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It’s Never Too Late

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Brown and his three children.
Brown and his three children. Courtesy

By Dawan Brown – Collegiate Staff

“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,” a quote made famous by NBA star Kevin Durant, explains my approach to high school. I didn’t work hard because I was talented and gifted with the books. I didn’t need to study or even show up to class on certain days. I would ace tests, blow off projects and be content with a solid C+. I got through most of school this way. The knowledge came easy, but somehow women, money, and drugs came easier, and with more excitement.

School quickly became a social paradise. Everything was about networking, stimulating the minds of women making them feel great about themselves if they did not to begin with and getting to the money. I didn’t have it all growing up but I damn sure didn’t have nothing. My mother worked hard daily on her grind, working a full-time job and going to school at night, providing for us the daily necessities and essentials. There was no way she was going to buy a $200 pair of Jordan’s just because I was fascinated with them. She just wasn’t. I had to figure out a way to get “fly.”

My older brother had designer everything. Sean John Denim, Polo button ups and all the FUBU that used to be the hottest style. He had already figured out the remedy I was searching for. My younger brother was still stuck in the phase of being a “yes man” to whatever my mom wanted to buy him so he was done for, just like me at his age. I was only 14 years old, but my mind state was higher than that. I wanted more maybe in the wrong way to begin with, but a strong mind was definitely there.

After a while, classes became so boring, that I stopped going. I would take one unexcused absence after another until the school decided to drop all of my classes, except for basketball and weightlifting. I thought it was great. I got to sleep in every day until I had to be in class in the afternoon. I had one class a day so my workload was very light and I was able to spend energy elsewhere. Eventually my attitude toward the faculty and staff led to my expulsion.

I was suspended for not going to Saturday school, a punishment for all my unexcused absences and I would still show up to school at lunch just to network with the older kids for information on any party that may have been planned.

I was under the impression that my 10th grade principal hated me and I hated him too and made sure to let him know every day. One day, I shook up a orange soda just to spray it at him. His face turned as red as Rudolph’s nose as I walked away laughing. That surprisingly only landed me a three-day suspension. As I look back at this incident today, there’s no chance in hell I would do it again.

My mom worked so much and rarely had a clue when I was suspended. She was at work when I woke up for school and she was at school by the time I was supposed to be getting out of school. So my suspensions went unnoticed. I could go weeks without seeing my mom and we lived together. This was not the case with my expulsion, she knew that immediately. She was on a mission. The same mission she was quick to remind me I lost track of so early.

By now I was 15 and my mom was getting tired of the same old news. My brother and I were both spiraling out of control. He already landed himself in jail more times than not and I was headed down that same road. I had several minor in possession and assault charges and several parents who reached out to my mom telling her that I had their daughters stealing money from them, for me. They felt the need to buy me things without me asking so I was now spoiled to the point that I expected them.

That’s when I noticed that I had a gift for getting my way with women. Not only were these girls older than me, but they were supposed to be smarter than me. They were high school seniors and I was just a young sophomore with too much popularity. That popularity soon transformed into a harsh reality when I got one of these women pregnant. I was 15 and had no idea what responsibility was, and I didn’t have a father figure to show me anything. I had an older brother who I wanted to be just like and that was the only example I had.

My stepdad was in prison for about two years now for armed robbery and even before that, our relationship wasn’t very strong. He was there but I was too young to understand what his role was in my life or what he was trying to teach me, until many years later. I was a lost cause. I couldn’t reach out to him when I needed him or didn’t believe he even cared enough. I despised my real dad and still do to this day. Maybe that will change, but I didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt to begin with. With the fear of the responsibilities of being a father, I had to produce everything and be the man I thought I already was.

After all the trouble I was getting in, my mother decided to move back to Chicago where we grew up and I did not want to go back. So here I was, 15 years old, living with friends and family, but that was the least of my worries, knowing I had a kid on the way. The first thing I did was seek the attention of other women. My girlfriend would’ve left me if she had known about any of it.

I began to look for work and landed a job at the Holland Rescue Mission, but that wasn’t enough. With my back against the wall I began to do things nobody would be proud of. I stole from people and even sold drugs. I just knew I had to provide for a kid that was on the way and I was not going to fail like my father failed me and I was willing to risk my freedom to do so. Right before I could feel the happiness of doing something better than taking from women, reality hit again.

The girl carrying my unborn child had a miscarriage and the happiness I had inside died instantly. We decided to stick around each other, began a relationship, while I cut all ties with other women. We had been through so much and were always there for each other. She was the only woman that I had actually taken serious throughout this whole time.

I wanted to make a better life for us with what we had been saving for the baby, even though the responsibility I felt I was ready for was gone. I thought to myself that I should quit this game I’m playing and go back to school while I had the chance, but it seemed like every time I tried to do something positive another boulder would come crashing down on my head, forcing me to deal with the stresses of today instead of the successes I could have in the future. I learned that in life it is so hard to do something good, yet it’s so easy to do something bad.

As life went on we were able to land our own apartment just before I turned 17. I was still young and landed myself in jail at least six times for stealing, then driving without a license. I still didn’t care. We even eventually had a kid and not long after I lost sight of the goal of being a great father completely. I lost sight of what was important. I lost sight of the dream. I was caught up in the fast life, finding time for everything except my baby.

I found out the hard way all of the life lessons my mom was screaming at me, all those years before. I ended up losing it all. I lost my family. I lost my house where I lived and most of all I lost my baby girl, who was now afraid of me because of all the mental and physical abuse her mother and I forced on each other in front of her. We did not fist fight but the name calling and shoving each other around was too much for her eyes.

I was lost. I had no idea how to function alone. I had very little work history, I had no diploma, I had nothing. All I had was what I knew how to do best. Hustle. So right back to the game I went. Back into that negative cycle I once was in. Money. Drugs. Women. Repeating it over and over again gradually slowing down by the age of 25. By this time I had another kid with another woman, with a third on the way with another woman. Life wasn’t what I had imagined it to be after all.

I decided to take my life back and change my ways. I slowly began to plan a way out free from all the negative stuff I was a part of. I started to pay child support and soothe the relationships with my kids’ mothers and, more importantly, my kids. I wanted to change because my stepfather was home after serving over 10 years in prison for robbery. That will be the only time I refer to him as my stepfather because he was my dad. We have had the same last name since we met, so it fit.

When he came home, it changed me for the better. He did not judge me on what I was doing and had been doing he just told me about the opportunities I still had, if I wanted them. The man was amazing. I did not even speak to him the whole time while he was in prison, besides a few times here and there around the age of 13. I didn’t know he felt he was already my father and had so much love for my brothers and I. He could have chosen to go anywhere after prison but he chose Michigan. His mom and dad were in Chicago, my mom was in Chicago and most of his family was in Cleveland.

He chose Michigan because he wanted to be with his boys, who were now men. We were the only family he felt he was a part of and I loved him for it and I needed him. I took him everywhere with me. I took him out to eat every week, we played games together at my house and even played Xbox online with each other when he got home from my place. I love my father. We were not biologically his kids. He was the boyfriend. He had a choice and he chose us and I chose him. My brothers did as well but I felt like I needed him more than they did at the time.

We always talked about what was better and he always pushed me to try it, even though I wasn’t actively pursuing it yet. I had the plans laid out, I was just waiting for the time to achieve it when I could just sit down and focus on my education instead of working dead end jobs trying to survive until that day came.

About four days before my mother’s 49th birthday, I received a call from my aunt that my father, my hero, my rock and foundation was found unresponsive in his home and had been rushed to Spectrum Health hospital in Grand Rapids. I lost it. They said he couldn’t speak, move or do anything. He was breathing on his own and that was it. It was less than a year since he got home.

I rushed up to the hospital, facing one of my biggest fears in life. I hate hospitals and everything associated with them. I told my girlfriend who also loves him and we took off. When I saw my dad hooked up to all these machines, wire after wire coming from them and connecting to him, I was in complete shock. As I sat there broken up with the rest of the family looking for some sign that this nightmare might end, a pastor walked in. I have seen too many movies where this scene happens and I knew exactly how it was going to play out, but before he could even open his mouth I said, “Don’t even start that. Not now!” I did not want to hear that shit. He still continued to pray for our family. Before leaving the hospital, I kissed my father knowing that this was the end. I cried for hours that night and when I got the official call that he passed I lost all strength, all courage and all hope for turning my life around. All my motivation was ripped from me and life was right back to what it was.

I began drinking early in the mornings, even though I hated alcohol. Anybody that knew me and saw me with a beer or a bottle was in complete shock. It was now what I participated in to soothe the pain. I had so much anger in me at this time. I wanted him back so bad. Why did God take my father away from me when he could have taken my biological father and I wouldn’t have shed a tear?| I had so much hate in me, and I couldn’t release it. I even began to search for my real father just so I could say the most hateful things I could think of, but I couldn’t find him. I just wanted somebody to know and feel the same pain I felt and he would have been the perfect candidate.

I began drinking my life away, giving up and submitting to my failures. The only thing that was different from the first time I hit rock bottom, was a woman who cared, my girlfriend and my best friend that been in my life now for 20 plus years. She did not sit and watch me throw my talents away and stayed with me through every hardship. It was about three months before I was able to go cold turkey, but it happened. Around my 28th birthday in August of 2013, things were looking up again and I was regaining focus, taking the words of my father along with me every step of the way.

I enrolled in a program at Michigan Works to get my G.E.D. I was determined to get myself together, and my friends and girlfriend were right there cheering me on. After receiving my G.E.D. I enrolled at Grand Rapids Community College and began taking classes that summer towards a degree in journalism.

A few months later, on my birthday, I came home to check on my girlfriend. She was feeling ill because she is diabetic and also has Addison’s disease which is a chronic disorder where the adrenal glands don’t produce enough steroids for the body, causing her to be extremely weak. She has to inject the steroids herself. When I walked in, she was lying face down on the floor. I instantly saw my late father lying there. This is the same way they found him and how he died eventually. Nobody found him in time to save his life. I rushed to roll her over and see if she was breathing. I responded as if she just had a seizure like she had over 200 times during our relationship. She would usually pass out and wake up a few minutes later but this wasn’t the case. She looked bad.

I gave her a glucose shot to make her sugar levels increase. This woke her up but she was still unresponsive and that was something I had never seen before in the five years we had been together. I called 9-1-1 immediately. They rushed her to the hospital and after a few complications she was transported to Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids. She had passed out again and was not waking up. I had the feeling as if this was going to end just like my dad’s life ended. Was I too late like my father’s would-be rescuer? All I could do was blame myself.

I wanted to quit school. Again having to deal with the stresses of today while sacrificing what I could be accomplishing, the pain I was feeling trumped everything else. She was unconscious for three days before finally waking up but still not responding to anything.

No words. No gestures. Just stares.

It was like she didn’t know anyone.The doctors were stressing to the family that she might never be herself again. All the while, she was pregnant. Every day after my Creative Writing class, I rushed to the hospital to see her and when I walked in on the fourth day she looked up and waved at me. It was the first sign of anything in over a week. It was like a miracle happened right before my eyes. I felt so much joy inside from that moment and it was amazing. She still didn’t speak until the next day and they were very short words and sentences, and it took her a few attempts to get them out.

The first thing she asked me, when she was able to, was if she was still pregnant. I told her our baby boy was still inside with no signs of bad news. He was a fighter. He had nothing wrong with him that they could tell from the tests and there were no worries.

After a couple weeks she was released from the hospital and was instructed to go the University of Michigan to meet with a team of doctors before returning back to Spectrum Health, where she was going to remain for the last five months of her pregnancy. While she was in her appointment, I was wandering the halls, wasting time, avoiding my fear of being around doctors, when I noticed a sign.

It read: “It’s never too late to be what you could have been.”

I thought to myself, “Holy shit, you’re right.” This saying has been in my head for years now. I never wrote it down or took a picture, I continue to remember it because I feel at that moment it was meant for me. I was meant to be in Ann Arbor wandering the halls of the medical campus. I was meant to see this and I was meant to be something, telling me it wasn’t too late for whatever that could be. On our way home I talked about this saying and how much light it brought to the end of my tunnel. I repeated those words everyday as my motivation to not quit school and I was able to make it through my second semester of college without quitting.

On Oct. 12, nearing the end of her pregnancy and during my third semester of college, the hospital decided after three months that they would release her as a birthday gift, as long as she promised to take it easy. We promised that she would. It was a happy day for us, because she was beyond sick of being in the hospital and I was sick of her not being home, with me, where she belonged. We sat around at home just enjoying her being back watching T.V. and playing Monopoly on Xbox.

Exactly two weeks later she began to feel that same illness and she was worried for our son, so she went to the hospital with her mom. I was now attending my English class during this time, still progressing and not giving up for the sake of everything my father told me, the accomplishments of my mother who was just a year removed from acquiring her master’s degree, myself and my family. I was texting her from class, waiting to bolt at the end of class.

Nobody knew what I was going through and when I missed class to be with her in the hospital, I just skipped it. I didn’t notify the teacher about it. Just before class was over, I received a text from her mom saying that they could not find our son’s heartbeat and the doctors were worried he was not breathing. That his mom’s comas and frequent seizures could have finally taken its toll. The doctors were going to do an emergency C-section to remove our son.

I rushed to the hospital without a doubt that our boy was going to be fine, when I received another message from her mom. I was already confident that our boy was going to be fine, before I opened the text and saw a picture of our handsome baby boy lying on the table with a smile on his face that could cure any heartache. He did not have a name yet because of his early arrival, so he was Baby Boy Brown or “Triple B.”

I made it to his mom, my girlfriend, where she was in recovery. We were thrilled that it was over and he was okay. We were trying to decide on a name but we could not decide if we should name him Jesse Earl after my father or name him after me. That night, I woke up in the middle of the night maybe around 3 a.m. and thought about all the great fights I had in my life and all the battles we had been through and won. I thought of fighters like the great Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson and I thought, I would love to name him after them, but I could not name him Mike or Muhammed because it just did not sound right. Then it hit me.

“Tyson,” I said to myself. “I could name him Tyson. One of the most ferocious fighters of all time.

“Tyson Ali. That’s it.” I picked up my phone and called my girlfriend.

“Tyson Ali,” I said. “Tyson Ali is his name, it just hit me.”

“Our little fighter,” she responded. “I love it.”

There was no debate about it. It fit him perfectly as well as both of us. The fight we had keeping his mom alive during this time, as well as the battles I had fought throughout my entire life brought me to where I am now. I sit today in the home stretch of finishing my fifth semester of college and am on track to have my degree by the end of the winter 2016 semester. From a troubled teenager to a soon to be college graduate. That doesn’t sound bad to me.

I see the youth of today or people my age stressing about not being as successful as they would like to be the first time around. Maybe they are on a path that they feel is not the right one. I often go back to one of the things that motivated me which was that sign at U of M, and I tell them because that is the truth in so many ways. It wasn’t too late for me to be the father I could have been. It wasn’t too late to be that student I could have been and it definitely wasn’t too late to change my life. When hard work beats talent, when the talent don’t work hard you sit and tell yourself “when my talent work hard, it’s going to take both talent and hard work for me to be beaten.”