By Aydrian Shores
While sitting alone in Logan Airport, Dr. Terrell Strayhorn was asked eagerly about his profession by a married couple. What followed is one of many anecdotes shared by Strayhorn in his common book lecture on the Ta-Nehisi Coates book, Between the World and Me.
His talk on September 14 touched on a variety of subjects concerning college students’ sense of worth and belonging on their campus. Students are often marginalized by their peers for not having the same interests or having unpopular views on politics or sexuality. And as a result, many feel displaced and can’t seem to find their place in society.
Early on, perception was deemed one of the crucial factors at play in finding where one belongs in the world. Being judged is no one’s dream, especially when that judgement belittles them. At Logan Airport in Boston, Strayhorn, a renowned professor at Ohio State University and author of several books, was perceived by the couple to be not a lawyer, scholar, or businessman, but an entertainer, motivational speaker, or athlete because of the color of his skin. “People like me get hurt in football, no, murdered in football!” he remarksed on account of being “fun-sized.”
What words come to mind when hearing the word “thug?” I am pretty sure none of the words involved female, but more than likely, included black males. This calls attention to the story told about John Crawford III being shot dead in an Ohio Walmart for holding an air rifle . Strayhorn asked us, “Who’s at fault?” Was it the several frightened customers who called 911 after seeing a black man with a gun and took it as a threat? Or was it Walmart that decided to sell air rifles in an area of black consumers? Nevertheless, the stereotypes of a black man in America plagued Crawford, leading unfortunately to his death.
Of all things addressed that evening concerning Black Lives Matter, only one part particular stood out the most about belonging. He shared his anecdote about how at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, he chose to wear black Converse instead of dress shoes to a lecture one day, and afterwards, he was confronted by an unfamiliar woman who asked him about his shoes. She then asked him to take her to where she could get a pair of her own. After they became associated with one another, he soon found out upon returning to the university that the strange woman was in fact the person who gave her name to the Haslam School of Business at UTK. She threw him a party where he met the star of his dreams, John Legend. He later explained to us that the moral wasn’t to make friends like Haslam, but it was the decision he made to wear the shoes that allowed him that opportunity. Above all, he dared to be himself, and believed that campuses like Sewanee can use inclusitivity to increase success for all students.