January 30, 2019
My great-great grandfather’s name was Jose Massalina. He was a free black Spanish merchant marine. He jumped ship at St. Joseph in 1836 and made his way to Bay County (Panama City, FL) and settled there. He lived to be 112 years old and his son, my great-grandfather Hawk, lived to be 108. Jose is recognized as the first black person to live in Panama City, FL.
In elementary school I would use my grandfather as the subject for most of my essays. I’m proud of my heritage and history. I grew up in a tradition black church and was very active in ministry from a little boy until today. On the other hand, my high school was a melting pot and I loved every minute of it. If I could go back to 1992 freshman year at Rutherford High School I would.
I went to college in rural white Oklahoma. I have experienced racism several times in my life, but almost never in Oklahoma. Growing up I spent time with people from different backgrounds, beliefs, and races through school and sports. In college I found myself on an amazing football team of over 100 players, mostly African American. However, of the two thousand students who attended Northwestern Oklahoma State University, less than five percent looked like me. This demographic difference afforded me the opportunity to spend time in a whole new world. There was no Black Entertainment Television channel, no African American hygiene products in the local Wal-Mart, no black barber, hairdresser or black church. A whole new world.
I thoroughly enjoyed my new world. Northwestern molded me and made me better. My four years in Alva, Oklahoma added value to my life. I started to realize that since birth I had been on the potter’s wheel receiving my shape. My parents, church, sports teams and schools were acting as skilled potters. My parents didn’t want me to just be a jock, a rapper, a Christian or a black man, they wanted to raise a well-rounded human being.
Whenever you think of a football coach certain characteristics come to mind, I’m not that. When you think of a preacher certain characteristics come to mind, I’m not that. When you think of a black man certain characteristics come to mind, I’m not that. Job titles carry concrete distinctions; however we are all more complex than our occupation allows. We are more smartphone than flip phone; more Baskin Robbins than Dairy Queen. We are more Rubik’s Cube than checkers.
Have you ever tried to solve a Rubik’s Cube? I have, without much success. My son can solve one in a minute six seconds. Impressive. The cube is shaped like a box, however in solving the three dimensional combination puzzle you must think outside the box and follow one of several algorithms, or get lucky. The cube is square, but anyone who knows about pottery knows the potters job is make something round.
As parents Tanika and I are intentional on our choice of potters for our children. Our children have attended a variety of schools: private and public, all white and all black, liberal and conservative, religious and secular. We have intentionally attended churches of different denominations and racial make ups. We have placed them on teams made up of low socioeconomic teammates and teams made up of athletes that come from affluent families. These groups act like potters molding our children into well rounded open minded citizens.
February is Black History Month. One of my heroes is George Washington Carver. After being told the peanut was useless he discovered over three hundred uses. How many uses do you have? I challenge you to have a paradigm shift. Don’t be so predictable. Be your own person. Live a little. Don’t step, but jump outside the box. You have so much potential, don’t let people hinder your progress.
Willie Spears is a teacher, coach, author, minister and motivational speaker. He has been awarded teacher and coach of the year. He speaks to thousands each year through his business The Willie Spears Experience. Willie may be reached at www.williespears.com.