I wrote recently about how addressing the Class of ’60 at the University of Arizona, as we celebrated our 50 Year Reunion, was an honor of a lifetime. Well, on that same trip home I received another honor of a lifetime: the UA Black Alumni’s Outstanding Alumni Achiever Award.
To be honored by my people, people who have come down the same road as I, a road upon which we had to struggle to hold our heads up high with Jim Crow standing in our way as we passed by – well, I don’t have the words to properly portray how this honor makes me feel. It’s so deeply soothing and warming to me, so sunny and breezy, so funky and easy like a Jazz Crusaders song or a Maya Angelou poem. It made me go: “Is this real?” or “Is this an episode of the Twilight Zone, where and old dude is recognized for his achievements in life and by chance the ceremony is held where he began his life?”
See, what made this particular award so special was that it was like being honored in my home because the dirt beneath the building, the Dunbar Cultural Center, where the ceremony was held, is part of the landscape upon which I was born. The center was once my elementary and junior high school, Tucson’s all black school before the schools were desegregated in 1951.
We were gathered smack dab in the middle of my Hood and that made me feel extraordinarily good. I arrived on that block on April 18th, 1938. Along with my length and weight, COLORED was boldly typed on my birth certificate that very day which meant I had better start “achieving” right away.
I lived at 901 North Tenth Avenue in a duplex where if you walked in the front door one second before two you could lollygag and be at the backdoor before the clock struck two. Small doesn’t even begin to describe that place. When we moved around the corner to 920 North Perry I had the biggest smile on my face and a little more space to stretch my skinny legs and questioning mind.
Across the street, from the wee apartment, at the time, there resided a mean chow dog named Rusty who made people grab their butts and hope they still had one after they had walked by. Across the street, going the other way, there lived the principal of Dunbar Elementary and Junior High. We called him, lovingly, and sometimes not so adoringly, because of his thick glasses, Eagle Eye.
“Be the Best” was our motto, and I bought into the concept as a way to go. It’s all I know. And isn’t part of the game of life going for what you know? So, don’t you know, what I was being honored for on that cozy warm Friday was a continuation of how I lived my life, as they say, back in the day.
Like there was many a day my teachers let me work with a group and we would laugh and learn in a variety of ways always in a spirit of play. I’m still doing that today.
I wrote non-stop in class when I was supposed to or when I wasn’t supposed to and I wrote bits for the stage when we had one of our many talent shows and that’s the way my life still goes.
At the old Mt. Calvary, which was down the street, I’d do my thing in little plays and vignettes and now I still act although no longer at every chance I get.
Was athletic and in shape then and that’s the way, from then to now, it’s always been.
And activism. It’s in my genes. If something seemed unfair to me, like Jim Crow running wild in my reality, well, I would engage myself in some kind of activity to turn the situation around and I still do, loudly and proudly, in surround sound.
So the tribute paid me was so appealing to me in that it respected my very existence as a human being extending from now back to my very beginning.
There can be no bigger acknowledgment than that. I mean that’s fly, that’s cool, that’s ill, that’s sweet, that’s tight, that’s phat.
So I humbly said to the gathering: “Thank you. And because it is specifically from you, the UABA, this honor will reside in me with passion and pride to my very last day – and, by the way, I hope that’s a long time away but that’s not for me to decide so I’ll enjoy it day to day.”
And the next day the Arizona Wildcat football team blew the Washington Huskies away on Homecoming Day. Ah, life doesn’t get any sweeter than that. What a weekend.