Black History Month
is a significant time in American history, for black people have forced America to grow and rise countless times to a higher and more moral self.
If you take a serious look at those who are the backbones of the history we celebrate -- Frederick Douglass
, Harriet Tubman
, W.E.B. Dubois
, Rosa Parks
, Martin L. King Jr.
, and Mary McCleod Bethune
-- these were black people who refused to be victims
. They had it hard, and they knew what their supposed place in society was, but they redefined themselves, struggled and pushed until they prevailed. These forebears were victors
; they saw something, knew
something was better and could not be contained. You may wonder what this history has to do with today.
I sponsored four Springfield, Mass., teens to go to Hampton University
in 2005. These students came from challenging backgrounds, but here was a free education that they could take advantage of, if they were willing. One student, Wesley A. White
, graduated with a B.A. in Psychology, while another student, Loren Wilder
(pictured above, left), is also set to graduate with his B.S. in Sports Management this May.
I bring Loren's story to the forefront, because this 24-year-old youth personifies what has made us a continually great people. And don't be fooled, Loren's had his troubles: He saw his mother incarcerated as a youth, the man he called his "father" was addicted to drugs and he was homeless as a teen.
Yet, Loren will be the first college graduate of his entire family.
All of his challenges have done nothing to stem the fire of ambition and perseverance in his heart. And he doesn't just preoccupy himself with individual gains either; he spends ample time giving back. This young man talks to teens and galvanizes them to move on and not let the fear, the pressure, their environment ultimately define their existence.
I am proud of Loren and know he will continue to do well in life. Here, I allow him to tell his story, so that we can all understand that black history isn't an obsolete relic of the past, but a living breathing personification of will, focus and effort that our communities can draw on for relevant strength in the here and now to propel us forward and make us into productive citizens that we can be proud of.
Below Black Voices interviews Mr. Loren Wilder:
Black Voices: Mr. Bill Cosby told me that there's a young man doing it big at Hampton. You've blossomed. You've done your thing. He told me that you didn't have your father in your life, but he came into your life recently. Could you tell me your story?Loren Wilder:
My mom sat down with me about a month ago, and basically told me that the guy I thought was my real father, Jerome Wilder, that he's not my biological father. So she was sitting down in the living room with my real grandmother. She told me that was my real grandmother and my real father was on his way. So it was shocking, because my whole life I thought Jerome Wilder was my dad for 24 years, and then here comes my mother telling me he wasn't.
I read a book called 'The Bond' by the three fellas who went to Seton Hall. You know, 'The Bond' was basically about these three guys reconnecting with their fathers, and so, the guy who was my father, he's a crackhead, he does drugs, and he's on the streets. And so even with that, I kind of wanted to build some type of relationship with him, even though he wasn't doing too well. And so, with my mom, she kept hearing me talking about this, and it started to get to her, so she wanted to tell me the truth, and that's why she sat down with me and told me the truth so I could meet my real father.BV: How did that make you feel about the man you know as Dad?LW:
He was a good man. He had a real good job when I was younger. The situation was that my real father left my mom, and my mom met Jerome Wilder, who promised her that he'd take care of her and take care of me. That's why he signed my birth certificate, gave me his last name. He can't have any kids, so this was an opportunity for him to have a family. So that's what happened. But he ended up getting involved with drugs and lost my mom and lost everything. He was never really around my whole life growing up. I don't know if Mr. Cosby told you that my mom was in jail when I was 14.
So I didn't have anybody, but my whole life, I was kind of chasing this guy around the city, trying to have a relationship with him and then just to find out that he wasn't my dad, it kind of brings some peace to my heart knowing that he wasn't neglecting me. I thought he was neglecting me just because, but he probably was just doing that because I wasn't his son. But even though, he still tried to give me money here and there, but he wasn't really helpful and he wasn't really around because the drugs got the best of him.
But it kind of brought peace to my heart, because now my real father doesn't do any drugs or anything like that, but he's not in a better situation at all. He's not stable either. BV: Why isn't he stable?LW:
Well, he just got out of jail just about three or four years ago. Something like that. We hung out here and there. I'm in the process of taking the LSAT, so I kind of want to build a relationship, but at the same time, I still have my priorities intact and my plans and goals. So regardless of what's going on, I wasn't going to let that bother me. So I told him, 'okay, let me take this test,' and we hung out a few times, but basically, I need my space to get everything I got taken care of first, and then we will be able to spend a lot more time together and do we what got to do and know each other.BV: So how did it feel when you finally saw him?LW:
Jerome Wilder, I never looked like him. But when my father walked in the door, I kind of saw myself, and I knew right then that, that was my father. I got so many features from him: his eyes, his nose, his forehead, eyebrows -- I mean everything. I kind of looked like my father. It felt like I met my half, it felt like...it kind of fulfilled me at the moment. For a moment, I felt fulfilled for just a few seconds when I looked in his eyes.
My whole life, I was mad at a man who was never there for me. I tried my best to make him happy, and it felt like it was never good enough, so I think that was the drive that kept me going just to prove to everybody I'm going to still make it regardless of who helped me or whoever wasn't there, but when I saw my real father at the time, it kind of felt like, man, here's this guy who always wanted to be in my life, and I'm meeting him for the first time.
So it kind of washed all of that hatred and anger away at the moment . And then I started to come to this realization that, Wow, this is my real father, and just understanding that, wow, this is my dad. At the time, I was confused and I felt neglected or lied to basically my whole life. And it was kind of hard to take it all in at that time, because my mom went to jail, and I really didn't have much support from my family, and then the Wilder family never really helped me out, and now I understood now why they never cared. It was hard. It's still hard; I'm still trying to understand. This guy is calling me and I still don't really know who he is, but he's my father.BV: You mentioned that you have a purpose, what's your purpose?
I think my purpose really is to go through my struggles that I've been through and to overcome them and to be able to get somewhere successful in life and be able to help these kids that are going through the same things that I went through and be able to give back and give back some knowledge and understanding that you can make it, you can do it no matter what.
I was just at a high school today talking to some kids. They just don't have any purpose; they don't feel like their lives are worth anything.
BV: Why don't they feel like they have a purpose?
I think they feel like that because of the situations they're in. The poverty, the neglect from their parents. The drugs that are involved in their families. I mean, I feel like there were many of times I wanted to give up myself. There was something inside of me that kept me going. You know, my spirit. I prayed, I always prayed to God and asked Him to please give me strength to get me through my challenges. Even when I was in college with the Bill Cosby scholarship, I didn't know if it was for me. I didn't know if I deserved it. I didn't think I was good enough to graduate from there. It's just something that your city always tells you, because it 's what you see. You always feel like, man, I'm probably just like them, I can't make it.
And so, even with a guy like Bill Cosby mentoring me and rooting for me behind my back, I still felt like I didn't know if I could do it. Sometimes I didn't have that desire, times when it was dark, and I just didn't feel like there wasn't anymore room for me to keep pushing. And I always pushed myself, but there were a lot of times, especially in college, where I felt like I couldn't push any more.
But through prayer, meditating and reading and speaking with other people, I kept going with it. I had a near-death accident a few years ago, I flipped my truck over, and I almost died. They said if I wasn't a big guy, I wouldn't have survived it, I would have been dead. And so, that scared me, and I knew since I survived that, I knew I had a purpose. For sure. And that's when I went back to school, strong and really determined to become something great. I have all the resources to become something great. You know, I have all the resources to do what I want to do, and I want to become something great.
BW: When you are speaking with these kids, what do you say to them?
I share my story with them, because I let them know that there are kids in those seats who are going through the very same things I went through, so I like to share it with them that, Hey, you can do it. And a lot of kids are saying, "Hey, you know you got lucky. Bill Cosby helped you out," and I say, guess what, when I was 14, 15, nobody told me that Bill Cosby was going to help me, you know. I was just determined to get out of this situation I was in, and I didn't want to do it by drugs or dropping out of school and working. I always had a sense that education was going to guide me. And I always wanted to play college football, so I always wanted to go to college, and there were times I didn't think I was going to get in because of my grades, SAT scores and what not, but I tell them, I say, If you work hard enough, somebody's going to recognize that.
It may not be Bill Cosby, but it will be someone at a university who will read your stand and understand that, wow, this kid went through a tough time and then they can get in as well. It doesn't have to be through a celebrity. I mean, I tell them all the time, we are all going through struggles. Every single person in this world is going through the struggles. You either make it or you don't. So don't allow your struggles to defeat you and make you feel like you can't make it because you can. I'm a prime example: there's a lot of kids just like me who are going through it, and keep on going. A lot of kids want to give up. In my city, a lot of kids want to give up. Springfield, Mass., is a very dangerous city; it used to be the 13th most dangerous city a couple of years ago. The crime rates are high, pregnancy rates are high, drop out rates are high.
I tell people this all the time: In my freshman class in high school, there was 450 of us; 136 graduated. Out of the 136, only seven went to college. Out of the seven, four of us graduated, out of the four only two (including me and my buddy Josh) are going to pursue grad school or better. He's going to medical school at Howard, and I'm hopefully going to get accepted in to law school.
That's .82 percent of our freshman class who graduated from college. That means that somebody could of told us, our freshman class, "Not even 1 percent of you is going to graduate from high school and college." And I share that percentage with those kids, because it's happens a lot. A lot of the kids want to drop out, they think $12 an hour is good. And one kid told me today, "I'd love to make $15 at the factory an hour, third shift. I said, You don't want to do that man. What's $15 an hour? I took the calculator out, that's $600 an hour, take out the taxes, that $400 a week. You can't live off of that, how can you raise your kids off of $400.
They're losing a lot of hope, and It's sad to see that. I'm not going to lie, I was in their shoes, and I know what it felt like for someone to say, "Well you can do that, and I was like, no, because you don't understand me. But a lot of kids did understand where I was coming from. I believe my message is going to get through to that one kid in the classroom. It did impact everyone in the classroom. I keep it real with them about the drugs -- all that. I got shot at myself during the year I took off. I tell them, That's not fun. You don't want to go through those things.
You kind of want to be smarter and get your stuff together. I tell them don't become a product of your environment. Don't allow your community to tell you who you are going to be in life. Because I didn't. There was a kid who kind of called me out in the spotlight and said I got lucky. I said, I didn't get lucky, man. It's not right for you to tell me that. Hey, you are going to get a break, keep on pushing. Nobody told me that. I just decided that, hey, I'm going to keep working hard, and some way I'm going to get out of this struggle. And I'm still struggling.
I'm 24, I live on my friend's house on an air mattress. I still don't have a place called home, because my mom and sister, they live in housing so I can't live with them. I'm still homeless. You guys think I'm doing great, I'm still struggling. I'm taking the LSAT tomorrow, and if it wasn't for a friend of mine who put the money up, I wouldn't even be taking it. So like I tell them, even though you see me in the newspaper, I'm still struggling just like you guys. There's nights when I don't eat dinner, but I keep pushing. I'm so motivated and determined to get to that law school and graduate, I don't care what struggle I'm facing right now. This stuff is temporary for me. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I tell them, if you can get that vision, you'll make it no matter what comes your way. I'm just too hungry. That's what I try to teach these kids, and if I can get one kid to change his ways and get some motivation inside of them, that's all I need.
I tell them, there's a reason why everyone is not successful. If it was easy, everyone would be successful. It's a challenge. I tell them all the time, college isn't for everybody, it's really not, but education is the foundation for success. And if you don't have that, then you are going to be working, busting your tail all day long, working two jobs to try to support your family. You don't see it now, because you're 15, 16, but that day is going to come, and when they day comes, are you going to be prepared? There's a day that's going to come when responsibility is all over them.
BV: Do you think there should be a Black History Month, and if so, why is it important?
I read a book on Booker T. Washington
called 'Up from Slavery.' Black history is important because we must know where we come from in order to move forward. The problem that blacks, Hispanics --all minorities-- have today is they blame it on the white man: "Oh, we not going to make it because of this and that."
Well, I read this book about Booker T. Washington. This man, he's an ex-slave, his parent's were slaves. They freed the slaves. He went to Hampton Institute, graduated there. He talked about his journey from walking from Richmond, Va., to Hampton, just that whole process. He didn't know how he was going to get there, he didn't know how he was going to pay for college. The problem is, blacks, Hispanics, we're always expecting something. I'm on Facebook. I do a lot of motivational quotes -- some are mine, some are not.
I tell people this, They want us to fail. I don't have a lot of money, but people tell me, "Oh, you're good already in life." No, I'm not, and I tell them this, I could easily get a girl pregnant, I could go to jail, sell drugs, because it's already set up for me to do that. I have all the excuses to do that. I look at a lot of Hispanics and blacks in my city who are on welfare and housing. They are happy; they get free housing. They get $600 to $700 in food stamps. They get $500 in cash. I mean, they have it good. It is so easy for a black man, a Hispanic woman to say I'm just going to have a kid. Why go to college? Why do this? We have to show them that before the system, before all of that, we were slaves. Before all of that, we didn't have anything-the education that you are blowing out the window and dropping out of school.
We had people who fought for that education you are just pissing it away. And I think that's what motivates me, because the blacks that got us to this point, to even have a chance to walk in the school, they didn't even have a chance to walk in the school. Now you got kids going to school, pissing, drawing graffiti on walls, dropping out of school, murdering kids. If you understood what it felt like to be in those days when you got beat down for just walking down the street, I think that's why they need to know where we come from and how far we've come. And I tell people all the time with Barack Obama
, they think oh, he's a black president, oh, he's cool. I say Barack Obama's story is a story of struggle. Read it.