In the latter part of February’s Black History Month 2014, there was a celebration held at the G4S Davidson County Juvenile Detention Center School. All members of the center, staff and guests attended the program, coordinated by Yolanda Hockett, asst. superintendent. The traditional program has been highlighted by a visit from Tenn. State Sen. Thelma Harper since 2004. She has always brought with her one other special guest. TSU Head Coach Rod Reed has joined her the last two years—but this year, Vanderbilt Head Coach Derek Mason was also a part of the annual visit.
The group gathered in the assembly area of the school. The residents, teachers, and staff were dressed in African attire, provided by one of the teachers. Principal Janette Carter was in charge of the program for the day. She and the teachers had prepared the young people to take an active part in the Order of Celebration, including: the welcome; leading a musical selection, ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ by James Weldon Johnson; presenting a power point presentation, a 1862-2008 timeline of African American achievements; introduction of the guest speakers; and presentation of certificates. One young person prepared decorations for the stage area.
Sen. Harper, after her introduction, described how pleased she was to come to the center each year to visit. She also mentioned how grateful she was that Coach Reed had joined her for two years, and how overjoyed she was that Coach Mason was able to come this year. Sen. Harper also introduced the intern assisting her at the Tenn. Legislative Office.
“It is really a joy to get to see all of you young people,” Harper said. “The interns helped me to bring along a special gift, The Tennessee Blue Book.”
Sen. Harper presented the school’s library with books for the library as well as a book for each of the residents to be given to each of them upon their release from detention. She told the young people to read the Blue Book to learn more about the state they live in, and the people who make the laws that they have to abide by.
Turning the event over to the next speaker, she said: “It’s always good to talk about football and to share with those who promote the forward movement of their teams.”
The introduction of Vanderbilt’s Coach Mason lead to an energetic and enthusiastic move to the stage to shake the young man’s hand who had introduced him.
Early in Mason’s talk, he said that his background is in criminal justice; he has a speech problem (stuttering); his father was a functioning alcoholic [leaving the household at an early age]; he was reared by his mother, a strong woman; and perhaps most importantly, his grandmother told him he had “the opportunity to be great.”
When he was in the 8th grade, he said: “I was angry all the time.” One of his teacher, a male, pulled him aside and asked him, “What is your problem?”
“He helped me to understand my problem and became my mentor,” said Mason. “He helped me to put my goals on paper.”
This was the first of a number of ‘jewels of wisdom’ he shared. Below are others:
• “You get what you give.”
• “Everybody wants a car, but nobody wants a car payment.”
• “You’re either willing or unwilling, trained or untrained.”
• “Take the help. I didn’t get here by myself.”
• “Don’t believe the hype. Bad can always go to good, and good can always go to great.”
Mason said out of all the opportunities he has had “there was no feeling like having the opportunity to go to college. Remember, we all have a story.”
Coach Reed, excitedly came to the floor applauding the new Vandy Coach. He ‘dittoed’ the positive things Coach Mason said. They were a great tag team.
However, his story was a little different.
“I was raised in the projects, because my father managed them,” Reed said. “I saw a lot of things, but I was raised, I guess, with what you may call middle class values.”
Reed said education is important, saying his degree has given him access that would not have been available to him otherwise.
He told the young people: “‘They’ told me a lot about things I could not do. ‘They?’ Who are ‘they?’ Get them away from me. Take that word from your vocabulary.”
Coach Reed also had great ‘jewels of wisdom, for example:
• “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”
• “2 Timothy states that God does not give you a spirit of fear.”
• “Don’t let outside circumstances control who you are.”
• “Make sure you respect others.”
• “You have to earn the right—no deposits, no returns.”
• “I order to pass a test, I have to study.”
• “Everybody that came with you, can’t go with you.”
• “The easiest thing in the world is to do wrong. It is hard to do right.”
• “You have to have tunnel vision.”
Complimenting the program participants, Coach Reed said: “You guys did an excellent job. Hopefully, I have given you some words of encouragement.”
Sen. Harper made final remarks regarding the students participating.
“We have great concerns about our young people,” she said. “but with you somebody is doing something right, because you can read. We have enjoyed sharing with you.”
Ms. Hockett, gave final remarks, saying: “This has been a wonderful program, and we are so thankful for Sen. Harper who has always supported us. It’s a been great and positive exposure for our youth. The staff was also honored that leaders in the community would take time out of their schedules to provide younger people with their wisdom. We are grateful.”
Pat Curran, superintendent, said the staff always does a fine job with the program.
“It was a pleasure to have Sen. Harper and Coaches Reed and Mason to come for a visit,” said Curran.