Once upon a time, there was a young college student intrigued yet naive to the full extent of education. She took a class with a handsome, erudite professor who would change her life. One day before class, a classmate arrived early with a guest— a Chik-Fil-A sandwich. The sandwich filled the air with the greasy glory that is American fast food. This scent would provoke an unexpected yet life-changing remark.
“Doesn’t that smell… nasty?” said the professor with a goofy undertone idiosyncratic to his essence.
The comment incited a small chorus of chuckles.
“You ever think, when you’re biting into that sandwich that you’re biting into someone’s mama?”
He conveyed this heavy query with a charmer’s ease that framed his brilliance.
His statement was not a sharp jab that too often accompanies pseudo elitism. Instead, his words illustrated what education should be.
For many, if not most, to seek education is to find comfort. Comfort is, perhaps, the greatest farce that surrounds education. Learning, in its purest form, should disrupt comfort. In its place should be curiosity and a desire to dwell in the discomfort of unknowing.
To be comfortable is to eschew what it means to be average. Therefore, my professor’s comment functioned as an invitation, or a bridge, into intellectualism—an invitation, my curiosity incited me to accept. That movement marked the beginning of a lifelong journey with deep thought about all components of my life, from what I put into my body to what I put on it.
I revisit this life-changing movement with an uncommon man in the reflection that follows a life teacher’s transition into an ancestor.
Given just over five decades to live, learn, and teach, he did more in his short time on earth than others do with twice the time. I know that my experience is just one life changed by his influence. Across the globe, countless others are because he was.
In his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop Speech,” Dr. King famously stated that “longevity has it place.” Perhaps this could not be more true concerning a professor whose commitment to education inspired his students to forgo what is common and to refuse to settle for conventionality. To disrupt the paradigm is to disrupt the complacent or ignorance that enables comfort.
So, as I a prepare to say “so long” to a professor’s who sweetness lies in the scholarliness that he enabled all his students to encompass, I will resist the urge to say “rest in peace.” While there certainly is peace in living beyond the cognitive paralysis that an anti-black America engenders, there is also power.
Though the time has come to say goodbye, there will always be a place in his student’s minds where he is alive, where his animated rhetoric lights up a classroom on the gloomiest of days, where his goofiness defies academic seriousness, and where his high expectations makes us all reach deep within ourselves to be and do better.
So long sweet professor. Thank you for changing my life.
May you rest in the same power that you lived to give to your students.
May your life be a testament to quality over quantity and teach us all that it is not about how much time you are given, but what you do with the time you get.