When I was a little boy in the 1970s, other than my parents, I had very little evidence of Black people in the world. My parents had moved to a suburb of San Diego called Oceanside when I was 9 months old. Other than two other Black families who lived there after their father’s time in the military, I did not interact or see hardly any Black people. The one’s I did see involved a 2-hour car ride back to the Altadena where my most of my parent’s family lived at the time. We usually went for large church events, Holidays, and birthdays. We did not stay long because my parents did not drink or smoke, but my relatives sure did at the time. Black people were alien and strange yet fascinating to me. I’d look for them in books and found only a few of them thanks to Ezra Jack Keats and Dick & Jane’s random Black friends, I’d read about them. My mother tried to get Black history books for me but until late in high school I hated reading like a little boy hates a bath. I’m just saying. I looked on the television and the few shows that had a Black person on them, they were not the star, had infrequent or comedy lines, and did nothing like my parents did. That said, my mother and father were mathematics teachers. The original Black Nerds or Blerds. Black people were abstract to me. All I wanted to do was play football, go to the beach with my friends, and play video games yet everywhere I went in San Diego and S. California, I wondered where are the other Black people?
Then one day things changed. One weekend we went to visit my family in Altadena for a birthday or something like that and I got hang out with my cousins who grew up around other Black people. They had seemed to learn a dance. It had a magical name and they all knew the dance. They called it, “The Electric Slide,” and it was so magical I was awed by it even into my late 30’s (i.e. I still be messed it up on the dance floor but I have my own variation now). I came home to my mostly White classroom, neighborhood, and church and asked my three Black friends if they knew it. Only one did but he was older than me by five years, so I just figured it was something for older kids but not for me. Yet, I wanted to know more about these Black people. We went back a month later to Altadena for church. After church I wanted to play with some kids and one girl said, “Ewww, you talk White.” Rather than be bothered by this, I wondered out loud, “So how can I talk Black?” And she showed me in her best effort and I began a journey of trying to talk Black that lasted from the time I was 8 years old until I was 18 years old. By 18 years of age, I realized it was a futile quest, because what I really needed to focus on was being Black, because whatever I say, as long as it is some goodness about Black people, is Black.
Yeah by 18 years old, I had read a few things, listened to some powerful rap albums (e.g. Public Enemy, Bid Daddy Kane, De La Soul, etc.) but had experienced life so removed from Black people I knew I needed to leave beautiful San Diego to be around Black people. Mind you, I had a “girlfriend” every year since first grade yet only one was Black. I had kissed 2 or 3 thought and it was glorious. However, I digress. I was busy partying from my junior year in high school till college and music and partying were my main preoccupation.
I attended Palomar Community College for my first two years. Chicano Studies was the first course I took, and I thought if can gain great insights from my professor and other Chicano authors, I need to learn more about Black folks. Like many men my age, from 1988 till 1992, across the country thanks to Public Enemy, Spike Lee, and the film X based on Alex Haley’s book which was an interpretation of the life of El Hajj Malik al Shabazz, I read the Haley’s book. So much of his life related to mine. Malcolm’s life was like a combination of mine and my father’s. It was as if Malcolm was saying all the things my father could not say due to the pain of living thru the Jim Crow era. This prompted me to ask my parents questions and to read more. I read Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, Martin Luther King, Jr., and biographies of Bob Marley, Marcus Garvey, Alice Walker, Elijah Muhammad, etc. My distaste for reading changed in my freshmen year in college because I found Black people in the books and they taught me things I did not even know to ask. I felt I was too far behind and other than Toni Morrison and Alice Walker I stopped ready fiction all together. I had no time to play. My first research paper was a timeline comparison of Malcolm X’s and Martin Luther King, Jr’s. speeches. I concluded that they were converging and were killed because their combined efforts would have been too powerful for the government forces against them to stop them.
That said, having this knowledge and still being around Black people only in the abstract was difficult. It was like living in Wyoming and Surfer magazine every day—it was kinda painful having a desire yet not being able to connect to the ocean. As I dated in college at church, at the dance clubs, in Tijuana, at work, etc. in ran into White people who exclusively dated Black people. Many women who wanted to date me declared this to me. I had gone from thinking I would only ever date White women, not for lack of trying to date other women, but the odds were just set that way and they were who I knew in my small spheres of influence in San Diego. My classes at Palomar were filled with people who had very negative stereotypes about Black people. Combined with the limited dating scene and feeling pigeonholed in class I wanted to attend a Black college. Strangely enough my college counselor, who happened to be Black, insisted I should attend Stanford and not Howard University where one of my 3 Black friends went. I had to let my counselor go and took myself to the transfer office and mapped out my path towards Howard University in Washington, D.C. or Oakwood College in Huntsville, AL. Let’s just say, I ended up at Oakwood at the insistence of my mother and it was better for me. That decision is another very long story involving my mother’s illness, a friend’s challenges at Howard, and the need for me to clean up my life from partying way too much.
Oakwood College (University as of 2007) is, “a Historically Black, Seventh-Day Adventist (Christian) institution.” Their mission is to transform students through biblically-based education for service to God and humanity. It was exactly what I needed to connect with the images I saw, what I had read, and most importantly who I am and whose I am. Getting to the know the sights, sounds, smells, and touches of Black life at an HBCU challenged notions of stereotypes I did not even know were buried away in my subconscious. After years of television, assumptions by even well-intentioned White friends, as well as enemies, my brain was filled with toxic notions of Blackness. I was able to cleanse a great deal of the painful toxicity by being with Black people and something happened in the process, I fell in love with Black people. If went from studying to appreciating, admiring, to ultimately falling in love with Black people. I have had three great romantic loves in my life. My first in high school, the one who I thought was the one, and the ONLY one. The later two I met at Oakwood. There is a connection to my overall love for Black people and ultimately dating and marrying a Black woman. It has taken me 23 years to unpack what that means but each time I delve into it, it is powerful.
At Oakwood, for me it was as if Black people who had grown up about other Black people, did not appreciate how much they had. Like I had with my cousins and the Electric Slide I spent a great deal of time in awe at the choirs, the step teams, the chants at basketball games, their clothing style, etc. I did not want to take any of them for granted. Everyone said, “hello.” Even if you had some beef with a person from Oakwood, once we left campus, we were family. I had never experienced that love. I realized to the importance and power of Black institutions.
Black institutions, whether they be musical, educational, spiritual, financial etc. when done properly are the receptacles for our hopes and dreams. Again, much about Black life had been abstract to me but this notion of passing knowledge and ideas forward in writing, financial saving, songs, worships services, et cetera became very palpable for me at Oakwood. So much so I carry it with me even after being a student there over 23 years ago.
When my two daughters both decided they wanted to attend Oakwood I was excited for them but also in awe of them as being a part of this HBCU narrative. When I attended I was the first in my family to attend an HBCU. Besides my parents I had one uncle and no cousins I knew who had attended college. My parents put me on a plane and expected me to return with a degree. All this Black stuff was an extra to them. My parents had attended historically White institutions in California. They were the first in their family to attend college at all. They started in community college and finished at Cal State University Los Angeles. They followed that by taking graduate courses at San Diego State University where they were often the only Black people in class. Although they had grown up around mostly Black people, this HBCU experience was my own. To have a second generation in my daughters attend an HBCU, which is my alma mater is an experience I am still trying to fully appreciate. I think I work at Oakwood now just, so I can figure it out. My daughters and even my classmates’ children sing the songs that my friends and I sang when I was a student here. It is as if every choir and every song service is a time to call the Holy Spirit to remind each generation that God is here with us. These Black people who said, we will learn despite what you think of us are speaking with and thru these young people who carry our hopes and dreams. Yeah, sappy, but I really love Black people. Almost to a fault.
Today, when I see Black people together I still am in reverent awe. Whether it is in class I am teaching, and students are learning a new self-defense move or a deep Black Psychology insight, I get to be witness to their greatness, their resilience, and I am appreciative of the specific journey God has had me on. Prior to returning to Oakwood I have been involved with developing programs for Black boys via my fraternity, Cal State University Long Beach’s Black student union, the Association of Black Psychologists, the Black Surfers’ Collective, etc. When I a returned to S. California from Alabama the beach was always in my heart. I eventually took a surf lesson and surfed nearly every week from 2007 until 2017. Before I started surfing thought I prayed I would find fellow Black surfers and I found the Black Surfing Association. Tony Corley was confirmation of a Black faith I have developed. I know that any activity, even if people assume Black people do not do it, there is a Black person who does it well and loves it. I have won a few awards for my professional Achievements, but all came because of my love and commitment to the betterment of Black people. I long ago accepted that if I can learn from and support these amazing people who survived so much and who’s resiliency is a marvel for the ages, then I will have fulfilled my purpose. Any people can learn from Black people’s story. These are but a few of the reasons I love Black people.
I hope my journey has been interesting or helpful to you and that you can learn to love Black people as I have.