Editor’s Note: Thomas Chatterton Williams’ book, Losing My Cool: How a Father’s Love and 15,000 Books Hip-Hop Culture is a poignant personal narrative that describes how his father’s love of learning saved him from the negative influences of hip-hop culture. This exclusive book excerpt describes a dilemma during Williams’ senior year of high school. Should he fight and protect his image or should he walk away and suffer the consequences?
* * * * *
At the very end of my senior year in high school, a classmate, Jerry, challenged me and my best friend Charles to an after-school fight. I couldn’t find a good reason to fight Jerry, to want to fight Jerry, to waste my time dealing with Jerry, aside from that all-purpose issue of respect.
The afternoon after Jerry’s challenge, I couldn’t concentrate on my daily chess match against my father. I was playing sloppily and Pappy could tell that something was wrong. I debated whether I should tell him about Jerry or not. I eventually decided to reveal my concerns to Pappy because I was sure that he could give me some sound advice.
I fiercely admired the fact that Pappy was no coward. He wasn’t meek or passive-aggressive, and he didn’t think that fighting was inherently wrong or some sort of sin. If Pappy had a problem with you or you had one with him, he would address you to your face, like a man. Turning the other cheek was foolishness in his opinion.
Pappy leaned back in his worn leather swiveling-chair and pondered my situation. “You should come home from school one period early on Friday,” he said. “Just walk home instead of taking the bus.”
This was not the answer I had necessarily expected, but it was one that I knew I could trust. I promised him that I would do as he told me.
Charles he was deeply insulted that I wasn’t going to show, but he stopped short of contradicting Pappy’s advice.
“You shouldn’t go either,” I said.
“I ain’t a coward,” Charles replied. I shrugged and dapped him, telling him I understood, but I was going to do what my father had told me, and I’d see him later.
As I walked out the side exit of the main building, I knew I was making a decision that would carry real consequences. Not only was I closing a door on Charles and Jerry and everyone else, but on a part of myself too.
When I got home, sweaty from the two-mile walk and the late-spring sun, Pappy greeted me from his desk. Without mentioning what we both knew I had just avoided, he handed me three letters. I had been rejected by Stanford and admitted into Johns Hopkins and Georgetown on full-tuition academic scholarships.
I read the letters out loud. Pappy just stared at me with the hint of a smile curling up at the corners of his mouth. “You see?” he said when I had finished. “Never let anyone make you jump.”
P.S. – Read my review of the book.