Ariel Community Academy students are investing on Wall Street by fourth grade For 20 years, the school’s graduates have gone on to become doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs and investment bankers

There is a school in Chicago where students are introduced to stocks in kindergarten and trade stocks by the fourth grade.

Ariel Community Academy is a public school on Chicago’s South Side — the vision of John Rogers, founder, chairman and CEO of Ariel Investments, and Arne Duncan, former U.S. secretary of education.

Rogers founded the school more than 20 years ago. Among the graduates are doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs and, of course, investment bankers.

“I tell people all the time that the best way to learn about investing is the way my father taught me,” said Rogers. “He gave me real money to invest in real stocks. That’s the heart of what makes our program work. It’s not a game.”

Here’s how Ariel Community Academy works, according to principal Lennette A. Coleman and former students.

The school goes from kindergarten through eighth grade, each with two classes of approximately 25 students. Three instructors are dedicated to teaching financial literacy: one at the primary level, one at the intermediate and one for middle school. The rest of the curriculum is similar to any other grade school, with classes in math, science, fine arts, music and technology. And they have a “dynamite baseball team,” Coleman said.

Financial education starts in kindergarten and the first grade, where they learn the very basics about economics and personal finance. “They learn about saving money and spending money,” said Coleman. “The instructors use a curriculum that is age-appropriate.

“They are taught about wants and needs, and the difference between those things,” she said. “We may look at the fact that the cost of a bike is $200 and the average person makes $400.

“It is very simple, basic concepts about what money is and the value of money related to different subjects,” she said. “They get an understanding that money comes from somewhere. You can earn it through talent or effort. Some people think and some people work with their hands.”

By the third grade, the students begin to learn about stocks, bonds and curriculum.

“In the fourth grade, they begin to learn about portfolios, picking and managing stocks, as well as entrepreneurship and creating business plans,” Coleman said.

Students start in kindergarten with the $20,000 originally contributed by Ariel ($10,000 for each of the two classes in the grade). In the early years, the portfolio is managed by Ariel and Nuveen Investments. By the later grades, the students are actively involved in making the investment decisions. A Junior Board of Directors (composed of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students) decides how to invest the money until they graduate.

By eighth-grade graduation, that portfolio has grown. The original $20,000 goes to the following year’s kindergarten class to start the process all over again. The surplus, or profit, is divided. Half is donated back to the school. The other half goes to the students in the graduating class.

The average profit is $12,000 to $13,000, although it has been as high as $32,000, Coleman said. If the student uses his or her cut of the profits to open a college savings account, Ariel will match it with $500.

“Ninety percent of the students opt for the savings account and get the match from Ariel,” she said.

Ariel Financial Literacy Event 031215

One of those students was Victoria Bills, who started at the school in the sixth grade. By the eighth grade, she was head of the investment committee.

“The moment I set foot in Ariel and saw that I could be a portfolio manager, that’s immediately where I wanted to go in life,” she said. “I wanted to be in money management.”

She went on to the University of Chicago Laboratory High School on a John Rogers scholarship, and later Babson College in Boston. Today, she works at Ariel in institutional sales.

Mario Gage is another graduate. His mom enrolled him in the school in the second grade because she loved the concept of financial literacy.

“She made us follow the three-jar system,” said Gage, now 25 and also an employee of Ariel. “When we got money, we had to split that money into three different jars. Ten percent went into the charity jar, 30 percent went into the savings jar and 60 percent went into the spending jar.”

She enrolled Gage and later his brother Miles, who is two years younger.

“It was cool, and an eye-opening experience,” Gage said of his experience at Ariel. “It’s something youth, especially minority youth, don’t get exposed to.”

Ariel Community Academy students in the classroom with Ariel Investments chairman and CEO John W. Rogers Jr. (left, in blue shirt and tie), city of Chicago treasurer Kurt Summers (center) and Arne Duncan (right), managing partner of Emerson Collective.

Ariel Community Academy

His class’s profit was $14,000, which left $7,000 to be divided among the graduating eighth-graders.

Among the highlights of Gage’s time at Ariel, he said, were field trips to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Ariel Investments and the McDonald’s annual meeting. He also joined a youth investment club outside the school, one exclusively for African-American youths ages 12 to 18.

“Not only did it affect me, but it affected my family,” he said. “My mom started getting into stocks and started her own portfolio.”

Gage’s mom, Michelle, a human resources director, said she has always talked finances with her sons. “When they grew older, they started teaching me.

“All children learn how to read in elementary school,” she said. “Some love to read and some don’t like to read, but, hey, all learn how to read. I’ve always taken the approach that I want my kids to not only learn how to manage money but to love it.”

When Gage graduated from Ariel Community Academy, he also received the John Rogers Scholarship to attend the University of Chicago Laboratory High School. He graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in economics and went to work for Ariel Investments. He now travels and lectures on financial literacy and assists Ariel with its financial literacy initiatives.

Rogers said the concept for the school started 20 years ago when Duncan worked at Ariel coordinating community affairs. His first project was the I Have a Dream Class, which he borrowed from a program at New York City, in which a class was adopted with the promise of making college affordable for the students.

The idea to focus on financial literacy came after Rogers attended a conference with personal finance journalist Jane Bryant Quinn and former U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Arthur Levitt. They talked about the need for more financial literacy in schools, especially public schools. He immediately called Duncan, and Ariel Community Academy was born.

“Sometimes financial literacy is all about keeping credit card debt low and how to manage a mortgage,” he said. “All that is important. But in this day and age, you have to be a financial expert to prepare yourself for retirement. Pensions plans have been replaced by defined contribution plans (401(k) or 403(b)). Stock market knowledge is more important in this country than ever before. We need to keep up.”

David Robinson’s advice on effective social change: ‘Slow down’ ‘The Admiral’ says it took years to get his school and investment fund up and running

SAN ANTONIO — The students making their way through a first-floor corridor at Carver Academy and College Prep grew wide-eyed when they bumped into the school’s founder. A few gasped when the still-trim, 7-foot-1 Spurs legend David Robinson stopped to wave, and they beamed when he posed for a few selfies.

Most of these young people were not yet born when Robinson’s Hall of Fame NBA career ended in 2003. But, to them, the man nicknamed “the Admiral” is as much a star for what he has done off the court as for what he did on it.

Robinson launched what was then called Carver Academy 16 years ago with $10 million of his own money. It began as a small parochial school serving elementary students, but it is now a publicly funded charter school that enrolls more than 1,100 pupils. Most of the students are Hispanic or black, and most of them are from low-income families. Nearly all of them are on track for college, school officials say.

We’re in an age when athletes are embracing social activism in a way that rivals anything in the past. Following the lead of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, scores of NFL players have stirred a national debate by taking a knee or sitting during the national anthem to call attention to police brutality and racial injustice. Others have worn T-shirts or hoodies to protest the deaths of Eric Garner or Trayvon Martin. Many athletes have started foundations or otherwise tried to leverage their wealth and fame to spur social change.

It is a level of consciousness that heartens the 52-year-old Robinson. And while Robinson is careful not to criticize any protesting players, he says it remains to be seen whether their strong words will be matched by meaningful deeds — or make the kind of difference that is happening at Carver.

“There is certainly more awareness now. Guys understand their influence and opportunity,” Robinson said. “I’ve talked to a lot of young athletes. They care. They want to do something significant. The question is, how? How do they do it?”

It is something Robinson knows firsthand. It took him years to turn his dream of a school into reality. He says the athletes eager to make change should be prepared for a similar struggle.

A line of students eagerly greet David Robinson as they walk to their next classroom at the IDEA Carver College Prep campus. “I’m a teacher at heart,” said Robinson. “I’m a lifelong student.”

Julysa Sosa for The Undefeated

“Guys in the NBA visit Carver all the time. Some of them say, ‘This is great. I want to start a school too,’ ” Robinson said. “My reaction is usually, ‘Wait. Slow down.’ You’ve got to be sure this is what you want to do. There is so much to learn. It is daunting. When a lot of guys come into the league, they are not prepared to write a check, much less run a school or build something.”

Robinson’s patient brand of activism led him to not only open a school but to also co-found Admiral Capital Group, a private equity firm that helps pay for his good deeds. Admiral controls more than $1 billion in office space, hotels and apartment developments. The company also has invested alongside several NBA and NFL team owners in an online platform that helps coaches at all levels break down game film as well as a separate online platform that automates management of youth athletic leagues. The firm sets aside 10 percent of its profits for donations aimed at making social change.

“The business is a sustainable way of making a long-term impact,” said Daniel Bassichis, a former Goldman Sachs banker and the firm’s co-founder, who once served on Carver’s board. “It has a constant income, which is key. Most [athletes’] foundations do not have this kind of income.”

Admiral has also helped guide investments by other professional athletes, including Spurs guard Tony Parker, former NFL defensive lineman Justin Tuck (who served an internship with the firm as an MBA student) and retired major league outfielder Torii Hunter. Not only are the investors immersed in the details of their investments, but they also receive advice on how to make lasting social change.

“There is so much to learn. It is daunting. When a lot of guys come into the league, they are not prepared to write a check, much less run a school or build something.”

For instance, each year the firm hires 25 Houston-area high school students to work in a Hilton Garden Inn hotel it owns there. The idea is to expose young people to careers in the hospitality industry. If students take to the work, they are given scholarships to the University of Houston, which they attend as Admiral scholars.

Robinson’s vision for social activism came into focus three decades ago during a two-year military commitment after his graduation from the Naval Academy. During that time, Robinson visited a couple of dozen Washington, D.C.-area high schools to deliver a simple message: Just say no to drugs.

Most students seemed thrilled to have the basketball star in their midst. Still, Robinson’s words frequently fell flat, particularly with the students who most needed to hear them. He realized he had to do more than say something. He had to do something.

“I realized it was like trying to put a Band-Aid on a big wound,” Robinson recalled. “Some of the kids would say, ‘This ain’t reality to us.’ From what they knew, drug dealers were making money. Or education wouldn’t change their lives. I found myself wondering, what can I do to help these kids? How do I make change?”

Robinson, a devout Christian, prayed on it. The answer he got convinced him that he should one day open a school to help guide young people to make better choices, regardless of the difficult circumstances they may confront.

“You can talk until you are blue in the face, but you can’t change people,” he said. “But you can plant seeds, and education is a natural way to plant seeds.”

Robinson nurtured his dream for most of his NBA career, making donations and connections and learning what he could about educational policy. Finally, he made his move, opening Carver Academy in 2001, two years before he retired from basketball. As a parochial school, it had just 120 students. To expand its reach and relieve the constant fundraising pressure, Robinson agreed in 2012 to convert Carver into a publicly funded charter school by joining forces with IDEA, a nonprofit that operates 61 schools serving 36,000 students across Texas. Robinson is now a member of IDEA’s San Antonio regional board.

The school, renamed Carver Academy and College Prep, now has more than 1,100 students in kindergarten through 11th grade. (It will add 12th-grade classes next year.)

David Robinson originally founded George W. Carver Academy in 2001. Eleven years later, he partnered with IDEA Public Schools to expand his goal of accessible quality education for all children.

Julysa Sosa for The Undefeated

“When I started Carver, I did not know what I was doing,” Robinson said. “It is a huge undertaking: fundraising, curriculum, finding partners. It is a commitment, and it takes a long time to learn.”

Carver is located not far from the Spurs’ home arena. “We have students in homeless shelters, or who have lived in cars for periods of time. There are all kinds of life issues,” said Guadalupe Diaz, principal of Carver’s elementary program. “But there is an abiding belief that they can overcome. They can do it.”

One of Robinson’s core beliefs is that tough circumstances should not be seen as insurmountable obstacles to achievement. He named the school after George Washington Carver, who was born into slavery but nonetheless went on to become a widely respected botanist, inventor and teacher. He thought Carver’s life story contained a lesson for young people today.

“If you think you have a bad situation, that man grew up in a worse situation,” Robinson explained. “But Carver knew there was a reason he was here. That led him to do amazing things. We have to start where we are, use what we have and make something of it. And never be satisfied.”

Robinson says another one of his core strategies is to inspire young people to tap into their own gifts and leverage whatever opportunities they have.

“Every time you turn on the television, people see rap stars, athletes and actors. You don’t see the everyday people who are doing well. The culture points us to these unattainable roles. How many of us are going to be athletes? Practically nobody. Success is not being Jay-Z. There is only one Jay-Z. Who is telling kids that this long journey of being a father is crazy important? The idea is to get them excited for the life before them.”

Too often, Robinson said, schools that serve low-income students succumb to the instability and low expectations that often accompany poverty. It is a problem identified by many educators but one Carver has apparently found a way to conquer. Its elementary school students consistently score near the 70th percentile on standardized math and reading tests, an achievement that officials attribute to their individualized focus on the students. Parents have responded: This year the school could enroll just 120 new students out of 300 who applied through a lottery.

“Who is telling kids that this long journey of being a father is crazy important?”

“What I think Carver has figured out is how to help students grapple with community issues that might come up and not hold them against the kids,” said Brittany Hibbert, an assistant principal at Carver’s upper school. She said students and administrators do home visits, staff Saturday school and take calls from students at night. “We literally do whatever it takes.”

High expectations and individually tailored instruction help. But it is also helpful that one of San Antonio’s best-known celebrities is a regular presence at Carver. The first floor of the upper school has a small museum dedicated to Robinson, a two-time NBA champion, 10-time All Star and former league MVP. There are jerseys from the Naval Academy, the Spurs and the two U.S. Olympic teams he played for. There are also medals and trophies, and even a small section of basketball floor marked with the footprints of Robinson and some of his former teammates and coaches.

“His presence is significant,” said Chang Yu, principal of Carver’s upper school. “His name appeals, and it resonates quality, sportsmanship, education — all good things that people gravitate toward. He definitely is a factor in our success.”

Robinson says that is where many people who command the spotlight can be helpful. Robinson applauded stars such as LeBron James, Chris Paul and others who have backed up their calls for social justice by donating millions of dollars for things such as after-school programs and college scholarships. As he watches more athletes find their voice embracing the new civil rights movement, he said he will be dividing them into two categories: those who just say things, and those who back their words with action.

“I can say anything I want to say, but you can also go back and track what I’ve done over the last 20 years to see if what I’m saying matches up,” Robinson said. “Where is your money going? What have you given to? So you have the nerve to make a public statement. Now I am going to check and see how much you’ve done so I can determine whether your statement has any value.”

Trump vs. the wide world of sports: a timeline The president’s comments about Stephen Curry as well as the NFL are just the latest in a long and combative, but sometimes cozy, relationship between Trump and sports

As it stands right now, President Donald Trump is at odds with three of the most influential names in pop culture: Colin Kaepernick, Stephen Curry and LeBron James. This, though, is not Trump’s first go-round with the world of sports. The 45th president of the United States’ connection to teams, leagues, players, owners and sporting events has roots. Very deep roots.

Trump’s involvement in the short-lived United States Football League is the president’s introductory claim to sporting fame/infamy. The league lasted from just 1983 to 1985, and its demise is largely placed on Trump’s shoulders. During a 1984 interview, Trump noted that he “could have” purchased the Dallas Cowboys. He believed, however, that the New Jersey Generals were a better investment. As for the “poor guy” who would eventually buy the Cowboys: “It’s a no-win situation for him, because if he wins, well, so what, they’ve won through the years, and if he loses, which seems likely because they’re having troubles, he’ll be known to the world as a loser.” Jerry Jones purchased the Cowboys in 1989 for $140 million. Nearly three decades later, the Cowboys are the world’s most profitable franchise, valued at nearly $5 billion, and Jones, a Trump supporter to the tune of at least $1 million, is now a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

There’s also Trump’s longtime association with boxing. In 1990, Trump took the stand in a trial over contractual disputes with regard to a Mike Tyson-Buster Douglas rematch. (Atlantic City’s Trump Plaza, prior to its shuttering, had been a premiere destination for prizefights.) Golf, too, is a much-chronicled obsession of the president — he owns 17 clubs worldwide. His decades-long involvement in the sports world, which included a failed 2014 bid to purchase the Buffalo Bills, has won him legions of friends and supporters, including golfer John Daly, Dennis Rodman, Bobby Knight, Mike Ditka, retired mixed martial artist Tito Ortiz and UFC president Dana White, and that number has only grown since he announced his intention to run for president of the United States in June of 2015.

The following is a timeline of Trump’s increasingly antagonistic clashes with the world of sports since his candidacy and election.

July 14, 2015 — Candidate Trump takes on the LPGA

A week earlier, candidate Trump stood by controversial comments he’d made surrounding Mexican immigrants. The LPGA Tour was immediately forced to distance itself from the remarks since its British Open would be held at Trump’s Turnberry Alisa course in Scotland. Trump, in response, addressed a letter directly to tour commissioner Michael Wahn. “You have an absolutely binding contract to play the great Turnberry Ailsa course but, based on your rude comment to the press, please let this letter serve to represent that, subject to a conversation with me on the details, I would be willing to let you play the Women’s British Open in two weeks, at another course rather than magnificent Turnberry [which I own].”

Sept. 3, 2015 — Abdul-Jabbar calls Trump a bully; Trump shoots back

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, a six-time league MVP, author and civil rights activist — wrote a Washington Post column criticizing what he felt was Trump’s lack of respect for the media’s rights. Why is this so ironic? Well, for one, Abdul-Jabbar’s distant relationship with the media has long been documented. And two, Trump’s response was exactly what Abdul-Jabbar was talking about in the first place: attempting to bully a writer. “Now I know why the press has treated you so badly — they couldn’t stand you,” Trump wrote, also in the Post. “The fact is that you don’t have a clue about life and what has to be done to make America great again!”

Sept. 8, 2015 — That’s a “Make America Great Again” hat in Tom Brady’s locker

It’s the hat that’s dogged New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady ever since. In 2015, only three months into Trump’s candidacy, the #MAGA hat introduced itself to pop culture and hasn’t looked back. Brady probably had no clue how a Trump campaign and ultimately Trump’s presidency would play itself out on the fabric of American history. Back then, it was a gift from a friend who’d occasionally call and, per Brady’s own admission then, offer motivational speeches.

Sept. 18, 2015 — AHL executive: Prove to me you can run a hockey team before the country

One of the most known-unknown vocal Trump critics is Vance Lederman, chief financial officer of the American Hockey League’s Syracuse Crunch (an affiliate of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning). Running a country isn’t exactly the same as running high-end hotels. That’s how Lederman saw it when he challenged Trump to come run his team. “You running for president is like a Brooklyn boy being a professional hockey coach,” he said in a YouTube video. “So, Donald, here is what I’m going to do: I got an invite for you. You’re a big man, you want to be all for the people. I invite you to come to Syracuse to learn how to be a professional hockey coach.” Trump never responded, prompting Lederman to amend his offer. Coaching was off the table. He now wanted Trump to prove he could run a sports team.

Nov. 2, 2015 — Following in George Steinbrenner’s footsteps

On the campaign trail, presidential candidate Trump stopped by Colin Cowherd’s show. Trump said he’s just fine with gambling in sports because “it’s happening anyway.” Fair enough. And, given the chance, he noted that if the circumstances were different, he’d like to buy the New York Yankees — and follow in the footsteps of his “great friend” George Steinbrenner. The Yankees are not for sale, and as the most valuable team in Major League Baseball, one would need in excess of $3.5 billion just to make an offer.

Dec. 7, 2015 — Trump forgets Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ever existed

Dec. 14, 2015 — Trump comes to the defense of Pete Rose

President goes to bat for baseball’s all-time hits king.

July 7, 2016 — MLB’s Latin community wary of a Trump presidency

Major League Baseball has made a commitment to expand its game further into Mexico. One of Trump’s biggest campaign promises was to build a wall along the Mexican border. In a statement that becomes more prophetic by the day, then-San Francisco Giants infielder Ramiro Pena expressed concerns. “It does worry me a lot that he could be elected president,” he said. “For the Latin community … it would make things more difficult when it comes to immigration, based on what he has said. The comments he has made about Mexicans worry you.”

Aug. 29, 2016 — Trump says Kaepernick should find another country to live in

The biggest story in sports over the past year has been Colin Kaepernick and his refusal to stand for the national anthem (for the record, a controversial piece of music when taken literally) last season. “I think it’s a terrible thing, and, you know, maybe he should find a country that works better for him, let him try, it’s not gonna happen,” Trump said. This won’t be the last time the newbie politician addresses the quarterback.

Oct. 30, 2016 — Trump blames NFL ratings decline on the 2016 election … and Kaepernick

That’s because he would do it again two months later, just days before the 2016 election. When reports confirmed the NFL’s ratings had taken a double-digit hit, for Trump, only two things explained the trend. Politics was one, and in a sense he was right. The election was the story in America at the time. This was during the final weeks of the 2016 election, the most volatile and explosive perhaps in U.S. history. The second, Trump asserted, was, “Kaepernick. Kaepernick.”

Nov. 9, 2016 — LeBron searches for answers

LeBron James had officially endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. The day after the election, the four-time MVP joined millions across the country struggling to come to grips with the fact that candidate Trump was now officially President-elect Trump. With Kendrick Lamar’s classic rallying cry, “Alright,” as the soundtrack, ’Bron took to Instagram with an inspiring message. “Minorities and Women in all please know this isn’t the end, it’s just a very challenging obstacle that we will overcome!!” he said. “Even if who’s in office now doesn’t, Know that I LOVE [Y’ALL]!!” This wouldn’t be the last The King would address the 45th president.

Instagram Photo

Nov. 16, 2016 — Mayweather visits Trump at Trump Tower

The photo of Floyd Mayweather, then sporting a 49-0 record, visiting Trump Tower did exactly what seems to be intended: ignite controversy stemming from both men’s past transgressions, in particular with women. Mayweather doubled down on the picture by attending the Trump inauguration two months later. As he’d said a week before to TMZ Sports, “Y’all gonna see me in D.C. looking good. I got a tux and everything ready.” More on Floyd/Trump shortly …

Instagram Photo

Dec. 2, 2016 — Trump stiff-arms NFL’s ratings

President-elect Trump again relishes the NFL’s ratings debacle. “Down 20, 21 percent,” he gloated at a rally in Cincinnati, “and it was because of us.” Keyword there being us.

Dec. 5, 2016 — LeBron says no to a stay at a Trump hotel

Don’t expect to see LeBron James at Trump SoHo’s Bar d’Eau — or anyplace else on the property. James and several teammates refused the Trump accommodations during a New York road trip. When asked about his decision? “It’s just my personal preference,” he said.

Dec. 13, 2016 — Jim Brown, Ray Lewis have ‘fantastic’ meeting with Trump

Jim Brown and Ray Lewis are two of the greatest football players to ever live. The Hall of Fame running back and longtime activist and future first-ballot Hall of Fame linebacker have been two of Trump’s most prominent black supporters — and also two of the most prominent black athletes to denounce Kaepernick. Both apparently believe the Trump administration will stimulate economic development in urban areas and “change the whole scheme of what our kids see.” Brown and Lewis’ “fantastic” meeting with Trump two weeks before Christmas came just hours after Kanye West met with the president-elect.

Dec. 19, 2016 — Trump picks Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola as nominee for Secretary of the Army

Billionaire Wall Street trader Vincent Viola, a 1977 West Point alum, served in the 101st Airborne Division and stayed in the U.S. Army Reserve after his active duty. Also? Viola is the owner of the NHL’s Florida Panthers. Two months later, Viola withdrew his name from consideration, citing the difficulty of “untangling himself from business ties.”

Feb. 8, 2017 — Stephen Curry wasn’t feeling Under Armour’s Trump love

First, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank called President Trump an “asset” to the country. Second, and almost immediately, the company’s No. 1 ambassador, Steph Curry, denounced the company’s praise. Third, Under Armour released a statement saying the praise was meant from a business perspective only. Curry understood and appreciated the statement, but: “If there is a situation where I can look at myself in the mirror and say they don’t have my best intentions, they don’t have the right attitude about taking care of people,” Curry said. “If I can say the leadership is not in line with my core values, then there is no amount of money, there’s no platform I wouldn’t jump off if it wasn’t in line with who I am … that’s a decision I will make every single day when I wake up. If something is not in line with what I’m about, then, yeah, I definitely need to take a stance in that respect.” Bonus: Former WWE CEO and president Linda McMahon joined the administration in February 2017 as the head of the Small Business Administration.

March 21, 2017 — President Trump takes pride in Kaepernick’s exile

Four days before, Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman reveals, per an unnamed AFC general manager, that some teams fear Trump’s response should Kaepernick be signed. This was all the 45th commander-in-chief needed to get him riled up. “Our inner cities will find a rebirth of hope, safety and opportunity,” he said during a speech in Kentucky. “Your San Francisco quarterback, I’m sure nobody ever heard of him.” He wasn’t done. “It was reported that NFL owners don’t want to pick him up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump. Do you believe that? I just saw that.”

April 19, 2017 — Half of the New England Patriots don’t make the trip to the White House

A total of 68 players were invited to pull up on President Trump at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Only 34 made the trip. More than a few of them — most notably Martellus Bennett, who said so before even taking his shoulder pads off after the Patriots’ historic comeback victory in Super Bowl LI — were adamant their motivations for not going were strictly political. Tom Brady, a longtime Trump friend and proponent of Kaepernick’s return to the league, was a no-show as well.

May 14, 2017 — Popovich unloads on Trump

Legendary San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has a well-documented history of going directly at Trump. Pop’s pre-Spurs life — graduation from the Air Force Academy with a degree in Soviet Studies, time spent as an intelligence officer in Eastern Europe — gave added context to his criticisms of the president. Prior to Game 1 of the Western Conference finals vs. the Warriors, Pop gave his own impromptu State of the Union: “… To this day I feel like there’s a cloud, a pall, over the whole country, in a paranoid, surreal sort of way that’s got nothing to do with the Democrats losing the election,” he told reporters. “It’s got to do with the way one individual conducts himself. It’s embarrassing. It’s dangerous to our institutions and what we all stand for and what we expect the country to be. But for this individual, he’s at a game show and everything that happens begins and ends with him, not our people or our country. When he talks about those things, that’s just a ruse. That’s disingenuous, cynical and fake.” Tell ’em how you really feel, Pop.

June 14, 2017 — That’s gonna be a ‘no’ from Steph, dog

While the two-time MVP made news recently about not visiting the White House, let’s not act like he hasn’t been saying the same thing since the Warriors captured their second title in three years. “Somebody asked me about it a couple months ago, a hypothetical, if a championship were to happen: ‘What would I do?’ ” Curry said at his exit interview. “I answered that I wouldn’t go. That hasn’t changed.”

June 30, 2017 — Cubs reportedly wanted Trump to tell recently released catcher Miguel Montero he was “fired”

Backup Chicago Cubs catcher Miguel Montero was already going to be released. Three days prior, he threw starting pitcher Jake Arrieta under the bus after a stolen base fiasco. He was released from the team. On the surface, that was not necessarily a huge deal, but according to baseball savant Peter Gammons, some players and front-office personnel wanted to really rub it in on Montero by having Trump tell him, “You’re fired” (his Apprentice catchphrase) during an unofficial team White House visit. They ultimately decided against doing so.

Aug. 15, 2017 — LeBron, Steve Nash and the sports world react to Trump’s Charlottesville response

The entire country was fixated on the protests in Charlottesville that turned deadly. President Trump’s infamous comment about blame being on “both sides” doused gasoline on an already uncontrollable blaze, leading many athletes to voice their opinion.

Aug. 17, 2017 — Kevin Durant keeps it a buck

If there’s anyone who benefits from Trump going full Trump, it’s Kevin Durant — who recently has been the butt of jokes after his recent Twitter debacle. However, back in his hometown of Seat Pleasant, Maryland, last month, the 2017 Finals MVP let his feelings on visiting the White House be known. “Nah, I won’t do that,” he said. “I don’t respect who’s in office now.”

Sept. 13, 2017 — The White House calls for Jemele Hill’s job

The Six’s Jemele Hill sent the tweets heard ’round the world when she called Trump a white supremacist. The situation, however, spilled overboard when White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dubbed the tweets “outrageous” and called for Hill’s job.

Sept. 15, 2017 — Mayweather co-signs Trump’s “locker room talk”

The biggest controversy Trump encountered on the campaign trail was, by far, the leaked audio from his 2005 Access Hollywood appearance, which included the phrase “grab them by the p—y.” Through a chain of events that no one saw coming, the gaffe didn’t cost Trump the election. And one person who didn’t have an issue with the comments was Floyd Mayweather. In the 50-0 champion’s eyes, Trump spoke how “real men” do. “Real men speak like, ‘Man, she had a fat a–. You see her a–? I had to squeeze her a–. I had to grab that fat a–.’ ” This is what Mayweather told Hollywood Unlocked. “So he’s talking locker room talk. Locker room talk. ‘I’m the man, you know what I’m saying? You know who I am. Yeah, I grabbed her by the p—y. And?’ ”

Sept. 22, 2017 — The ‘son of a bitch’ speech

For an administration that operates under anything but the veil of normal presidential decorum, last Friday’s speech was a special breed of aberrant. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners,” he said, “when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired! He’s fired!’ ”

Sept. 23, 2017 — Trump takes to Twitter to call out the sports world

On his platform of choice, Trump called out both Stephen Curry and the NFL for, essentially, not “sticking to sports.”

Sept. 23, 2017 — The NBA/NFL claps back at President Trump

While he would later post a video further expressing his thoughts, LeBron James caused all hell to break loose shortly before when he came to the defense of a man he’s squared off against during the past three NBA Finals. ’Bron, who is careful with his words, spared no feelings delivering a certified haymaker (which may or may not affect the fashion world):

Steph then saluted ’Bron for having his back and running the 2-on-1 political fast break with him. All while rhetorically wondering why the president chooses to demean certain individuals and not others.

Instagram Photo

The responses came in droves. Dell Curry expressed unwavering support for his son. Kobe Bryant essentially said Trump lacks the #MambaMentality. Chris Paul responded with a two piece and a biscuit.

Draymond Green joined the party. As did his coach Steve Kerr. Kerr doubled back just in case his stance wasn’t clear the first time. Bradley Beal is still searching for answers. J.R. Smith is praying for Barack Obama’s return while seriously contemplating living in the gutter. Damian Lillard used a well-placed sleepover analogy. Commissioner Adam Silver was disappointed the Warriors opted out of a White House visit but said he was proud of the league’s players speaking out on issues resonating with them.

That’s just the NBA. Coincidentally, the University of North Carolina men’s basketball team announced it would no longer be visiting the White House. Oakland Athletics rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first MLB player to kneel for the anthem. As for the NFL, the league released a lukewarm statement, whereas the NFLPA’s was far more direct. The league stands on the cusp of a truly monumental line in the sand. How the players respond Sunday and Monday night is a historic, generational defining moment that will assume immediate residency in the annals of the game’s legacy. Many wasted no time in expressing grievances, including Richard Sherman. Despite his comments regarding Kaepernick as a “distraction” last month, Bills running back LeSean McCoy tweeted, “It’s really sad man…our president is a asshole.” Others, like New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, called to mind Colin Kaepernick’s original protest. Yet, it’s Teresa Kaepernick whose response may have reverberated the most. She is, for the record, the mother of the athlete who helped light a fire to this entire movement.

Life before Death Row: The brief football career of Suge Knight The scariest man in rap was a star lineman at UNLV — and a scab Los Angeles Ram

Marion “Suge” Knight’s original terrordome was the defensive line. It’s where he starred for four years at Lynwood High School, 20 minutes from Compton, California’s much-loved Tam’s Burgers. Knight faces murder (among other) charges stemming from a January 2015 incident at Tam’s in which he is accused of barreling a Ford F-150 into two men.

Knight’s friend, Terry Carter, 55, was killed. Cle “Bone” Sloan, 51, was injured. All of this followed an argument near a filming location for the 2015 N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton. For the better part of three years, Knight has been held at Los Angeles County Jail, where he awaits a January 2018 trial. He is claiming self-defense. “He left the scene,” attorney James Blatt said in February 2015, “because he was in fear for his safety, and life.” Knight has shuffled through more than four attorneys since.

Wealthy white kids at Hollywood high schools were often the target of Knight’s shakedowns when he was at Lynwood. During the early ’80s, however, Knight was far more focused on sports than thugging: He earned letters in track and football all four years.


Harvey Hyde became the head football coach of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 1981. At the time, the UNLV Rebels (recently on the wrong side of the most lopsided college football upset of all time) were new to Division I. The school, established in 1958, had gained national prominence via basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian’s “Runnin’ Rebels” program. It was up to Hyde to make UNLV a two-sport school.

Hyde still calls Marion Knight “Sugar Bear,” Knight’s childhood and neighborhood nickname. They met on a recruiting trip that Hyde made to Los Angeles County’s El Camino Junior College, where Knight excelled in the defensive line’s trenches. The Compton native was 6-foot-2 with big hair and an imposing frame.

“How would anyone know who he was at the time? He was one of the guys that the Rams players were throwing eggs at.”

Hyde, a player’s coach, brought Knight to Las Vegas. As a junior, he started at nose guard and defensive tackle and immediately became one of the Rebels’ best defensive players. Knight was voted UNLV’s Rookie of the Year, named defensive captain and won first-team all conference honors. In a city full of sins, Knight was apparently UNLV’s biggest blessing.

“[Knight] played his butt off,” said Hyde, whose coaching portfolio includes NFL stars Randall Cunningham, Ickey Woods and 2017 Hall of Famer Terrell Davis. “[Knight] was a ‘yes sir, no sir’ guy … the type of player any college football coach would love to have on his team.” Hyde was let go in 1986 after a string of damaging events for the football program, including burglary, the beating by a player of an off-duty policeman, the embezzling of video and stereo equipment, sexual assault and domestic violence, among other issues. Knight, a part-time bouncer at Vegas’ then-hot Cotton Club, wasn’t a blip on Hyde’s disciplinary radar. “He never, ever gave me a problem in any way.”

To many members of the UNLV team, and his close friend Tarkanian, Hyde was the scapegoat for a program he helped save. The lack of institutional control, they believed, wasn’t Hyde’s fault. Hyde has never spoken ill or shifted blame to anyone.

Knight may have been yes-sir-no-sir, but he was side-hustling: Books. Jon Wolfson, who in the early 2000s was a publicist for Death Row Records and is now the manager of Hall and Oates, recalls a conversation he had with Knight about his UNLV days. “He’d say something like, ‘Then I’d play the dumb athlete role and say, ‘Oh, Coach, I lost my books.’ ” The staff never second-guessed Knight, said Wolfson. “They’d give him brand-new books, and he’d sell them to make some extra cash.” Knight enjoyed two impressive seasons at UNLV in 1985 and 1986, lettering in both.

Yet, per Randall Sullivan’s 2003 LAbyrinth: A Detective Investigates the Murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., the Implication of Death Row Records’ Suge Knight, and the Origins of the Los Angeles Police Scandal, Knight’s demeanor became more ominous and reclusive during his senior campaign. Visitors from his hometown of Compton were frequently sighted, as Sullivan reported. Knight, too, moved in an apartment by himself, and was seen in several late-model sedans. And his reputation on campus evolved far beyond that of the friendly jokester he was the year before. He seemed a man involved in far more sophisticated situations.

Yet when Wayne Nunnely took over as coach in 1986, Knight’s athletic demeanor apparently remained consistent. “He wasn’t a problem guy at all,” Nunnely told the Las Vegas Sun in 1996. This was three days after Tupac Shakur was shot five times near the Las Vegas Strip by a drive-by assailant who remains unknown. Shakur and Knight were at the intersection of Koval Lane and Flamingo Road. Shakur, of course, died. Knight, by then better known as “Suge,” was then gangsta rap’s unquestioned, unrivaled and undisputed emperor. “You didn’t really see,” said Nunnely, “that street roughness in him.”

The gridiron roughness is something Knight didn’t hesitate to talk about. “I think the most important thing, when you play football,” Knight told comedian Jay Mohr in 2001, shortly after being released from prison for serving half of a nine-year sentence for assault charges stemming from the fight with Orlando Anderson in Vegas’ MGM Grand the night Shakur was shot, “you get the quarterback, you stick your hand in his helmet and peel the skin back off.”

He jokingly suggested, even after selling tens of millions of records and doing nearly a five-year bid, that he could still play in the league. “I think I could strap up and intimidate most of those [guys]. I think we could make a few deals and I’ll be like, ‘OK, look. Lemme get ’bout three, four sacks. I’ll let you get a few blocks. We’ll enjoy it.’ ”

According to teammates, Knight dropped out of UNLV before graduation. By 1987, he was back in Los Angeles. One of the biggest songs on the streets was Eazy-E’s gangsta rap bellwether “Boyz n Da Hood,” which dropped in March of that year. But before turning to hip-hop to plant the seeds of a future empire, Knight had one last gridiron itch to scratch: the National Football League.


The first overall pick in the 1987 NFL draft was Vinny Testaverde, who played until he was 44. The second overall pick was defensive stalwart Cornelius Bennett. There was also current University of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, Christian “The Nigerian Nightmare” Okoye, 2002 NFL MVP Rich Gannon and Rod Woodson, the only Hall of Famer from this class. Former University of Oklahoma megastar linebacker Brian Bosworth and future Hall of Famer wide receiver Cris Carter were chosen in the supplemental draft. Marion Knight was not one of the 335 players selected. But the NFL eventually did come calling. The league was desperate.

As documented in the new 30 for 30 film “Year of the Scab,” NFL players went on strike shortly after the start of the 1987 season. Today, football players influenced by exiled Super Bowl quarterback Colin Kaepernick fight for their freedom of expression. Thirty years ago, players bucked back at ownership for freedom of agency. In 1982, players went on strike demanding 55 percent of revenue. The 57-day standoff cost the league seven games and $275 million in revenues. And another $50 million returned to networks. While united in both strikes, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) gained little ground in either.

“Free” agency in the 1980s wasn’t the spectacle it is today, with hundreds of players changing teams annually. “This was before free agency,” said veteran Los Angeles Times sports reporter Chris Dufresne. “[NFL players] really were indentured servants. They couldn’t go anywhere!” Players were, for lack of a better phrase, property — bound to teams for life. With rare exceptions, they did move to new teams, although many times those were star players with leverage, a la O.J. Simpson’s 1978 trade to the San Francisco 49ers.

Teams could sign free agents, but the cost was steep. The “Rozelle Rule” stated the NFL commissioner could reward the player’s original team with draft picks, often first-round selections, or players. NFL salaries did rise in the ’80s, primarily because of the brief existence of the United States Football League (an entity that featured team owner Donald Trump) and its willingness to lure NFL players with large contracts. But by 1985, the USFL was defunct. Even that era couldn’t hold a candle to the second strike. “The 1987 Rams season,” said Dufresne, “was the craziest I’ve ever had in journalism.”

In a city full of sins, Knight was apparently UNLV’s biggest blessing.

Training camp started with star running back Eric Dickerson warring for a new contract. On Aug. 21, 1987, running back and former Heisman Trophy winner Charles White, after drug issues that plagued him while with the Cleveland Browns and at USC, was arrested after being found in a field. “[He had a] trash can lid, pretending to be the Trojan Warrior,” Dufresne recalled. “That’s how the summer started.” White led the NFL in rushing that same strike season, with 1,374 yards.

The strike started after Week 3. Players said they wouldn’t show up for Week 4, owners called what they thought was bluff, and then had to scramble to fill rosters with replacement players: former college players, undrafted players, construction workers, bartenders, even ex-cons. Replacement players, otherwise known as “scabs,” were ridiculed.

Somewhat like Faizon Love and Orlando Jones in 2000’s The Replacements, Knight was one of those replacement players. Dufresne, 30 years later, doesn’t recall the future head of a gangsta rap empire. “I have no recollection of Suge being there. I must have seen him,” he said. “[But] why would I remember him? How would anyone know who he was at the time? He was one of the guys that the Rams players were throwing eggs at.”

The strike lasted only a few weeks, but it got ugly. It sounds ridiculous to say Knight was bullied, but such was life in the NFL during the 1987 lockout for “scabs.” Knight, a man who would evolve into an intimidating pop culture tour de force, had eggs thrown at him. First-year Rams offensive tackle Robert Cox smashed the window of a van carrying replacement players after union players began rocking the van.

These incidents were common throughout the league. Frustrations were at a boiling point. Once stars such as Dallas Cowboys’ Tony Dorsett, San Francisco’s Joe Montana, the Oakland Raiders’ Howie Long and Seattle’s Steve Largent crossed the line, the NFLPA recognized the ship was sinking. “They had a weak union compared to the baseball union,” Dufresne said. “But the things they were fighting for were real.”

The strike lasted 24 days. Knight officially played two games as a Los Angeles Ram, against the Pittsburgh Steelers and against the Atlanta Falcons. Although Knight’s official stats are all but lost to history, this YouTube video compiled his official NFL stat line: eight plays, zero sacks, zero tackles and one penalty. John Robinson, Rams head coach from 1983-91, said the team had too many bodies that year between union and replacement players. He, too, has no recollection of coaching Knight.

“Suge,” said Dufresne, “was just an anonymous nobody in the surroundings.” The anonymity wouldn’t last long.


In October 1987, as the regular NFL players reported back to work, Knight’s rap sheet ballooned and his boogeyman persona began to take shape. In Los Angeles, Knight was charged with domestic violence after grabbing future ex-wife Sharitha Golden (whom he’d later implicate in Shakur’s murder) by the hair and chopping her ponytail off in the driveway of her mother’s home. That Halloween, he was arrested in Vegas for shooting a man in the wrist and in the leg, and for stealing his Nissan Maxima. With felony charges looming, Knight skated away from any serious penalty in part because of a contrite courtroom appearance and his history in the city as a famed football player. The felonies were reduced to misdemeanors: a $1,000 fine and three years probation. “I shot him with his own gun,” Knight told The Washington Post in 2007.

Three years later, in Vegas once again, he pleaded guilty to felony assault with a deadly weapon after pistol-whipping a man with a loaded gun and breaking his jaw. Knight again evaded serious penalty.

Knight by then was immersing himself in the music industry, serving as a bodyguard for superstars such as Bobby Brown. He eventually maneuvered his way into the circles of rappers like The D.O.C., Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E. Knight partnered with Dr. Dre to create Death Row Records in 1991. Dr. Dre’s 1992 The Chronic (Death Row/Priority) and Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle (Death Row/Interscope) the following year became instant pop gospels and solidified Knight and Death Row as not only major players but also undeniable and controversial cultural focal points.

It’s been years since Coach Hyde has seen his former player. He’s not sure if he will again, but, “You can’t get me to say anything negative about Suge Knight,” he said. “Whatever somebody is accused of, he’s still a football player of mine. He’s still part of the family when I was at UNLV.” Hyde pauses momentarily, then continues, “I’m not endorsing all the certain things they accuse him of, because I really don’t know. I have no idea! He doesn’t judge me and I don’t judge him. We just have our old feelings of each other. I just think that’s what it’s all about. You don’t forget people.”

“When I watch the news, it’s like I’m watching someone else,” Jon Wolfson said. “That’s not the guy I know.”

As for Dufresne, he’s not on either side of the aisle. He’s more shocked that Marion Knight, a guy he only mentioned in passing through roster lists, morphed into Suge Knight, the Death Row Records impresario who was once worth more than $100 million. Suge, he recalled, wasn’t the only notorious figure to come about during his time covering the Rams. Darryl Henley, a former cornerback for the Rams (1989-94), was convicted of cocaine trafficking in 1995. He is currently serving a 41-year prison term for conspiring to murder the federal judge who presided over his trial, as well as the former Rams cheerleader who testified against him. And the Rams’ 1996 first round pick, running back Lawrence Phillips, received a 31-year sentence for domestic violence, spousal abuse, false imprisonment and vehicle theft and was later charged with first-degree murder of his cellmate. Phillips committed suicide in 2016.

Dufresne recalled the bitterness of rap in the ’90s, the “East/West thing” as he dubbed it. And he remembered the personal sadness that followed Shakur’s murder. Yet, it wasn’t until this phone call where he put one and one together. Marion is Suge. Suge was Marion. Suge Knight was a replacement player during the most untamed year of my career.

“Marion Knight, out of UNLV, who did what a lot of guys did and had a dream to play [in the NFL] and maybe didn’t understand what the players were fighting for, he was just another guy,” he said. He stops, as if he’s shocked. “Little did we know.”

Ten years after Kanye West’s ‘Graduation’ — and mine Yeezy and a whole generation meet real life and wonder ‘what it all really mean?‘

A cloud of marijuana smoke hovered in the apartment. It was early September 2007. Some of us lay on the floor. Some on the couch. Some at the kitchen table that had been used to roll the seven or eight jays. None of us said much. Per the rules of that summer’s “listening sessions,” no one spoke over the music. In this case, Kanye West’s new LP, Graduation, was the reason for the cypher.

Over that summer, these sessions had become a fixture. Thanks primarily to Lil Wayne’s run of mixtapes (it felt like they dropped every week), there was always a reason. But this session was different. On a day leading up to the start of our senior year at Hampton University, West spoke into existence our own existence.

Up to that moment, his music had always held collegiate and coming-of-age allusions, starting with 2004’s The College Dropout and Late Registration the following year. Often forgotten in the grand scheme of his catalog, West’s May 2007 Can’t Tell Me Nothing mixtape featured “Us Placers” featuring Pharrell and Lupe Fiasco (aka the short-lived supergroup Child Rebel Soldiers), “C.O.L.O.U.R.S.” featuring Fonzworth Bentley, Wayne and UGK, and my introduction to a rapper named Big Sean on “Getcha Some.” Graduation arrived when we were all about 21 years old — adults by age, but kids with so much life and the hurdles that came with it in front of us.

Kanye West spoke into existence our own existence.

At that time, it seemed West spoke for our entire generation. On Sept. 2, 2005, with New Orleans crippled by Hurricane Katrina, close to 2,000 people dead and even more displaced, West stood next to comedian Michael Myers and famously declared that President George W. Bush “doesn’t care about black people.” He spoke for us and to us. Several students who evacuated from New Orleans-based historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) such as Xavier and Dillard transferred to Hampton. We read the reports. We watched CNN in horror, like the rest of the country. The anger we felt about seeing (mostly) black people referred to as “refugees” in their own city while their entire lives were submerged underwater left us enraged. Even when it’s a natural disaster, it’s somehow still our fault. West’s angst reflected our own.

Kanye West performs on stage at the Concert for Diana at Wembley Stadium on July 1, 2007 in London, England.

Dave Hogan/Getty Images

He was confident — or arrogant, depending on the crowd — but inquisitive about himself and a world moving at warp speed. West seemed poised to carry rap into the next decade and beyond. And his music spoke louder than even he did. These were the pre-Tidal, pre-Apple Music, pre-Spotify US days. New albums leaked online roughly 10 to 14 days early, and it felt like blank CDs were single-handedly keeping places like Circuit City open. The summer-long wait for Graduation was an event itself, and “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and “Stronger” were the summer’s anthems.

With senior year washing ashore, and us thinking the world lay at our fingertips, hearing West’s defiant proclamations — Man, it’s so hard not to act reckless — were more a way of life than a hot single. Plus, we all knew Yeezy was good for a cohesive, intricate and beautifully sequenced album.

So when the word traveled, via text, Facebook and word-of-mouth, that the album had leaked, we all knew what to do.

Each person bring a pre-rolled jay — something to drink, too, and a stash for one more if the vibe called for it. (Spoiler: The vibe always called for one more.) None of the seven of us, roughly an even mixture of guys and girls who just loved chiefing and good music, believed we were doing anything illegal. We were college kids getting high and listening to great music — an American tradition if there ever was one.


You ever wonder what it all really mean?/ You wonder if you’ll ever find your dreams? — “I Wonder

In retrospect? We probably looked like the HBCU version of the cutaway scenes on That 70’s Show. Via nonverbal communication, we vibed out. I can’t forget what it felt like hearing “Good Life” for the first time. The Michael Jackson “P.Y.T.” sample is classic Kanye. But T-Pain’s outro — Is this good life better than the life I lived? / When I thought that I was gonna go crazy / And now my grandmamma/ Ain’t the only girl callin’ me baby — now that was a moment.

Rapper Kanye West performs onstage during the Hot 97 Summer Jam presented by Boost Mobile at Giants Stadium June 3, 2007 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Roger Kisby/Getty Images

“Flashing Lights” felt more like a movie than a song, and the hook from “Everything I Am” (Everything I’m not made me everything I am) became away messages on AOL Instant Messenger — they seemed like the world’s first tweets (Twitter technically existed then). And, in the moment, we didn’t know what to think about West’s ode to Jay-Z, “Big Brother.” We couldn’t see the joy of “Otis” yet. We couldn’t see how friendships sometimes go.

We ran West’s third effort back two or three times that night. The number of jays in rotation is lost to history, but the discussions following were incredible: Where does this place Kanye in terms of the game’s current greats? What is Kanye’s ceiling? And, of course, is anyone trying to order food? The Graduation listening session, at an off-campus apartment with smoke billowing from the screen door balcony, ranks as one of the most innocent moments of my entire college experience. We understood the magnitude of the senior year ahead of us, but what a time to be alive — just being there, in the moment.

That kind of innocence also applied to West. None of us, including West, knew it then, but life would forever change after that album. Most of us in that room graduated the following May and entered the “real world” just as the economy was diving into the worst pit since the Great Depression. Two months after Graduation’s release, West lost his combination best friend/mother, Donda West, who died as a result of complications from cosmetic surgery.

Donda West and Kanye West

Johnny Nunez/WireImage

By April 2008, Kanye West and then-fiancée Alexis Phifer called off their engagement. West secluded himself as he prepared for his celebrated Glow In The Dark Tour (with Lupe Fiasco opening, and N.E.R.D. and Rihanna on the bill as well). Within months, West lost the first woman he ever loved and had broken up with the one who was by his side when it happened.

The summer-long wait for Graduation was an event itself, and “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and “Stronger” were the summer’s anthems.

By 2009 he was running up on stage interrupting Taylor Swift and then escaping to Hawaii. So now what? It’s a question we both had to face. A question that would haunt us both. Where West fled to the islands to create new music, I fled to Georgetown University. Not necessarily because I wanted to go back to school, but it provided an escape and a way for me to think I wasn’t just wasting my time working dead-end jobs in the restaurant and retail industries. In college, it’s customary to think “graduation, job.” That’s embedded in your head since high school, if not earlier. But by ’09, the economy had completely tanked. Some of us had jobs, more of us didn’t. A lot of us were living at our parents’ homes, humbled by bedrooms we grew up in. Applying for jobs was no more than uploading resumes into a digital Bermuda Triangle: CVs were never heard from again. About the only positive from that year was the Obama family in the White House.

By 2012, the Obamas had returned for an encore. West held his first ready-to-wear show, married Kim Kardashian in Florence, Italy (as featured on special episodes of Keeping Up With the Kardashians), and captured Grammys with Jay-Z for 2011’s “N—as in Paris,” which sold 5 million copies alone. The recession apparently ended in late 2009. Some of us moved to new cities to chase original dreams. Some did OK. More were left wondering when and how the sleepless nights, rejection letters and no callbacks would be worth the heartbreaks.

Kanye West attends the Louise Goldin fashion show during MADE Fashion Week Spring 2014 at Milk Studios on September 7, 2013 in New York City.

Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images

And West’s celebrity increased. As he continued to search for peace in his, we searched for our own. At what point is sacrifice for a dream worth the pain? And at what costs do dreams become real? Life after Graduation, figuratively and literally, came with no road map.


Kanye West in 2017 is of course different from the one who created his own Graduation 10 years ago Monday. We all lose our innocence — it’s what happens if you’re blessed to live long enough.

West has a son and a daughter now (and another baby girl on the way carried by a surrogate) and is married to a mob. With Yeezy, he doubled down his dream of being a fashion innovator and changed for the better the fortunes of Adidas. West and Jay-Z aren’t on speaking terms in part because of West’s unpredictability. West’s life has become progressively more discombobulated: Paparazzi rants. Calling out Jay-Z at his shows. Blasting Wiz Khalifa in Twitter rants. Shaming ex-girlfriend Amber Rose. Supporting Trump. The hospitalization. But the three albums that follow Graduation — 808s & Heartbreaks, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Watch The Throne — still get burn.

The few from that original Graduation-day cypher who I keep in touch with have gone on to find some sort of peace in life, even in these times. We remain connected to Graduation because it helped define us with its unabashed confidence and unfiltered vulnerability. That’s what West represented perhaps more than any artist at that time. Volatile, charming and impulsive, he was rap’s most astute mama’s boy — and its most massively sensitive Gemini since Tupac Shakur. West’s waves not only topped charts and made headlines but also stirred emotions on a deeply personal level.

I know people wouldn’t usually rap this/ But I got the facts to back this / Just last year, Chicago had over 600 caskets / Man, killing’s some wack s—/ Oh, I forgot, ’cept when n—as is rappin’ / Do you know what it feel like when people is passin’?

We laugh about the cypher during Hampton homecoming weekends. But we also talk about how it doesn’t seem like West has found any peace. I don’t know. But I do know his mother was an integral part of the making of his first three albums — of the “old Kanye” he rapped about on last year’s entertaining, uneven The Life of Pablo. According to bereavement expert Phyllis R. Silverman, we lose not only the person who has died but also a relationship and the sense of self that existed in that relationship. It could be that West is searching for a sound that no longer exists because a large part of the inspiration for that sound no longer exists.

We remain connected to Graduation because it helped define us with its unabashed confidence and unfiltered vulnerability.

A couple of months ago, around the time West was seen chopping it up with Donald Trump, I had a conversation with a homey from that Graduation cypher. “I can’t believe this n—- is rocking blond hair now. … I wasted good weed on this dude,” he told me. “But I really believe this all boils down to his mom’s passing. He never took the time to cry, it seems.”

I mostly remember Graduation as the last album Donda West heard. The closest West’s come to addressing the effects of his mother’s death, and his burden living with it, came on 2015’s “Only One” — the meaning of his birth name. I can’t help but hear Graduation songs in “Only One.” If for no other reason than the 2007 Kanye could have never believed he’d have to make that song.

Positioned as an open letter to Kanye and Kim’s daughter, North, from her grandmother Donda, the record is a very specific emotional canvas of the pain Kanye carries. I talked to God about you/ He said he sent you an angel / And look at all that he gave you, Kanye sings. You asked for one and you got two / You know I never left you / ’Cause every road that leads to heaven’s right inside you. Playing the record back, with North sitting on his lap, Kanye couldn’t recall singing the words. He came to the conclusion that the words didn’t come from him, but through him. “My mom was singing to me,” he said, “and through me, to my daughter.”

It’s this burden, and this pursuit of peace, that Kanye Omari West has been living with since Graduation. In 2015, he said his biggest sacrifice was his mom. “If I had never moved to L.A., she’d be alive,” he told the U.K. music magazine Q. “I don’t want to go far into it because it will bring me to tears.”

That’s what Graduation means. It’s not just the album itself and some of the greatest songs he’s ever recorded that live on there, and how we were higher than telephone wires that late summer night. It’s not just how Graduation accurately reflected a period when so many of us believed we had life under control — and then we didn’t. Life happens. We found out the hard way, after graduation. Kanye, too, found out after Graduation.