(BALTIMORE – July 24, 2022) – Despite all of the gloom and doom about us, here is a story that’s quite pleasing to tell. It is literally a Westside story about a group of men whose history goes back 50 years at Matthew Alexander Henson Elementary School #29 located on the corner of Payson and Baker.
Because I am one of them, I can assure you that we are so blessed to be here and to still get together. We have seen so much in those 5 decades. Many of the people we grew up with are long gone: Darryl Motley, Eric “A.D.” Scott, “Little” Reggie Matthews …
Where Coppin stands today – south of North Avenue … “The Wick”. My mother told me to stay off of Warwick Avenue.
I remember the night I could hear shots from my bedroom. It was a block away. Someone was killed.
I remember seeing a man lying in the gutter on Baker and Moreland with his brains blown out. The blood was so thick. Even as a funeral director’s son, it was nonetheless traumatic. These were the late 70s. Heroin and cocaine had begun their powerful grip over generations of beautiful Black people.
Having a liquor store is one thing. Having people selling coke and dope will only lead to something bad. And it did.
So, Coppin now stands in its stead, and I for one am glad.
But there was also Easterwood Recreation Center and Park. It was a saving grace. Of the man who gathered yesterday, one was Baltimore basketball legend Derick Boyd. As great a star as he was on the court, in class – he was just Derick.
And that’s a part of the beauty of this group of men – my homeboys, including those who couldn’t make it, like Gerald Quarles and John McCaughley. John just lost his dad. Both Quarles and McCaughley were raised by both a mother and a father.
You see, so many dudes were not raised with their fathers in the home. We see the lasting impression of that more today than ever before. But in our day, some of us had strong dads and they forged us into the men we are today.
Irvin Nore was present. He was Darryl Motley’s best friend growing up. We call him “Buggy”. He was the first in the crew to demonstrate corporate acumen. In other words, he was the manager of “Chicken George’s” at Mondawmin Mall. If you can picture that, then I don’t need to tell you how many people probably went there after school for the hook-up. Buggy persevered and came to run restaurants all over America.
Buggy was raised by strong parents, too. He often talks to me about the importance of his dad to his life. Buggy was and still is a leader among us; our big brother, if you will. He’s a year older than most of us. We invited him because he epitomizes the love and character under which we were raised. Eula Mae Williams, Ralph Durant, and Mr. Jones-Bey immediately come to mind.
These are the names of the people who ran the rec. They loved us and nurtured us. They accepted us and taught us. And they did not accept excuses for ill behavior. Period.
Buggy loved the rec as much as anybody. These men know how the recs in Baltimore saved our lives, and gave us somewhere to go. Some even got a job at the rec. As a youngin’, I thought that was the dream job – especially since I lived across the street.
William White was present. He’s the jokester still; he and Gordon, that is. Gordon Wilder, the mechanic. Who would have thought that William White has more degrees than all of us? To boot, he teaches badass kids. Yeah, I said it ’cause it’s true. Nobody imagined William White going to Bethune-Cookman College let alone grad school at Coppin. I have to say, it was William White who tricked me into getting politically engaged. He put me on. True story.
One day, William White asked, “Donald”. (Yes, Donald. That’s someone who knows your full government name.) “Donald, do you know who Pete Rawlings is?” He continued, and I will never, ever, ever forget it: “He’s the Chair of the House Appropriations Committee.” I replied, “The what?”
The year was 1995. Although he has always been a hilarious person, William White – the dude who used to crack jokes in the back of the class – gave me my entrance into politics.
I can still William and Gordon making the losing sound from “The Price Is Right” game show when some unknowing victim gave a wrong answer in Mr. Williams’ class.
Mr. Williams was our 5th and 6th-grade teacher. Buggy still reflects on those days. As do we all.
We learned from some serious Black educators, like the ever-gorgeous Joyce Hamer or my favorite lady teacher, Frances Parks, who loved us and brought out the best in us. Teachers like Mr. Kermit Williams and Mr. Johnny Smallwood were like two rooks on the second floor. They were two dazzling Black men who did not play. There was zero tolerance at their end of the hall. No B.S. or you would immediately have a problem.
I later learned that Mr. Williams was a Viet Nam vet. Mr. Williams was like a dad. He taught us about jazz. He orchestrated the morning announcements where I got my very first shot on the air. I even went on WJZ TV 13’s “Bob Turk and the Sunshine Kids” and was featured in the newspaper with the only white kid in our school, Christopher Olson, regarding our American Indians project.
Yesterday, we reflected on the band at #29. Gordon, Kenny Parker, and I played under Ms. Salin. She was a white lady who was exemplary with her musical magic. All I remember is a lot of good and decency. During the year we graduated, 1976, our orchestra played at the Inner Harbor.
These brief, fleeting thoughts in no way express the full magnitude of just how meaningful yesterday was. My favorite part was the prayer as we huddled together before departing.
Regardless of what’s up with the rest of the world, some brothers got together on the water after 50 years of knowing each other in a concrete jungle. What a beautiful thing to hear about some of their days at Walbrook. Walbrook is where many of the people in our neighborhood went.
It was great to reflect with people who know you better than you know yourself. And we all need that. We need to stay connected to somebody out there. We don’t have to be alone unless we choose to do so. And frankly, that sucks.
Given all of the things that we have endured as Black men, I encourage any fellow Matthew Henson men or women who want to connect with us to just call me at 443.858.2684. All are welcome. We’ve found a bit of peace in coming together. We even had Gary Fullwood on the phone from California.
‘Til next time!
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