Look around in life and you will find someone whom you admire, and may want to emulate. It could be a teacher, mechanic, executive, preacher, truck driver, gardener, cashier, hairstylist, nurse, doctor, etc. Most role models are happy to give you some thoughts, direction, and advice about becoming knowledgeable, employable, respectable, happy, hopeful, resourceful, and successful in any pursuit.
We all need positive influences in our lives, especially considering the current COVID-19 crisis. The world is replete with despair, sickness, isolation, hunger, death, and uncertainty.
I have long ago chosen to live my life vicariously through the lens of Cris Webber, the former NBA player, MVP, and now NBA Hall of Famer. To me, Mr. Weber represents what it means to take a crushing, devastating life-altering fall, due to a split-second decision as a teen, and manage to get back up stronger and more focused than ever. He successfully overcame an obstacle that could easily have caused the average teen, let alone strong adults, to give up on themselves.
Ya see, Chris Webber was a popular basketball player for Michigan State and core member of the iconic Fab Five, who introduced the sports world to baggy shorts, black socks worn with flair, and an air of cockiness. This newborn image put the tight nut-hugging shorts that John Stockton made famous into permanent retirement. In the 1993 NCAA national championship game against North Carolina, watched by millions of die-hard fans, with Michigan being down two, and out of timeouts, Webber famously called an illegal timeout, shockingly ending the game.
This ill-fated decision utterly devastated Webber. He was accosted nationally by gossip, disappointment, negative criticism, and doubt from recruiters and haters alike. Fortunately, Chris used the love and support from his mother, family, friends, and teammates to shake not only the dust and chips off his shoulders but the astronomical rocks.
To the average or even accomplished person, an action like the “timeout call” would be an event one would like forgotten. Not Chris Webber. He wants everyone who is going through something, no matter how small or devastating, to reflect on his plight as a teachable lesson. For it is not how far and hard you fall but how fast and high you bounce back!!
I love Chris Webber for the positive blueprint he created for me and others to follow, but I also love the Eastern Airlines Flight Attendant Linda Staples for her compassion, concern, motivation, and inspiration. She taught me to learn, grow and improve intellectually. Linda’s support came at just the right time because I was encountering brutally harsh criticism, ridicule, and embarrassment from customers, crew members, staff, superiors, and peers due to perceived, actual and obvious inadequacies that were a product of my past environment.
Ya see, I was born in the ghetto of New Orleans and raised in Desire, the world’s largest housing project. After living in St. Thomas US Virgin Island for five years I was hired by Eastern Airlines as a flight attendant out of California. Humor, charisma, and the gift of gab had more to do with me being selected for hire than actual qualifications. Once on the job and stationed out of Atlanta, I learned quickly that I was at a loss for effectively communicating with my peers or customers. I could smile, humor you and easily make you laugh and smile, but I just could not hold a complete coherent sentence or conversation without using slang or a lot of – you bee’s, they be, whothat, fasho imfissna, the goodest, iouwnkno, yaherdme, whothat, bettnot, theyonkno, wegonbefissna, he aint, weonkno, i loveded hu, fahtru, immabe, whatchaaxingmefuh, she dumb, fahreel, he stupid, it bees that way sometimes, and yahnowhatimsain. Wow. How embarrassing!
Especially now that I look back on my poverty-stricken community, inadequate schools, and awful environment.
I can clearly remember the young, brash Chris Webber. He would mean mug an opposing team and could present a frown or scowl that would make a mountain lion run and whimper. Then in an instant flash a disarming grin and award-winning smile. Chris made an astronomical transformation by toning down and dispelling the stereotypical Thug, Gangster, or Bad Boy image most associated with the Fab Five of his past. Chris Webber, like Jalen rose, Greg Anthony, Steve Smith, Kenny Smith, Tracy McGrady, Reggie Miller, Paul Pierce, Mark Jackson, et al all worked hard to enunciate and more importantly create and polish an image that families, kids, and adults enjoy tuning in to listen to. I even recall how Master P changed his image and got rid of his grille to project a more favorable persona.
You just have to appreciate and applaud Chris Webber for starting a foundation to encourage and motivate kids to develop the foundational skills to become good readers. Astonishingly, his foundation helps kids to establish home libraries and has a “Wee Readers” program through which even newborns receive a book a month for the first 9 months of their lives. That is truly astonishing!!!
The WebberWildWillis Foundation is a non-profit organization focused on uplifting and enriching black and brown communities negatively affected by the “FAKE WAR ON DRUGS”.
Webber was born in 1973, which aligned his childhood with former president Ronald Reagan’s war on drugs — which Webber refers to as the “fake drug war.” Reagan introduced his anti-drug strategy in 1984 and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act in ’86, causing drug-related arrests to skyrocket: such arrests rose from 708,400 in 1984 to 1.361 million in ’89.
Throughout his upbringing in Detroit, Webber said he saw families disrupted by the war on drugs. Fathers were separated from sons. Mothers were separated from daughters. It’s a cycle Webber’s mother tried to end by teaching for 20 years in the city and not a day in the suburbs.
We have the war on drugs to thank for the racist “super predators” expression. When society claimed that blacks were lazy, had no morals, were disrespectful, and were ignorant criminals, they actually had the drug policy to blame for destroying the nuclear family. This policy snatched mothers and fathers from sons and daughters, leaving no positive role models to look up to.
Equal Justice Matters was conceived more than twenty years ago as I was caught up in our so-called War on Drugs. I served my 135-month Federal prison sentence, although I should not have been convicted or sentenced, and decided to funnel my effort toward positive change. I recently started and have been self-funding this non-profit as a way to educate others so they do not have to go where I have been. I believe that it is wise to learn from your own mistakes, but it is much smarter to learn from other folks’ unfortunate mistakes so that you won’t suffer the same consequences as they have. Our priority is to PROACITVELY teach about the pitfalls, traps, and injustice of the United States Criminal Justice System so that changes can be made BEFORE they end up behind bars.
While many have created various programs to give some form of aid to formerly convicted or incarcerated members of society, our aim is to educate the vulnerable before they make life-changing mistakes. We hope to advocate for education over-incarceration by lobbying for trade schools and mentorship programs; and the Job over Guns initiative by asking corporations, individual businesses, unions, and retirees to provide communications and job skill training to marginalized members of our neighborhoods before they join a gang or become desperate and commit a crime.
I want to genuinely thank Chris Webber and other prominent individuals, corporations, families, superstars, celebrities, and the formally incarcerated, for allowing us to share their stories, ideas, and commitment to eliminating mass incarceration. We thank every one of you for making a significant difference by giving back to those who have lost and been deprived of so much. We ask that you work with us by becoming a partner or director to help us develop EQUAL JUSTICE MATTERS with the respectfully high standards that will best proudly convey your mission, narrative, and vision. We need your platform to reach our audience.