Farewell – Actor by night, editor-in-chief 24/7

Over the hill and into the imaginary gates of Grambling State University; now my immediate reaction was, “Where in the world am I?” As a native of Los Angeles, Grambling is a city that is big in size, but small in social activities, however it was the best thing that could have happened to me. 

Now, I must admit I was unfamiliar with Historically Black College or Universities, including GSU besides hearing and reading about the stories of legendary coach Eddie Robinson. But, I was prompted to fill out an application five years ago by a friend who had already been accepted, that application changed my life. 

Like most graduating high school students, there is always that question, “What will I do next?” Believe me, I had no idea, so Grambling’s acceptance letter came right on time. I always wanted to go to school in the South because of the food and I’m an avid visitor of the southern states since my dad lives in South Carolina. I choose GSU over two other schools, including Benedict College in South Carolina, another HBCU

But, my reason for selecting the black and gold was a choice based off of emotions and not a legacy, or family tradition. I was accepted to GSU in early April of 2008, a week later, my grandmother, who I lived with all my life suffered a severe stroke. It took away her ability to speak, walk and move. Watching a person who you love so much and who is so strong and intelligent and had over 25 years of teaching experience, become paralyzed in the matter of hours is disheartening. Reflecting still gives me goose bumps-goose bumps that are accompanied with tears, wow! 

Being an out-of-state student, going to GSU was a huge financial risk that I would encounter every semester doing my undergraduate years. The cost of college was my biggest concern, but my grandmother being the educator she is told me before she got sick, “Justin, just go. Don’t worry about the cost.” That stuck with me every semester, even as I found myself on the steps of Grambling Hall with a withdraw slip in hand; I’ll get to that a little later. 

My first experience at Grambling was during the “Visit Us” week used to introduce new students to campus and prepare them for the upcoming semester. I arrived on the cusp of what many call the “New Grambling.” Dormitories were being torn down, built, rebuilt and the Tiger Express was getting a game room. During that first visit, I didn’t survey the academic buildings, but I left a registered GSU student and a criminal justice major. 

My first year was a success. I finished the academic year with a 3.7 grade point average and managed to make the transition from high school to college with properly, but I wanted more. I sought out organizations to join; this is when my college experience began. 

I became a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Student Government Association, Favrot Student Union board, National Association of Black Journalists, Pre-Alumni Council and joined KGRM 91.5 and The Gramblinite

My efforts to become more affective on campus were to show other students that anybody can help make current situations better. I say anybody, because I got tired of talking about the issues and not being a part of the solutions, like not being in those meetings that affect the student body most. 

Not only representing students sparked my interest in campus leadership, but to also build my resume. Life is based on stages, and for some college is a stage, in which you mature and you grow. I’ve grown, I’ve matured and I’ve had the opportunity to meet future executives, professors, writers, accountants, artists and even ministers. 

Grambling has allowed me to blossom as a student, and has prepared me to go out to the work force and challenge employers and be a qualified competitor against others. Actually, I wasn’t going to write a farewell, but thought to myself what other way can you publicly thank the institution that has equipped you with the tools that will fund your livelihood. 

Attending GSU has made me tougher, brighter and hungrier than ever before, but taught me to love people. Many see an HBCU and automatically we are just Black people, however we are diverse. We all come from different backgrounds, have different stories and go through our own trials and tribulations, now that I think of it this may be why I decided to become a journalist, and have the power and ability to tell the stories of others. People are fascinating. WOW Grambling! It’s been a long 5 years. I love you all. 

Okay, I can get out of my soapbox, but I rather not, so continue reading.  

I have been blessed to receive a ton of help along the way. To my grandmother you are my superhero, my superwoman and my anchor. It has been plenty of days and nights where I wished I could just pick up the phone and ask for advice and do what’s right, unfortunately I can’t. I am glad that you have recovered some from that stroke, and even five years later we still have some ways to go. I hope I have made you proud, and I hope I continue to do so. 

Mother, your baby boy has done it. I’m a candidate to graduate from THE Grambling State University. Momma, you have been my support system from finances to emotional stability. I get everything from you. In fact, when I tell people that my personality and loud mouth comes from you, a look of disbelief appears on a person face, then a laugh, then a comment like, “I bet ya’ll conversations are hilarious.” They are so right. You have made it your will to support me in all my endeavors no matter how crazy, troublesome or financial paralyzing they have been. I owe you more than life itself, and I love with every fiber of my being. 

To my family, including the extended one’s and those who have adopted me as their own, I can’t say thank you enough. When I couldn’t call on my mom, I knew I could always call on you for anything. You have helped me grow into a mature adult, and further my loved for people. 

My Grambling State University family, there are so many, I’ll start within my major and go from there, but I urge that if I leave anybody out charge it to my head and not my heart. 

When I arrived to GSU I was in search of something. I didn’t know a soul in Louisiana and needed a home away from home. I changed my major three times and flirted to change it a fourth time, but The Department of Mass Communication has been so good to me. 

Mass communication exposed me to my talent, which is writing. 

Wanda Peters, thank you for encouraging me to write and join The Gramblinite. It all started in your Newspaper Practicum course, and you allowed me to express myself and dig deeper with the use of words. 

Dr. Gaylon Murray, we had some good laughs in your class. As a public relations concentration, you always accepted me as I am. No matter if it was my occasional flashing of my stomach, or my off the wall rants on the future of mass media, not to mention your signature starburst candy jar that became my best friend, I thank you for those experiences. 

Dr. Edward Welch, whether it was a casual conversation, questions about graduate school, or my jokes about me wearing one of your suits, you always had something insightful to offer.

Now Dr. Kim is no longer here, but I would like the world to know that I taught him how to do the “Cat Daddy” in the hallway. I asked him if he was still doing it, he said his knee start giving him trouble, to much bending. Man, I’ve had some good times in the halls of Washington-Johnson Complex. 

Dr. Frazier and Dr. Lalehparvaran, I think I may be one of the few who never took a course with you, but I hear ya’ll are a beast in the classroom, so thank you for challenging us. 

Ms. Sandra Lee, that graphics class whooped my butt. I told you I was old fashioned and preferred clip art, but thank you for teaching me design. I’m not great, and I must admit I haven’t practiced, but I will. 

Mr. Alan Blakeney, this semester has been tough for me because coming from a print to background to working on a camera and broadcast news the techniques are different, but thanks for working with me as closely as you have, I know I’ve been a thorn in your side.

Ms. Joice Dunn, Ms. Carolyn Cage, Ms. Joyce Evans, and Dr. Ford-Dunn, I love you all sooooooooooo much. These women are four of the most generous women I have ever known. Whether it was a meal or bail me out from under a rock, you all were there. 

Ms. Dunn, you have been guide to go right and not left. Those days I was exhausted, tired of digging, tired of fighting, you encouraged me to continue, even when I occasionally joked about my retirement, you told me it’ll pay off in the end. 

Ms. Cage, my partner in crime when it comes to these diet battles. You helped me lose those 50 pounds this time last year; I’ve since gained back. I thank you for your support, laughs and council. 

Dr. Ford-Dunn, you are a comic in your own serious way. You offered your help at times when I didn’t think you knew I needed help; you were always right on time and your heart is bigger than ever.

Ms. Joyce Evans, we have come a long way. KGRM was my first experience at any media entity. From there I went onto Black Entertainment Television (BET) and Columbia Broadcasting Systems (CBS). Ms. Evans, thank you for making me trade in my slippers for dress shoes and teaching me the importance of speaking clearly and thank you for your efforts in making me a future alumnus.

Being appointed Editor-in-Chief is a position I debated on taking, but I am so happy I did. Having control of what disseminated amongst the masses, especially a university campus is a huge responsibility. I take my position serious and have attempted to create a balance within our weekly publication, while changing the total disposition on the newspaper. This academic year, has been phenomenal, currently we are the winners of 23 awards from multiple organizations; that says a lot about our reporting and tenacity as journalists. Good job Gramblinite

Evan, our design guy, who doesn’t get the respect he deserves, is talented, and we’ve shared our newsroom disputes, but I’m happy for them. 

Trent, another talented individual, showed me that you just have to do what it takes to get the job done, and use creativity. He likes to work earlier morning, I prefer to work late nights. 

Kevin Keise is an example of taking life easy and just enjoy whatever it is you are doing. You actually gave us our motto this academic year, “Teamwork makes the dream work.” Tierra Smith, our young little sister is hardworking and talented. You are before your time and excited about writing, shows through your articles and at award shows, you and Kevin have a few accolades under your belt. Great job sports editors! 

Katrina Harris makes some of the best rotel I have ever had. I’m actually in need of some now, but don’t tell Ms. Cage, I suppose to be dieting. Katrina, you are so talented, you make pictures of yourself look good; I use Photoshop. 

Kimberly Monroe, our Nubian sister. I will miss our debates, all that I’ve won on topics involving race, social status and the rights of men and women. Continue to express yourself and your beliefs. 

Erina Love, you are an individual who I have so much love for. For some odd reason, I feel you know me well. Your love of people and growth has shown through your dedication to your future. Continue to work hard, and make Detroit proud. 

Diana Sepulveda, continue to challenge yourself and dig deep in this crazy field of journalism. At times it gets overwhelming and information is hard to gather, but it pays off in the end, trust me. 

Ciley Carrington, my roommate and one of my best friends. We knew each other before coming to Grambling, and our bond has grown. I appreciate your hard work and dedication not only to the newspaper, but to our friendship. We have seen each other go through a lot these five years from girls to deaths. I know most hate to see us coming, you’ll take the picture and I’d write the story. You are a talented photographer and I tell you and Katrina to continue to use photography to tell stories. You all give life to the words reporters write. 

Chris Williams, Lenore Jean-Baptiste, I appreciate your diligence and willingness to write whatever it is I ask. Now I’m sure I’ve left some people out, but to those who I’ve called for favors to and asked to cover an event, thank you. 

Wow! This farewell was not supposed to be this long, but as you’ve read my life and time at GSU has been enjoyable because of those around me and chances given to me. 

Speaking of chances, not only did The Department of Mass Communication give me chances and opportunities, but so did the theatre department, now The Department of Visual and Performing Arts. 

Changing my major three times wasn’t enough. I was still searching for something. I was secretly chasing another emotional release. Writing gave me a release to tell the stories of others, which I cherish, but I wanted to release what I held so deeply inside. 

I hated that my grandmother was sick; I was upset that I had a remaining balance at the end of every semester at GSU, and I was even more broken that I had buried a friend every year from sixth-grade through my sophomore year of college, because of senseless street violence. I needed an escape. 

It was then that I watched the university production of Dream Girls, I visited the theatre department and everything from there is history. 

Dr. King David Godwin, thank you. You allowed me to express myself in a way I didn’t know I could, and you also pulled out a talent from within me that I didn’t know I had. For you is why I have made my future goals and plans to be surrounded and submerged in the field of acting. I thank you, the students and the entire department for helping me find my calling and my passion. 

I am thankful for folks like Metria McCall who always lending a helping hand or a meal in my time of need. Folks like Rusty “Coach P” Ponton, who has a work ethic that can’t be duplicated. He does a lot for GSU, thanks Coach. I am thankful to my many brothers who I met in dormitory 600, many who I am best friends with today.

 Women like Janice Critton, Barbara Lewis and Jeanette Amos, who always made sure I had the necessities and a willing participant in getting me back and forth to work and treated me like their own.  

I leave GSU better than I came. As I said I have grown, with help. I leave with friends who I am sure I will know forever. I leave with mentors, who were once professors. I leave Grambling with a future not yet told, but a prayer: “God use me as a beacon of light and a vessel through the passions and instruments I hold dear. I do not know what the future holds, but I ask you again and again to use me for the help others and to use me through this tremendous vehicle we call media for the betterment of mankind. Amen.”

I leave GSU with request that those who read this and those who enter after my departure that you are kind to each other and be a willing participant in making someone else’s day or mood a lot better. Offer a hug, smile, compliment, song or word of peace to keep them on their journey with their heads held high.  I’m a firm believer in people with good hearts gravitate to each other.

 I’ve concluded that a person’s life is separated into percentages. 35 percent of an individual’s life should be spent selfishly gaining education, wealth, good health and things of that nature. But, the other 65 percent of one’s life should be focused on making another person’s life much better. If we all practiced this, we will then cause a chain reaction and live a life of service. 

Grambling State University, I love you with all that I am, and I will forever bleed black and gold, thank you.