"When all around things were going wrong
All I had to do was think of home.
Friends that were kind and so sweet.
Helped me to stand on my two feet.
Walking in strange and new places...
Checking out all of the new faces.
Didn't bother me none for all of the folks back home were real.
Some are dead. But they all were so beautiful
(Lyrics by Lamar Alford/Morehouse Man from the musical "Martin")
I had the honor to sing lead on the lyrics from this song as I portrayed Martin Luther King "Jones" in Morehouse's legendary stage musical "The Life & Times of Martin Luther King Jr.". From 1989 through 1994, I performed with the KING PLAYERS on this annual piece (that we sometimes took on the roard). This particular part -- one I landed in the latter years -- is that of a young Morehouse Man, named for the civil rights leader. When he comes back home to his hometown of Birmingham (or any-Southern-town USA), he realizes that many things have changed, but the lessons learned from the many kind people he'd come across were right there... with him.
This is - in no small way - how I felt returning last week to my alma mater Morehouse College for my 15-year reunion. To be back on that campus again brought back so many memories of what it was like when I graduated those many years ago. I remember it being a scary time as I looked ahead to my future. I had many things I wanted to do and be a part of - from being a TV journalist to a performer. Having those talents show up and maintaining the living brought me much concern, even though I had gotten off to a good start (But now, without the proverbial net we call college and resources?). My mom was still around, though she had just had a health scare (two weeks prior to my commencement). And I remember the anxiety I felt that she might not be around to see me get my degree, the huge motivation of which was her. (She did make it, though two years later would pass away... and every ringing phone since this scare until her passing would jolt me into this thought that something might be wrong. CALLER ID came soon thereafter. Then, my triggers were induced by a specific phone number from home.). I also was experiencing inner-turmoil around my sexuality and how I would have that show up in my life. Though I wasn't out while in school, I knew my choices around my years ahead were going to be critical for my quality of life to shine through. (And just over five years after this time, I landed my TRUTH and now I truly LIVE OUT LOUD. Not a suggestion. It just is. And I am happy for it).
When I first got to Atlanta last Thursday, I picked up the keys from my sister's job and proceeded to get to her place in Lithonia - so I could wind down. Anthony considered coming, but he called in around this time to alert me he would not make the trip (to stand inside some commitments that preceded his idea around accompanying me to Georgia). Later that night, I went to the first of what would be a handful of well-planned social sets put together for the weekend by my classmate R.M. Lathan (www.morehouseoldschool.com/1992). The Leopard Lounge was spot #1. (www.leopardlounge.biz/). It set the tone for the weekend, though I slipped out early to meet one of my best friends Michael K. Watts, who lives in New York City (and I see him often enough, but he'd just landed and - with his friend Monica - in tow, we wanted to get some food and catch up as we don't really get the chance to just casually sit back, eat, and chew the fat as our respective schedules don't always allow). We met at The Vortex in Midtown (www.thevortexbarandgrill.com/). I came to find out it's quite the staple in Atlanta - boasting the BEST BURGER, according to Zagat. But I'd never been. So, this was a treat. And I did try the burger (with bacon and jack on top). GOOD STUFF!
On Friday morning, I got up and high-tailed it to campus to see the groundbreaking of The Ray Charles Performing Arts Center (Morehouse Music Education Building). Quincy Jones was in attendance to help celebrate this momentous occasion, one of the last official duties outgoing Morehouse President Dr. Walter E. Massey would have as he wrapped up his twelve-year presidency this weekend. Life-long friend and President of Ray Charles Enterprises, Inc., Joe Adams, also spoke. At the end of the program, all the Morehouse men gathered (as we would several times before the weekend wrapped) and held hands - singing "Dear Ol' Morehouse", our College Hymn. As I stood hand-in-hand with some of my classmates from '92 (and other years) - like Korey Washington, Mike Bryant, and Juan Thomas - the memories came rushing back. I was in the Glee Club and having toured and traveled with this renowned organization many times and sung that particular song (and then some) reminded me of the blessings and the foundation that this group (and college) set for me. Dr. Morrow, the Glee Club's director, would often say "It's more than a notion..." and he's right. After the program, Quincy Jones walked pass me. I reminded him of the many times we've been in close quarters, including a time I interviewed him a few years ago in Washington, D.C. (see picture). He remembered. Then, he pointed out that he loved my top - asking "Is that Issey Miyake?". I would have loved to say "Yes", but truth be told, it's more of a knock-off or - let's say - Issey-Miyake-esque. He said it didn't matter because "It is sharp!". I thanked him... and THANK GOD for these moments.
Later that afternoon, my friend Mike Bryant and a handful of other friends went to Paschal Restaurant (www.paschalsrestaurant.com). I had never been to the new location on Northside Drive. It was as good as I recall from the original location on Martin Luther King Drive - home of many civil rights movement planning meetings in the 1960s. While dining, Tahra Chatard approached our table. She is the sister of one of our Miss Maroon & Whites Faedra Chatard (Spelman '92) and a Spelman woman herself (Spelman '97). She came to re-introduce herself to me, pointing that when she'd visit her older sister, I'd sometimes be around. And at all times, she remembered me being so nice to her. Of course, as she celebrates her 10-years since graduation and I celebrate my 15-years, I felt like she and I were more contemporaries. But during those formative years for her, I guess I read more like an "older brother" or "mentor". So, I'll accept that compliment on my "mentoring" energies, but not too much... (SMILE!). Tahra is now a publicist in Atlanta - doing great work with a designer BLOOD SWEAT & TEARS - work that is influenced by and reaches Japan, Korea, Canada, United Kingdom, and stateside. While on the campus, I met a young man who was performing for the returning alums as well as the graduates in the lobby of Kilgore Center. His name is Mercury and he is a Lithonia-based junior at Morehouse. He was playing an acoustic guitar, but once we got into a conversation, I learned that he had a band and they have a CD. The band's name is EMER'JE. The album is titled "10 WAYS TO SLAY A GIANT". Their MYSPACE is www.myspace.com/emerje. And the sound may not be what you expect from four African American men, but it's their own... and is MUSIC to my ear.
I also got the chance to break-away and catch up with my original "Amazing Grace" Natalie (since 9th grade). We met at one of Atlanta's handful of Houston's (www.hillstone.com). And as always, it's good to catch up with her (though we talk on the phone just about everyday). After she went to take care of mommy duties and I went to change for a dinner with a handful of fellow alums at the fabulous restaurant SILK (www.silkrestaurant.com/), the midtown eatery where I fell in LOVE (with a crabmeat quesadilla), we gathered at the next "official" party. Location: THE VIEW (at King Plow Arts Center - www.theviewatkingplow.com). This evening perhaps provided the biggest bang for "re-uniting" as so many were in the house (including my New York City friend Khalid, who was celebrating his 5-YEAR REUNION from Morehouse, but he opted to come and check out the "old heads" for a minute). I saw homegirls like my Tandi Reddick (from Savannah). She and I got to re-capture the fun we had five years ago at the 10-year reunion. And now, we are shoing that our black is not cracking. It just isn't. She looks GREAT.
Since Natalie is a wife and mother of two, clearly late nights in Atlanta are not her priority. But for the reunion, Natalie (and her college friend Shelita) and a host of others put those babies to bed; got those faces beat; put on that drag; and stayed out all night long. Oh, to be young again.... SMILE!
The following morning, my Class of '92 took our picture. I sat in the ten-year reunion pic in front of Nabrit-Mapp-Mcbay Hall. This time, we all stood on the staircase in front of Kilgore Center. Later that afternoon, we had a joint-picnic with our Spelman sisters on Spelman's campus. There, we ate very well and got the chance to casually catch up without music blasting loudly (like our parties the nights' prior). I even found myself "meeting" classmates for the first time. As popular as I (or any particular person) may have been, you don't always "meet" everybody - even during four years and despite the small population of a liberal arts college. Most excitedly, I was happy to meet Regina Boone, Spelman '92. She is currently a photo-journalist at Detroit Free Press. She and I know many people in common because of the National Association of Black Journalists through which we've also never met. But now we have and will stay in touch. But to be with my people again... was BLISS! Adrianne, Lisa, Melony, Toni, Tarvia, etc. HEY!
Later that evening, my best friend Eddie (who I often speak about from my travels to Chicago) joined Michael, Brad, Melanie, and me for some Gladys Knight & Ron Winans' Chicken and Waffles (www.gladysandron.com/). Eddie was in town for a wedding and wasn't able to fully participate in the reunion, but was able to steal a moment to hang out with 'the posse'. Over smothered chicken, BBQ salmon, catfish fingers, and sweet tea, we all enjoyed our group walk down memory lane. After dinner, I went on to join some other classmates for a private set in the Austell home of one classmate. Then, we segued for an after set at a cute, neighborhood spot called "Eye Candy" (www.icandyclubga.com).
Sunday was Morehouse's commencement, which my friend Elise (as Media Relations Manager of the college) helped produce. Denzel Washington - as well as Quincy Jones - were given honorary doctorates from Morehouse. And joining the esteemed alums are new graduates like Rutger's coach Vivian Stringer's son and - I hear - Queen Latifah's little half-brother. Elise was bouncing around all week like the Energizer bunny, but took some time to pose with Michael and me. After graduation, many of my fellow Morehouse men and I had brunch at The Renaissance Waverly Hotel (marriott.com/hotels/travel/atlrb-renaissance-waverly-hotel/). It was an awesome way to cap off the weekend. The food was great. I ran into several folks I wasn't counting on seeing, including one of my "little brothers" at Morehouse William G. McCray III, a rising "star" who credits himself a "nationally syndicated columnist" (www.Obnoxious.tv). He's a multi-media wonder to watch. Also, my friend Gil Robertson happened to be there having brunch. He's the author of "Not in my Family", the book and the CD collection of songs (www.notinmyfamily.com). Also, I should acknowledge Jamahl King (www.stepsevents.com/jamal.html). We - even right after college - stayed in a bit of touch as he was my neighbor in our first Buckhead apartments out of school. He's currently doing wonderful things in Atlanta via the special events circuit. As President and CEO of his own company, S.T.E.P.S. (Striving Towards Excellence with Perfection in Sight) Event Planning Firm, he put some of our events this weekend together - making it a point that we don't forget those of us who are inside of a not-always-popular lifestyle (let our sometimes judgmental people tell it). Moreover, he brought us all to tears during his toast as he wanted us to make sure that we continue to support each other from our respective corners of the world and that we not forget those who didn't make it to the 15-year reunion. Corey. Richard Rogers. On and on, we could go naming these special people. These too are our fellow brothers who were instrumental in teaching us lessons and elevating our humanity with their gifts.
Truly, Jamahl... Some are dead. But they all were so beautiful.
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