Hillman: Homecoming 2015

October 31, 2015.
2:20AM.
Dwayne stared at the clock on the wall. He’d been sitting there, on and off, since a little after midnight wrestling with the annual Homecoming convocation speech that would be delivered in front of 40,000 Hillman Faithful.    The routine had become all too familiar and mundane for this particular occasion: Dwayne would type out a few words.  He’d then read it out loud to himself. Then he’d type a few more words and read it out loud again. He’d stand up and light his pipe – filled with the most exotic cannabis for that day – and pace the room.
He inhales, pulling in the sweet smoke, traces of pineapple left behind to linger.
Then he’d read the words out loud to himself.
He’d type a few more words.
Read it out loud to himself.
Get up, pace the room.
Hit the pipe.
Inhale…hold it…
Read it out loud to himself.
Exhale.
Delete. Delete. Delete.
Repeat.
This had become the pattern of the last two hours.  His nerves were on edge as it would be the first Homecoming speech given in the new Benjamin Banneker Multipurpose Center.  It was especially monumental given the circumstances.  Never in his wildest dreams did he ever imagine that he would be standing in a building named after his childhood hero and delivering the Homecoming convocation speech at his alma mater – a building that also housed a school of engineering, a school of architecture, a school of tourism and international commerce, the Mae C. Jamison National Space Center, and the Akebulan Math & Science Institute.
He bangs out a quick paragraph. A few words from Dr. Benjamin E. Mays:’
I’ve only just a minute,
Only sixty seconds in it.
Forced upon me, can’t refuse it,
Didn’t seek it, didn’t choose it,
But it’s up to me to use it.
I must suffer if I lose it,
Give an account if I abuse it,
Just a tiny little minute,
But eternity is in it.
He reads it out loud to himself.
He paces the room.
He hits the pipe.
Inhale…hold it….
He reads it out loud to himself.
Exhale.
Delete. Delete. Delete.
Dwayne gets up from his chair and paces the room. Whitley hated when he smoked – which is why he always waited until late at night when she was asleep – then he’d light one for the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost. 
Tucked away in a crushed purple-velvet Crown Royal bag, Dwayne kept his wooden grinder, a tiny pair of scissors, an index card, a tiny box cutter, and several assortments of smoking devices and wrapping mechanisms    He kept his cannabis in a wooden jar – handcrafted in Ghana –  just off the side of his desk.  To the untrained eye it was just another something on a desk taking up space.
His smoking habit increased considerably over the last year since he’d accepted the position as Chancellor of Hillman University. It was this time a year ago on Halloween, and in front of a crowd half the size, he proudly accepted the Head Seat as Hillman’s 11th president and youngest in its 134 year history.  Dwayne stood onstage in the  Ida B. Wells Auditorium and proclaimed that Hillman University was headed for “Heights Uncharted.” Dr. Wayne then vowed to the Hillman Faithful that the internal bleeding from the tragedy that struck its campus on October 31st, 2012 #HalloweenQueen as it came to be known,  would be coming to an end.  The university had weathered one of the roughest storms it had encountered in its history. But, Hillman was resilient: We Shall Prevail! 
Dwayne set back in his chair, resting his pipe in the ash tray.  Where do you begin a speech that chronicles a first year of a term filled with so much strife, stress, controversy, and corruption? When Dwayne stood on the stage and proclaimed that Hillman was moving onward and upward, he had no idea of just how close Hillman was to the brink of complete and total implosion. 
Dwayne’s computer screen was as blank as it was just a few minutes past midnight when he began. Coming back to his Alma mater was a decision that he thought would be easy. He, Whitley, their eldest son Jeremiah – named in honor of Whitley’s great-great grandfather Jeremiah – and their daughter Zecyah (Zee-cee-yah) lived in Tokyo until 2004 when Dwayne unexpectedly lost his job and Whitley later that same year became pregnant.  With few options, a pregnant Whitley moved back to Richmond with Zecyah in tow and Dwayne and Jeremiah settled in Brooklyn.
Dwayne thinks back to the fall of 2005, when he packed up his family, and with a $10,000 royalty check from the flip phone invention, he and Whitley moved to Detroit where he and Ron founded “Genius Black,” a software engineering firm that specialized in educational game play.  Finally, In 2011, after six “long, hard, troubling, gut-wrenching, hip quivering, teeth grittin- years” as Whitley so poetically put it, Genius Black unveiled “The Onyx,” the video gaming console counterpart to Sony’s PlayStation. Its first game “The Legend of the Pharaohs” became the fastest selling video game in a decade.  By 2012, Genius Black was releasing the follow up game “Pharaohs II.”
 In 2014, Genius Black was valued at a reported $2.2 Billion.
The Wayne’s lived well.  Verywell
He is taken back to the conversation he and Mrs. Huxtable had just a few weeks ago.  He thumbs through the copy of “A Message to the People,” given to him as a gift from her.  It had been given to her as a gift from Dr. King when he came and visited Hillman in the spring of 1968 just prior to his assassination. Dwayne found peace in the memories of Mrs. Huxtable reminiscing on how she used King’s gift to lead Hillman through nationwide unrest at the news of his death as student body president.  Dwayne vividly remembers the pain in her eyes when she retold the story. “In the end, Dwayne,” her words burdened with wisdom, “we don’t know why we do what we do for this intuition. But you and I both know that when it comes to Her, Hillman must live forever!”’
Hillman. Must. Live. Forever.
It was these words that Dwayne had learned to live by. It was these words that he played to himself over and over when he walked into the contentious National Alumni meetings. The 7-6 presidential search vote left the board so divided that immediately following his installation as president, its chairwoman vowed to ensure that Dr. Wayne would be “raked over every coal” and admonished until “transparency was paramount!” If Dwayne didn’t know any better, he’d swear the board’s chairwoman, The Reverend Dr. Katrella Danielle Lattimore, had it out for him personally.
Hillman. Must. Live. Forever.
Dwayne held on to these words as he recalled the day, just a mere 5 days after his inauguration, when the state of Virginia filed a motion to take over both Hillman’s medical and law school. Further insult was added to the measure when it was motioned to transfer both entities to the neighboring Virginia A&M citing Hillman’s “instability.”  3 weeks later, the chemistry department threatened to strike because they had not been paid for nearly 6 weeks. 
Dwayne pulls the pineapple infused smoke in, holding it only briefly, and exhaling slowly.
His mind goes back to the frantic phone call he received at 1 AM in the morning, just three years ago on that fateful night on Halloween – October 31st, 2012: #HalloweenQueen.  Ms. Hillman University had killed herself by way of hanging and footage of her suicide was making its rounds on the social media websites.  He thinks back to the conversation he and Ron had about selling his stake in Genius Black and resigning because “duty called.”  
Dwayne held on to the words of Mrs.. Huxatable as he drove his university-sanctioned vehicle to the city of Baltimore to stand with over two dozen Baltimore city officials, activist, and students urging neighborhood residents to return to their homes in peace – much to the dismay of the Rev Dr. Latimore.
Hillman. Must. Live. Forever. 
Dwayne thinks back to “the infamous maroon letter” that mysteriously found its way online and distributed to over 20,000 alumni that called for his removal because he had chosen to fire Hillman’s longest serving football coach. Dwayne clung to the four precious words of Claire Huxtable the day he found out the football program was in complete disarray.  Boys were sleeping 3 and 4 to a room, some were going days without eating, and had it not been for Whitley, the scene would have almost certainly plunged Hilman further into national disgrace status. 
Dwayne clung with passion to these words whenever he walked into meetings with the Fundraising Office and stared Hilman’s 38 million dollar deficit square in the face.  He dreaded the meetings with alumni affairs because the story was always the same: Giving was down. Participation was nonexistent.  The words of Claire Huxtable brought him solace in campus safety meetings – the last of which found himself having to ask the Campus Safety Director to repeat how many students had contracted an STI this semester.
All Hail Hillman!
Get up, pace the room.
Hit the pipe.
Inhale…hold it…
Exhale.
Delete. Delete. Delete.
Repeat.
Dwayne set back down at his desk. His eyes traveled the room as he looked to pull inspiration from somewhere – anywhere. 
4:22 AM.
He hit his pipe one final time – allowing the smoke to fill his lings to the brim.  He held it and closed his eyes, slowly exhaling. He releases the smoke, allowing it to escape through his nostrils.  He stood up from his chair and walked around the room, admiring all of the pictures on the wall.  It had been quite the year, and what a year it had been.  Dwayne had a difficult time believing that he stood in these shoes – but he did.  He thought long and hard about the tireless nights, and constant personal attacks from neighborhood papers as far away as Cleveland, the human resources scandal, the pending state lawsuit over unpaid vendor claims, and impending federal inquiries, and declining enrollment, a provost, athletic director, law school,  journalism, and engineering dean in the interim, a hazing mishap away from a national calamity, and his own frequent headaches that resembled the headaches his father begin to get  in the months leading up to his massive stroke.  
Dwayne set back down in his chair and stared at his computer.  How should he begin a speech that will inevitably conclude with his resignation?

2 Comments

  1. One positive thing I will say it was very well written piece by you. But dear gawd this paints Dwayne as an incompetent president of Hillman University. My goodness! Hillman nears demise with Dwayne at the helm. YIKES!! You must not have liked Dwayne Wayne's character very much to have fathom such a outcome.

  2. Hillman is a reflection of the current status of many of our HBCUs. Dwayne is very capable, but he is facing what many HBCU presidents are facing across the nation. Stay tuned! You'll like where this is going!

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