As many of you know, I’ve branched out from the Big Words Blog Site into YouTube where I now have four channels. My original channel is Big Discussions76 where I now discuss general topics. One of my recent guests is fellow Buffalonian Dennis Wilson Jr. (see the video at the bottom of this post). Being in the same peer group, Dennis and I played basketball in Buffalo’s “Yale Cup” high school basketball league around the same time in the early 1990s. After launching a career in education, Dennis started and has steadily built his own business empire. In addition to owning one of the more popular restaurants in Buffalo, the Oakk Room, Dennis further hosts high quality and sophisticated events and has also started his own clothing line.
In this interview, I asked Dennis about his background, his educational path, how he launched in the business world, and finally what he foresees going forward. Links to Dennis’ business websites are in the description box below the video. If you want to read more about business topics of all kinds including branding, select the “Business/Entrepreneurship” category from the list of topics in the drop-down menu in the left-hand margin my blogging platform. Thank you for watching, and if anything in our discussion resonates with you, please like, share and subscribe to my channel.
“I personally recommend having a year’s worth of savings in the bank!”
Note. Like my Net Worth piece, the subject matter of this blog post is not new. It has been known for years by those who’ve learned about it in their families, learned about its concepts in business school, or have discovered it on their own. It’s a discussion from my personal perspective which I think is worth visiting. Also, while this is a ‘money’ topic, I’m discussing it from a ‘scholarly’ perspective. I’m not rendering financial advice where I’m telling readers what they should do. In the spirit of the first principle of my blog, Creating Ecosystems of Success, I’m simply introducing a concept and discussing why it’s important for the lay person; so they can make their own life choices.
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Reflecting on my youth, both of my parents were savers and they showed that in their own unique ways. As described in my piece regarding budgeting, my Auntie Adele was quite the budgeter and she was always outspoken (and vigilant) about that. All of the pieces were there in my mental periphery, though it wouldn’t be until my adult years that I’d figure out how every piece in terms of one’s personal finances ‘fit together’ as I’ll describe later. I’ve learned that you can hear about something, but it’s not until doing it yourself that you actually understand it. This is why Rich Dad Poor Dad author, Robert Kiyosaki, frequently referenced the “Cone of Learning” in his books.
Though I intuitively knew what ‘emergency funds’ were before taking Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University (FPU)“, I got a much clearer picture of what they were and why they’re important. I’ve covered many other important aspects of personal finance here on my blogging platform, but after a potential collaborator emailed me recently about linking their online resources to some of my content, I realized that I never covered emergency funds. It’s a topic that is timeless in terms of importance and is especially relevant with my recently purchasing a new car. As such, I think I’ll use that a jumping off point for this piece.
If you don’t know, I’m a YouTube content creator now and have four channels. My original Big Discussions76 channel now covers several topics, financial literacy/money being chief among them. I recently shot a video discussing my decision to acquire a vehicle after going without one for eight years. You can watch that video in the link below. If you do, please kindly give a like, share it in your network and subscribe to my channel.
I also wrote two pieces discussing why I decided to go without car ownership. In those pieces and in my YouTube video, I communicate that one of the checked boxes for rejoining the car ownership club was having a fully funded emergency fund. In FPU, Dave Ramsey describes a fully funded emergency fund as one that contains three to six months of savings based upon the critical items on your personal budget. That’s actually a little more on the liberal side. Some people, like one of my mentors, are more conservative and believe that one (or a couple) should have a year’s worth of savings in the bank! If your personal finances are highly leveraged credit-wise and you’re living paycheck to paycheck, this may all sound like a gargantuan task, but from personal experience, I can assure you that it can be done.
I can’t lie though, in that it does take a great deal of determination, grit, and delayed gratification to create a fully funded emergency fund. Spiritual folks would also say that it takes a great deal prayer. In either case, you must know what your ‘why’ is, or your motivation. That will help keep you going even when things feel lonely or even get hard. What was my motivation for creating an emergency fund? Let us go back to car ownership.
“Cars are built to breakdown,” said Mr. Cholley Gray of the former Gray’s Auto in my hometown of Buffalo, NY. In my trips back to Buffalo from Charlotte, NC, Mr. Gray performed most of the repairs on my first car, a white 1990 Subaru Legacy which was passed down from my mother to my brother, and then to me. Having been through seven long years of Buffalo winters, I inherited the car right around the time when rust started taking hold of many of its parts and wear and tear had set in. I went through numerous transaxles when I owned that car. Each was $150-$200 each time.
The biggest and probably the costliest repair was the “rack and pinion” which went out on me down in Charlotte, NC. For those unfamiliar with the inner workings of automobiles, the rack and pinion is a part of the power steering system. When the piping rusted out that fateful day, the car became extremely difficult to steer and it made what I would call a howling or a screeching sound like a saw cutting through wood. One of my professors and I investigated the systems of the car in his driveway and saw that it was literally bleeding the pink power steering fluid. It was a fixable repair, which came at a price of $850. As an undergraduate I was mortified by the price in addition to the sound the car was making. Fortunately, my father was there to send me the money, just as he was there to purchase the car for me from my brother and pay for my insurance.
My burgundy 1996 Saturn SL2, which I purchased in Ann Arbor, Michigan while in graduate school, had two costly repairs within the final six months of grad school. This led me to bow out of the car ownership club in the summer of 2012. One night near my job, one of the front wheels rusted out completely. That is the entire support stabilizing the wheel needed to be replaced. That costed $1,200 at Meineke which was my entire federal income tax return that year. Only months later, the cable attached to the manual transmission broke while I was driving. Fortunately, I wasn’t on the expressway and was able to pull off onto a side street without being harmed. That repair also came out at $1,200 which was the final straw for me. Mentally, I’d already prepared for getting rid of the car, like a loved one on life support.
Probably the most painful repair though, was around 2010 when the radiator cracked in the scorching Northern Virginia summer heat. Not only was that repair $500, but the mechanic, an Asian guy named Steve, bitched at me and jeered me about getting a new car when I picked it up. The nerve of that guy, right? After all, I paid him for his service. My girlfriend at that time pretty much agreed with him on the spot, making a bitter afternoon more bitter. At that time, I was temporarily living with her while closing on my condo unit. I planned to give her something for that month towards the rent, but because of the transmission going out, I couldn’t pay her, which she secretly held against me and sprung it on me during one of our many future arguments.
If it sounds petty for me to tell this side story about my ex, rest assured knowing that there’s a grander purpose. Sometimes in life we set out with good intentions and unexpected things happen affecting the entire mosaic. If we’re not prepared, domino effects can result making situations exponentially worse. I’m saying all of this to say that life is so much better when you have an emergency fund, a stash of money saved just in case something goes bad. It literally gives you peace of mind. Everything is just different because you’re not constantly worrying about something going wrong or breaking. When something does break, wears out, or needs to be replaced, you’re not scrambling for money or to take out loans. It’s truly a different way of living. “Murphy leaves you alone,” as Dave Ramsey jokingly says.
Having an emergency fund also allows you to potentially help those around you. Going back to the girlfriend described above, there was another instance where she needed to get new tires on her car to pass the state inspection. By the way, she was educated and had a career of her own. That said, I was still expected to take care of her in certain ways. This is a prevalent expectation and I’m not disputing it as I understand the psychology of it more now. It’s just something for some men reading this to be cognizant of. There is more I could say about it, but that’s a separate discussion.
At that time, I didn’t have a fully funded emergency fund and was unable to safely pull the $300-$400 out of my savings to pay for her new tires. I’ve often wondered if she would have been more ‘human’ to me throughout that relationship if I could have done more for her financially. Based upon what I know now, the answer is yes.
Going back to when I discussed ‘safely’ pulling the money out of my savings, let me unpack that a little bit more. A decision you must make when someone comes to you for help, or announces that they’re in distress, is whether or not you can afford to help them. Put another way, will you potentially later need the money said person is asking you for? If so, you may not be able to help them because if you do, you may be stuck asking someone else for help later on yourself, another domino effect.
The other thing is that after being both the lender and lendee, I agree wholeheartedly with Dave Ramsey in terms of loaning money. I don’t believe in loaning money anymore. If someone comes to me these days for help, I assess whether or not I have the money to give. If I can’t give the full amount, I give what I can and don’t expect anything back, as loans put a mutual strain on personal relationships. From a spiritual standpoint, Proverbs 22:7 reads, “The rich rule over the poor and the borrower is slave to the lender.” It’s something for everyone to ponder, especially with friends and relatives.
I’m going to close with two more points. The first of which is that while I discussed emergency funds in the context of automobile ownership in this piece, it reaches into many other areas. In the last five years, I’ve lost a cell phone, I’ve had to replace my refrigerator, and the toilet in my home.
I’ve also refinanced my mortgage a couple of times. While not an emergency per se, these have involved me using some of my savings to help the transactions go through. Speaking of savings and mortgages, if you can’t purchase your home outright with cash, one of the key things lenders will be looking for when deciding to qualify you for a mortgage, is your history of saving money. Likewise, the more you have saved, the better the loan terms you’ll get if you qualify. I’ll also jokingly state here that me and the ex-girlfriend discussed above got into a standoff over this point one night. My father and I had also talked about this before. I was factually right, but sometimes being right in relationships just causes more drama and resentment.
My final point involves retirements savings. Some individuals have started saving in their retirement accounts which is absolutely the right thing to do as employees. Unfortunately, when adverse events occur, some people must use credit cards, loans or raid their retirement savings because they don’t have any other ‘liquid’ cash available. Raiding your retirement savings involves a tax penalty and unplugs the money from ‘compounding’. An emergency fund thus provides a layer of protection for your retirement nest egg, and that’s an important though not widely understood reality about retirement savings.
With all of this being said, a fully funded emergency fund, while an important piece of your financial health, isn’t an ultimate layer of protection. There may be bigger adverse financial events looming and that’s what your insurances are for (health, car, homeowner, renters, etc.). That’s a separate topic all in itself, but one that everyone should also consider.
• They improve your overall peace of mind, health and quality of life just by relieving financial stress. • They allow you to absorb and recover from negative financial events (but also remember that insurances are important). • They protect your other savings and investments and allow you to easily navigate transactions like home purchases and refinances. • They allow you help those around you (if you can afford to).
In closing, keep in mind that your emergency fund is not meant to be the investment of the century, just a layer of protection against life, and it acts as insurance in a way. Though it may be sitting in a savings account not making much interest, you want to be able to get to it quickly in case of an emergency (not for frivolous spending). There are savings accounts that can earn more money for you such as a money market account, but again that is not the main point of all this. The point is to protect you and your investments.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. As of now I’ve written several financial pieces on my blogging platform and many of them are listed on the bottom of the Big Word Blog Site’s home page. I’ve also published numerous shorter money and business-related pieces with guests and contributing writers. You can find those by simply searching my categories menu on the home page or by typing “money”, “finance” or “business” into the search box at the bottom of the home page. If you read something you like, please leave a comment and share in your network via email or in your preferred social media space.
To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site, or by adding the link to my RSS feed to your feedreader. Please check out any of my four Big Discussions76 YouTube channels. Lastly, follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, on Instagram at @anwaryusef76, and at the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.
“How much money do you have saved in the bank? You ONLY have $2,000 to $3,000 saved? That’s NOT money!”
Before I start this story, I want to issue a warning to the “low attention span” people. This post is roughly 2000 words. Thus, if you can’t focus for that long, feel free to leave now go and read something else. I can assure you though that this is a fun and educational story with some very important points at the end. With that, I’m going to jump in.
Well it’s that time of year again, Father’s Day. As such, just as I prepared a 2020 post for Mother’s Day, I’ve prepared a 2020 post for Father’s Day. Like my first ever Father’s Day post on my blogging platform, this story involves a subject that’s near and dear to my heart, money and wealth building. As with all my Dad stories, this one made a lasting impression on me as I hope that this does for any readers.
In his prime and slightly beyond, my Dad was a force to be reckoned with, one which struck fear into me, even in my early 30s. I lived with him in New York State’s Capital Region during my postdoctoral fellowship which turned out to be an educational experience on several different levels. It was a surreal two and a half years in hindsight that forever changed me. Some of the changes were due to external factors while some were due to internal factors.
Just before leaving Ann Arbor, MI for the Albany area, I picked up Robert Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad Poor Dad” book and discovered the worlds of financial literacy and wealth building; worlds I didn’t know anything about at that time. Most of my life I had my eyes set on being an employee. Reading about being and an investor and all the concepts associated with it was exciting. According to Kiyosaki, there were people becoming wealthy not by slogging off to work everyday and punching a clock, but instead by acquiring financial asset investments.
In addition to Kiyosaki’s books, I purchased a copy of his game, “Cashflow 101”, the electronic version. Unlike the board game version which you have to play with other people, I could sit down at my PC and play every night. The goal of the game is to get out of the “Rat Race” and onto the “Fast Track”. For those who have never played the game, you must choose a profession. The chosen profession comes with a salary, and a certain number of assets and liabilities. The cost per child varies with profession as well.
The game is realistic in that high income professionals like doctors, lawyers and airline pilots make more money than the janitors or the web designers, but they also have greater expenses and usually more student loans in the case of the doctor and lawyer. Take a look at my 2018 Father’s Day blog post which has a special significance for my brother, my father and me. That post coincidentally involving careers in medicine and law which Dad wanted my brother and me to pursue. Going back to the game, individuals playing the game must figure out how to generate enough passive income from their investments to pay all of their bills monthly and annually. This allows them to become financially free and moves them onto the Fast Track, and live the life of wealthy business owners and investors.
On the road to getting out of the Rat Race, in addition to getting the opportunities to participate in stock and real estate deals, participants sometimes also have children, have to purchase doodads (random expenses or luxuries which drain your money), and face unexpected crises like car accidents, all of which can act as financial setbacks. This forces players to think about their objectives creatively and still figure out ways to get out of the Rat Race. In terms of the game, I’ll stop there. It’s an intoxicating game, and it’s one that I highly recommend. Suffice it to say for now, that as I played and started learning, I started experiencing a paradigm shift and aspired to do the same things in real life, that I would later find was easier said than done. By the way, Dad saw me regularly playing the game and probably thought I was nuts.
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One of the things Robert Kiyosaki discussed in Rich Dad Poor Dad was real estate investing and I became interested in it. Some friends of mine in the area were also interested in it and turned me onto our local real estate club which I won’t name. There were monthly meetings where the President encouraged us to get into deals and to, take action. There were also big time real estate speakers like the land lording guru Don Beck, whose program involved putting your rental properties on cruise control and also creating rental leases that were as protective as possible for the land lords against the problem tenants.
Most of the club members were seniors in terms of age and my two friends and I may have been the only minorities there. Coincidentally an older woman, named Mary, agreed to mentor me. Mary had been in the game for a while and had already started acquiring properties. I think she had her Multiple Listing Service (MLS) certification and had the ability to search its databases. I met another younger guy, whom I’ll call Tyler, who also had the wealth-building mindset and was living it. We talked one Saturday during a field trip we took around our area to look at properties. Tyler turned me on to T. Harv Ecker’s book, “Secrets of The Millionaire Mind”, which is a short but good read.
Like our President, Mary also encouraged me to do my first deal and we started looking at properties in the Albany area. I recall once going into an empty brownstone and looking around with her near the Albany state capital where my research lab was located. We eventually found a duplex in the downtown area, with a flat roof and one tenant living in it already. Mary suggested that I could live in one unit for a little and rent the other unit out (owner occupied). Eventually I could move out and ‘cash flow’ the entire property. It all sounded cool and a little scary. I wanted to do it, but how would I do such a thing?
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For those unfamiliar with purchasing real estate, there are usually three critical items lenders want to see: employment history of some sort (especially if you’re new), your credit score and savings of some kind (over a series of months, not random gifts). Depending how savvy you are, you may be able to structure your deal so that you don’t have to pay the closing costs up front. I just barely qualified in terms of my credit score. It wasn’t great at the time, but it was just good enough. I’d only finished my Ph.D. one to two years earlier. I paid my bills on time, but I was over-leveraged credit-wise for numerous reasons which I won’t discuss here. Finally, I had $2,000 to $3,000 in the bank, but I knew that I would need more. Where would I get it from though? Enter Dad!
Now before I go on, let me warn you that this part of the story gets a little painful, but exciting at the same time. I could save this detail until the end, but it’s worth pointing out here. One of the things this experience (and others) taught me going forward was that while we are all physically living on this world together, we can all exist in different worlds and have different world views. Science is a world of its own. Salsa dancing is a world of its own. Writing is a world of its own. Real estate investing is a world of its own. Being an employee is a world of its own. Each world has its own unique set of rules and mindsets.
Dad was an employee and an excellent at budgeting and saving. He was also risk averse money-wise, and he had his own personal real estate experience that turned him against land lording forever. According to Dad, he once had a tenant in his lower unit, an older woman. According to Dad, he went downstairs to collect the rent one day, and the woman slid into a supernatural trance where her eyes rolled back and her ears pointed upwards. From that point on Dad never wanted anything else to do with real estate investing and land lording, no matter what the upside was.
I don’t know whether Mary suggested it, or by default I decided to ask him for a loan, but after much internal deliberation, I did and that’s when things got, how shall I say, exciting. I know my father and my ask lacked confidence. I was pretty scared actually. He didn’t say no immediately, but instead looked me with a blank stare and told me he’d think about it. I intuitively knew that instead of simple yes or no, it was going to turn into a long drawn out process, and Dad didn’t disappoint.
Dad did, in fact, think about it. His thinking stretched from days to weeks which for me was like death by a thousand cuts as one of my favorite YouTube content creators often says. He asked me questions about my investment idea often from the other room when I least expected them. In some instances, we were in the same room and he’d ask me questions about it with his back to me with no eye contact. Yes, I know it’s odd, but it was just how he communicated with me at the time. At some point I told him to just forget about it, but it continued.
“How much money do you have in the bank?” I don’t remember when in this ordeal that he asked me this question, but I just remember that he asked it. The question suddenly made me feel defensive, naked, picked over and violated. “The bank will want to know how much money you have!” Dad was right about this as I found out in the future when applying for mortgages and refinancing on my own. I actually uttered these same words in a money-related dispute with an ex-girlfriend; that didn’t go over well, by the way, so be careful in those instances.
“That’s NOT money!” Dad quickly and sharply declared with the precision of an assassin. His words were cutting, and I felt insulted and angry afterwards. I didn’t understand why this whole thing had to drag out like this, and I didn’t understand why we couldn’t just sit down and have a simple step by step discussion about why it wasn’t a good or bad idea. The thing I learned later though was that Dad was right.
What Dad meant by saying that, “$2,000 to $3,000 is NOT money,” was that it wasn’t enough money to safely do what I was thinking about. As in all cases, money is relative. There are people who don’t have $400 saved up and there are people who don’t have $1,000 saved up, so to those people, $2,000 to $3,000 is a lot of money. Speaking of $1,000, losing $1,000 can hurt if you’re not prepared to lose it, which I did when trying to do a real estate deal one to two years after moving to the Washington, DC area.
I want to tie up this blog post with my major learning points from this story. They are as follows:
• It’s best to invest safely: Whether you’re investing in real estate, stocks or something else, it’s important to do so from a place of safety. At the time of writing this, to me that means allocating funds strictly for that purpose separately from your essential expenses. This way, if the investment falls through, you’ll still have a place to live, food to eat, clothes on your back, etc. Investing is different from outright gambling, but think about how much more fun a trip to a place like Las Vegas is when you have enough money with which to gamble. Don’t invest your emergency money, the rent or the mortgage. This leads to my next point which involves friends and relatives.
• Be careful about involving the finances of friends and relatives in your business/investing ideas: From 30 plus years of being his son, I knew that Dad was risk-averse and didn’t play around with his money, but his not loaning me the money turned out to be the best thing for both of us because it would’ve poisoned our relationship, potentially beyond healing. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable around him, and it would’ve always been on his mind whenever he thought about me. If you have a money idea, I think the best things is to figure out how to launch it on your own, or until its far enough along for others to see the upside (and benefit for them). This way, if you take the loss, you take it on your own. If you are going to partner with friends or relatives, make sure you share the common vision and that they understand the risks. Finally, I’ve learned that when you’re launching an idea, whether it’s stocks or some other opportunity, savvy investors/partners are more likely to participate in your idea if they can see that you’ve already thought out and invested a significant amount of your own resources into it, unless of course you have an extensive track record of doing what you’re proposing.
• Real estate is a fun and potentially rewarding area, but a complex and dangerous one too: Robert Kiyosaki’s Cashflow 101 is a fun and educational game which to this day I highly recommend. It’s just that thought, a game played with fake money. The game is designed to expand and transform your mindset. Getting out in the field and taking action which most real estate teachers teach, is a different matter. Getting an investment property was a good idea, and Dad admitted that, if I recall correctly. However, not only did I not have enough of my own money in the bank yet, it also wasn’t clear if I was staying in the area.
Now let me be clear. Am I saying not to own property out of state? Absolutely not. There are investors who own property in other states or cities, and in some instances other countries. Most of them are experienced though. They have the systems in place to be able to do so, and in some instances, they’re partnering with other experienced and like-minded people.
Think about the martial arts. Dad was a Judo guy so let’s use Judo. The masters in martial arts dojos typically wear the brown and black belts, and one must practice and train hard to reach those levels after starting at the color white. Some trials and errors are involved in ascending to the brown or black belt levels which includes blood, sweat, tears, and being thrown to the mat innumerable times in this case. I would equate this to my lost $1,000 described above which I’ll revisit later on. In short, at the time of my asking Dad for that help, I was the equivalent of a white belt in the real estate dojo.
• Be careful who you share your dreams and aspirations with: Finally, I’ll just say that not everyone is going to understand your dreams and visions, so you can’t share them with everyone. This includes friends and relatives, and this is what Robert Kiyosaki meant towards the end of Rich Dad Poor Dad about finding new friends. Let me be clear in that this doesn’t mean discarding your old friends. It just means that if people don’t understand the world you’re operating in, have had a negative experience in it, or are just not like-minded in general, they may kill your dream. This goes for significant others and love interests as well. So, for your own sanity, be mindful.
So that’s all I have to say on this matter, and I hope that this was educational for someone. It was a bitter situation to go through at the time, but I can look back and laugh at it now. I can also admit that Dad’s response towards me helped me see things from a new perspective in terms of the world around me regarding personal finances, dating and mating, and finally, when being approached by friends and/or relatives to help them start their own ideas like coffee businesses, for example.
Thank you for reading my 2020 Father’s Day blog post. In the past I’ve listed my previous Mother’s Day and Father’s Day blog posts out, but this time I’ll simply refer you to the bottom of the cover page of my blogging platform where I’ve listed out select personal stories from my collection. To receive all the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site. Please subscribe to any of my four YouTube channels. Lastly, follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, on Instagram at @anwaryusef76, and at the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.
Those of you who have read my content know that I’ve written blog posts for Mother’s Day since starting the Big Words Blog Site. As per usual, the links to my previous Mother’s Day pieces will be shared at the end of this piece. I thought of this piece, while driving back from New York State’s Capital Region as I was recently checking on my father. My Mom is quite cautious and wanted me to shelter in place as much as possible, but following her example, it was important for me to check on my old man during this Coronavirus/Covid-19 Crisis/Pandemic.
Before I get into the messages in this piece which I hope to keep short (by my standards), I want to tell any readers that while our country is looking to reopen shortly, and while infections by the Coronavirus are expected to fall off during the warm weather months, beware of a second wave. It’s predicted that when the cold winter months return, infections will as well. This blog post in some ways may in fact serve as a survival guide for some people who were unprepared for this first tsunami, and it may be helpful should there be future lockdowns and quarantines.
So in terms of Mother’s Day, as I drove back to Washington, DC recently, it occurred to me that my mother imparted some valuable nuggets in my life that helped me survive over the last two months since our country went into this lockdown. Among them are:
• The Ability to Cook: In previous Mother’s Day blog posts, I discussed the home that my mother created for us. A part of that was the meals she prepared for us, ALL of which were prepared with her hands from scratch. Her ability to cook along with my natural curiosity resulted in my ability to cook. I often jokingly tell people that at an early age, I was in the kitchen trying to figure out how she made those scrambled eggs. In addition to picking up recipes of all kinds over the years, from other people and from cookbooks like those from Emeril Lagasse, there are quite a few of Mom’s recipes that I took with me when I left the house. There are secrets that I’m still collecting today, such as most recently how to steam the green beans and onions with enough flavor and succulence at the time of consumption. I’m saying all of this to say that when the lockdown started, I already knew how to cook, so I didn’t severely feel the bite of not being able to eat out. The ability to prepare your own food is a critical skill and if there is in fact a lull in the infections, I would encourage people to learn how to prepare as much of your own food possible. Also learn to prepare healthy foods that you can eat for days at a time and even store for later. That said, I’ve learned that not everyone can eat leftovers, but we learned to do so. Finally, cooking at home also saves you money and stretches your dollars out time-wise.
• Personal Health: In addition to cooking, Mom was big on vitamins and even natural herbs and remedies. Likewise, as I was leaving Buffalo as our country was going deeper into the lockdown, she strongly encouraged me to start regularly taking Vitamin D which has therapeutic benefits for our immune systems. As I’ve been quarantining, I have in fact made Vitamin D a regular part of my daily diet and now Vitamin C as well. I shot videos on my science and technology YouTube channel about the benefits of both vitamins. Please check out those videos and my channel.
• Education, Writing and Building: I give my mother a lot of credit for the blogging platform you’re reading this post on right now. Both parents stressed education at an early age, but it was my mother who insisted that me and my brother learn how word process with proper form at an early age. We also had a computer in the house when we were young, so she saw the wave of the future coming in the early- to mid-1980s. Social distancing and quarantining isn’t natural for human beings and hasn’t always been pleasant at times, but I’ve been fortunate to be able to be keep myself busy and my mind occupied, writing and publishing content. Just as my mother was able to turn her writing abilities into a business, I have as well, which I’ll describe shortly via written content here on the Big Words Blog Site and on my Big Discussions76 YouTube channel.
• The Importance of Faith and Spirituality: Faith and spirituality can be a polarizing topic these days, but no matter how much you have or what you believe, it’s important to have it. Mom was always big on faith. When I go home to Buffalo, I try my best to get myself out of bed on Sunday mornings to attend her church’s services. Just before the lockdown set in, I was at home in Buffalo for two and a half weeks and I attended the last church service at the Mount Olive Baptist Church in Buffalo where the members, like most churches, were able to gather for the last time in a while. Before releasing the congregation, the Pastor read Psalm 91 to us, which was very, very powerful for what was taking place at the time. That scripture is now forever etched into my memory.
So, as I have lots and lots to do, I’m going to stop this here. In the Black community we sometimes dwell on what we didn’t have when we were growing up . We can inevitably get caught looking at what our peers had within our community and in other ethnic groups/cultures. It’s natural in a way, but it’s also important to acknowledge what you were given from your parent or guardian. What did your mother teach that helped you through this challenging time? What might you use if this crisis or another one comes back around?
Oh by the way, fortunately I was able to craft this Mother’s Day blog post pretty quickly and concisely. Right on schedule, Father’s Day is coming up next month and I’ve thought of another really good money-related story involving my father and me which involves a very, very important lesson, so look for it. And in closing, Happy Mother’s Day to all of the mothers out there.
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“I think playing in Buffalo alone prepares you for the world, if you’re lucky enough to be able to grow up in the City of Buffalo!”
This interview is the second part of my interview with Buffalo basketball legend Damien Foster, the other half of the Buffalo Traditional dynamic duo from the 1990s. In part one we discussed his background, and the run he and his teammates went on at Buffalo Traditional High School in the early- to- mid 1990s in Western New York’s city league, the ‘Yale Cup’ and in postseason play. In part two we discussed his basketball career after Buffalo Traditional at the college level. The pictures in this post were shared courtesy of Damien himself and from an archive of Section V and Section VI basketball assembled over the years from issues of the Buffalo News and the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle by my first Coach at Hutch-Tech High School, Dr. Ken Jones.
Anwar Dunbar: So pretty much after your freshman year, you guys had ‘bullseyes’ on your backs (no pun intended). Everyone was looking for Buffalo Traditional, but were there teams you guys looked forward to playing? I know there was a ‘thriller’ against Bennett High School in your junior year. Adrian Baugh (pictured below in blue) posts about that sometimes on Facebook. Did you have that game circled? I know Bennett was supposed to be pretty good that year with players like Mike Carter and Monty Montgomery.
Damien Foster: Well, in our junior year we lost to those guys. I think we took them for granted. I have that tape and I watch that game. I watch a lot of the games. I’ve got all the games starting from my freshman year. We really weren’t focused on that game and we really didn’t have a game plan, so we really didn’t know what to expect. We knew they were good, but we felt like we were going to go in, beat them and take care of business. When the ball went up, those guys were focused! Mike Carter was focused! The infamous ‘spin move’ – everyone kept saying he was spinning to the hole. Mike was a big guy! He was a football player so once he got you on his hip, it was hard to contain him. So that game caught us off guard and it really sparked the rivalry between us and Bennett.
Losing that game in front of all those people – I want to say that there were 5,000 to 6,000 people at Erie Community College’s (ECC) gym at the time, it was very embarrassing. Those guys rubbed it in our faces, and it was one of those things like where you say, ‘Wow.’ They definitely had a bullseye on our calendar for next year. I was absolutely looking forward to that game and I couldn’t wait for it in my senior year. You could tell the difference between our junior and senior year – the focus was just so different. We were locked in my senior year. There was no way they were going to beat us again. Some of their players didn’t care for me – Monty Montgomery didn’t care for me. I didn’t care for him and that was a rivalry. It was what it was, but yes, that game for sure.
I looked forward to playing against Jeremiah Wilkes and Burgard High School (pictured). I also looked forward to playing against Kensington High School, which had Kilroy Jackson and Edmund Battle. You couldn’t just go into Kensington and be soft. Edmund Battle and those guys would talk crap to you and try to intimidate you. Me? I liked it because it got me going and those were the games I looked forward to playing – the big games against guys who talked crap – guys who thought they were tough. It was definitely Kensington, Burgard and Bennett. Those were the teams.
AD: Now, I might not put this in print, but did you and Monty have some kind of run in at a summer league?
DF: No. Monty moved here from California and he was on his California ‘swag’. He talked about how he was going to do this and do that. He looked at us like, ‘Who are these guys?’ I’m looking at him saying, ‘Numbers don’t lie!’ And there were some words that were said over the summer when he first got here. And then when they won the game in my junior year, they really ran with it so that’s kind of what got the fire underneath me for my team.
AD: Well they had a bit of a ‘reckoning’ when postseason play started because they got disqualified in the Class B bracket, while you guys went on to Glens Falls and then back again. Anyway, your best game, was it the final game where you got the MVP or was it something else?
DF: For me I would say it was the state championship final game in my senior year. My shooting percentage was pretty high. I scored more points in other games, but it was just more so the timing of when the points came because it was the state championship. I won the “Most Valuable Player Award” and that was huge.
AD: I also asked Jason this. I asked him about the last shot of games, and he said it was never a concern because your team were usually so far ahead of your opponents (laughing). In terms of the volume of shots, were you always able to find a balance?
DF: You’ve got two ‘A-type’ personalities, two ‘alpha-dogs’ out there – of course you’re going to bump heads a little bit. Me and Jay (pictured with Damien), we were close, so we knew how to work through it. It was never a concern about who would take the last shot because we were both comfortable with whoever shot the ball. If one of us ‘squared up’, both of us had a good chance of the shot going in. We both had great shots, so for me, I never had a problem with him taking the last shot and he never had a problem with me taking the last shot. It was more like just make it and get the win.
Our chemistry was always natural from our playing together at the Boys Club, learning the game together and coming up together. We were cut from the same cloth. Teammates are going to argue. You’re brothers and you’re around each other all the time – the locker room, practice, school. When we were on the court it was a family and it was all about taking care of business.
AD: Of your four years, was one your favorite or did you enjoy them all together?
DF: I enjoyed all four years, but my senior year was my favorite because we won everything. We won the Yale Cup, the states and the federation. It was just a great year. There was a lot of winning and when you’re winning, everybody is happy. You’re being remembered, you’re writing your legacy and you’re winning at the same time. It was my best year, but then you hate for it to come to an end because you know it’s your last year. The years go by so fast.
AD: With your team coming in together, was Jason your closest teammate? Or were you tight with some of the other guys?
DF: LaVar Frasier and I were close, and Damaon White and I were also close. Jason and I came up in the Boys Club and didn’t live too far from each other. I was probably closest with those two guys in my senior year, but again me and LaVar Frasier were close and are still close today (seated to the right below with Jimmy Birden and Adrian Baugh). We talk all the time.
AD: Was there anything you saw during your four years that surprised you? I know one of your teammates got murdered in your freshman year, Cameron Calvin.
DF: That was huge. We’d just won the Wilson Tournament. The bus dropped us off at the school and everyone went their own way. Some parents picked up teammates, while some guys caught the bus. I just remember getting a phone call the next morning from one of my teammates saying, ‘Man did you hear about what happened to Cameron?’ I said, ‘Cameron? Last night?’ They said he got shot and murdered and I couldn’t believe it. I felt like no way.
We were just playing together and it kind of haunted me. Growing up on the eastside you hear stories, but I’ve never experienced it with someone so close to me getting murdered like that. So that was very detrimental to the team and we rallied together and around his parents, his brother and sister. And we all wore No. 41 armbands in remembrance of him. We wore the black bands and with the black socks and we tried to mimic Michigan’s “Fab Five” back in the day. Everybody was doing it. That brought us together even more and we really became family when that happened.
AD: Yes, that was right before you guys played us (laughing). Academics kept a lot of Yale Cup players from playing beyond high school. What kind of student were you when you were at Buffalo Traditional?
DF: I was a B+ student. My grades were pretty good because it was instilled in me early on what a ‘student-athlete’ is supposed to be. My parents didn’t play with my grades. I was just inspired to play the great game of basketball. Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to play if my grades slipped, just knowing that alone made me work even harder in the classroom. There was no way I wasn’t going to be eligible to play the game knowing what I had to do to set records. So, I never had a problem with school. I liked going to school.
AD: When did the colleges start recruiting you?
DF: The colleges started recruiting me my sophomore year.
DF: I started getting letters every day. It was pretty much from every school and conference in the country except for Duke. Those letters started coming in like crazy. A lot of that had to do with the fact that we were so active during the summer.
AD: Well, that was also before social media. Was that before or after you guys started playing big-time AAU or was it just word of mouth?
DF: It was after the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) stuff because you must remember that we started it after my freshman year. We were in France competing with their professional teams. We beat two of their pro teams, so every summer that was the regimen, AAU basketball and we were traveling. Mickey Walker was our Head Coach out of Syracuse, and it was called the “USDBL” which stood for the “Upstate Developmental Basketball League”. That was huge. Just being at the ABCD Camp, you’re playing in front of head coaches. Everybody was going to the Nike Camp, but ABCD was where it was at. You had all the head coaches in the stands and you’re playing against hundreds of other kids. That clearly helped with all the college recruiting and the letters, just getting your name out there and competing.
Don’t get me wrong. Here you’re doing good in the city, but you’ve got to play AAU ball. And like you said there was no Facebook, none of that internet stuff. This was real stuff. You had to be who you said you were (laughing)! You had to go out and prove yourself, drop some numbers and beat somebody.
AD: So, you were playing under Head Coach, Jim O’Brien. I’d gotten one of the Athlon Big East preseason books that year and remember seeing your picture. You were on the team with Danya Abrams right? – Keenan Jordan and those guys. Was James ‘Scoonie’ Penn on that team too?
DF: Yes, Scoonie Penn was on that team. That was my point guard! That was my boy!
DF: I wanted to play in the Big East Conference. Dave Spiller was an assistant at the time on Coach O’ Brien’s staff. He was from Buffalo. I also met Danya Abrams at an AAU tournament. I majored in Communications.
DF: I stayed at Boston College for two years and left after my second year. Jim O’ Brien left after my freshman year and went to Ohio State – he left on bad terms with the university. Danya Abrams, Keenan Jourdan and Stephen Thomas – all those guys were seniors when I was a freshman. We had a lot of seniors on that team, and Coach O’ Brien was trying to bring in some players to get it going. These guys he was trying to bring in were from Boston and were good guards and good players. They passed their SATs and everything, and the school ‘shut them down’. They basically told them that their high school curricula weren’t good enough. That was the second time they did that to O’ Brien’s recruits, so he was fed up with it. To make a long story short, he left the university and sued them. He took Scoonie Penn with him to Ohio State.
AD: Yes, I remember him leaving and Scoonie Penn transferring, but not all the legal stuff.
DF: He asked me if I wanted to go. I didn’t want to go because I played very limited minutes in my freshman year because we had so many seniors. I didn’t want to go and sit out a year. Everyone was leaving and I stayed.
Al Skinner came in from Rhode Island. He played in the American Basketball Association (ABA) with Dr. J and all those guys. When he came in it was so late in the recruiting period. Everyone had signed their recruiting letters. He brought in about four guys who I think were going to Division II schools. There were five of us left from the previous year’s team. Antonio Granger and Dwayne Woodward were getting ready to be seniors and I was in my sophomore year. We also had Kostas Maglos who was from Greece. That five who were there was who started. It was my sophomore year and I remember we were in the Maui Invitational Tournament, because I ran into Duke’s Elton Brand in Hawaii and we talked about that game from my junior year (laughing) (see part one of this interview).
We were getting ready to match up with Arizona which was No. 1 in the country with Mike Bibby at the time. They’d just won the championship. Right before the game was going to start, Al Skinner came up to me and said, ‘Hey I’m going to start Kenny Harley in front of you this game. Just be ready to come off the bench and play!’ It was a last-minute change, so I said, ‘Wow, okay whatever.’ The game came and he never put me in the game at all (laughing). So, then everyone was wondering what was going on with me. You go from starting to not playing at all. I had no explanation and had to figure out what was going on.
From that point on it seemed like this guy just didn’t want to play me. I couldn’t understand it and I had to figure out what was going on. I figured Jim O’ Brien was suing the university and I was caught up in the mix. I was O’ Brien’s youngest recruit and the other guys were getting ready to graduate. I wasn’t Skinner’s recruit – I understand how the game goes. I realized that it was probably time for me to go. I sat down and talked to him after the season and we just weren’t getting anywhere. In terms of transferring, it was between Duquesne and Marquette, the University at Buffalo (UB) and Canisius. UB had just gone into a new conference that year.
The only reason I came home and went to UB was because I needed to get somewhere where I’d play immediately because I’d lost the time. So, I get to UB, sit out my first year and the next year I’m ready to go. I shook the rust off a little bit. I think I had 38 points against Manhattan. That was the game before the big North Carolina game. We had North Carolina at home. And then the same thing happens. There was just a whole bunch of nonsense going on behind the scenes with the team and the coach at the time, Coach Cohane.
DF: Some of the guys on the team didn’t like Cohane. He was a military guy and he kept it real. He’d let you know if he liked you or if he didn’t. I respected that about him. If you don’t want to play me, let me know so I can go someplace else. He just had that aura about him and some of the guys on the team didn’t really care for that. Believe it or not we had a talented team at UB. There were a couple of guys from New York City who came down with Coach Rock Eisenberg. He was helping Coach Cohane. Things basically went ‘left’. The players on the team said if Coach Cohane wasn’t fired before the North Carolina game, they weren’t playing. They were going to boycott that game.
DF: It was just beyond crazy to me and I didn’t know what was going on. They had an NCAA investigation going on at the time and they were investigating Coach Cohane about being in the gym. In the offseason, coaches are not allowed in the gym. They were trying to get down to the bottom of it regarding players seeing him in the gym. The NCAA sent its investigators to interrogate us. They brought us into these small rooms one by one to see if our stories matched up. I’d never seen Coach Cohane in the gym because I was too busy playing basketball. The other players’ stories didn’t go like that. They were making up stuff saying, ‘Yes, we saw him in the gym!’
There were only three of us who said we didn’t see him in the gym, and the NCAA came back and said, ‘We’re going to give you 24 hours to recant your story because it’s not lining up with the rest of the team! Basically, if you don’t change it, you could lose your scholarship!’ They said we could go to jail. They were really trying to intimidate us and extort information out of us. So, they interviewed me for a second time. I never changed my story and to make a long story short, the players boycotted the game and they ended up firing Coach Cohane before the game. They brought Reggie in right before the North Carolina game. He came in and that was a whole other story. So, I basically went through four college coaches in four years.
DF: And it hurt me a little bit.
AD: Well, yes, it hurts most players because you don’t have that continuity, and the new coach has a new way of doing things, and he’s probably going to bring in some of his own players. So, who was the last coach?
AD: I have one last question about Al Skinner. Was he basically trying to ‘clean house’ and wipe the slate clean?
DF: Basically. He brought in his own players and they were nowhere near my level skill-wise. You have a certain time period where you sign with Division I schools and then you have a time period where you can sign with Division II schools. These guys signed with Division II schools and at the last minute, he brought them with him to Boston College. It was one of those things where some of the players were asking me, ‘Yo. Why are you sitting down? Why are you not playing?’ When you’ve got your teammates asking those questions, something isn’t right. So, I guess it was just a political thing.
He just didn’t want to play me. I just wasn’t his recruit. I didn’t understand it, but I had to understand how that political game was being played. Again, O’ Brien was suing the university and I was his recruit. He was at war with Boston College and I was still there. It was the same thing at UB. Cohane sued UB and the NCAA. We recently lost the lawsuit against the NCAA a few years back. My name is on affidavits and all kinds of crap. What they did to him wasn’t right. It was crazy. I’ve never seen anything like that. The NCAA is an institution and you’re not going to win against them (laughing). I think Jerry Tarkanian, “Tark the Shark” from UNLV, he had a lawsuit against them too. No one wins against them (laughing).
AD: Well, that’s interesting. I never knew all of that happened. I remember Jim O’ Brien going to Ohio State and Scoonie Penn following him to Columbus. And then they had Scoonie Penn and Michael Redd in the backcourt, but I never knew all of that happened and –.
DF: In hindsight, looking back maybe I should’ve left because it would’ve been me, Scoonie Penn and Michael Redd. I thought I was making the right decision by staying and –.
AD: Well, you also think that when you’re going to a school, you’re going to be there for the next four years playing for that particular coach for the entire time and –.
DF: Oh yeah, absolutely. That’s the reason you sign up and that’s why you’re there – because of that coaching staff. You say, ‘I’m here for four years with you guys!’. That’s not always the case. I had four different coaches in four years (laughing). That was crazy.
AD: Did your team ever come close to winning the conference tournament and making the NCAA Tournament?
DF: Not at UB. Like I said, we had a very talented team, and when that coaching change happened that was Reggie’s first run with a Division I school, so he was learning. He was learning how to maneuver and practice, and it just wasn’t there for him at that time. He couldn’t relate to players and players didn’t like him. I’d known Reggie since I was in the seventh grade.
He had an AAU team called ‘Ace’. Ryan Cochrane played on his team and I think Jason played a couple of times with his team. Reggie was a workaholic. He was going to work you, and if you didn’t have that mindset to come to work and be ready to run, you might get a little frustrated. A lot of the players didn’t know that about him, so they didn’t know what they were in for.
They got Cohane out and now they’ve got Reggie, and he’s running them like dogs – even before he introduced himself to them. They didn’t take that too well. It definitely rubbed off on the court in terms of winning. We weren’t on the same page, so we won some games, but no tournaments. When I was at Boston College in the NCAA Tournament, we went out to Utah and lost in the second round. We also went to the Big East Championship in my freshman year – I’ve got a championship ring from that. But Reggie literally went from coaching at ECC to coaching us at UB in the North Carolina game.
DF: In addition to me, we had Lou Campbell, Theory Harris, Davis Lawrence, Maliso Libomi, who was from France and we had Nikolai Alexeev and Alexei Vasiliev (our point guard) who were from Russia. We had a talented team. We could’ve beaten North Carolina. Reggie decided to play everybody on the bench down to the last man. The rotation just wasn’t there. Again, you’re not coaching at ECC anymore, you’re coaching at a Division I school. I was blown away by some of the stuff that I saw, but it was a learning experience. If you let it some of it would deter you.
AD: Was that one of Antawn Jamison’s North Carolina teams? Or was that one of Joseph Forte and Brendan Haywood’s team?
DF: We played against Joseph Forte in my senior year. We played them twice.
AD: What did you do after college? Did you play any professional basketball like Jason or Tim Winn?
DF: I had a tryout with Cleveland. They told me to come up for free agency camp. I came up. They took too many players in the draft, so they cancelled the camp (laughing). I also got an offer from Israel. I want to say that Trevor Ruffin was over there playing at the time. I got with an agent and signed, and it was just bad over there at the time with the wars and the fighting over the land. I want to say that Trevor was on his way back – I think he was literally at the embassy. I just didn’t feel like the money was worth it – what I was signing for at the time, so I didn’t go over to Israel and I started doing real estate from there.
AD: Damien, it sounds like you guys were relentless with your development. For any youngster who wants to play basketball, what would you tell them?
DF: The game has evolved so much since I played. These guys have got all the tools available to them – a lot of stuff. They have online tutorials, videos – when I was –.
DF: Yes, they’ve got personal trainers and they’ve got a lot of stuff that’s available to them. My advice to the youth is to just develop a good work habit. Develop great work habits all season and away from the court. Work on your game every day and you’ve just got to push yourself. You’ve got to practice and play when nobody else is. That’s just how it goes. I believe in the old-fashioned road work, so you get up in the morning at 5 am. At 6 am you’re running while the air is thin – you get your laps in. You’re putting up 500 shots a day. At the Boys Club, we would shoot at least 500 a day. You just have to work and build your confidence. Confidence is the key! Basketball is about confidence! Just be relentless and make up your mind about your goals. Set goals and if you work to achieve your goals daily, you’ll be fine. You’ll be good!
AD: You and Jason made it beyond Buffalo Traditional and the Yale Cup. There were a lot of players who didn’t make it though. In terms of facilities and budget, the Yale Cup underfunded and a lot of players didn’t make it to the next level. Do you have any thoughts on the old Yale Cup? You guys won most of the time (laughing), but do you have any thoughts looking back on how the league could’ve been better?
DF: Well, my understanding back in the day is that the Yale Cup didn’t even have the three-point line (laughing). Curtis Aiken (of Bennett) and those guys played when there was no three-point line. You play in some of the gyms in some of these schools and it was like you were playing in a bowling alley –.
AD: Like South Park or Performing Arts (laughing).
DF: With a track above it – yes, South Park. Today it has changed a little bit from that, but the city schools could always use a boost. I hate the fact that they shut Buffalo Traditional down – that’s a whole other thing.
DF: They’re redoing the gyms in some of the schools. It’s good because our kids need that. They need to have the best stuff. You walk into the suburban schools and they had the best of the best.
AD: Yes, those schools had three large gyms. They had ‘Modified’ teams and Junior Varsity teams at every school, state of the art weight rooms, a track out back. And that’s a testament to how good you guys were to have accomplished what you accomplished without all those things.
DF: Yes, I think it was just coming from where we came from, our backgrounds and just wanting it. We wanted it! I know I did, and I wanted it bad. Just growing up in a single parent home, you want so much for your Mom. It was one of those things where I felt like I was going to do everything. I was going to be the man of the house. I’m going to do everything for my Mom! You deal with what you deal with. You try to make the best out of it, and you try to make it work for you. A lot of our games were played at ECC because of the schools we were going into. Our gym at Buffalo Traditional didn’t have the corner line, and everybody was coming to our games, so they had to be at ECC. You just must push through.
AD: And when those game were at ECC, did they push them to the nighttime?
DF: Yes, they were night games.
AD: That makes a big difference, because most of our games in the Yale Cup were right after school. So, you didn’t have a lot of time to get your head right. In the private and suburban schools, their games were at nighttime. Okay, last question. What did playing at Traditional and in college teach you about life and success?
DF: Ah, man, it’s the perfect parody to life. It teaches you discipline. For me, it taught me that in all your endeavors in life, you must know how to deal with them. You’re going to have to deal with problems in life and just being an athlete, it makes you see things differently. I’ll put it that way. You know how to deal with certain things when life gets hard. Life starts being overbearing or overplaying you, so you sort of have to go ‘back door’. It’s the same thing on the court. Especially playing in Buffalo. I think playing in Buffalo alone prepares you for the world. If you’re lucky enough to be able to grow up in the city of Buffalo –.
AD: Really? I’ve never heard that before (laughing). What do you mean by that?
DF: I think Buffalo gives you the tools to go out into the real world and compete.
DF: You know, it’s just the grime and grit here. Whether it’s the snow, it’s Buffalo. If you can make it here and make a name for yourself, I think you’ll go out in the world and you’re ready! I truly honestly believe that. Buffalo prepares you for everything in the world and you’ll definitely know how to go out and handle yourself. You have no choice. You almost have no choice growing up here. I’m speaking about growing up in the city.
AD: Well, Damien. That’s pretty much all I’ve got. I think I asked Jason this as well, but once you guys got to a certain point, did you focus solely on basketball? No football or other sports?
DF: I was never a two-sport athlete. We talked about football because we played pole to pole. But we talked about it and we didn’t want to get hurt. The basketball season was after football season and we didn’t want to mess that up trying to play football, so that was never my thing. I got asked to play football when I was at Boston College. Matt Hasselback was the quarterback at Boston College at the time and –.
AD: Oh really?
DF: He needed some wide receivers, so he said, ‘Just come out for the team! I need a receiver! You’re tall! You’re fast!’ I’m looking at him and saying, ‘Are you crazy? You want me to play Division I Football?’ If you’re going to do that, you’re going to have to do it from little league (laughing).
AD: That’s right.
DF: That never was my thing. I told Matt that they would tear my little skinny butt up (laughing)! That was interesting. He asked me, but nah, I couldn’t do that.
AD: You said something about being one of the top 50 players in the country, but not ‘All-Western New York’ your junior year. Is that true?
DF: I got an invitation to the ABCD Camp in my junior year. They wrote up an article in the paper saying that I was one of the top 50 juniors in the country (see the caption above). The ABCD Camp was for the top 100 players in the country! I’ve got the letter which Coach Cardinal signed. I’ve still got it in my scrapbook. So, it’s like my junior year I went to ABCD Camp, I was killing the Yale Cup and the numbers were there. I didn’t make the All-Western New York First Team (see picture below). I couldn’t believe it and I said, ‘Wait a minute!’
The rumor was that they couldn’t have an all-black All-Western New York First Team. They weren’t ready for that, so they had to have some white faces on the team. I just didn’t see myself not making the All-Western New York First Team my junior year. I made it in my senior season. But how are you top 50 in the country where you get invited to play with Kobe Bryant and all these guys and you don’t even make the All-Western New York First Team?
AD: Yes, that doesn’t make any sense.
DF: Because if you look at the team my senior year, it’s all-black (laughing). I get it. I totally get though. It’s Buffalo!
AD: What are you doing now?
DF: I’m in real estate on the investment side and I’ve been doing it for the last 12-13 years.
AD: Are you ‘holding’ them or are you flipping them?
DF: I pretty much buy and rent them. I’ll sell if needed, but I’ll buy and rent for the long-term. I sold one last year. I got lucky. I bought when the recession hit so I was able to stack them then. I’m glad that I did because now the Buffalo market is through the roof. My older brother was doing it when I was in high school, so I learned from him and from my other brother in Detroit. That was one of the other reasons I didn’t pursue playing basketball overseas as much. My goal was to get to the NBA. You can make a living playing overseas, but the first house I got paid off for me, so I did that.
To me there’s a fine line in any sport in terms how long you play, and a lot of athletes get caught up chasing it for the rest of their lives. And each athlete is different. It works for some and doesn’t work for others. I didn’t want to be that guy who was chasing it, chasing it, and chasing it and then would have to look around and try to be a regular civilian (laughing). Who is going to hire you at 30 or 40 you know? I saw lots of athletes get caught up that way, and I just never wanted to be that guy. The decision was easy for me, so I just did real estate.
AD: Well, I’ll you what Damien. I’m going to transcribe this, but money is something I’m also passionate about. I write about it and I record videos about in on my YouTube channel, Big Discussions76, so if you would like to come on at some point, I’m sure that a lot of the Buffalo folks around the country would be interested in it. And I think it’s something that our people need to get more involved in, the investing side.
DF: Yes, we need more black ownership. Especially in Buffalo.
AD: Well, Damien, thank you again, and I really appreciate your willingness to talk about your life and playing days. Whether you know it or not, you are royalty, at least as far as I’m concerned. What you guys did at Buffalo Traditional was big and in your successes you touched a lot of lives – not just at Buffalo Traditional, but also for the rest of us at the other schools – seeing that those types of things could be done and giving everyone else something to shoot for. It was something for the entire area to be proud of – to say that you were there, and that you played against Damien Foster and Jason Rowe, and the Buffalo Traditional Bulls.
DF: No problem.
Thank you for taking the time to read this interview. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:
If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly, follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. Finally, please check out my YouTube channel entitled, Big Discussions76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.
Many of my writings discuss growing up in Buffalo, NY as a member of “Generation X”, specifically, some of the familial, social, cultural and racial aspects. My generation grew up in Buffalo following the exodus of the city’s steel industry, in addition to the ‘post-Civil Rights’ era. Our elders, the “Silent Generation” and the “Baby Boomers”, grew up in Buffalo when the steel industry boomed and experienced the Civil Rights era. You could argue that we came of age literally in two different worlds and are now existing as adults in two different worlds mentally.
The opening quote of this piece comes from a gentleman named “Gus”. Gus is a retired black business owner, a Baby Boomer who owned a steak shop near the corner of Jefferson Avenue and William Street in Buffalo. In addition to the pizza and wings it’s classically known for, there are also numerous steak shops that make nice greasy Philadelphia-style cheese steaks which is what Gus’s restaurant, “Gusto’s”, specialized in. They were very tasty, let me tell you.
Gus was the stepfather of one of my best friends and at many holiday gatherings there were talks of the ‘old Buffalo’ when there was an abundance of black businesses. Readers familiar with our city might associate that time as being the pre-Humboldt Parkway expressway era. In addition to the steel industry and a vibrant city economy, not having the Humboldt Parkway expressway there is something else I can’t imagine, as it has been there my entire life, running from downtown Buffalo out to the suburbs and to the airport.
Gus’s revelation amazed me as I couldn’t imagine our city any other way than what I’d seen in my 20 plus years, at the time. If what he said was true, there was an abundance of black proprietors and entrepreneurs located on real estate which is now considered blighted and more than a little bit rough. I went into that neighborhood quite a bit to play basketball at the William-Emslie YMCA, but I didn’t hang around there much otherwise.
So, what happened to those black businesses? Where did they go? And why does it matter 40-50 years later? Gus and many others attributed it to “Social Integration” following the Civil Rights Movement.
* * *
Civil Rights and Social Integration are most discussed in terms of education, access to jobs and the right to use the same facilities as other races. Key efforts of the Civil Rights Movement involved securing voting rights and desegregating society in general; most notably in education, the professional world and the desegregation of public institutions down to drinking fountains and bathrooms.
The end result was that black people could now go to the same schools as white people and could, in theory, have equal employment and access to all parts of society. I said in theory because there was still separation of races and ethnic groups. Growing up I heard stories of white flight in my hometown (and other urban areas) as black families spread out into white communities. Apparently, the neighborhoods which were mostly black in the era that I grew up in, were once mostly white, but gradually became all black as those white residents fled to the suburbs.
Growing up, the definition of Social Integration was usually discussed in societal contexts. One was dating. My father once told me the story of a classmate in college taking a verbal jab at him, saying that ‘integration’ was his favorite subject mathematically, because it was a thought that he liked white women. But what are the other contexts for integration? Yes, and perhaps the biggest is Business/Economics.
* * *
The prelude to this piece is my essay regarding Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of the burning house. In the second half of that document I introduced Dr. Claud Anderson, a staunch advocate of reparations and black economic empowerment. Check out that piece for an in-depth discussion of Dr. Anderson and his philosophies. I also referenced Dr. Anderson’s interview on the popular radio show, “The Breakfast Club”. I wanted to include excerpts from the interview in my Dr. King piece, but I realized that it warranted its own separate essay. The following dialogue between Dr. Anderson and one of the hosts, Charlemagne “Tha God” sheds light on what happened to black businesses across the United Sates following Social Integration:
Dr. Claud Anderson: I grew up in Winston-Salem, NC and we weren’t looking for any Social Integration. Do you know why? It’s because we had our own businesses there. My family had the only black bus line in the entire United States, the only black bus line! And when I say a bus line, I’m not talking about two or three buses. We had over 500 buses in Winston-Salem, NC! And guess what, we had that from 1927 up to about 1967.
In Winston-Salem we Blacks also had our own cab companies, our own restaurants, our own hotels, our own school systems. Do you know what killed our buses? Social Integration. When suddenly you all started talking about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. going down to Montgomery, AL wanting to integrate the bus lines – integrate whose bus lines? White bus lines! They didn’t want to own or control the resources. They just wanted to sit in the front of them (the buses).
Now you tell me. What does that indicate? That you want to get on the bus and just sit on the front of it? Now if the bus is moving, then the back of the bus will be where the front of the bus was in a fraction of a second, and everybody gets off at the same time. So, in Winston-Salem we had our own buses, so when that movement was successful and the blacks who were in Alabama came up to Winston-Salem, blacks in Winston-Salem said, ‘We want to ride in the front of white buses!’ We said, ‘We don’t have any white buses.’ They said, ‘Well get some, so we can ride on the front of them!’
Charlemagne “Tha God”: I feel like a complete asshole because I never thought about that. That whole time they should’ve been trying to establish their own bus companies as opposed to wanting to ride someone else’s. You all boycotted for a year just to want to ride in the front? I never thought about that (laughing).
Dr. Claud Anderson: You’re a smart man! In our “Safe Bus Company” – you can find out about that on your computers. See, we owned the buses. We owned the resources. All our mechanics were black. All our drivers were black. Our electricians were black. Everything was black!
We each had two cab companies in Winston-Salem. The whites had the Blue Bird and the Yellow Cab Companies. We had the Harris and the Camel City Cabs. But guess what. Once that integration movement started, do you know what they wanted? Blacks didn’t want to ride in black cabs anymore. They wanted to ride in the white cabs. In Winston-Salem, we had our own movie theaters, the Lincoln and the Lafayette. There was a Lincoln and Lafayette in every black section of every major city in the United States. The whites had three movie theaters. They had the Far Sight, the Carolina, and the State Theaters. We didn’t care, because we had our own movie theaters. So, guess what. Blacks didn’t want to go to the black theaters anymore, we wanted to go to the white theaters.
Charlemagne “Tha God”: We swear white ice is colder!
Dr. Claud Anderson: I saw that happen once. I was in Tallahassee, FL giving a speech. I was standing on the corner talking to a black real estate developer. A black guy owned a grocery store across the street. A guy pulled up and we watched him, like me and you are talking now. He pulled up to the grocery store and went over to the ice machine. He opened an ice container and pulled out a bag of ice. He looked at the ice container, rolled it around and then put it back into the machine.
He then turned around, backed his car up to where we were standing to a place called Jack’s Liquor. He went into the ice machine and it was made by the same company. He looked at it, rolled it around and then went inside and bought it. I told the person I was with that, ‘I’d never seen that before! I’m going to ask him about it when he comes out of the store. I said, “Sir, let me ask you a question. Why is it that you would not buy the ice from the ice machine over there at the black grocery store, but you came over here to Jack’s Liquor?”
He said, ‘Oh I don’t want to buy Mr. Williams’ ice. I don’t like it. It’s too lumpy! White ice is smoother.’ I said, ‘I know white ice is colder, but now I also know it’s smoother.’
* * *
“Black folks never learned the importance of owning and controlling!” I think this quote from Dr. Anderson sums up this whole discussion. I must admit though that it’s much more nuanced than that. Why would a race of people completely forsake their own businesses to patronize someone else’s? I think that after enduring chattel slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow and segregation, I believe that there was a mass psychological need to feel whole, to feel equal and for acceptance by the larger white society, which is understandable. But is there a point where it went too far?
Something black people in the United States still struggle with as a race today is a sense of belonging. This happens both within our own race, and then regarding what’s referred as the Dominant Society. It’s crazy to wrap your mind around all of it, but it’s real. If you’re black and are perceived as having too many white qualities, you’re not black enough. And there are black people who feel more comfortable assimilating into the Dominant Society. Some are accepted, but it can also be a never-ending quest for some, with consequences on both sides.
Though we had what we needed in our communities, there was still a need to be accepted and to have access to things that were denied to us, socially and in terms of white-collar careers. But did that require forsaking our own businesses and economic power? Not only were there once black businesses, but also black institutions of all kinds. Black Wall Street in Tulsa, OK comes to mind and there are numerous stories about it being destroyed and why.
But there were also the Negro Leagues. It’s amazing to think that all the great black baseball players were once all concentrated in one league and that league eventually died out so they could integrate the Major Leagues. The same thing is true for our Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). There was a point at which they got the best and brightest black students and even athletes. Now they’re competing with larger and more well-funded Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). Many have permanently closed for this reason.
* * *
Not only have we put most of our emphasis on attaining white collar careers to work in institutions created by others, but there are also issues about creating and sustaining our own black businesses today. In many circles you hear stories of black people not supporting each other’s businesses, but supporting those of other groups. You hear stories of poor service. You hear stories of the services or goods being too expensive and of lesser quality. Then there are also many, many stories of black patrons wanting ‘hookups’ or discounts simply because the proprietors are black. There are also discussions that black entrepreneurs must be careful about solely targeting black people as their customer base, based upon the issues described.
Nevertheless, I do think that we must figure out how to retake ownership of our economic power. In my essay about Dr. King’s vision of the burning house, I listed Dr. Claud Anderson’s points for rebuilding black communities. He first described building communities and families and then figuring out how to keep the dollars within the community. Growing up on Buffalo’s eastside, I only have memories of corner stores being owned by Asians and Arabs. Go into any inner-city now and you’ll see the same thing for the most part. Most of the convenience stores, beauty, hair and nail shops are, in fact, owned by Arabs and Asians, some of whom have responded to customers with violence in retaliation to toxic behaviors towards them which in some neighborhoods are the norm.
There have been numerous stories in recent times of violence being perpetrated against black women at beauty supply shops, for example. Men, such as Tyrone Muhammad in Chicago, took steps to protect the women and tried to send a message to the foreign proprietors by throwing a brick through their window. After getting out of jail, he returned to the shop to see the same women getting their nails done, like nothing had ever happened, as opposed to her finding black nail shops.
I’m going to close this piece by saying that I’ve been blessed based upon the family I grew up in, and that I was able to ascend academically and professionally. One of my professors at Johnson C. Smith University told me numerous stories about the racism he endured when working on his Ph.D. at the University of Cincinnati. Aside from the challenging work itself, my doctoral studies as the University of Michigan were mostly smooth. I do acknowledge though that the Civil Rights Movement was critical in providing me the opportunities to go to school.
Furthermore, after being locked out of parts of society and suffering through the hardships endured by the descendants of African Slaves in the United States, it’s understandable that the focus would be on inclusion and assimilation into society. That said, much of it seems to have been done at the expense our own black economy, and going forward, if possible, we must figure out how to rebuild it as most everything seems to stem from it. Other groups have maintained and built their economic power. We should too.
The featured image of this piece is that of the street signs of Grider Street and Kensington Avenue on Buffalo’s eastside. The McDonald’s I worked at in my late teens, which was black owned, sits further down the street from that sign on Delevan Avenue and Grider Street. During that time, I think there were two other McDonald’s restaurants on the eastside that were black owned. The image in the middle of the piece was once again generated by “Creative Designs” by the very talented Tamara Coleman. If you want to learn more about Tamara and her work, contact her via email at: Tammyfirstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you agree or disagree with anything I’ve said in this piece? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below. Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this one, you might also enjoy:
If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. I’ve recently started a YouTube channel, so please visit me at Big Discussions76. To receive all the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site, or add my RSS feed to your feedreader. You can follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and Twitter at @BWArePowerful. Lastly, you can follow me on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.
“I fear, I am integrating my people into a burning house!”
Before I start this piece, I want to acknowledge the creator of its primary image. It was generated by “Creative Designs” by the very talented Tamara Coleman. If you want to learn more about Tamara and her work, contact her via email at: Tammyemail@example.com.
This Black History blog post falls under my principles of “Critical Thought” and “Financial Literacy/Money”. Here on my blog and on my YouTube channel, Big Discussions76, I challenge readers and viewers to question things and not just accept the images and messages fed to them. This is particularly important for this election year where we voters and sure to be slammed with all kinds of propaganda biased reporting by the mainstream news sources.
One of the interesting things about history is that he or she who controls the narrative controls the minds and the perceptions of the masses regarding what happened for a given person or event. Some argue that all the technology we have today has made the world worse, and there are cases where that’s true. I usually counter that sentiment by arguing that in some ways it has made it better. One way it has made the world better is through the ability to share information, so that more accurate and complete stories can be told.
Another important revelation for me regarding Dr. King was my mentor sharing that just as many black people wanted to take his life as white people, if not more. It’s odd (and unsettling) to think something like that could happen, but information and perspectives that are being shared now may give insight as to why. Something that classically hasn’t gotten as much exposure, but which is now gaining traction in certain circles today, is Dr. King’s final thoughts on his life’s work.
Dr. King’s signature victory was the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but it turns out that before his death, he wondered if he’d spent his life fighting for the wrong things. He pondered if he’d led his people in the wrong direction as discussed in the opening quote of this blog post. This is a good place to ask an important question. What exactly happened in 1968 that warranted Dr. King’s assassination as opposed to one of the previous years? A prevalent theory is that Dr. King’s focus had shifted from social integration and desegregation to economic and financial equality/power and empowerment. His final effort was in fact the “Poor People’s Campaign”.
* * *
“In a race-based society, it’s what you own and control that determines your opportunities, rights and privileges! This doesn’t have a darn thing to do with Civil Rights! That’s a waste of time! It doesn’t have anything to do with voting!”
At this point I want to introduce Dr. Claud Anderson and then I’m going to bring the two men together at the conclusion of this piece. For those unfamiliar with him, Dr. Claud Anderson is an author/economist/historian and a former cabinet member of President Jimmy Carter. For 40 plus years of my life, I was unaware of Dr. Anderson and I only became aware of him due to the vigilance of Dr. Boyce Watkins, who I watch regularly on YouTube and who I also follow on Twitter. This, in part, underscores the good our new technologies have done.
Dr. Watkins is unapologetically black, a staunch advocate of black love, is considered controversial by some and while he regularly weighs in on some of the social issues of the day (recently Lizzo for example), his background is in economics, money and investing. His core messages are thus about black people learning how to invest and build businesses. He’s very, very passionate about black kids learning to buy stock and build businesses as early as possible and has programs for teaching such skills to both children and adults. He argues that this is more important than our kids learning to do the latest dances or excelling at football or basketball.
I don’t recall when Dr. Watkins started bringing Dr. Claud Anderson onto his show, but once he did it was easy to see why, and why he looks upon Dr. Anderson with such reverence. I’d encourage any readers to look up any of Dr. Anderson’s discussions with Dr. Watkins, and then any of Dr. Anderson’s abundance of interviews available on YouTube. He had a powerful discussion with the popular ‘Breakfast Club‘, and over the holiday season I stumbled upon an interview of Dr. Anderson from 1995 in Detroit. He had another powerful interview with Rock Newman here in DC. I’d embed these interviews right here into my blog post, but I don’t want any kind of copyright infringement claims against me. I’ll thus share the links to the interviews:
What’s remarkable about the 1995 interview was that Dr. Anderson spoke on everything that’s unfolding today. One point was the efforts to bring in immigrants into the United States to undermine the black vote and I’ll leave that there. It’s a very polarizing topic as ironically many black people support the same politicians who are looking to enforce these policies. The year of 1995 was just prior to the internet becoming mainstream. Interestingly, even when transferring to my Historically Black College/University (HBCU), I don’t remember any mention of Dr. Anderson, which is very strange. As noted before, the same is true for intellectuals like Dr. Thomas Sowell and Dr. Walter E. Williams, black conservatives, but ‘intellectual heavyweights’ nonetheless.
Then again, it’s not strange as Dr. Anderson discussed how the individuals who decide which books will be used at HBCUs don’t want his books there during his interview with the Breakfast Club. While I recommended three of Dr. Anderson’s interviews above, and while I’m going to recommend his books below, in watching and reading Dr. Anderson’s content, I must warn you. If you’re a Barrack Obama enthusiast who was in love with the symbolism of his presidency, or even a staunch Democrat, his words aren’t kind to either. He’s not a pro-Trumper by any means, but he’s very open about the political class’ role in the state of Black America now. By the way, many, many criticisms of Barrack Obama’s legacy are emerging within the black community these days and can at least in part be attributed to what happened to Senator Kamala Harris in the Democratic primary.
With the videos I’ve listed, you can go watch and learn more for yourself. For the sake of this post, I’m just going to focus on three things. The first is Dr. Anderson’s plan for empowering black communities across the United States, much of which can be done by the communities themselves without outside help. He described the following points with hosts “DJ Envy” and “Charlemagne THA God” on the Breakfast Club. He described black economic empowerment (by the black community itself) as building a proverbial building with multiple floors:
• First Floor– Build a community and practice ‘group economics’; particularly making the money ‘bounce’ in the community 8-12 times before it leaves (discussed below). • Second Floor– Politics; without economics there’s no ability to influence politicians or elections as a group; Voting is immaterial and a game of entertainment; You buy or rent the politicians. • Third Floor– Use the politicians to influence the court systems and law enforcement to decrease things like police brutality. • Fourth Floor– Media; If you don’t own media, you can’t organize, communicate or motivate. • Fifth Floor– Education; Interestingly the final level, but according to his logic it makes sense as there would theoretically be the existence of black businesses for our young professionals to start working in.
The second point I want to focus on is that of black people relearning how to ‘bounce’ their dollars in the black community as described above. In this context, bouncing simply refers to spending money within the community to give those there the opportunity to benefit from it long-term. Dr. Anderson argues eloquently that of all the other races and ethnic groups, the black dollar bounces the least within its own community before quickly leaving. In the Black History-related piece following this one, I’m going to discuss whether racial desegregation irreversibly started the process of destroying black businesses. An example of supporting a black business is patronizing the above-mentioned Tamara Coleman who created the primary image of this piece.
My final point regarding Dr. Anderson is that of ’Reparations’ which is basically the reconciling of the debt and economic disparities by the United States believed to be owed to the descendants of slaves created by the ‘Chattel Slavery’ and Jim Crow. I’m not going argue whether black people should get them here, though it is interesting that groups like Japanese Americans got something following World War 2. Other groups apparently got similar severances. I’ll just say that Dr. Anderson is a staunch advocate of reparations and don’t be surprised to see a further fractured black vote in the 2020 general election due to this one issue which was in large part brought to the forefront by the Obama Presidency.
* * *
I’d encourage readers to purchase copies of Dr. Anderson’s books which it seems are not available at HBCUs as described above. I asked for and received Dr. Anderson’s three books last year for Christmas: Powernomics, The Black History Reader and Black Labor-White Wealth. Again, he has in large part been kept out of mainstream media and, based upon his messages, it’s not surprising why. I would also encourage readers to visit Dr. Anderson’s “Harvest Institute” to learn more about his efforts and to make a donation if you’re motivated to do so.
So, what does all this have to do with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr? Well, it relates directly to his vision of the burning house. Were his efforts in large part directed in the wrong direction? Was it always economics? Did desegregation ultimately have harmful effects on Black America, causing all our black businesses to wither away and die? Also, have we become a permanent underclass as described by Dr. Claud Anderson?
In terms of reparations, based upon responses by then Democratic candidate, Kamala Harris, and remaining candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, I’m not going to hold my breath for them. Part of Dr. Claud Anderson’s ‘Gospel’ regarding economic empowerment though is hopeful and suggests that black people as a group can still coalesce and build something. The question is ‘will we?’.
It would require a mass shift in mindset which is the hardest part. If you watch Dr. Boyce Watkins’ content, he’s shared frustrations numerous times about black people as a group not being interested in learning about economics and financial literacy. Some are, but personally I thought it was odd that it took something like Jay-Z’s ‘444’ album to get black people talking about these topics at least for a little while. Again, some of us are interested in this stuff and actively talk about it and study it, but the majority isn’t. A small group will thus likely thrive while the majority may not as much.
If money, financial literacy and business topics fascinate you, I have a wealth of content on that now right here on the Big Words Blog Site. As a matter fact, my blogging platform was rated one of the “10 Best Financial Education Blogs” by the company “Expertido” for 2019. I’ve written several ‘literary’ pieces about some basics of budgeting and topics regarding things like “Matching Contributions”. My pieces are usually personal stories discussing my journey learning these concepts.
Working with a collaborator, I’ve published profuse amounts of content in the areas of Financial Literacy/Money and Business/Entrepreneurship. These are smaller informational pieces you can read through in five minutes or less. Just go to the categories tab on my platform and choose one of those categories. I also discuss money topics on my YouTube channel entitled, Big Discussions76. Please stop by, subscribe and find the playlist entitled, “Big Discussions Financial Literacy”.
As Black History Month approaches, I’ll be publishing another piece specifically focusing on whether Civil Rights and desegregation hurt Black America. Thank you for reading this piece. I want to thank Dr. Boyce Watkins for his hard work in trying to get his money messages out to our people, and for getting Dr. Claud Anderson out into the spotlight where he has always belonged. Again, for 40 years of my life I had no idea who he was and I’m not alone. That’s a major problem, but if you understand economics and media as I do now, it’s not unexpected.
Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this one, you might also enjoy:
If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. I’ve recently started a YouTube channel, so please visit me at Big Discussions76. To receive all the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site, or add my RSS feed to your feedreader. You can follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and Twitter at @BWArePowerful. Lastly, you can follow me on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.
“From that point it just got better and better. Your confidence starts to build, and half of basketball is confidence! Once you get your confidence, you can go anywhere!”
One of the key principles of my blog is ‘Creating Ecosystems of Success’. A key pillar of creating them is hearing the stories and experiences of those who have made it to where we want to be. Like many kids, an early dream of mine was to play basketball. That dream didn’t reach fruition, but the lessons I learned playing in the Buffalo Public Schools’ ‘Yale Cup’ high school city basketball league laid the groundwork for me to go on to further my education and start my science career.
I’m working on a project chronicling my early journey, and as a part of the research for that project, I’ve interviewed numerous Yale Cup players from my era. On October 19, 2019, I had the honor of interviewing Damien Foster. Damien, alongside Jason Rowe, spearheaded Buffalo Traditional High School’s ascension to the top of ‘Section VI’ basketball, leading his Bulls to the ‘Far West Regional’ each of their four years, and then to State Tournament in Glens Falls in their final two years, before winning it in their senior season. In part one of this two-part interview, we discuss his background, and his storied playing days at the Buffalo Traditional High School. The pictures in this interview come from an archive of Section VI basketball assembled over the years from issues of the Buffalo News, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, and Section V and VI playoff programs by my first Coach at Hutch-Tech High School, Dr. Ken Jones. Other pictures were generously shared by Damien himself and Jason Rowe.
Anwar Dunbar: Thank you for this opportunity to interview you, Damien. I’m working on an ambitious writing project about my high school basketball experience. It was my first major success and failure life lesson. While I didn’t play organized basketball beyond the 1993-94 school year, my high school experience on our team at Hutch-Tech gave me the tools I needed to earn my Ph.D. in a STEM-field – not quitting during the hard times, dealing with adversity, finishing what I started, and so on.
In my project I also tell the story of the Yale Cup in that era, and you can’t properly tell it without discussing the Buffalo Traditional Bulls, as you were the premiere program/team. As a part of my research, I’ve reached out to some of the other Yale Cup players to gain insight into what it was like to play at Bennett High School, City Honors, Kensington High School, Riverside High School, and others. I’ve also spoken with players from Hamburg, LaSalle and Niagara Falls Senior High School. As you know I spoke with Jason Rowe, so I know some things about the Buffalo Traditional Bulls, but I thought it would be great to talk to you as well.
Damien Foster: No problem. Thank you for allowing me to speak.
AD: The Buffalo Traditional Bulls were a big deal. I know you went on to play in college after graduating from high school, but when you came into the Yale Cup and Section VI, Buffalo Traditional became the game that everyone circled on their calendars (laughing). Let’s go back to the beginning. Where are the Fosters from? Are you all originally from Western New York or somewhere else?
DF: My Dad’s side of the family is from Saginaw, MI. I have lots of family in Saginaw. My Dad’s family is bigger. My Mom’s side of the family is from Greenville, SC.
AD: I attended the University of Michigan for graduate school, so I’m a little familiar with that state. Did they come to Buffalo for the steel jobs?
DF: Yes, my Dad’s oldest brother left Saginaw back in the 1950s or 60s. He came to Buffalo and left his younger brothers behind. He and his wife moved to Buffalo where he opened a bar and got into real estate – he owned property in Buffalo. Sure enough as the saying goes, when one brother leaves, the younger brothers follow. My Dad and my uncles who followed him, is what landed them in Buffalo. They visited and stayed. As far as my Mom’s side, my Grandfather married my Grandmother when they were in Greenville, SC. They were trying to get away from all the racial stuff down south and it was common for folks to go north. My Grandfather didn’t want my Grandmother around that type of stuff, so that’s what landed him in Buffalo.
AD: In the mid-1990s when you and Jason (Rowe) were juniors, they wrote a feature in the Buffalo News capturing his history. They pointed out that he basically came from a ‘basketball family’, but I don’t recall seeing anything about your start. Do you come from a basketball family as well? How did you start playing the game?
DF: I have a brother who is nine years older than me. He’s one of the reasons I started playing basketball. He played for Bennett High School and was on their 1987 team that made that run with Trevor Ruffin (pictured), ‘Boo’ Alexander, ‘Crow’ and all those guys. They were undefeated around Buffalo and in the Yale Cup; and they lost the state championship. I was around 10 years old when they played the Yale Cup championship game. It was Bennett vs. South Park and it was held at the Canisius College Koessler Center.
My Dad took me to that game, and it was the first game I ever went to. I remember my brother needing these ‘Air Jordans’ so bad for this big game – the Jordans were ‘popping’ back then. I went to the game and saw how many people were there and it was crazy. I saw him play and ever since that day, I was inspired to play basketball. They say that if you get inspired as a kid, that’s huge. I was inspired, and it took off from there for me. I was just ‘jonesing’ to play and learn the game – to just be around the game. My Dad also played a little bit in the military. So, it wasn’t a huge basketball family, but my brother and my Dad played.
AD: You eventually grew to 6’4” or 6’5” right?
DF: I grew to 6’4.5”.
AD: Was your father tall?
DF: My Dad was 6’1” and my brother ended up being 6’2.5”.
AD: I remember you becoming an ‘all-around player’. You developed your ‘guard-skills’. You could shoot it from long-range, you could handle the ball – everything. Did you start on your elementary school team? Did you start going to camps?
DF: So, taking it from 1987, I was 10 years old and I watched my brother play in that game. From that day on I wondered how I could get a basketball hoop. How could I practice? I’m ‘jonesing’, I’m a kid. Back then I was in a single-parent home. Mom didn’t have money to buy a basketball hoop at that time, so I got creative. In the winter I’d hustle by shoveling snow to make money.
I ended up buying a rim – just a rim alone. I figured out a way to start making my own basketball hoop. I’d get two by fours and plywood. I’d nail the rim to the backboard, tie it to a fence and there was my basketball hoop. I’d also tie it to a pole and then I eventually ended up putting it in my back yard. I’d play every day in my backyard for hours and hours – just being curious. I started inviting my friends over to play – you need somebody to practice on. We’d play for hours every day. It got to the point where it would rain, and it would snow, but I’d still have that jones to play and I’d go in the snow to play.
So, it started there and then my Mom was able to eventually buy me a real basketball hoop. When we put it in the ground in the backyard, my backyard became considered ‘the spot’. I was 11 or 12 years old and we were in the back yard all day. We’re talking seven days a week playing basketball all day.
Eventually it went from the back yard to running into one of my now mentors, Garcia Leonard. I met him at 12 years old at the Masten Boys & Girls Club. At the Boys Club, I learned the culture. The Boys Club back then was considered ‘the Mecca’ of basketball for all the people who came out of Buffalo. The type of people that were coming through the Boys Club at that time were some big names including: Glen Taplin, Ray Hall, Trevor Ruffin – you name it and those guys were coming through there and that was just the pick-up games. At that age I was playing with them and catching on. I was also tall for my age back then.
I wasn’t quite 6’4” then, but I was at least 6’. They worked with me. I was fortunate and very lucky for them to be able to come back and recognize the talent that I had and to just give it to me raw. They treated me like I was a grown man at 12 years old. At 13 years old if you step out there on the basketball court, you’ve got to be treated equally like everyone else and these were grown men! I learned so much from them and they took the time out just to break the game down and instill certain skills in me.
It went from playing in my backyard to playing at the Boys Club every night. Now I’m going to the Boys Club five days a week and we’re running every night. Ozzie Lumpkin was the director at the time. He played ball as well and he’d literally open the gym at 11 pm or 12 midnight.
DF: He would call it ‘runs’, so now we’ve got 15 guys down there like Ray Hall and others. We’re literally running in the middle of the night and learning the game of basketball. I’m 12-13 years old and I’m thinking to myself, this is great stuff in terms of learning to compete. I was able to pattern myself after grown men. Jason would come around as well. He got the same treatment. We were very lucky, and timing was everything at that point. It was beyond crazy because they were playing professional at the time – Trevor, Ray Hall and those guys. So, to get that one-on-one teaching and competition from them was just huge.
The next thing you know, my skill set started to develop. You’re playing with grown men so eventually your skills are going to go beyond the kids your own age. When the kids your own age can’t keep up with you they start scratching their heads wondering where you’re getting it from and how you’re doing it.
By the time I got to the sixth grade, I was at Campus East. I tried out and made the basketball team. The coach at the time was Mr. Spindler. He put me on the team, and they had seventh and eighth graders. It’s funny, one player on that team was Ben Franklin. Wait, was it Ben Franklin? Yes, Benjamin. Was Franklin his last name? He went to Riverside High School.
AD: Was it Ben Rice?
DF: Yes! It was Ben Rice. Ben Rice was at Campus East with me. He was in eighth grade. Who else was on that team? Was it Chuck or Henry? Anyway, I was the youngest player on that team, and I didn’t get any time. The two games that I did get in, my Mom is sitting in the stands and I’m nervous as heck. In the sixth grade you don’t know what to expect. I got in the game and held my own a little bit. I scored my first two points and they were pretty cool, Ben Rice and my other teammates in terms of showing me little things. They weren’t big headed.
After Campus East, I went to Build Academy for the seventh and eighth grades. There I hooked up with my boy, Roosevelt Wilson, and we started in the seventh grade. That’s where it really, really took off because you must remember that I was still playing at the Boys Club. I could see myself advancing a little bit further than the average player in the seventh grade and by the time the eighth grade came around, I was dunking the ball. I could dunk in the eighth grade!
DF: Yes, I was dunking in the eighth grade! That summer going into the eighth grade we’d play street football, pole to pole. Jason lived a few streets over from me. He lived on Ada Street. We’d play street to street to street and we ended up playing his street. He’d quarterback and I’d quarterback. We played against each other, and then in eighth grade in basketball, we played against each other for the championship – he was at Traditional and I was at Build Academy. They won, but it was a good game. That’s when Jason and me kind of meshed in terms of asking each other, “What are you doing? Which high school are you going to?”
After eighth grade, I took a few tests. I think the schools were St. Joe’s and Canisius. I just said forget it and decided that I’d go to McKinley High School. I couldn’t really make up my mind and my Mom was really on me about it. She said, “You need to make up your mind! The school year is about to start –.” So, I was decided, alright McKinley it is.
The day before school starts, I get a call from Jason and he says, “Man, we really need you over here –.” I said, “I’ll come, but my Mom is really on me!” I was so indecisive, and my paperwork was already at McKinley. Jason said, “You know what, I’m going to have Card (Coach Joe Cardinal) call you.” He had Cardinal call me and he said, “Look. Don’t show up at McKinley, show up at Traditional!” So, I’m leaving out the door (laughing), and my Mom thinks I’m going to McKinley, and she didn’t know that I was going right down the street to Buffalo Traditional.
AD: Wow. Really?
DF: And that’s how that happened. That’s how me and Jason ended up at Buffalo Traditional. It was a last-minute decision for me. The next day I showed up and just walked into Traditional.
AD: And they just enrolled you?
DF: Yes, it was one of those things where they enrolled me and got all the paperwork straightened out. Everything was taken care of and I was like, “Okay, let’s go!”
AD: Okay, before we start talking about the Buffalo Traditional Dynasty, which neighborhood did you and Jason grow up in?
DF: We grew up in Cold Springs. We were cut from the same cloth, same environment, everything.
DF: My favorite professional player was Scottie Pippen. I liked Scottie Pippen and that’s why I wore No. 33. It was Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. That was pretty much it back then. I was a Bulls fan.
DF: I was familiar with them because again I studied the game as a player coming through the ranks and coming through the Boys Club. You had no choice but to study the players before you. I heard about Ritchie Campbell. I saw him play one time, and that’s when him and Trevor Ruffin went head to head in “The Randy”, the Randy Smith League. I was young. I want to say 13 years old maybe. But I remember that game. I just remember seeing Ritchie come down and just ‘letting it fly’ – two steps across half court and just letting it fly. I was like, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’ Ritchie Campbell never really came through the Boys Club. Neither did ‘Ice Cream’ (Marcus Whitfield). They played more so downtown. They were down at ’Live at Five’.
AD: Did you say Live at Five?
DF: Yes, it was called Live at Five and I think it was at the Pratt Willert Center. That was something for the downtown guys.
AD: Okay, one more question before we get back to Buffalo Traditional. Did you ever go down to Delaware Park?
DF: Oh yeah. We went down to Delaware Park. I was 13 when my brother first brought me down to Delaware Park, getting that experience playing, seeing Cliff Robinson pull up, all the old school legends. And I was able to hold my own with them at a young age. I had my fair share of Delaware Park, but not so much as we did at the Boys Club.
AD: When I was at Hutch-Tech I heard stories about your nickname being ‘Mush’. Was that your nickname?
DF: Yes, my nickname was ‘Mush’. Back at the Boys Club, we all used to rib and play ‘the dozens’. The names just stuck with me and everyone has known me as ‘Mush Damien Foster’. At first, I didn’t care for it, but it stuck, and I got used to it.
AD: When you and Jason got to Buffalo Traditional, you two coincided with what I call the ‘Fab Five Era‘. What was your mentality? Where you going in thinking that you were taking over the team? Or were you thinking that you’d get together with the players that were there and make the best of things?
DF: To be honest, Jason and me were cut from the same cloth, so going in we knew what we were capable of doing because we’d been doing it for so long at the Boys Club. We knew that skill-wise, we were advanced. It was just a matter of going on the court, showing and proving it because when we got there, there were seniors on the team – Andre Montgomery and Jeff Novarra. We didn’t really know what to expect, and I remember having a conversation with LaVar Frasier. At the time he was a sophomore. I called him the day before practices started. We had a conversation on the phone, just trying to get a feel for some of the players.
That first day of practice, we were going at it and there was some serious business going on. In terms of my mentality I felt like I had to go out and prove myself and that I belonged on the team. Making the Varsity as a freshman is very rare. Usually you go to the Junior Varsity (JV) and you do that for about a year, and you move up to the Varsity. My mentality was straight “Mamba” (Kobe Bryant) – to just ‘kill’ everything and that’s what we did!
We went in and showed off all our skills sets. We competed and the returning players on the team – I could read their body language and facial expressions. They were blown away with what they were seeing from us as freshman. From that point it just got better and better. Your confidence starts to build, and half of basketball is confidence! Once you get your confidence, you can go anywhere. It was just very competitive that first year walking in there. From day one they respected us – Coach Cardinal and the players. They started us as freshman – “Young Guns” (laughing).
AD: So, Jason basically said the same thing in that there was a ‘basketball circle’, and you got that extensive hands- on training before you went to Buffalo Traditional. I wasn’t in that circle, so the first time I saw you play was in my junior season. I was injured and wasn’t playing much. I do vividly remember hearing some buzz about some new younger kids at Buffalo Traditional before that game, and I didn’t know who or what people were talking about.
My former teammates might not like this, but you all came out and laid the beatdown on us, literally. You beat us 96-73. You made the game look so easy. Your teammates were feeding off what you and Jason were doing, and I’d never seen anything like that before (laughing). I was amazed at what I was seeing – your ability to shoot it, your ability to gracefully handle the ball in the open floor, and so on. But you caught a lot of teams off guard that season right?
DF: Oh yeah! It was one of those things whereas a freshman you start off with three or four ‘non-league’ games. You start off against teams that are not in the Yale Cup – St. Joe’s and the other private schools and the suburban schools. And to me those were hard games. We had St. Joe’s my freshman year and they had Jeff Muszynski who was a senior. Jeff Muszynski was a star. We played St. Joe’s on their home court and when he got the ball in the layup line, all you saw were the cameras going off. You saw cameras pop and this guy is just laying the ball up. I’d never seen anything like it.
And then at the jump ball, we held our own, but we lost the game. I want to say that I had 12-13 points that game and after that we just kept getting better. I still remember our first Yale Cup game and it was against McKinley High School. I’m saying to myself, ‘Okay, these guys have a lot of seniors!’ I want to say at the time that they had ’Fats’. Do you remember Fats?
AD: Yes. Chelston Martin.
DF: Moses Tolbert and those guys – they were nice! In my freshman year, McKinley was in our building and we ‘lit’ them up. I couldn’t believe it. I had 37 points that game and I was like, ‘Wow, I gave Fats and Moses 37!’ I’m a freshman and it just starts to go from there. You start building confidence and you start to build a swagger. I don’t want to say its arrogance. It’s kind of arrogance, but it’s confidence as well and you start to build that thing up. And with each game, you’re running into players who are seniors. Do you know what I mean? You’re making a name for yourself because they’re hearing about you!
I remember the Riverside game. This is when they had Ben Rice, so I’m able to see Ben Rice in high school now – I’m catching him in his senior year. When I was in the sixth grade, they were ahead of me, so now I’m a freshman and they’re on their way out and I’m catching Ben Rice and Ed Harris. Riverside had a nice team with ‘Russ’ (Coach Bill Russell). I remember that game because I think they were No. 1 at the time in the Yale Cup.
We ended up beating them at the buzzer. We were down by two and eventually it was tied, and they were on the free throw line. I ended up getting the rebound off the missed free throw with six to seven seconds left. I dribbled to half court and hit a ‘runner’ off one leg. I let it fly and it went in. That’s what put us at No. 1 in the polls and in the Yale Cup and we beat them. Our team was just jumping all over me and hugging me. I remember looking at the expressions on Riverside’s faces and they were so mad because they were getting beaten by freshmen. It was unheard of for freshman to start on the Varsity level and then to get beaten by freshman – it was a surreal thing back then.
AD: Well, if you figure that they were the Yale Cup Champions the previous year in addition to the Section VI Class C Champions, they probably expected to repeat. I think I saw the same thing happen to our team when you came in and beat us. There was a bit of disbelief as that game unfolded. It’s like the Mike Tyson-Trevor Berbick championship fight. This young guy is coming in and he’s whipping the older guy, and the older guy can’t believe it’s happening.
AD: I asked Jason this, and I’m sure you heard this too. One of the knocks on Coach Cardinal was that they say he wasn’t teaching you any basketball and that you were just playing ‘pickup’ basketball in practices and in games. Is that true and what do you think when you hear that?
DF: I’ve heard it 1,000 times! Coach Cardinal heard it 1,000 times and we all heard it. Most of the time you’d hear it from the suburban coaches and schools. My opinion on that is that Cardinal wasn’t trying to be something he wasn’t. Cardinal was more so a father figure to us. He was there for us. We could come to him for anything and he’d give us advice whatever the case may be. You’re dealing with city kids – kids that come from single parent homes. You’re dealing with a lot of things and lots of these kids don’t have structure in terms of playing organized basketball, so they come to the city schools and play on these teams. With their attention span, you draw up a play and they get in the game and they might forget the play. Or they might not have that discipline to run a play.
I’m just saying that was the majority of what they were dealing with in the past before we even got there. They were inner city kids and a lot of the coaches were gym teachers, so it was a lot about how you related to the kids. The kids in the suburban areas, they were coming from ‘organized’ basketball, their parents were putting them in camps, and they’re going to the best schools like Timon and St. Joe’s. They get in there and they learn the ‘Xs and Os’ with no problem. It’s just a different animal when you’re dealing with city kids.
I always thought he got a bad rap for that. Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of room for us to learn things coming out of Traditional. As far as the practices go, we had practice. We practiced and competed. Were there times when we went light in practice? Absolutely. Xs and Os, that wasn’t our thing. Our thing was we’re the fastest team in the Yale Cup and we’re the most skilled and talented team. We’re going to run this motion thing. We’ve got inbound plays. More so me and Jason, we were able to apply a lot of the stuff that we had learned and bring it to Traditional and bring it on the court in situations when we needed it. I either had the ball in my hands or he had the ball in his hands. When the games were winding down, Jason and me could overcompensate for a lot of the lack of coaching because we were the leaders on the court and they followed us. The chemistry was just natural. It was there and it was from us playing together all along.
Card said he was going to retire and write a book and name it, “All The Way Without A Play”. And when we won the state championship and went all the way, the media didn’t like that. He got criticized for saying that. Who in the hell thinks like that? And other coaches in the area and in the suburban schools looked at our teams and said, ‘You have got all this talent on this team. You should be winning the state championship every year – all four years!’ And I can say honestly, yes, that was the goal. It didn’t work out that way, but there was still a lot of success. But they looked at our team and said, “If you had a different coach, you would’ve won every year!” He got criticized for that, but Cardinal was a good person. He had a good heart and I respected him because he had his own unique way of relating to us and getting us motivated. It wasn’t like he didn’t motivate us. He motivated us, and he kept the team together as a family – we were a really tight family.
AD: Well, that family piece was important. Not every team had that. In terms of motivation, would he say stuff like, ‘They’re saying we can’t beat them because you all aren’t good enough?’ Would he use reverse psychology on you guys?
DF: Well, not so much that because most of the teams were gunning for us nightly, trying to get a name off us. He more so kept it to where he made sure we went out and competed every night. He made sure we left it all on the court. He made sure we focused throughout the day during school – all the little things that go on behind the scenes that go into the game. He was just that guy and I want to say that his swagger, just Card being himself – his personality, he gave off an aura where you wanted to play well for him. You wanted to do good for Card. It’s Joe Cardinal. You know he was one of those types of coaches where you want to give him your all. Not a lot of players will do that for certain coaches. So, he had his own unique way of motivating us and talking to us and keeping it real – not sugar coating anything.
AD: And his Assistant Coach was Ellis Woods?
DF: Yes. Ellis Woods was his Assistant Coach.
AD: Okay, well going back to your freshman year. I got cut from my team for grades and other struggles. I was home every night of the 1993 boys’ basketball playoffs and I remember watching the nightly news and seeing you go on your first sectional run. I remember one night seeing you do a ‘finger roll’ layup against Roy-Hart or Newfane, again with ease. Another night I saw a clip of Jason stealing the ball from one of Newfane’s guards and laying it up with ease. When the playoffs started, did you look at the bracket and think you could win the whole thing? What was your mentality going in?
DF: My freshman year we started learning about postseason play and going to Glens Falls and we said, ‘We’ve got to get to Glens Falls! That’s the goal at this point!’ You look at your team and you see what you’ve got and how you’ll measure up in the sectionals. We had some great leaders on our team in Andre Montgomery and Jeff Novarra (pictured above with the 1991-92 Bulls). Those were tough players and we went out there and competed. We were trying to get to Glens Falls my freshman year. We fell short, but it was a learning experience. We got a lot better from it and we worked on our games.
AD: You beat all suburban teams. Did those teams try and fail at slowing you down? Were you just athletically better?
DF: Teams always tried slowing us down. They’d run lots of half court sets. They’d try to ‘screen’ us. They didn’t want to run with us, because they knew they’d get run out of the gym! That was a lot of teams’ strategy, not just the suburban schools. You’ve got to remember that we were solid in terms of the fundamentals of basketball. We knew how to get through picks for example. We were able to rub all that energy off onto the other players of our team as well.
AD: You made it to the “Far West Regionals” as freshman where you lost to Marion. Coming back as sophomores, I like to say that you were the new ‘Kings’ of the Yale Cup. It was your second year, and a lot of teams graduated their seniors and were young. You graduated two seniors and reloaded with more talent (the 1993-94 Buffalo Traditional Bulls pictured above). Did you look at it that way going in? How did you go into that second year?
DF: Yes, because we acquired Darcel Williams. That was huge for us, but now we had a big guy inside. He was grabbing all the boards and could score and –.
AD: Yes, to go along with Adrian Baugh and Lavar Frasier.
DF: Right. Absolutely. We looked around and said, ‘This is it! There’s no reason why we shouldn’t go all the way! This has got to be the year!’ It didn’t happen. We fell short.
AD: You ran into Mynderse Academy. Unfortunately, I didn’t go to that game, but I remember seeing some of the highlights on TV. I remember you ‘jawing’ at one of their players after hitting three-point (laughing). I went to basketball camp with some of those kids. They weren’t tall and athletic kids, so did they just ‘X and O’ you and slow the game down? Did they out rebound you?
DF: They broke the game down, slowed it down and did the Xs and Os. They were gunning for us. It wasn’t like they were better than us talent-wise, they just wanted it more. At the end of the day, their strategy worked. That was another year that was just lost. I felt that we were better than them.
AD: So, the next year I came home from college and saw you play my Hutch-Tech team at our gym and you beat them handily 111-88. It was very impressive as there were lots of dunks and three-pointers from you all. I remember Jimmy Birden having a good game, as well as he was hitting from long-distance. You guys looked like a ‘well-oiled machine’. What was the key to beating Lyons in the Far West Regional your junior year? Were you just more experienced? Were you bigger and stronger?
DF: Well, that was my junior year, so the summer after my sophomore year. After losing to Mynderse, that’s when things really started taking off outside of Buffalo Traditional. We started playing Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball and our team was strong that summer. Our AAU team was made up of players from Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany and Schenectady. From this area it was usually Jason (Rowe), Malik Campbell, Tim Winn, Antoine Sims and me. We’d drive up the I-90 to Syracuse to pick up two players, and we’d stop in Schenectady to pick up four players. I stayed away from Buffalo that whole summer.
My junior year, I was the only one from our area who got invited the ‘ABCD Basketball Camp’. I was in the top 50 in the country in my junior year. I’m at camp that summer with Kobe Bryant, Chauncey Billups, Felipe Lopez – all these guys and then at the Eastern Invitational Camp, and then throughout the tournaments we were playing in that summer. We played in lots of tournaments – thank God for Fajri Ansari for driving us up and down to these tournaments all summer.
We got a lot better and I took my game to the next level just from that summer alone and the experience I had going to camps. So, I think that helped me my junior year as far as beating Lyons and getting to Glens Falls. I felt like this is it. There’s no more losing and you feel like you’re the best. I was playing against the best up and down the east coast at that point. I could measure myself against other players and I said to myself, ‘When I get home, I’m going in!’ So that’s what it was for me. That summer was pivotal going into my junior year.
AD: Coach Fajri Ansari from Turner/Carroll took you to tournaments and camps?
DF: Fajri and Mickey Walker took us up and down the east coast all summer. We joined the AAU team in my freshman year (pictured above with Jason Rowe, Lackawanna’s O’ Tes Alston, and Turner/Carroll’s Malik Campbell and Antoine Sims). They took us to France, and we beat two of their professional teams that summer after my freshman year. We got lots of exposure away from the inner-city basketball. They were dedicated and drove us to Rhode Island, Boston, New York City – playing against the “Gauchos”, Stephon Marbury, Felipe (Lopez) and those guys. We played against them in AAU, and that was the exposure we needed to elevate our games to the next level, so that was huge.
AD: The two kids from Schenectady, was one of them Willie Deane, who went to Purdue?
DF: I know Willie Dean, but he didn’t play with me. It was Devonaire Deas who went to Florida State and then Antone Welsh who went to Notre Dame. Those were the two players from the “Schenectady Crew”.
AD: My Dad lives in Schenectady, so I went out there every summer, and that’s how I knew of Willie Dean. You beat Lyons and then Mechanicville in the state semifinal, and then you ran up against Peekskill in the state final. That game was within your reach, right?
DF: Yes, that game. Oh man, that game. That game was close. I could’ve put it away at the free throw line. I put a lot of blame on myself. I had two free throws to seal the deal. I missed the first free throw. I made the second free throw and I put the game into overtime. We couldn’t contain Elton Brand in overtime.
That game was so crucial for me because I really wanted to win the championship for LaVar Frasier, Adrian Baugh and our other seniors. I really wanted to see them go out with a ring and to win a state championship. Knowing that I had a chance to win the game, missing the first free throw, it just didn’t sit well with me. I just wish it could’ve been different. I know that I gave us a second chance in overtime, but I just wish the outcome could’ve been different. They worked hard.
AD: Well, hey man, that’s athletics, but Jason predicted that you would go back, and you did go back after reloading with some younger players. Losing players like, Adrian, LaVar and Jimmy, did you expect that you’d be able to reload? Or did you and Jason just do more the next year?
DF: That summer came, and we all got invited to the ABCD Camp at that point. We really worked on our games that summer. There was a lot of pressure building up. It was our last run, and we hadn’t won the states yet. You’re looking around and starting to question yourself. I just put it in my mind and determined that I was going to work my ass off. I’m going to do any and everything I must do to raise my game to that next level again. You’re just trying to get better. You’re trying to get better and you’re playing against the best competition in the off season.
So, the season came around and I had a conversation with Jason. I said, “You know this is it. This is legacy time in terms of what we’re going to leave on the table.” It was a focus like no other. We looked at the players on the team. We knew we had Darcel Williams. We had Darnell Beckham. We had the firepower to get there so it was just a matter of how we were going to do it, and that year for me, I remember telling myself that I was going to lead by example. That was the only way I could try to get everyone to be on the same page and that was to lead by example.
That year I said, “Jay, we’ve got to win everything! We’ve got to win the Yale Cup! We’ve got to win the states! We’ve got to win the federation! We’ve got to win everything!” And that was the mindset going into my senior year. That was the mindset the whole time and we went in and put in work, from day one. As soon as the season started, we gelled together as a team. We were in shape and we made sure guys were doing what they were supposed to be doing. We went in there and handled business. We won the Yale Cup. We won the states and I remember the pressure. You don’t want to let the school down – your peers, the teachers, faculty, staff – everybody that’s rooting for you. And you just don’t want to let them down.
At the state championship game against Mechanicville, I think I scored a record. I think it was 61 points over two games – something crazy. I think I broke a record. I was just trying to make sure we didn’t lose. I was just trying to leave it all out there. I said, “There is no way we’re losing this championship!” I won MVP for the state tournament. There’s something that just comes over you and you get that will power. You look deep into yourself and you try to wield that power. That’s what we did.
This discussion will continue in part two of the interview with Damien Foster. In the second part of our interview, Damien and I discuss his basketball career after being a Buffalo Traditional Bull. I want to thank Damien for taking the time out of his busy schedule to participate.
Thank you for taking the time to read this interview. If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy:
If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site or add the link to RSS feed to your feedreader. Lastly, follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. Finally, please check out my YouTube channel entitled, Big Discussions76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.
“The coaches at some of the other Yale Cup schools thought I had an unfair competitive advantage because of the intramural program I started at Hutch-Tech!”
The first principle of my blog is “Creating Ecosystems of Success”. I originally published this series on the Examiner back in 2014 and have subsequently began adding to it. As a teen I dreamt of being a basketball player just like a lot of kids – a dream for which one must have lots of ability, drive, and luck to achieve. My experience turned out to be quite the adventure, and I didn’t formally play basketball beyond high school. The lessons I learned there however, not all of them happy and pleasant, helped me as I progressed into adulthood and into my Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) career. As mentioned, when I began reposting this series, I’ve started working on an ambitious writing project chronicling my early basketball journey in Western New York.
If I’m able to get my project published, one of the things that will be special about it is that it’s a story involving real people. The project has required me to do multiple interviews. It has been both an interesting and fun experience. As noted by well-established authors like John U. Bacon, who has written numerous books on Michigan Football, some people are open to being interviewed and being characters in book projects, while others are reluctant. Some agree and then drop out of contact, while others are difficult to contact. As a writer I now understand why some names must be changed in the final story.
I consider my breakthrough interview to be that of Jason Rowe, which led to interviews with others, and I want to thank everyone who participated; some of whom I’ve never met personally. My interview with Jason was followed by an interview with Coach Pat Monti and then his star guards, Carlos Bradberry and Tim Winn. It’s been a fun ride with at least one more big interview on the way, so stay tuned.
One of the key figures in my story is Dr. Kenneth Leon Jones, who was the Head Coach of the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team during my freshman, sophomore and junior years. Before he passed away at the end of 2018, Coach Jones told me that he was okay with being a character in my story. In my piece about his basketball camp, I discussed Coach Jones, what I learned from him and what he meant to me.
That was just my perspective though and I discovered many other points of view on Coach Jones in my research. I actually started learning of other peoples’ views of Coach Jones in my junior season where I hit some personal adversities. My struggles, in part, contributed to our team’s struggling and spiraling out of control that season. During my personal storm one classmate sought me out one day and told me that he disliked Coach Jones because he had ‘cut’ his brother years earlier. It was then that I realized that there were many backstories to Coach’s tenure at Hutch-Tech in addition to the successes he experienced my freshman year.
“Most of the time, when somebody is giving you orders and instructions, if you’re not emotionally ready – if you’ve got your mind on the wrong part, you’re not going to try as hard. You’re not going to be into it. You’re not going to absorb as much,” said a player I’ll call “Curtis” about Coach Jones in my interview with him. Curtis was the ‘engine’ that powered Coach Jones’ 1990-91 city and sectional championship team. He said a lot of powerful things during our interview, but this quote very much applies to the relationship between coaches and players, much which I experienced myself, or witnessed with teammates.
One of the cool things about working on a project where you’re interviewing multiple people is that you get to hear multiple points of view. Amazingly, my interviews for The Engineers revealed that Coach Jones was multiple things to multiple people. While there was a group of us who held him in high reverence, appreciated his teachings and the mentoring he gave us, he had several detractors as well. Again, he was multiple things to multiple people. His detractors fell into three groups, some of which might surprise you.
The first group consisted of some of the other coaches in our league called the “Yale Cup”, which was the league for all the Buffalo Public Schools. For those readers unfamiliar with the Yale Cup in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it consisted of fourteen schools. Three schools that no longer exist today are: Buffalo Traditional, Kensington and Seneca Vocational High School.
The Yale Cup was a poorly funded league which lacked a Junior Varsity (JV) program at all its schools to properly prepare its players for Varsity competition. Coach Jones and the Buffalo News called this a “feeder system”. The result was a 14-team league where all of the teams were run differently, and where all the coaches had varying levels of experience and interest. This led to drastically different levels of coaching and attention to detail. Some of the Varsity coaches (Coach Jones included), ran an informal JV program for no extra pay simply because there was a need for it.
We also played in outdated and antiquated facilities. Many of the gyms in the Yale Cup league looked like antiquated factory storage rooms with peeling paint and old industrial smells. Most of our gyms had solid white backboards without ‘break away’ rims. Only a few of the courts, like those at Grover Cleveland and McKinley for example, had ‘regulation-size’ courts with the proper dimensions. Our old little gym at Hutch-Tech was more of a small box than anything. Someone I interviewed recently jokingly said that Performing Arts’ gym resembled a bit of a bowling alley.
“The coaches at the other schools thought I had an unfair competitive advantage because of the intramural program I started at Hutch-Tech,” Coach Jones said during one of our interviews. He shared a lot of things with me that I didn’t know as a teen and probably wouldn’t have understood. There were so many layers – so many things happening at once surrounding the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team in plain sight and behind the scenes. The same is true for Coach Jones’ two immediate successors who I’ll keep anonymous at this time.
One of the hallmarks of Coach Jones’ tenure at Hutch-Tech was his intramural program. The program was for all the boys in the school so that everyone could get taste of competition and where a champion was crowned. More specifically, it allowed Coach Jones to scout the talent in each class. It wasn’t something he was doing for extra pay, but instead it was something for the students and for the school.
“Some of Jones’ players played angry,” a former player also from Coach Jones’ city and sectional championship team who I’ll call “Pep”, said jokingly. My interview with Pep might be my favorite of all of the interviews I’ve done simply because I could hear that he was having so much fun talking about his playing days. In any case, Coach Jones’ second group of detractors were surprisingly on some of his rosters.
Before getting to Hutch-Tech, the program looked like a utopia from the outside. My research though revealed that there were several conflicts and perpetually hurt feelings involving some of Coach Jones’ players. In some instances, there were personality conflicts. In other instances, there were players who felt they had to prove themselves repeatedly and in general felt unappreciated. Some players felt that they didn’t play enough, and others didn’t play at all though they were given roster spots.
The third group of detractors were outside of the team, but in the student body. The individual who stands out the most for this group is the classmate described above, but there were others. The reality in life is that there are winners and losers, and there usually isn’t enough of everything to go around. This particularly applies to a basketball team where a coach can realistically keep up to 18 players, while only being able to play 8-10 regularly.
In short, not every kid at my school who wanted a roster spot got one, and there are any number of reasons for that. I may write another teaser-piece just on the criteria Coach Jones presented on his ‘invite list’. That’s right, during his tenure, you couldn’t just come out for the basketball team, you had to be invited. This cut a lot of kids out of the picture from the start even before having a chance to show him they could dribble the ball, make baskets, play defense or even run one of his offenses.
Why does this all matter? Like the entire story, it was a sample of what was to come throughout the rest of my life in college and then in the adult world. For some of us who earned roster spots and submitted to his coaching, Coach was father figure, a mentor and a leader. Others on his teams felt like his whipping boys and even underappreciated. Other students didn’t feel like they were given a fair chance to play. Some didn’t like his fundamentals-based way of teaching the game. Some of the other coaches in our Yale Cup league thought he was cheating.
This is why interscholastic sports are good teachers going forward in life. Two of the things you learn about in addition to your sport, are people and leadership – neither of which are easy aspects to manage. As a leader, whether it’s a coach, a college professor, a clergyman or a supervisor, not everyone sees you the same way. Depending on our backgrounds, our values, our individual natures, and where our minds are in seasons of our lives, our experiences with that person will vary, and in many instances, vary greatly. It’s also true that because we may see a given person differently, our truths may be different.
Whether it was the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team, my research lab in graduate school, or now within the government agency I work in everyday, there were always individuals charged with leading larger groups or teams. Some people within those teams possess different levels and proficiencies at their crafts. All possess different levels of emotional intelligence. Some are better communicators than others, and some are just better team players than others.
“If I could go back, I would be just as demanding, but more understanding,” Coach Jones said to me several times during our talks. He knew that he drove his players hard and demanded a lot from us. He also concluded that he could’ve been a little more understanding of each player and what they were going through as each of us came from different homes and had different life struggles in our teens.
“If you look at that team that almost made it to Glens Falls, Coach Jones let that team do a lot, but that was all earned. He said, ‘Hey, I’ll let you shoot a three-pointer or a long jump shot outside the offense because I know that we’re playing good enough defense that we’re going to get a possession back,” said a former teammate named “Chris” who played under Coach Jones for four years. Chris was a captain on our team in my sophomore year and a true leader. Some of Coach Jones’ critics thought he was too restrictive and controlling of his teams, particularly on offense.
“When I went to college, I played Division III at the Coast Guard Academy. I didn’t play Varsity, but instead played on the equivalent of our JV squad. We played against a bunch of junior colleges and prep schools. I’ll say that I was able to shoot the ball a lot more,” Chris said. “I look back though, and I think if we were able to play defense like we did in high school, we would’ve been able to keep up with a bunch of those teams. So, shooting the ball wasn’t always the best policy.”
I’ll probably write another teaser-piece just talking about the program Coach Jones created at Hutch-Tech, but for now I’ll just say that if done right, while it can be rewarding, coaching isn’t easy. You must not only have to know your sport and its evolving nuances, but you must also assemble a team of players, develop them and get them to buy into a common goal. That isn’t easy as coaches must also play psychologist, in addition to a quasi-parent in some instances, especially for kids who don’t have fathers or who come from tumultuous homes.
This piece isn’t unique to Coach Jones. He was my coach. If you read my interview with Jason Rowe, Jason stated that while his Coach, Joe Cardinal, was highly scrutinized, his players loved him. Ironically, even though Coach Cardinal was highly criticized, his Bulls coincidentally made deep runs in the post-season play most years. The same is true for Coach Pat Monti who led the LaSalle basketball dynasty. During his 10-year run of dominance leading the LaSalle Explorers, there were numerous critiques about him and his program from the outside. Talking to him and his players on the inside was completely different though.
The first picture used for this post is the schedule for the 1989-90 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Pepsi-Cola of Western New York used to create cardboard schedules for the area high school teams in addition to hosting the Al Pastor Memorial Basketball Tournament for a select number of schools. It was Coach Jones’ second season at Hutch-Tech. I was an eighth grader looking to go into high school and was learning about Coach and his teams through my brother Amahl who was a sophomore that year and his Hutch-Tech yearbooks.
Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:
If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site. Please visit my YouTube channel entitled Big Discussions76. Lastly, follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.
“Bruce, I want to ask your opinion about a business informational meeting I recently attended. This group helps people get out of their financial debt, but they also aggressively recruit more people into their business,” I said in a discussion with talk show host Bruce Williams in 2007. “It sounds like I could make a lot of money if I join. It also sounds like pretty hefty commitment time-wise, one that I’m not sure that I can fulfill in tandem with my scientific research.”
“What you just described sounds like a Multi-Level Network Marketing company,” Bruce casually commented in his burly, grandfatherly voice. Bruce Williams’ talk show covered a range of topics including politics, current events, economics (personal finance and business), as well as life’s daily issues. “Look guy, I don’t know what it is that they’re selling, but I think you’ll be better off focusing your time and attention to launching your career in science!”
Everyone’s motivation for going into to business is to make money. Unfortunately, not everyone can cook, invent a social media site that will change the world, create a new operating system, or buy a McDonald’s franchise, coincidentally the one franchise often referenced in the Rich Dad Poor Dad books and in Network Marketing informational meetings. It’s not uncommon at a meeting to hear, “McDonald’s may not make the best hamburger, but they are the model franchise,” or something similar. Many also state that, “McDonald’s isn’t in the business of fast food, they’re in the business of real estate,” or something to that effect.
Likewise, Multi-Level Network Marking businesses offer the opportunity to start a business with only a little money down (usually $100-$500), and the potential to make more money than one could ever make on their job through generation of ‘passive residual incomes’. At least that’s how they’re sold. In terms of making money in your sleep which passive income empowers you to do, who wouldn’t want to do that? By the way, business models that are already set up and only require you to buy into them are called ‘turnkey businesses’. Michael E. Gerber has written several books about this, the most popular is entitled, The E-Myth.
The thought of making passive residual incomes is very enticing for people who understand what it is and represents. Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad books were my first introduction to this powerful concept, and I recommend at least reading his first two books. The second is entitled, Cashflow Quadrant. Robert’s books also introduced me to the idea of making money ‘exponentially’ instead of ‘linearly’.
Whatever your venture is, the more passive income you can earn, the closer you come to financial freedom. This is the perfect segue into the time factor. What also gets people’s mouths salivating is the potential to not have to punch a clock, go to an office, and answer to a supervisor. These businesses are also seen as ways of circumventing battling for promotions every year and having to work your way up the corporate ladder as they say. As Robert Kiyosaki says in his books, and as many people have personally experienced, promotions often don’t result in significantly more income for various reasons.
Personally, people have multiple reasons for joining. Some people who have held traditional jobs and careers, eventually sour on a life of having to “climb the corporate ladder” as described above. Some sour on having to be chosen for promotions which often results in more responsibility but not necessarily significantly more take home pay. Others have reached middle age and don’t see themselves being able to retire on what they’ve saved or haven’t saved.
“When my job told me that I’d have to go back to school to get another degree in order to get a promotion, I didn’t want to do that. This business is allowing me to make larger sums of income than my job could ever offer and save for my retirement,” the speaker at a meeting said. Finally, others don’t like the idea of having to go back to school to get more degrees in order to qualify for promotions in their respective organization.
And those are just educated people. Some people haven’t gone very far school-wise for any number of reasons and don’t have the potential to ascend in any job long-term. These businesses thus represent a fast track to wealth which can bypass a traditional education.
“My mother who is deaf and some of her friends weren’t very educated and they saw the business as one of the only ways they could make good money,” a friend shared with me. Her mother got involved in a home-based business that sold water purifiers and they had to go door to door to sell them.
In general, these businesses are ways for people to:
• Achieve financial independence
• Have more control over their lives
• Bypass the traditional paradigm of working for someone else to make money – trading money for time every day
While the benefits of joining like this type of enterprise seem to be limitless, what happens when you pay your entrance fee and sign on the dotted line? And when one does join, what are the actual rigors and expectations? These questions will be addressed in part three of this series.
Thank you for reading this blog post. If you enjoyed this piece, you might also enjoy:
If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave comments. To receive all the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site, or add the link to my RSS feed to your feedreader. Please visit my YouTube channel entitled, Big Discussions76. Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM, and Financial Literacy, there other blogs/sites I endorse which found on that particular page of my site.