“I have the best family and friends ever,” no truer words have ever been spoken.
Today, is the last day of Black History Month. Today marks the culmination of a push across America to squeeze in as much information into the minds of those who will listen about the contributions of black people in America. While today signifies the end of the collective focus, spanning various races, it does not signify the end of the cycle to educate, highlight and uncover facts that need not be ignored.
But that’s not why I’m here.
I could go on and on about the lack of teaching when it comes to black history.
I said I was not going to write about it because I have discussed this topic more times than I can count. And I arrived at the point long ago where I am convinced that people are going to either accept the truth or they are going to spend the majority of their time redirecting it to fit their “cozy” narrative.
When Nike debuted their new face of their 30th Anniversary, “Just Do It” campaign this week, the internet nearly exploded. Half rejoicing. And the other half in a full blown tizzy.
I had a different blog post planned for today but then The Queen gained her angel wings yesterday and everything changed.
I wish I could remember exactly when I knew she was embodying a spirit that we had never seen and would never see again. I can remember, as a child, my grandmother would play some of her hits on the record player. She always loved listening to artist with very distinct voices. Mahalia Jackson and Aretha Louise Franklin immediately come to mind when that category is brought up.
Yesterday, like a lot of you, I spent the day listening to The Queen’s enormously long list of hit songs. From gospel classics to movie tunes to commands of respect, I sang loudly while also marveling at her even longer list of accomplishments.
First woman inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame
Over 75 million records sold worldwide
112 charted Billboard singles – making her the most charted female artist of all time
Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Kennedy Center honoree
Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient
Street named after her in her hometown of Detroit
And one of my favorite accolades, Civil Rights Activist, which many are oblivious to. I am not going to lay that out for you. Google it cause you need to know. You need to know your history and if you do not share in this rich melanated skin tone that I have you can still Google it because you need to know Our history.
On Halloween, I received a text. At the time of receipt, I was fully engaged in trying to cheer my beloved North Carolina State Wolfpack onto victory against the number one team in the country. I quickly glanced at the text and said to myself, “I’ll check it later once I get stationary.”
November 1. I finally settled in to catch up on what I had missed that weekend. I soon found out there was a party going on and I was beyond fashionably late. The internet was all abuzz. My social media feeds were filled with people talking about it. The unexpected was happening.
When I was a teenager, I had daily routine before school. Wake up. Get ready for school. Watch Rocky & Bullwinkle. Eat cheese toast. Turn to ESPN at 7a to watch SportsCenter. Over the years, my routine has varied some but the one constant has always been my morning dose of SportsCenter. It was on SportsCenter that I got watch one of my favorite sports anchors every morning, Stuart Scott.
I can remember the day I met him as if it happened recently. My sixth grade PE teacher, Ms. Graves, who has become a dear friend of the family invited me to go with her to Late Night with Roy at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Her son, Will, who was like a little brother was a freshman on the basketball team. Supporting Will was a no-brainer. As a proud graduate of North Carolina State University, traveling over into enemy territory was nothing new for me. In an effort to clearly let the masses know that I was there to support Will, only, and not the team I put on as much red as I could find. Red headband. Red NC State shirt. Red Chuck Taylors. Even in all my red, I was excited. I was excited that Will was going to get his first chance to really showcase his talent to the fans that would be cheering him on for the next four years and I was excited to see Scott in his element, up close.
I settle into my seat and soon Scott was introduced. I was mesmerized as I watched him command the crowd of thousands in the same manner that made him a favorite on SportsCenter. I could not believe I was seeing him in person. Then, it happened. He spotted me. I was sitting three rows from the court and I stuck out like beanstalk in a haystack. He was walking by the bench when I heard him say, “I know I don’t see what I think I see.” We immediately locked eyes and I smiled. Scott asked me to come out onto the court. Now even in all my boldness, I was not about to let him get me out on that court to ridicule me. I shook my head and told him to come up to where I was. As is typical with the banter between a Wolfpacker and a Tar Heel, neither of us budged. He gave up but not without making a State joke then moved on to something else.
After the event, I went over to speak to him. As I approached, he immediately smiled. He reached out to shake my hand, gave me a hug and thanked me for being a good sport. I told him how much I enjoyed him on SportsCenter and how he was one of my favorites. He thanked me, asked me a little about myself, told me to keep doing what I was doing and posed for a picture.
Over the past few weeks, Scott has crossed my mind often. Typically when that would happen, I would go check his Twitter feed to see if he had tweeted anything. He was a regular tweeter and the fact that he had not tweeted since November 14 was a cause for concern. As the weeks went on and the tweets still did not happen, I became increasingly sad. The absence of his tweets resonated loudly. Whenever he crossed my mind, I would pray; for him, his healing, his family especially his daughters, his colleagues, his medical staff, all those who knew and loved him. I tried to remain optimistic as I knew that wherever he was, he was fighting a good fight.
In July, I watched with the world as Scott accepted the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the ESPYs. It was fitting that a man who had dedicated so much of his time and efforts to the V Foundation was now on the receiving end of the award named in reference to how Jimmy V lived his life while battling the same disease as Scott. My eyes filled with tears as I listened to Scott deliver a speech that totally changed the way I looked at cancer. He provided me with an 18 word quote that resonated loudly…”You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live.”
When my friend Quincy passed away in October after a 10 year battle, it was that quote that often made me smile, through the tears, when I thought about Quincy. Quincy never let cancer define him. NEVER. He lived a life worthy of being remembered forever. He woke up every day determined to live and that is what he did until he took his last breath. As I sat glued to ESPN this morning, I knew Scott had lived the type of life he spoke about on that stage in July. If you were a regular watcher or ESPN, you saw it every time Scott was on. The only indication that he was in the fight of his life was the LIVESTRONG bracelet that always adorned his wrist. There was never any pity, sadness or despair. Whenever Scott was on, he was on just like he had always been. He was a living example of what beating cancer looked like.
Today, through tears, I have thought a lot about Quincy. I have read tweet after tweet from Scott’s colleagues, current and former athletes, the President and those who just love sports. I have watched his fellow anchors fight back tears as “he is” has to now change to “he was.” I have reminisced on the countless hours I have spent watching Scott revolutionize the title of sports anchor/analyst. And I have thought a lot about the day I met him in the Smith Center. At the time, I was still focused on one day becoming an athletic director. Thoughts of one day being a sports journalist had not crossed my mind. If it had, then my interaction with Scott that day would have been much different. I probably would have thanked him for being authentically him. I probably would have thanked him for giving hope to countless black journalists who strive to have a platform as big as his one day. I probably would have thanked him for never compromising who he was. I probably would have thanked him for stepping out on faith and trailblazing a path for others to follow. I probably would have thanked him for bridging the gap between hip-hop culture, sports and corporate America. I probably would have thanked him for being so great on the job and for being even better off of it.
I would have thanked him simply for being Stuart Scott.
Staurt, you nailed it as only you could. With style, grace and a BooYow to top it off.
Sports have divided us for years. The dynasties vs. the non dynasties. The haves vs. the have nots. The winners vs. the losers. Every once in a while, the tide shifts and rivalries are set aside as fans unite to lend support, encouragement and prayers to those who give so much to the game. There was the late Lou Gehrig, the late Jim Valvano, the late Kay Yow and the late Tony Gwynn. Recently, there has been Chuck Pagano, Pat Summitt, Stuart Scott, Jim Kelly and Lauren Hill. Then there is Leah Still…
Like most of you, I first heard of Leah this summer right after her father, Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle, Devon Still was released from the team. What we would all soon find out is that their reason for releasing him was due to the fact that Leah is battling a rare form of pediatric cancer called neuroblastoma. Still came to the conclusion that in order to provide Leah with the care she needed, he would walk away from football. In one of the classiest moves ever by a professional sports organization, the Bengals informed Still that after being cut they would resign him to their practice squad. This move allowed Still to continue to receive health insurance thus ensuring Leah would receive the treatment she needs. Her medical expenses are expected to exceed $1 million and the NFL will cover 100 percent of the costs. A standing ovation is allowed at this moment.
The story spread rapidly. During a summer that was plagued with stories of domestic violence and child abuse, this gesture by the Bengals was a breath of fresh air. In an industry where the phrase, “It’s just business,” sours relationships and throws lives onto an emotional rollercoaster, it brought a smile to my face to see the powers that be put aside any thoughts of what can you do for me to view Still as what he is: human.
As news of the Bengals decision took over the news mediums, the organization took it a step further. Days after being signed to the practice squad, Still was upgraded to the active roster. After signing him to the 53 man team, the Bengals announced that they would donate all proceeds from the sale of Still’s number 75 jersey to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and pediatric cancer research. Within 24 hours, Still’s jersey set a record for the most sales during that time span in Bengals history. Another standing ovation is allowed at this moment.
Not only have fans stepped up to the plate but different NFL organizations, players and sports figures have as well. The Philadelphia Eagles sent Leah toys and a basket full of goodies. New Orleans Saints Head Coach, Sean Payton, purchased 100 Still jerseys(in sizes small and medium) and donated them to the Pediatric Care Hospital in Cincinnati. Hall of Famer, Jim Kelly, who was recently went into remission, sent Leah and Devon a personal note along with an autographed football and jersey. Commentators have been photographed holding up signs with the moniker Still wears under his eyes and across the bridge of his nose every game, “Leah Strong.” And perhaps one of the biggest tearjerkers took place on October 5 during the Sunday Night Football game between the New England Patriots and the Bengals. During the third quarter, as a video tribute to Leah and other children battling cancer played on the big screen, the Patriots cheerleaders unzipped their jackets to reveal the fact that they were wearing Still’s number jersey underneath. The cheerleaders had taken a page out of the owner, Robert Kraft’s, book who announced he would make a $25,000 donation to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in Leah’s name. Yep. Worthy of another standing ovation.
This is what I love about sports. The camaraderie. The selflessness. The unity. As I watched the Bengals take on the Cleveland Browns last night, I smiled. I smiled because I knew that Leah was attending her first NFL game. I smiled because I had seen pictures of her in her Still jersey, adorned with rhinestones as she posed for pictures with the Bengals cheerleaders. I smiled through the tears as cameras caught the touching moment between daughter and father as Leah waved emphatically, from her suite, at her father on the field. And remember those jerseys fans and supporters eagerly purchased? The Bengals, with Leah on the field, presented a check for $1.3 millions dollars to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital last nigh in her name. You know what to do. Standing o.
Whenever you have a moment, say a prayer for Leah, her father, all the little ones battling this disease and their families. Often times, for as much as their little bodies are having to bear, they tend to light up the room. Their “I can beat this” and “One day at a time” attitudes serve as a reminder to us to never give up. We have a lot of fight in us if we are willing to tap into it. In the midst of this ordeal, both Leah and her father have been very inspiring. His Instagram(man_of_still75) posts are filled with positivity, gratitude and love. Still offers up a glimpse of his relationship with his daughter. He gives her pep talks, she beat boxes and dances and they both enjoy life in the now. I admire the strength of this little four year old warrior and I pray that her strength will carry her into a life of remission. Continue to live “Leah Strong” babygirl! We are all rooting for you!
Alarm goes off at 4:45a. I jam a little to Bobby Brown’s “On Our Own”(my alarm tone), cuts alarm off then looks at temperature on phone. SIXTY-SIX DAGREES. Huh? *cuts eyes at cute new leggings I bought for the occasion, shorts it is*
1. Miles 1-2. Feeling good, feeling great. How are you?
2. Mile 3. In 2012, I had to dodge some roadkill that was the size of a baby kangaroo. Sunday, I dodged some roadkill that was the same size. Did that joka not decompose?
3. Mile 3. I hear “Black or White” by MJ and start shimmying. Wait, is that MJ performing? I need a pic but homeboy is on the opposite side. I yell “MICHAAAELLLLLL” and keep going.
4. We’re almost near the Key Bridge. I’m still feeling good. Then I realize that I should because I am only 4 miles in.
5. Hey the Key Bridge! So happy to see you after being herding like cattle up that steep, narrow bridge to get here. I always wonder who’s idea was that?
6. My hair is twisted and it was in a cute little style until I got to the Key Bridge. Thank God I had enough sense to bring a rubberband with me.
7. Mile 5. Good ole G’towne. Happy to see you! Love the energy on M Street. Favorite costume out there…Ketchup, Mustard & Relish.
8. Miles 6-9. Rock Creek Park. This is new. We didn’t run this in 2010 or 12. Wait, is there a banana up ahead, running? Wait, is that the Stay Puft Marshmellow Man on the other side, running? Wait, I know this dude ain’t dribbling a basketball and juggling? You are doing the absolute most, sir.
10. Heading to mile 10. I hear someone behind me chanting what I thought was a cadence. Then he passes me. Dude is singing and is so far in his zone that he doesn’t notice how loud he is. Well, do you boo boo. Now, the orange slices are coming! Let me start walking because I have seen plenty of people almost get taken out by those things.
11. Mile 12. The Blue Mile. Hains Point always leaves me choked up. So many soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Forever grateful.
12. Mile 13. Halfway! Yeah baby! Making good time too. I’m hongree though. This bagel in my pouch is not appealing.
13. Mile 14. The first of many angels appears. The first one was a lady with a fruit bar. I don’t like mango lady but today I do! That fruit bar concoction was on point.
14. Mile 16. Fatigue kicked in. Ugh. Legs felt great but I was drained. Called my mom for a pep talk. She could’ve easily been a Marine.
15. Mile 17. The Gauntlet. I have never wanted to kick someone as badly as I wanted to kick the man who almost clipped my wings trying to cross with a darn running stroller during the marathon. A two seater at that. If you don’t get out my way sir….
16. Saw the 2 Legit sign. Had to get a pic. I love MC Hammer.
17. Mile 19. The second angel appeared. The little boy with the Tootsie Rolls. I know he came straight from Heaven.
18. Bridge time! Crushed it and I have the pic to prove it. They didn’t have a fun Marine there this time though. Wonk wonk.
19. For some reason, the choppiness of the Potomac(I could see it out the corner of my eye, along with all the people on the bridge made me nauseous. Had to walk most of it.
20. Crystal City. Another angel. First, my girl Ta’She was there and she had pretzels! I needed salt badly. Secondly, whyyyyyy are the miles in Crystal City soooooo freaking long?? The energy is always great there and we need it because it takes forever to get through that mug. The spectators also have the best snacks there.
21. Mile 24. I am usually excited about those donut holes but I had taken in too much sugar. Then I heard someone say “Ooooo, a chocolate one.” I immediately stopped and a fellow runner said here take this one. I savored every morsel.
22. Before Mile 25. I broke down. As I stated before, I run for the Leukemia 7 Lymphoma Society and I ran in memory of my friend Quincy who passed away three weeks ago. The emotion of that overwhelmed me but I could hear him saying, “Keep pushing buddy. You’re almost at the end.” Once I got myself together, I noticed the baby tropical storm like winds I was encountering. That’s always what you want at the end of a race.
23. Right before Mile 26. Please tell me ya’ll saw the little boy, who is destined to be a future Marine, was out there. Before I even got to him, I could hear a little voice screaming, “Yeah! You got it! Gimme some, gimme some! Keep going! Fist bump! You got it! You got it!” Lil man was no more than 2 ft tall and was the hypest spectator I saw all day. Oorah lil man.
24. Mile 26. Customary pic with the mile marker then I hear someone shouting my name. My friend Steve, is right near the hill, videoing. I run over as well as almost run over people(ala dude with the running stroller) to get to him so we can celebrate.
25. Time to take the hill. Hi-fives. Low-fives. And smiles all around. I round the curve to see my dear friends, Jeneen and VJ, who have been at the finish line since the start of the race waiting for me. They are waving frantically and cheering louder than anyone else in the stands. Couldn’t ask for better support.
26. FINISH LINE. Quincy and I made it. Again. Thank you Lord! I PR’d too at 5:32. I’m 99% sure that is the last 26.2 for me. Always have to leave room for the one percent because I am the same person who said I’d never run a marathon.
P.S. Shoutout to my grandDaddy who passed in 2008. He was a Montford Point Marine(part of the first wave of black Marines to enter the Corps in the 1940s) Please research them if you aren’t familiar with their story. He’s the reason I have only run MCM. Can’t see myself 26.2’ing anywhere else. Oorah to my favorite piece of American History.