite enthusiastic about her project, and we agreed to meet. I am so proud of Crystal.
In life, if you want something you have to go get it. Of course the right way. There are NO SHORTCUTS TO SUCCESS. In other words, from all the successful people I know, they created their own opportunity, and don’t believe in luck. Crystal showed me how determined she is. Crystal escorted by her amazing parents, drove the close to 4 hours from Columbia South Carolina to Atlanta to do her sit down interview with me.It touches my heart that Crystal is looking at grad schools now, and Duke is one of them. Crystal Stevens is another name to remember. This young lady may change the world.
But my 24 hour clock in Atlanta was far from over.
I was looking forward to the very next morning on Sunday. The son of my long-time friend John Williams, who is in the 10th grade, John Williams III had a basketball game at the South Cobb recreation center in Austell Georgia, located at 875 Riverside Parkway. Dad John and his wife Kim are religious, so first John attended Church early Sunday at Gospel Nation Christian Fellowship in Powder Springs, GA, and then we met up for the Basketball game around noon. John III plays for a recreational team called the Nola Hurricanes. He’s number 9, a point-guard, and he had a very good game.
But it was amazing to watch my buddy coach the team. My long-time friend is literally the definition of “Each One, Teach One.” No excuses, no blaming things on societal problems…..John Williams somehow finds time, MAKES time, to help these young men. I was bursting with pride on the sideline to watch John do his thing, coaching the kids. Watching John coach is something I will always, always keep in my heart. It’s real simple. My youth football coach, named Bill saved my life. Before the days of “Kinship” care, I was raised by my grandmother, and never had a father. Coaches mean the world to me. Coach Bill, a NYC Police Officer was a father figure to so many of us. A few years ago, I reconnected with Coach Bill, and he was very happy with my success as a journalist, but was disheartened about the boys he could not save. Here is a short video of the actual game with Coach Williams.
After the game, we went out to Dinner. John’s Brother, Steven Brandon and his wife Donyail joined us. Steven and I hadn’t seen each other in years. While here in Atlanta, I also broke bread with some other great friends Karen Wood, and Sean Gardner. Again, the world of sports connects here, to a brighter future, starting with our young people. Karen daughter is a basketball phenomenon who started as a freshman on her school’s varsity basketball team in Riverdale Georgia, (Drew High School) and that young lady, Hyrima Wood has a shot at a college scholarship. Here are some of her highlights.
So at the end of the day, I had a great 24 hours of rejuvenation as part of a recent trip to Atlanta, and what I’m thinking about right now are the lyrics from the song by the late Whitney Houston, the “Greatest Love of all.” They greatly apply to the point that is being made. From time to time, I think of the song.
I believe the children are our are future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be
Everybody searching for a hero
People need someone to look up to
I never found anyone who fulfill my needs
A lonely place to be
And so I learned to depend on me
I decided long ago
Never to walk in anyone’s shadows
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I’ll live as I believe
No matter what they take from me
They can’t take away my dignity
So it’s back to New York for my reality of political reporting, from the New York Race for Governor, to our President of the United States, local issues, and plenty of Federal corruption trials involving elected officials. Through the years, I have covered alot of negatives, alot of heartache and enormous pain. So when one encounters something nice and refreshing like young people that are doing great thing, it gives you a much needed hope for the future. As I often say in speeches around the country and CANADA:
It does not matter in life where we start out at, it’s where you are going!!!!
And another point I make is that:
We all fall down in life, the question is, do you get back up.
Young people represent an innocence, a beginning. They have their entire lives ahead of them. Khadeer Codrington proves that point. Crystal Stevens proves that point. John Williams III proves that point.
Times are a changing, for me and my friends. Not just John Williams, and Randolph Codrington, but all of us. “Wes,” Larry Adams, Johnnie Brown, the list goes on, and on. Johnnie Brown now lives out in Arizona, and is quickly moving his way up in hotel management. I watched Johnnie in admiration as he raised his son, Little Johnnie. “Wes” has settled down in Connecticut and is happy. We are all settling down, and I guess the thing with maturity is that, what was important to you 20 years ago, is no longer relevant.
Nowadays Randy, who has given 30 years of his life to protecting all of us in law enforcement, gets off work at 4:30 AM, and has to be up and ready to go at 7am to drive Khadeer about an hour away to school. Randy doesn’t complain. Randy wears what he is doing for his sons as a badge of honor.
“Coach” John Williams is doing it. Years from now, the same way I hold my Coach Bill in such esteem all these years later, the young men John is touching will come back to say thank you Coach for helping to make me a man.
Another buddy since childhood, Derick Echevarria, is a top NY Transit union leader. Derick just got married in Puerto Rico. When I look at photos of Derick and his wife Lisa Marie, I see true happiness, and love. God Bless them.
Years ago, more than 40 years to be exact, as young impressionable teenagers, Randy and I played for the Jaguars and Roadrunners football teams in the Bronx. We would practice on the site that is now literally the new Yankee Stadium, and play at Van Cortlandt Park. Near 242nd street. Flying back to New York from Atlanta, I was walking to my car, and walked past the same Van Cortlandt Park. It was 2 am, and no one was on the street. I was at peace. I stood there and cried. I was at peace. I did the impossible. I went from nothing, to appearing on “Face The Nation,” as a journalist. I fought all my career for the underdog. I went into journalism to be a voice for the voiceless, and in the middle of the night, on this night, I felt so at peace. I was home. Society tells us men are not supposed to cry. All my life I never cried. I felt that if I started crying, I would never stop.
These days I’m not afraid to cry. I cried looking at Van Cortlandt Park across the street, because for me, It has been such a long, long road. As a young man, I thought God had forgotten me. It’s only in the last couple of years that I realized I was wrong. God has been there every step of the way. God is the only way that I survived.
I close on a refreshing thought. Randy’s brother Robert, Ms. Ronnie’s other son, guess what he does?
Robert has a football league in the Bronx, involving hundreds of kids, most without fathers. Kids that are just like me. Several of Robert’s kids have received scholarships to play football in college. Robert!!! One man, one person,(of course with the help of others) is saving countless young people.
In my day, I had the Police Athlete League that would feed us, and let us play in a safe environment. The PAL center I was part of, is still there. 183rd st,and Webster Ave. When we first moved to 365 East 184th St, the PAL center was in our building. My grandmother didn’t have much, but she had the vision to send me to the PAL Center. I was part of the PAL Chess team, and my first exposure to television came through PAL. They took some of us to be contestants on the popular children’s show at the time, Wonderama. Robert’s program is called the Bronx Wolfpack. All I can say is that if there was EVER a cause worthy of our donations, the Bronx Wolfpack is it. I ask you to please help out. To run a sports youth program cost alot of money, and requires NON-Stop fundraisers. This first photo is Robert below, with young ladies doing a car wash fundraiser. The next photo is the Bronx Wolfpack being embraced at Fordham University, only blocks away from where we grew up. Fordham gave back to the community, by having kids like me, with nothing, being able to attend summer sports programs. It takes a village.
Robert, know that you are doing God’s work. It’s a calling, and we are all so proud of you.
So me and “my dogs” are now middle-aged. We have different priorities. I think it’s fair to say that we are getting better with age.