I’ve got a new NFL catch rule: ‘2-Feet-Plus Rule’ Go ahead, National Football League, steal this great idea

NBC color commentator Cris Collinsworth, during the broadcast of the Super Bowl last month, told an audience of 103.4 million people that he couldn’t explain the NFL’s catch rule. A league flailing for years at defining what constitutes a catch has reached an impasse and now confronts a dilemma: When those entrusted with the duty of interpreting the game for viewers openly admit their inability to do so, someone has failed.

In this case, it’s someones: the NFL’s decision-makers. They need to put forward a definition of a catch that announcers can articulate, fans can understand, referees can evenly enforce and players can tailor their behavior toward.

League commissioner Roger Goodell understands the league must correct the issue, saying the matter has left him “concerned.” And, equally important, he appreciates that the league should create a new rule instead of fixing the old one, saying, per NFL.com, “From our standpoint, I would like to start back, instead of adding to the rule, subtracting the rule. Start over again and look at the rule fundamentally from the start.” Reports surfaced a few weeks ago that the NFL competition committee is investigating alternate rules; thus, we should expect to see the league enforcing a different catch rule next season.

When people malign the current NFL catch rule, three plays ruled non-catches inevitably dominate the discussion:

  • Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson’s non-catch in 2010 against the Chicago Bears;
  • Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant’s non-catch against the Green Bay Packers in the 2014-15 playoffs;
  • Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James’ non-catch against the New England Patriots during the 2017 regular season.

These plays, nearly everyone agrees, should have been ruled catches, and whatever rule the NFL devises should also come to that conclusion.

I think I have the solution, what I’ll call the “2-Feet-Plus Rule”: A catch is completed when a player catches the ball and gets both feet down, plus another action. Here is a list of the other actions that satisfy the “plus” requirement: body part, football move, controlled reach, or catcher sustains possession of the ball when going to the ground. I’m open to adding to this list.

A few explanations or caveats:

  • A knee or body part equals two feet as always.
  • This is a sequential rule, meaning one must get two feet down (or body part) then the plus must occur. So if a player gets one foot down, then a knee, the sequence starts with the knee and the foot doesn’t satisfy the plus requirement.
  • If the sequence starts with a body part first, neither another body part nor a foot can satisfy the plus requirement (unless the player stands up). The player must maintain possession of the ball or perform a controlled reach.

Calvin Johnson’s play

Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (81) is unable to maintain possession of a ball in the end zone while defended by Chicago Bears cornerback Zack Bowman (35) during the second half at Soldier Field. The Chicago Bears defeated the Detroit Lions 19-14.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Johnson jumps up for the ball and comes down on both feet, satisfying the two feet portion of the sequence. Then he falls down on his left hip, satisfying the plus portion and completing the catch. That he loses the ball afterward means nothing. The catch and touchdown stand. This is a catch under the 2-Feet-Plus Rule.

Dez Bryant’s play

Dez Bryant #88 of the Dallas Cowboys attempts a catch over Sam Shields #37 of the Green Bay Packers during the 2015 NFC Divisional Playoff game at Lambeau Field on January 11, 2015 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Initially ruled a catch, the call was reversed upon review.

Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

Here, Bryant catches the ball then gets two feet down, satisfying the two feet portion. Then, he gets a foot down again, completing the sequence. For good measure, his forearm strikes the turf, then performs a controlled reach. He obviously completes the catch under the 2-Feet-Plus Rule.

Jesse James’ play

New England Patriots Devin McCourty (32) and Duron Harmon (30) look for a call after Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James, left, lunged over the goal line during the fourth quarter of a game against the New England Patriots at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pa., Dec. 17, 2017. After official review, it was ruled an incomplete pass.

Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Here, James gets a knee down, satisfying the two feet portion of the sequence. Then, with the ball fully under control, James performs a controlled reach toward the goal line, satisfying the “plus” portion and thereby completing the catch before the ball comes free. This is a catch under the 2-Feet-Plus Rule.

I think the 2-Feet-Plus Rule solves the NFL’s problem. It’s easy to communicate — Collinsworth wouldn’t have stuttered and stammered trying to explain this during the league’s showcase game — and the rule, if enforced, would have resulted in a catch for three of the most obvious blown calls in the past few years.

The NFL is commonly called a copycat league. Go ahead, NFL, steal this.

Former Nike designer focuses on youths with launch of new footwear line Jason Mayden walked away from his 14-year-career to invest in what really matters to him

Designer Jason Mayden had his dream job.

As the lead designer at Nike’s Jordan Brand, Mayden spent long days and nights researching and designing some of the brand’s top shoes for its most popular athletes. But 13½ years into his tenure, Mayden decided it was time to serve a much larger purpose — and a brand of his own. After walking away from a fruitful career at Nike, it was time to direct his attention to and invest in today’s youths. Mayden put his own skills to use as CEO of Super Heroic, a comfortable and affordable footwear line designed to inspire children “to discover new places and hold on to that invincible feeling of play.” Mayden was determined to design shoes that were not only comfortable for children but also unleash creativity and inspire physical movement and imaginative play.

“The response [to Super Heroic] has been exceptionally well,” Mayden said. “Everyone says, ‘Hey, my kids love the shoes.’ They’re so comfortable. We get a lot of videos and photos of kids running and declaring that they’re superheroes and parents smiling and laughing and interacting. That’s exactly what we designed the product to do.”

The inspiration for the brand stemmed from not only Mayden’s love for superheroes but also Mayden’s son, who struggled with his own body image issues. One night, Mayden returned home to his wife and kids after a long work trip, only to discover his son sulking in the bathroom. There he stood staring at himself in the mirror, shirtless and crying.

“He hated his body. He hated who he was and didn’t want to go to school the next day,” Mayden said.

Right then and there, Mayden’s decision was made. As much as he loved his job and working with athletes, Mayden believed his family needed him more.

“There’s no way in hell I’d be able to go into work tomorrow and not feel some type of way about [my son’s situation],” Mayden said. “I walked through the door the next day and I quit. The most important job for me is to be a good father and a good husband.”

Although Super Heroic has opened many more opportunities for Mayden, the knowledge, wisdom and skills the 37-year-old learned during his time at Nike have been essential to the success of his own business.

Mayden always had a knack for art and innovation. By the time he was 7, Mayden was airbrushing, drawing names in bubble letters, imagining his own designs and sketching pictures of cartoon characters. An avid reader of comic books, Mayden was drawn to Lucius Fox, who supported his friend and ally Batman through many of his daily activities, including designing and supplying gadgets and technology for the superhero. Mayden likened himself to Fox, in a way.

“My whole career of wanting to work with athletes was driven by me wanting to design products for Batman,” Mayden said. “So, of course, the closest one to me [growing up in Chicago] at that time was Michael Jordan.”

But Mayden and his family weren’t exactly sure he’d live long enough to see that dream come to fruition.

When Mayden was 7, he experienced symptoms of a common cold, or perhaps the flu. The family couldn’t be sure since the diagnosis changed with every doctor’s visit. Each time, Mayden and his parents were sent home. Each time, Mayden grew more ill.

“When they finally rushed me to the hospital and identified what it was, it was at a critical point. I remember drifting in and out of consciousness and listening to these discussions [of my situation].”

The official diagnosis was confirmed. Mayden was battling septicemia, a bacterial infection that sends bacteria and toxins into the bloodstream and through the entire body if left untreated. Because the infection was misdiagnosed so many times, doctors moved swiftly to do what they could to save Mayden. Treatments had begun, but at such a critical stage, there was no guarantee that any of the medications would help. Aware of how serious the situation was, the 7-year-old Mayden seemed to be the only calm one through it all. Death may have been imminent, but there were things far more important than the fight for his life.

“Honestly, I was at peace with whatever the outcome would be,” Mayden said. “Would I be able to go to school tomorrow to get my Easter candy? That’s all I was focused on: seeing my friends and getting Easter candy. I needed to get my gummy bears.”

Fortunately for Mayden, treatments were working. Doctors began seeing progress, and he was eventually discharged from the hospital. The situation, as scary as it was, inspired Mayden’s response to life’s challenges — one he continues to live by.

“At 7 years old, I realized my life wasn’t finished,” Mayden said. “When I was in the hospital and I heard people discussing my mortality — if I could make it, if I would be alive, if I would be OK — I knew that I would not let my life be defined by if because it’s always will. I will be OK, I will get to Nike, I will persist, I will achieve my goals and dreams. It was the decision I made to never let an if determine my outcome. My parents always joke that I became an adult in that moment. I’ve been moving at a thousand miles per hour since then.”

Mayden continued to grow stronger and fall even deeper into his own creativity. He knew he loved to draw, and he entertained the idea of making a career of it. Becoming a designer wasn’t a thought that crossed his mind, only because he didn’t know much about the industry.

“I was an artist and a creative, but I didn’t know that I wanted to be a designer,” Mayden said. “I’d never heard that word. I knew nothing about industrial design. It just really came to a head when I went to an auto show and I saw these products that people made. I wondered how they did that. It was my senior year in high school when I learned about industrial design. It changed my life when I heard that phrase.”

Mayden went on to study industrial design at College for Creative Studies in Detroit. While there, Mayden began forming a master plan to get to Nike. He advocated for himself. He wrote letters and called 800 numbers that were printed to the backs of shoeboxes. He found names from newspaper clippings and dialed the customer service lines pretending to be their relatives. Although he didn’t get a job offer, he did receive free stickers and posters. Eventually, he lucked up and found a recruiter during his freshman year in college. She informed him that internship requests were received all the time and encouraged him to keep applying. Mayden took her advice and submitted his application and portfolio and kept in touch, only to be rejected twice.

“When people tell me no, I just take it to mean yes,” Mayden said. “It just means no, not right now, not no forever. And my grandmother always taught me that delayed doesn’t mean denied. Even during those dark moments, it was my family and my faith in God that kept me going. Even when Nike rejected me, I told them I’d be back.”

Mayden kept applying, and on his third try, the then-19-year-old was accepted into a rotational program where his first job was to design branding, logos and graphics for Virginia Tech football phenom Michael Vick. Mayden’s work with Vick and the Nike Air Monarchs gained the attention and respect of higher-ups who wanted to keep the young designer on board.

Two years later, with the help of Nike senior designer Wilson Smith, Mayden was brought on as a member of the Jordan Brand and thrown his first project: designing a shoe for New York Yankees legend Derek Jeter.

“Derek Jeter was my real-life Batman,” Mayden said. “I’m a kid who was given the responsibility to design a shoe for one of my heroes. I was so nervous. He was the ultimate gentleman, the ultimate coach, and encouraged me to try my best and have fun.

“We would walk to restaurants and he would stop and sign every autograph of every person and take every picture. He would say hello to everyone — from the hot dog vendor to the person selling newspapers. I’d never seen anything like it.”

Studying the interactions of Jeter and other athletes allowed Mayden to be more creative and give their shoes more personality. Mayden also kept consumers and fans in mind during the process.

“I care about the first time a person experiences my products, and that’s why that unboxing experience is so unique because somewhere, somebody is opening that package for the first time,” Mayden said. “I want to make sure it’s magical and amazing, and I want it to live up to the hype.

“I value storytelling and how people interact. Spending time and watching athletes and how they prepare is a lot of my process. I’m constantly consuming information and challenging my own way of thinking. If I can assess my weaknesses while leaning on my strengths, I can prepare for what’s next.”

The experiences from Nike and now Super Heroic are what drive Mayden to keep going. Making a difference in the lives of kids and parents across the country remains the goal — even when things can be a bit overwhelming. “There are times I feel tired and feeling like I need a mental break, then I’m reminded quickly that what we do really does matter,” Mayden said. “People have been very supportive and very encouraging.”

Mayden hopes that anyone who becomes frustrated along life’s journey continues to keep pushing. In the end, it’s all worth it.

“To anyone who feels their dreams are invalid or impossible, I encourage them to just keep going because no one can do anything great in life by doubting themselves because of their experiences,” Mayden said. “Who you are, where you come from, what you look like, your gender, your age, your sexual orientation — none of that matters. Your dreams are valid.”

The Stop: Racial profiling of drivers leaves legacy of anger and fear From ministers to pro athletes, they all get pulled over for “Driving While Black”

An idyllic afternoon of Little League baseball followed by pizza and Italian ice turned harrowing when two police officers in Bridgeport, Connecticut, stopped Woodrow Vereen Jr. for driving through a yellow light.

A music minister at his church, Vereen struggled to maintain eye contact with his young sons as one of the officers instructed Vereen, who is black, to get out of the car and lean over the trunk, and then patted him down. Vereen could see tears welling in the eyes of his 7- and 3-year-old sons as they peered through the rear window. He cringed as folks at a nearby bus stop watched one of the officers look through his car.

He never consented to the 2015 search, which turned up nothing illegal. The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut sued on behalf of Vereen, alleging that police searched him without probable cause. Last year, two years after the incident, he received a settlement from the city. His tickets — for running a light and not carrying proof of insurance — were dismissed.

Yet the stop lives with him.

Traffic stops — the most common interaction between police and the public — have become a focal point in the debate about race, law enforcement, and equality in America. A disproportionate share of the estimated 20 million police traffic stops in the United States each year involve black drivers, even though they are no more likely to break traffic laws than whites. Black and Hispanic motorists are more likely than whites to be searched by police, although they are no more likely to be carrying contraband.

Across the country, law-abiding black and Hispanic drivers are left frightened and humiliated by the inordinate attention they receive from police, who too often see them as criminals. Such treatment leaves blacks and Hispanics feeling violated, angry, and wary of police and their motives.

“You’re pulled over simply for no other reason than you fit a description and the description is that you’re black.”

Activists have taken to the streets to protest police shootings of unarmed black people. Athletes, including NFL players, have knelt or raised clenched fists during the singing of the national anthem at sports events to try to shine a light on lingering inequality.

Vereen had always told his children that the police were real-life superheroes. Now that story had to change. “Everything I told them seems to be untrue,” said Vereen, 34. “Why is this superhero trying to hurt my dad? Why is this superhero doing this to us? He is supposed to be on our side.”

The first time my now-28-year-old son was stopped by police, he was a high school student in Baltimore. He was headed to a barbershop when he was startled by flashing lights and the sight of two police cars pulling up behind him. The stop lasted just a few minutes and resulted in no ticket. It seems the cops just wanted to check him out. My son’s fear morphed into indignation when an officer returned his license, saying, “A lot of vehicles like yours are stolen.” He was driving a Honda Civic, one of the most popular cars on the road.

“A very familiar feeling comes each time I’m stopped. And that’s the same feeling I got the first time I was stopped, when I was 17 years old.”

Shaken by cases in which seemingly routine traffic stops turn deadly, many black parents rehearse with their children what to do if they are pulled over: Lower your car window so officers have a clear line of sight, turn on the interior lights, keep your hands visible, have your license and registration accessible, and for God’s sake, let the officer know you are reaching for them so he doesn’t shoot you.

Drivers of all races worry about running afoul of the rules of the road. But blacks and Hispanics, in particular, also worry about being stopped if they are driving a nice car in a modest or upscale community, a raggedy car in a mostly white one, or any kind of car in a high-crime area. It affects everyone, from ministers and professional athletes to lawyers and the super-rich.

“It’s been more times than I care to remember,” said Robert F. Smith, 55, a private equity titan and philanthropist, when asked how often he thinks he has been racially profiled. Smith, with a net worth of more than $3 billion, is listed by Forbes as the nation’s wealthiest African-American. Yet he still dreads being pulled over.

“A very familiar feeling comes each time I’m stopped,” he said. “And that’s the same feeling I got the first time I was stopped, when I was 17 years old.”

Rosie Villegas-Smith, a Mexican-born U.S. citizen who has lived in Phoenix for 28 years, has been stopped a couple of times by Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies, who are notorious for using allegations of minor traffic violations to check the immigration status of Hispanic drivers.

In 2011 federal investigators found that the department pulled over Hispanic drivers up to nine times more often than other motorists. The stops were part of a crackdown on undocumented immigrants ordered by Joe Arpaio, the Maricopa County sheriff from 1993 to 2016.

Courts ruled the stops illegal, but Arpaio pressed ahead and was found guilty of criminal contempt in July 2017. President Donald Trump — who has stoked racial tensions by bashing immigrants, protesting athletes, and others — pardoned Arpaio the following month. Arpaio recently announced plans to run for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

The statistics on traffic stops elsewhere are spotty — neither uniformly available nor comprehensive — but they show the same pattern of blacks and Hispanics being stopped and searched more frequently than others. The disparity spans the nation, affecting drivers in urban, suburban, and rural areas. Men are more at risk than women, and for black men, being disproportionately singled out is virtually a universal experience.

A 2017 study in Connecticut, one of the few states that collect and analyze comprehensive traffic-stop data, found that police disproportionately pull over black and Hispanic drivers during daylight hours, when officers can more easily see who is behind the wheel. Many police departments have policies and training to prevent racial profiling, but those rules can get lost in day-to-day police work.

“One reason minorities are stopped disproportionately is because police see violations where they are,” said Louis Dekmar, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, who runs the Police Department in LaGrange, Georgia. “Crime is often significantly higher in minority neighborhoods than elsewhere. And that is where we allocate our resources. That is the paradox.”

Too often, officers treat minorities driving in mostly white areas as suspect, Dekmar said. “It’s wrong, and there is no excuse for that,” he said.

“I felt embarrassed. Emasculated. I felt absolutely like I had no rights.”

Robert L. Wilkins was a public defender in 1992 when he and several family members were stopped by a Maryland state trooper while returning to Washington, D.C., from his grandfather’s funeral in Chicago. The trooper accused them of speeding, then asked to search their rented Cadillac. “If you’ve got nothing to hide, then what’s your problem?” the trooper said when they objected to the search on principle.

The trooper made them wait for a drug-sniffing dog. As Wilkins and his family stood on the side of the highway, a German shepherd sniffed “seemingly every square inch of the car’s exterior,” Wilkins recalled. Before long, there were five or six police cars around them. At one point, Wilkins, now a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, noticed a white couple and their two children staring as they rode by. He imagined that they thought the worst: “They’re putting two and two together and getting five,” he said. “They see black people and they’re thinking, ‘These are bad people.’ ”

Wilkins filed a class-action suit alleging an illegal search and racial profiling, and the state of Maryland settled, largely because of an unearthed police document that had warned troopers to be on the lookout for black men in rental cars, who were suspected of ferrying crack cocaine. The settlement required state police to keep statistics on the race and ethnicity of drivers who were stopped. A second suit forced police to revamp their complaint system. Those changes brought some improvement, and racial disparities in traffic stops in Maryland were cut in half.

What lingers, though, is the indignity and anger that drivers feel over being singled out. “There’s a power that they want to exert, that you have to experience. And what do you do about it?” Smith said. “There’s an embedded terror in our community, and that’s just wrong.”

About this story: The Undefeated teamed up with National Geographic to ask people of color across the U.S. what it’s like to be racially profiled during a traffic stop, and the ripple effect such incidents can have on families and communities. This report also appears in the April issue of National Geographic Magazine and online at natgeo.com/theraceissue.

The Disney Dreamers Academy gets a dose of life-changing Day two was a moment of self-discovery for the kids

ORLANDO, Fla. — When 17-year-old Chloe Russell’s eyes met those of 41-year-old motivational speaker Jonathan Sprinkles, she felt an instant connection. Standing atop a stage, Sprinkles captivates the student athlete. She could relate, especially his testimony of watching his father deal with cancer.

Like Sprinkles, Russell is watching her father — the same man who was her basketball and volleyball coach for years, along with her mother — deal with the disease.

“Mr. Jonathan Sprinkles, his speech was amazing,” Russell said. “It hit a lot of points related to my life. I actually have a dad that’s at home battling cancer. He really touched my soul with his experience of having a father that passed away to the disease.”

Disney Dreamer Chloe Russell

Kelley Evans/The Undefeated

Russell is part of the group of 100 participants in the 2018 Disney Dreamers Academy with Steve Harvey and Essence magazine. And on Friday, she and her fellow Dreamers were part of an experience that included tips for life transformation all centered on the theme of the four-day-long event: “Be100.”

“I heard about the Dreamers Academy through my mom,” Russell said. “My mom encouraged me to sign up.”

The 16-year-old is a senior at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis. She overcame an ACL injury and harbors a passion for social justice as a member of her school’s Undoing Racism team. A volleyball and basketball player and track athlete, Russell is a 4A volleyball state champion. She plans to major in health sciences and minoring in Spanish, with aspirations to become a doctor of osteopathic medicine with her own practice.

“I think the whole Disney Dreamers is just an awesome experience. This is such a great opportunity. I’m super grateful and ready to Be100,” Russell said.

“My ACL injury changed my life the most out of almost any other experience because I tore it my freshman year, playing basketball trying to save a ball that went out of bounds,” Russell said. “That forced me to look towards other alternatives, such as diversity initiatives and social justice. I’m huge on that aspect. The ACL tear and recovery was a real setback for me, and I went through the strenuous recovery and I got the opportunity to compete for a state champion title my junior year for volleyball. It made me change my path toward not playing basketball anymore and focus on volleyball.”

For Sprinkles, pouring himself into the support of others is more than a full-time passion and commitment. He’s championed the session for the Dreamers for 10 of the 11 years that Disney Dreamers Academy has existed.

“It does replenish me,” Sprinkles told The Undefeated. “Talking to them, sharing with them, seeing their look in their eyes. I got to see something that you didn’t. I get to look in their eyes and see the lights come on, and when it all comes together it’s something special because they now see, ‘You know what, I deserve this. I do have a place at the table.’ And when you see that, that’s the payment. To me this means I get to do for them what was done for me, which is have somebody speak into my life and show me that I can do it.

“The fact that I get to be a voice and I have the honor worth having them believe me, that’s a privilege. It something I look forward to every single year because it’s just something different here. The fact that I get to be a part of it, I’m winning. I feel undefeated myself.”

One by one, at the conclusion of Sprinkles’ interactive discussion, the Dreamers voiced their takeaways from his speech.

“Never tell your life story from the perspective of the victim.”

“I am enough.”

“The more you say it, the truer it becomes.”

“Doubt unlocks determination, but pain unlocks your life.”

“Instead of trying to have likes, be a light.”

“That place in which you were hurt the most reveals the people you have been called to help the most.”

“Find a way to rise above it, find a way out.”

Sprinkles, standing in amazement, told the students that they summed up everything better than he could.

Hudson Osborne was also motivated by Sprinkles’ address. On day two of the event, Osborne feels he’s in the right place at the right time.

“I was online going through programs I wanted to do so I wouldn’t be stuck in school all the time, and I found Disney Dreamers,” Osborne said. “It’s an amazing experience. I was always told I was a good writer, but I never believed it. So for it to really come to life like this is showing me that I can really do a lot with just my writing. I can really achieve that I never really thought that I could see.”

The 15-year-old is a ninth grader at San Lorenzo High in California.

“I play on the football and basketball team. I enjoy speech and debate, also criminal justice,” he said.

As part of his admissions packet, Osborne wrote that “my dreams are to one day become the Secretary of Defense for the United States government and with much more hard work and dedication become President of the United States.”

Those big dreams are in line with the mission of the Disney Dreamers Academy, and day two for the Dreamers is more than in the books — it’s part of students’ newly transformed minds.

Clarence Beavers, last surviving member of the first black paratroop unit, dies at 96 The groundbreaking WWII program helped end segregation in the military

Clarence Hylan Beavers, the last surviving member of a pioneering “test platoon” during World War II who helped end segregation in the military, died Dec. 4 at 96 at his home in Huntington, New York.

Beavers, who originally enlisted at 17 in the New York National Guard’s famous Harlem Hellfighters after working a series of odd jobs during the Great Depression, was later drafted after America’s entry into the war in 1941. He was eventually assigned to a maintenance unit before volunteering for a groundbreaking new program designed to test the feasibility of blacks as airborne soldiers: elite combat troops trained to parachute directly into battle whose courage and tenacious fighting spirit were second to none. Consisting of a group of 17 volunteer soldiers, the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, known as the Triple Nickles, formed the core of America’s first black paratroop unit.

“It was hard,” Beavers told me in 2012 about the rigorous training and the racism the test platoon endured while vying to become the Army’s first black paratroopers. “Many white folks at the time, including some who were training us, were betting we wouldn’t make it, but we proved them wrong.”

Beavers, who was born in Harlem, New York, on June 12, 1921, was the 15th of 16 children to parents who fled the South before he was born in order to escape racism. His maternal grandfather was an escaped slave who served in the Union Army during the Civil War. His brother, Leo Beavers, also served in the Army during World War II.

Because of segregation, black soldiers were initially prohibited from serving in combat and often relegated to support units performing menial jobs. Yet, midway through the war, the military reversed itself and made plans to form an all-black, experimental infantry airborne unit. It was while serving as a maintenance supply sergeant that Beavers first learned of the Army’s plan when he came across a recruitment poster and became the Triple Nickles’ first volunteer.

“I was excited about the idea of becoming a paratrooper. It was a chance to prove I could do more than just work in a support role,” Beavers said.

However, black paratroopers at the time were so rare that when he reported for training at the Army’s Parachute School in Fort Benning, Georgia, his commanding officer and the white soldiers stationed there were shocked to see him. It would be nearly a year before there were enough soldiers to form a unit and begin training in December 1943.

As Beavers recalled, conditions were hardly equal between the two groups.

“They made us go through a side door at the mess hall at mealtime, and we had to sit at a separate table and wait for our food to be brought to us. We weren’t allowed to mix with the white soldiers even though we were all there for the same training.” And while white trainees lived in comfortable, well-heated, spacious barracks, Beavers added, “They crammed us all into a drafty little hut.”

Of the original 20 who volunteered, 17 successfully completed their training. Beavers told a Long Island newspaper in 2004 that the Nickles expected to be sent to combat in Europe afterward, but when the war suddenly ended there the unit was shipped to the West Coast on a classified mission.

Although he never did come under direct enemy fire during his service with the 555th, Beavers became a smoke jumper, parachuting into remote, forested areas of the Pacific Northwest to fight wildfires as part of a highly secret mission known as Operation Firefly. The mission’s primary goal, which was kept secret from the public for fear of causing panic, was for the Nickles to work with the U.S. Forest Service to suppress any forest fires caused by large, incendiary balloon bombs launched from Japan against North America, and to recover and destroy any of the bombs they found. Of the estimated 10,000 balloon bombs that were dispatched from Asia, about 1,000 eventually reached the U.S. and Canada. In one instance one of the devices almost caused a major catastrophe when it damaged the Hanford Engineer Works reactor in Washington state, effectively shutting down power to the plant where plutonium was being processed for atomic weapons as part of the infamous Manhattan Project. In Oregon, one balloon bomb caused the only known WWII enemy-inflicted fatalities on mainland North America when it exploded at ground level, killing a minister’s pregnant wife and five children who were picnicking in the forest.

In all, the Triple Nickles — spelled in old English and so nicknamed because of the unit’s numerical designation and because the test platoon’s original volunteers were primarily selected from the 92nd Infantry (Buffalo) Division, derived from the 5-cent coin — participated in more than 36 fire missions involving more than 1,200 individual jumps from C-47 military transport planes. Their only protection from the heavily timbered areas they routinely parachuted into were converted football helmets. Over the course of the five-month-long mission the unit suffered hundreds of casualties, with one fatality when a young paratrooper fell to his death after landing in some trees. Beavers himself suffered a serious back injury during one jump that would end his tenure as a paratrooper and lead to his eventual discharge in 1945. He went on to work for the Veterans Administration and later the Defense Department, eventually retiring in 1978.

After a 1948 executive order from President Harry S. Truman to integrate the military, the 555th was deactivated and became part of the 82nd Airborne Division.

The Nickles received little recognition until 2010, when Beavers and two since-deceased members of the original test platoon were finally acknowledged for their service in a special ceremony at the Pentagon.

“Even though he never did get the chance to fight overseas, Clarence was proud of his time with the Nickles,” said Beavers’ wife of 59 years, Edolene. “He figured through his service, by doing his part, eventually things would change for the better for all black people.”

‘The Quad’ recap: GAMU students get a peek at what a merger really means Doing what’s right isn’t always easy, and Eva Fletcher is learning that the hard way

Season two, episode 6 — The Quad: March

If we thought rumors of a Georgia A&M University merger had finally been settled, this week’s episode is here to remind us just how angry students are on both sides.

Eva Fletcher has been doing everything in her power to keep GAMU’s legacy alive, but during breakfast with her daughter Sydney, Fletcher told her that she would be speaking to the president of Atlanta State University later in the day. In the background, Fletcher’s anxiety medication remains visible, which causes Sydney to worry. Fletcher convinces her daughter that better days are ahead for the school and her mental health. At least, that’s what she hopes.

Back on campus, students already had planned a protest, but with the new information from Sydney, a busload of students packed up their protest and brought it to ASU, where the two presidents were in the middle of discussing a plan that would work best for everyone involved. What they hadn’t expected was a counterprotest from a small group of alt-right activists, which turned violent once GAMU students were told to go back to where they belong. Punches were thrown, and Madison Kelly was struck with a glass bottle. Both presidents were alerted to the chaotic scene outside. The only way GAMU students would return to campus was if Fletcher rode the bus with them, a suggestion from Cedric Hobbs.

Although Sydney Fletcher’s relationship with her mother and her best friend, Kelly, had been warped, the trying times have brought them all closer together. Later in the episode, Sydney explains to her mother that GAMU’s support system, especially after her rape, has brought a new perspective. Sydney’s words of encouragement and support for her university may even serve as motivation for Fletcher to keep GAMU independent.

Back on campus, the newly pledged men of Sigma Mu Kappa are in the dorms celebrating. An elated Bryce Richardson can hardly contain himself, while his new line brother and roommate Hobbs still can’t quite understand the hype. This alone causes him to be an outcast among his other frat brothers, especially since they believe special privileges allowed him to join the line so late.

In reality, Hobbs is being forced into this brotherhood as a favor to Richardson. Although being a Sigma Mu Kappa man is Richardson’s family legacy, Hobbs has gained respect from some of his prophytes because of his leadership skills, which isn’t sitting too well with Richardson.

In a separate plotline, BoJohn Folsom is still recovering after being jumped by the friends of the high school football recruit aiming to take Folsom’s spot. His concerned teammate and roommate, Junior, has been trying, but a frustrated Folsom has been ornery. The real problem might stem from Folsom’s lack of communication with their third Musketeer, Tiesha, who has been ignoring him since their argument over her flirting with another guy. The two still haven’t spoken since the party, and Junior has been trying to play peacemaker until a later conversation revealed that Folsom and Tiesha had been more than friends. Junior, still processing the information, isn’t sure whether he’s more shocked or hurt that his two best friends hadn’t been truthful with him. With Folsom and Tiesha’s “situationship,” it’s apparent that Tiesha might not have wanted to commit to Folsom because he is white. Instead of talking things out, Tiesha leaves Folsom, adding another layer of complexity to their confusing relationship.

Folsom and Tiesha aren’t the only ones with relationship problems.

Somehow, Hobbs continues to land himself in hot water with every woman he meets. Hobbs, who is still dealing with the death of his first girlfriend and the fresh breakup from his last, thought it’d be a good idea to sleep with his best friend, Ebonie Weaver, before flirting with another one of his peers. Although Weaver wasn’t initially truthful about her feelings for Hobbs, Noni Williams made it clear to Hobbs that their hookup meant more to Weaver than just sex. Hobbs goes to Weaver’s room to try to clear things up and finds that Williams was telling the truth. Weaver does have deeper feelings for her best friend than she’d let on. Before Hobbs could show her that he shares the same feelings, he was interrupted by his roommate.

The two have been summoned by their fraternity and end up being punished for Hobbs breaking code earlier in the day. Hobbs, Richardson and their line brothers end up blindfolded and wearing nothing but their boxers in the middle of the woods. The show ends with the young men trying to find their way out of the woods after their prophytes leave them stranded — something Hobbs continues to struggle with and may end up speaking out against in the future.

In Big Boi’s new role on ‘The Quad,’ art imitates life He’s also in the remake of ‘Super Fly,’ which hits theaters in June

BET’s The Quad is off to a star-studded start in season two. Besides ’90s black sitcom favorites — including RonReaco Lee, Sheryl Lee Ralph and Terrence “T.C.” Carson — the show has kept it local by getting Georgia’s very own Antwan “Big Boi” Patton.

Big Boi plays the role of Lenny Jenkins, the father of a standout high school football recruit who he hopes will become a star at Georgia A&M University. Accepting the role was a no-brainer: In real life, Patton is the father of Cross Patton, a high school football recruit whose accomplishments Big Boi frequently shares with his followers on Twitter. Getting into the role of Jenkins was an easy transition — except for the obnoxious tendencies of the character.

“I’m not really an obnoxious guy,” Big Boi said. “I’m really kind of laid-back and cool, but I brought him out though. [This role] was kind of like a period-piece version of my life. This right here is current-day and what I do all the time. I’ve been going to my kids’ football games since they were like 5 years old, and been raising them up and things like that. It wasn’t a far stretch.

“I think I add a lot of me into it. I grew up around a lot of different characters,” Big Boi said. “I was the first grandchild, so I had a lot of uncles and aunties and neighbors and older people who babysat me. It was people from the ‘hood who did a little bit of everything, so I kind of saw a lot and been in different rooms that maybe a child shouldn’t have been. I kind of draw from those experiences.”

The Atlanta rapper believes becoming an actor while balancing his music career was a natural progression. As members of OutKast, Big Boi and André 3000 would co-direct their music videos. In 2006, the two starred in the film Idlewild, a period piece set in the South during Prohibition. Since then, Big Boi has continued to make music while adding film credits to his résumé.

“The reason I’ve been doing more movies is because music is my first love, my passion, and what I did was I got enough time to where I can stack enough music in the vault to where I can go off and do films and still keep my groove,” Big Boi said.

In June, Big Boi is hitting the big screen in the remake of the 1972 cult classic Super Fly. “It’s been pretty wild, but it’s going to be a dope movie,” Big Boi said of his time on set. “Director X did his thing, and I can’t wait to see it.”

Although most of his roles have been fun, outspoken characters, Big Boi hopes to explore his dark side in the future.

“[I’d like to play] a serial killer, like in American Psycho — like Christian Bale, but the black version. Something like a dark horror film, but with a comedic edge to it. Not like Jeffrey-Dahmer-eating-people killer, but like accidentally kill somebody and then try to cover it up, then kill somebody again. Something like that. I like the dark stuff. I like the bad guys.”

As an actor, rapper and businessman, Big Boi wants to achieve longevity in multiple fields. The key to his success?

“First and foremost, you’ve got to put God first, and you just have to have the drive and dedication,” Big Boi said. “If you want some, you’ve got to go after it. You have to keep evolving as an artist when it comes to music.

“Our main motto is being an outcast is always being outside of what the norm or what the trend is. You’ve always got to reinvent yourself and re-create new ways to make music. That’s where I get the excitement from. I have fun making music, and as long as people want to hear it, I’m going to keep giving it to them.”

The Quad airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on BET.

‘The Quad’ recap: Ghosts of the past rear their ugly heads Eva Fletcher’s past continues to haunt her, while Cecil Diamond unearths memories that will change his life

Season 2, Episode 5 — The Quad: Native Son

After a week of waiting for a new episode, The Quad is back! And with a new episode, new drama unfolds. That’s what we’ve been waiting for, right?

The episode begins with what’s presumably Bryce Richardson still dreaming of being a member of Sigma Mu Kappa — a dream that was snatched away from him when his roommate, Cedric Hobbs, got him in trouble with the rest of the fraternity and he was kicked off line. The scene then transitions from Richardson’s nightmare to Eva Fletcher with a new boy toy, a nice escape from the hell she’s been dealing with.

After her arrest for assaulting a police officer, Fletcher has been on a crusade to end police brutality and clear her name. Fletcher’s attorney warns her that reporters have been digging around into her past, especially her medical history, to check the officer’s claim that Fletcher’s erratic behavior may have stemmed from drug use. The attorney vows to get to the bottom of things and urges Fletcher to let him take care of the situation. After all, it’s what he’s being paid to do.

On the field, BoJohn Folsom is facing a gaggle of angry teammates. After a fight broke out at a party between him and a top football recruit, which resulted in punches being thrown, coach Eugene Hardwick didn’t take too kindly to the news. The players complain to Folsom as Hardwick makes them roll the length of the field as punishment.

In the dorms, Richardson’s father, whom we hadn’t seen since last season, pays him another intense visit after hearing from his brother that things weren’t going so well with the fraternity. Bryce doesn’t want to run the risk of ruining the family’s legacy, but he knows he can’t tell his father the truth about his situation. Richardson’s ear-hustling roomie, Hobbs, overheard the conversation. Since he’s partially at fault for the mess, Hobbs approaches Miles Thrumond (Quentin Plair) and threatens to have the fraternity suspended on grounds of hazing if Richardson isn’t let back on line. It was a good try but a failed attempt. Hobbs went back to the drawing board for Plan B.

Although Fletcher was told to let the attorney handle her situation, of course it’s Fletcher fashion to go and find more trouble. With a little digging, Fletcher finds another man, Dave Hill, who filed a lawsuit against the same police officer, then dropped it. She finds Hill at a shop where he works as a mechanic and listens to his story before trying to persuade him to join her on the crusade for justice. Hill, explaining to Fletcher that he wants no part of her mess, rips up the attorney’s business card that Fletcher had given him as soon as she leaves.

In the midst of all the chaos, the student body has disapproved of Fletcher’s leadership, and the most recent series of unfortunate events has dragged her ratings even further down the hole. There have been police checkpoints set up near the school — most of them involving the unnecessary harassment of students. On top of that, Fletcher has canceled the school’s Spring Holiday Fest, which is a huge Georgia A&M University tradition. Hobbs encourages the student body not to be so hard on Fletcher, and if they want to reach her, it’s simple: Text her. She’d given out her number at the beginning of the year for students to do so.

Bad idea.

Hobbs’ idea leads an angry student body mob to Fletcher’s inbox, where she begins to receive disrespectful and hate-filled texts every two minutes. Not the best thing for someone suffering from panic attacks and anxiety. Fletcher steps out to go grocery shopping, but even her normal routine is disrupted by Mark Early, the police officer who assaulted and arrested her. He warns her that he has seen the “glassy look” in people’s eyes before, implying that Fletcher was under the influence of something the day she was pulled over. Fletcher stands her ground but is shaken after the officer leaves. She returns to Dave Hill to tell him that she has once again been harassed. This time, Hill decides to join her crusade by adding himself to the witness list.

Returning to the dorms, Folsom still tries to keep an upbeat attitude despite teammates, including his roommate, Junior, being mad at him. After getting out of an awkward conversation with Junior, Folsom makes a nightly store run to pick up some gifts to make things right with Tiesha (Aeja Lee). Before he can safely make it back to his dorm, Folsom is jumped by guys avenging the friend he punched at the party.

Junior hadn’t noticed the extent of Folsom’s injuries until the next morning. Bloodied and bruised, Folsom remained in bed while Junior informed the rest of the team about what had happened. Hardwick pays Folsom a visit in the dorm and tries to take him to the hospital but is blocked by Folsom’s father, who angrily scolds Hardwick for not taking care of his son.

On a lighter note in the episode, Cecil Diamond appears to be living his best life. His cancer is in remission, the problem children from his band have been removed and living carefree seems to be the new motto. Diamond walks into the club, where he’s immediately greeted by his old band buddies, who ask him to sit in on their set. The youngest of the bunch, the drummer of the band, immediately takes issue with it. Diamond can’t figure out where the hostility is coming from until a friend drops by campus to see him. He delivers the news that the hot-headed drummer is Diamond’s kid.

Yes, you read that correctly. Diamond is the father of a 26-year-old he’s meeting for the very first time. The world isn’t ready for another Cecil Diamond, but it will make the upcoming storylines that much more interesting.

With so much going on in Fletcher’s life, and so few friends to turn to, Fletcher invites colleague and “friend” Ella Grace Caldwell over for drinks and appetizers. She confides in Caldwell, even after Caldwell and dean Carlton Pettiway have already shown they can’t be trusted after going behind Fletcher’s back and making their own deals. Fletcher picks this moment to be honest. She begins to talk about the cop and how reporters have been poking into her background, which leads to the real reason that she resigned as president from the prior institution. She tells Caldwell about the affair that led to her divorce and resignation. Caldwell seemingly reserves judgment, but a few short scenes later she declares to Pettiway and Diamond that maybe Fletcher isn’t the right person for this job.

Finally, there is good news for Fletcher. The district attorney’s office successfully filed charges against Officer Early, and Fletcher gained the satisfaction of finally having something go right in her life. But the scene also reveals Fletcher’s new man, a doctor, who leaves a large bottle of alprazolam – better known by the brand name Xanax — on her nightstand. Was the officer right all along? Is it possible that Fletcher is abusing prescription drugs because of her anxiety? All signs point to yes, since Fletcher refuses to go to the pharmacy to get prescriptions filled.

Back on the yard, the latest class of Sigma Mu Kappa men is being revealed to the campus. When the time comes for masks to come off, it is revealed that Richardson is the ace of the line. One by one, masks come off. The tail at the very end of the line? Hobbs. Seems like Richardson will have a lot of making up to do to his roomie-turned-frat-brother from now on.

How Big Papi’s ‘Sports Illustrated’ cover captured Boston’s journey from tragedy to triumph Ortiz put on for his city when it was most needed

April 20, 2013, at Fenway Park — it was the most Boston of all days.

Just five days before, two young men had left bombs near the iconic finish line of the Boston Marathon. In those five days, the city had endured the deaths of three people at the blast site, injuries to 264, a controversial “shelter in place” order and a massive manhunt. Later came the deaths of two police officers.

April 20 was the Red Sox’s first home game since all of that. The Sox were sitting on a record of 11-4 before the first day game in a series against the Kansas City Royals, but it was the city that needed a win. The last game the Sox finished at Fenway had been on the day of the bombings. Something positive to hold up after so much chaos. Before the two-hour, 58-minute game commenced, as dozens of uniformed police marched off the field and a gigantic American flag was unfurled in front of the Green Monster, 10-time All-Star David Ortiz spoke into the handheld microphone.

“All right, all right, Boston. The jersey that we wear today, it doesn’t say Red Sox. It says Boston.” That’s what the then-two-time World Series champion said. “We want to thank you, Mayor Menino, Gov. Patrick and the whole Police Department for the great job they did this past week. This is our f—ing city, and nobody gonna dictate our freedom. Stay strong, thank you!”

The Red Sox would go on to win that game 4-3. In front of 35,152 people, Ortiz had two hits and an RBI. Big Papi’s comments kicked off what was a turnaround season for the Red Sox. They would go on to win the pennant and the 2013 World Series, making Ortiz a three-time World Series champion.

That day’s win, and the eventual World Series victory at the end of October, brought some joy back to a city that desperately needed to feel normal. And Sports Illustrated needed to illustrate the city’s tribulations for the Nov. 11 cover shot. They needed Big Papi, who was also named MVP of the 2013 World Series. There are many moving parts when it comes to a multiperson photo shoot, let alone a cover shoot. And this one needed police officers too. Officers Javier Pagan and Rachel McGuire were chosen, as well as Detective Kevin McGill because of their appearance, in action, on the April 22, 2013, cover of SI the week of the bombing.

Planning the new cover started immediately after the series was settled in six games. The police officers’ appearance needed to be OK’d with the police commissioner, and access to the ballpark was required. “The photo editor at the time, Brad Smith, called after the Sox won the championship, and they needed to close a cover,” said cover photographer Joe McNally. “You gotta get Fenway Park on board, you gotta get Big Papi on board and the Boston Red Sox and the public relations people — and all of the sudden everything cracked open, and we got a time with Big Papi.”

It wasn’t that it was surprising that he agreed, but that he had time. “At that point,” said McNally, “he was the most famous baseball player on the planet.”

Soon McNally headed to an empty Fenway Park. “It’s always cool to get out on a major league baseball diamond,” he said. “It’s vast, and always just cool to be there when the crowds are not. And Fenway has so much history.”

“It’s vast, and always just cool to be there when the crowds are not. And Fenway has so much history.”

The setup was hectic. “They let me in like two hours before Big Papi would be available,” McNally said.

“I shot four distinct cover possibilities. You can’t go back to SI with just one option.” Obviously. “So I had a backdrop set up under the stands, sort of a studio feel. Then I did three different solutions in the outfield.”

One of the “solutions” in the outfield would be used for the cover. In that shot, Pagan, McGuire and McGill stand in uniform together with Ortiz, who is wearing a black suit and red scarf and holding a bat. The configuration seems a bit odd at first for a story that would be about the importance Ortiz had played in the history of the Boston Red Sox. But McNally said it was the “only way” the picture worked.

“Because Big Papi … he’s not called Big Papi for nothing. He’s a big man,” he told me with a chuckle.

Not only were the sizes of everyone involved a problem, but also there was the issue of the lack of color in everyone’s clothing. “I had to deal with the fact that Big Papi was not in uniform. I wanted him in uniform, and of course he showed up in a Hugo Boss suit and that was it. Thankfully he had the scarf, which gave me a little bit of color to work with,” McNally said. “Because the police officers were in dark blue … I was like, What the hell am I going to do for a little bit of color here? Those are the challenges that go along with the turf.”

While the outfield provided a great backdrop, Fenway is an iconic stadium. Why not shoot toward the Green Monster? “It’s legendary, of course, but it’s kinda faceless too,” McNally told me. Later, he did turn Ortiz toward the nearly 38-foot-tall wall, where the graphic for “Boston Strong” was on display.

“A big Boston Red Sox ‘B’ out there … and underneath it said, ‘STRONG,’ so I wanted that in the picture,” he said. The photo didn’t end up making the cut, but McNally also put the three officers together, with Big Papi to their right, in a studio setting, which was used inside the issue.

The police officers weren’t used to being photographed like Ortiz, but they were good sports about it. “They knew the police commissioner had blessed this, so everything was cool … relaxed,” he said. “All of the sudden, you’re on the cover of Sports Illustrated. That’s pretty cool for a cop on the beat.”

As for Ortiz, he was in high spirits. “I’d never worked with him before and asked him, ‘Big Papi, how much time I got?’ He said, ‘I’ll give you 20 minutes.’ I was like, ‘All right, all right.’ I fudged it. I kept looking at my watch and being like, ‘We still have 15 minutes left.’ And he was like, ‘No way, man!’ I was saying that, and of course had burned my 20 minutes. He knew I was bulls—-ing him, but he was in a good mood,” McNally said.

And why wouldn’t he be? After a long, hard season, Ortiz had, according to Sports Illustrated, become the first non-Yankees player to win at least three championships with the same club in the past 30 years. “He was the hero,” McNally said, “and the cops represented Boston. It was kind of a big deal.”

Nearly three years later, the cover feels like an anomaly. In August 2016, Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality against people of color. He was quietly joined by other football players and Olympic gold medalist Megan Rapinoe, and slowly more and more athletes knelt, held up a fist or locked arms during the national anthem. All in protest of police brutality. While this cover isn’t an exact comparison — working with police during a terror attack versus regular interactions with citizens, which Kaepernick was getting at — it does seem like this cover wouldn’t happen with a black athlete in 2017. This is to say nothing about how the Take A Knee protest has evolved (and gentrified) since President Donald Trump’s outsize reaction to NBA champion Stephen Curry expressing his resistance to simply attending a White House ceremony.

I got a chance to briefly talk with Ortiz in January when he was promoting his new docuseries, Fusion’s Big Papi Needs A Job. The conceit: Ortiz wants to do something new with his retirement and sets out to try a variety of jobs to varying levels of success — and let’s just say Big Papi as a manicurist is a hoot. While he wouldn’t speak to the particular Sports Illustrated cover, Ortiz spoke frequently about the empathy he developed doing a job he didn’t previously understand. “When you don’t know about things, you just fly through. You don’t know,” he said. “I think everybody has different things to do in life, different jobs. Now I give people the credit they deserve.”

Reflecting on that turnaround season was pleasant all around; for McNally, it meant shooting a celebratory cover. “As a photographer for many years, you prepare for disappointment. You just hope Mr. or Mrs. Big Time Athlete is not a Big Time Jerk, which they can be. But Big Papi was great,” he said. “I have to say that was the pleasant outcome. He’s enjoying himself and is massively talented, and he was cool to be around.”

McNally also remembered the “our f—ing city” speech while photographing Ortiz and the three police: “He went out onto the Fenway pitcher’s mound and he was on loudspeakers at the stadium, and he actually said, ‘This is our f—ing city!’ It takes some guts to curse in front of 50,000 people. He’s real.”

Morehouse allowed this black man to step outside the stereotypes I almost didn’t go here, but four years later, I’m glad I did

I was not supposed to attend Morehouse.

Left to my own devices, I would’ve been at “The U” — enjoying Miami’s sunshine and great football while trying to forget the $60,000 worth of debt I would have accumulated during the past four years. It would’ve undoubtedly been an amazing college experience, yet I’d be missing something.

Having graduated from a predominantly white high school, I wanted to go where I’d feel comfortable. Despite having spent the last two years of high school gradually withdrawing from my white peers, I was not open to immersing myself in a primarily black environment. “Just visit and see how you feel then,” I can remember my mother saying.

After visiting Morehouse in the spring of 2014, my position on attending a historically black college or university (HBCU) remained unchanged. I was intrigued by the Atlanta University Center’s 22-to-1 girl-to-guy ratio, but there was too much to overlook: The campus looked antiquated, the school’s history did not pique my interest and the amenities I had grown accustomed to were nonexistent.

Four years later, however, I can honestly say heading to South Florida would’ve been the worst decision of my life.

Morehouse allowed me to be myself without the fear of conforming to the stereotypical boxes often ascribed to black men. In high school, I was either the athletic black kid or the smart black kid; exhibiting any signs of both were grounds for social suicide.

From the moment I stepped onto Morehouse’s campus, I cut ties with these social assumptions and saw the multifaceted black male experience firsthand. My classmates and I have different backgrounds, hairstyles, career goals and bench press personal records. But by making the choice to attend Morehouse, we share one thing: a will to succeed.

This ambition is the undercurrent that drives Morehouse College. It has fostered the brotherhood that has made the institution famous. It’s what led the student body to advocate for school improvements in 2016 and why Morehouse has continued to produce more black men who go on to earn doctoral degrees in an array of fields than any other undergraduate institution. Graduates and patrons of the college call it the Morehouse Mystique.

Additionally, that brotherhood brings a level of competitiveness that breeds excellence. In a space that produced great men such as Martin Luther King Jr., Spike Lee and Bakari Sellers, I’m not just encouraged to be true to myself — I’m pushed to be exceptional.

If that weren’t enough, you only have to stand outside and ask those passing by what they did over the summer, from working with Goldman Sachs to internships with NBC Universal to interning with the city of Atlanta.

Still, like most HBCUs, Morehouse is not free from imperfections. But what Mother Morehouse lacked in resources she compensated for by providing a wealth of opportunities. The school attracts recruiters who are looking to employ and professionally develop black males. In terms of extracurricular activities, events such as early blockbuster film screenings — I saw both Get Out and Black Panther before the masses — celebrity artist pop-ups and free Atlanta Hawks tickets are not out of the norm.

“Hungry dogs run faster,” the oft-quoted line from the Philadelphia Eagles’ parade, has typified my experience at Morehouse. From the spotty Wi-Fi to the century-old dorm rooms to the extensive lines outside of the financial aid office, it has all played a role in preparing me for the real world. When the real world doesn’t provide an easy path, Morehouse has given me a road map in the form of a stellar network, a competitive degree and an unadulterated sense of self.

This is all helpful in a world where black males are incarcerated at a much higher rate than our white peers and are three times more likely to die at the hands of a police officer.

In retrospect, maybe it is these statistics that fuel the determination of the men of Morehouse, or that they are one false move away from being one of them. At Morehouse, however, you’re free from these notions being ascribed to you. Every teacher, student and administrator is determined to push you past the limits society has placed on you.

For this very reason, I am happy I chose Morehouse. The past four years have been the greatest of my life. If I could do it all over again, I would. The only difference? I’d save some time and money by applying only to Morehouse.