The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently. -Friedrich Nietzsche
Back in the day, Thurgood Marshall High School was a sacred place in the Bayview Hunters Point Community. They used to call it “The Black Lowell.” Today, I think that comparison does a disservice to the empowering culture the school created for black students. Thurgood Marshall was something greater than a place that played to the insecurities of the privileged elitist. If I had to compare it to anything, I would say Thurgood Marshall was the Mecca of opportunity for families that resided in 94124. I was raised in the Fillmore, but I journeyed across the city every morning on the 9 San Bruno to the place that became responsible for my liberation.
The founding principal was an African man named Samuel Butcher. He didn’t talk much, but he always made his presence felt. His hearty 6’2” frame was easily spotted when he walked the shaded hallways of the densely packed school. He had dark skin, a baritone voice and piercing eyes that were always covered with prescription shades. It would be a mistake to think his thick West African accent meant he didn’t have a strong command of the English language. He spoke 7 languages, held a PhD in Mathematics and played several instruments. These are a few of the consequences of brilliant minds that have a hard time being still.
“Have a great day, the Thurgood Marshall Way.” Dr. Butcher would state this mantra over morning over the school loudspeaker in his thick African accent. His voice is forever stitched in the minds and hearts of the thousands of young people who learned in Bayview’s Mecca.
I rolled my eyes at the Thurgood Marshall way. “What the fuck does that shit even mean?” I said to myself as I rolled my eyes early one Monday morning during 9th grade English class. I had gained entry in Bayview’s Mecca, but had not gained the level of consciousness to see what I had in front of me. The focus of my attention was that Peewee had on the Jordans that came out that past weekend, Sherice was looking extra fly that morning in her Baby Phat hoodie and football practice was starting today after school. I thought my priorities were on point, but they got disrupted that morning.
Something changed in Mr. Reiner’s class when he gave us a writing assignment that changed my perspective on my future.
“Good morning, good morning,” Mr. Reiner always started class with that greeting. “Today, you are writing graduation letters to yourself. I want you to write whatever it is you want yourself to know, do or accomplish between today and high school graduation. I will keep the letters for you and not read them. And the day you graduate I’m going to give the letters back to you.”
I felt this charge run through me after I heard this assignment. I started to become overwhelmed with possibilities. I also got to speak to the older version of myself. A person I thought would be wiser, cooler and free to do anything he wanted whenever he was ready. I wanted to meet this person and wanted to make sure I gave him the guidance he needed to not screw up our chance to make an impact.
Dear 12th Grade Stevon,
What’s up bruh. 1st for all, you’re hella dope. Don’t let anyone ever tell you different. There are a lot of haters out here, but don’t let them stop you. You bets not be fucking up right now and on top of your business. But, I know how dope you are so that’s not happening.
By this time you’ve gotten all your college acceptances back and you’re trying to decide who you’ll play football for. It’s either going to be University of Miami or maybe a historically black college. Hella women probably are on your line right now, but don’t let that keep us from the main objective. We got business to take care of.
Anyway, I love you man. Keep your family first, always set a good example and get good grades.
9th Grade Stevon
Music Recommendation: Nip Hussle The Great Vol. 2
Film Recommendation: Higher Learning