60 Years and Counting: What a Blessed Life!

For those of you who weren’t able to attend my 60th birthday party, I wanted to share what I wrote for the occasion, which was beautifully read at the party by my brother Wayne.  I hope you enjoy it!

Much love always,
DJ

DJ's 60th Birthday - group picture.

DJ’s 60th Birthday – group picture.

60 years ago almost to the day, my village started in Long Branch, New Jersey.  The original villagers were my mom and dad, my sister Joanne, my brother Wayne, myself, my great grandmother Sissy,  my grandmother, Granny, and my Aunt Sis.  Almost immediately, we formed a union that would carry me through my first 18 years and deliver me to a lifetime of accomplishment, exploration, and I hope contribution.  Along the way, God has introduced me to angels that have made a huge difference in my life.  Please allow me to acknowledge some of these people and some places and events of substance.

 

First, my home instruction tutors, who helped me get accepted to college.  All my life, my mom has promoted the importance of education as a gateway to a successful life.  In the beginning, I had  several tutors, Ted Krulikowski, Mr. Majistro and Mr. Brew.  Joanne and I went on home instruction from junior high school until high school graduation.  Those 5 years with Jo-Jo, the tutors, and Sissy were very special.  Throughout that time, we had many wonderful friends that made our encumbered lives more manageable.  People like Steven Russell, my godbrother who I miss dearly, Richard Hebron, who attached himself to us in high school, got us through many social engagements, and kept us involved in our community and academically, always with the support of my mom and dad.  Our other brothers Jeffrey, Leonard Bell and later on, Lance Gaynor became integral parts of our development and helped us build our courage to face what lay ahead of us.

 

WOW, then came 1976, high school graduation, the bicentennial year.  Mom’s encouragement and insistence that college would be possible and make a difference in our lives became a reality.  Friends of the family (villagers) introduced us to UC Berkeley, my second substantial academic blessing.  Mom, dad, Granny, and my Uncle Chops delivered me to the campus.  Cal Berkeley had a special program that included residential assistance for people with substantial disabilities, which helped students academically and also assisted their transition into adulthood by preparing them for life in the surrounding community.  Aside from my primary family, Cal Berkeley was the major blessing that made all the difference in my life.  In addition to the people in the disabled student program and students in the dormatories, there was a place we called The Wall, where the few black students attending Cal could congregate and interact with each other on a daily basis.  It was there that I met my big brother Baron, who became important to all of us on campus as a mentor, friend, comrade, and facilitator.  He remains that kind of person to so many to this day, 42 years later.  I love Baron so much.  If you look around, everything that’s happening here today is because of him, my brother Wayne, my parents, and my good friend, Ira Hermann, my strongest supporters and faithful allies.  At Cal Berkeley, I also met “cats” like George, Ted, Cardell, Desmond, Piya, Ellis, Ben, Charles Douglas, and Ira.  These brothers have remained so special to me for 40 years.  Thank God, they’re here with us today.  Academically, my mentor and academic father was Harry Edwards.  There were others, but this group formed the nucleus that led to great times, maturation, accomplishment, and brotherhood throughout my adult life.

 

God’s third major shift and blessing occurred in 1981, when I was accepted to the graduate school in public administration at USC, in L.A.  Thankfully, my brother Leonard was available to come to L.A. and helped me successfully make that transition, and Baron, Cardell and eventually Ted helped as well.  Other people who were very important and supportive to me during this time were Peter Gordon, Margaret Harrington, Connie Rodgers,  Bernard Walker, Anthony Brown, Paul Jordan, Max and Dorene Cleland, Sam Mills, and my good friend Richard Yarbough.  My graduation from USC in 1984 would be my last major event with Granny in attendance.  Coincidentally, Sissy passed away the year I went to Cal. Berkeley back in 1976.  I miss them both every day.  I also still miss the Bay area to this day, but USC and living in L.A. led to a lifetime of world travel, exploration, and growth.  So much happiness, so many wonderful and supportive people!

 

In 1997, I earned my second Masters degree (in social welfare, my true calling) at UCLA.  In this program, I continued to have the support of many individuals, including Diane DeAnda and my friends Brian, Robert, Robin, Hyacinth, Teresa Cowles, Peggy, Marc Jackson, and John Smith.  While at UCLA, I also had the opportunity to do a radio talk show for UCLA Radio.  This gave me an opportunity to meet numerous celebrities and leaders, including Muhammad Ali, Nelson Mandela, Jesse Jackson, Julius Irving, Magic Johnson, Don King, and Jay Leno.  I traveled all over the United States, including Hawaii, and to Jamaica, and eventually attended jazz junkets to Amsterdam and Switzerland where I became acquaintances and eventually friends and associates with people like Wynton Marsalis, Elvin Jones, Miles Davis, George Benson, George Duke, Roy Hargrove, Grover Washington, Billy Higgins, and Sade, among others.

 

Along the way, my brother Wayne would meet and marry Marcia, who became my sister.  Her sisterly/daughterly love filled a gaping void left in our village when Joanne passed away some 20 years ago and helped to complete our primary family.  Wayne and Marcia also gave us Tommy and Jordan, two sons, grandsons, and nephews whom we love dearly.  I want to acknowledge Tommy turning 21 just last week!
I also want to acknowledge my nurses, especially Natalie, Alma, Rahel, and Eugene, caregivers, and doctors like Dr. Toiserkani and Dr. Axline, who have meant so much to me and kept me going all these years.  Finally, I want to take a moment to reflect on and remember a few of my peers who are no longer with us: Steven Russell, Charles Douglas, my girl Lisa Rawls, and my friends Curtis Moore and Sam Mills.

 

If you look around, you’ll see that the majority of my village (including many of the people mentioned in this speech), with God’s blessing, have come here to celebrate this momentous occasion with me and my parents.  That’s what makes this day so special.   It is extra special since we are also celebrating my parents’ 60 year anniversary almost to the day.  What a wonderful and remarkable life they have shared!

 

l have a daily chant/prayer that I have developed for the past 5 years:

THANK YOU GOD FOR SO MUCH, FROM SO MANY, FOR SO LONG.  I say that daily and throughout each day with my normal prayers of acknowledgement and thanks.

Know how much I thank you and love you for making this man’s life one of accomplishment, involvement, and love.

 

God has been so wonderful to me.  For some reason, God chose to take away most of my voice.  So I guess that means it’s important for me to become a better listener to all the people that love me.  Hopefully this will be a chance for you guys to say some things for me that you know I would have said to you if I could still speak.  Please take some time to listen to the testimonials that have been sent to me from people that love me that couldn’t be here.  Also, if we have some time, please take the mike and say some things to me about how I made a difference in your life, because you’ve made a difference in mine.

I love you all!

DJ

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