I often discuss the absence of my father in my life. One of the people who made up for that absence is a man named Billy McBride. I first met Coach McBride in the late 80's as I was finishing up middle school. I had transitioned from a public school to an independent boys school. This school remains a school attended by amazingly wealthy children. In fact, the school is located in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country. Although I didn't shy away from contributing in class, I was pretty shy and reserved. I wasn't sure how I fit in and often felt the school wasn't for scholarship kids like me. Adding to my reservations was the fact that my grandmother was working as a maid half a block away on Park Avenue. I still lived in the projects and wore hand-me-downs that my grandmother secured from the family for whom she worked. Not only did I not have the same kind of wealth at my disposal as most of my classmates, but my Blackness made me stand out as well. So, I struggled internally. I wished I had someone in which I could confide.
Then, I found out that Billy McBride, the cool, sharply dressed, former pro football player would be my 9th grade homeroom teacher! A Black man would be my homeroom teacher! Not only that, he was also going to be my football and basketball coach. I could not be more excited. Just to see a face that looked like mine in that leadership role was priceless. I had not one Black male in my educational experience before him. (I would not have another afterward.)
What Coach gave me was confidence. I could play football and be impactful. I could transition from being solely a defensive player to someone with a well-rounded game on the basketball floor. I could be a leader in the school community and become student council president. I accepted that the school was as much mine as it was any of the other students.
Perhaps the biggest impact he had on me was the career I chose. I decided to pursue a career in education at the same school due in large part to Coach. Seeing a Black man as a leader and role model in a school community let me know that I could (and should) do it, too.
Now, I bring up Coach because in December of 2016, the two of us reunited in person for the first time in almost 15 years. We were together for a photo shoot for Dove Men+Care focusing on father figures. I shared my story about Coach with the good folks at DMC, and they decided that it was one worthy of sharing. We are now the focal point of their upcoming Father's Day campaign. You might see an ad featuring us on your Kindle, a magazine, or at a local store like Walmart.
One of the most amazing parts of this story is that it connects to a former student of mine. This former student, Caroline, just happened to spot the ad in a MLB yearbook. She has shared with me that she has followed her path working at MLB due in part to my impact. But, I would not have inspired her if it was not for what Coach did for me.
Coach keeps thanking me for this experience with Dove Men+Care. But, he shouldn't. I want him to just accept my thanks for all he did for me. He is the real reason why I even shared my story. He is a man who made a difference in my life. He is a big reason why I chose to pursue the same occupation. Thanks for being #ThereToCare, Coach!
Check out Dove's version of this story here!
Additional reading: Great NY Times article which features Dove's #ThereToCare campaign.
At Walmarts across the country. Seriously unbelievable.