In 1989, my two siblings and I moved to DeKalb, Illinois to stay with my father and step-mother. Later on as adults we would come to embrace our step-mother as our mother. By 1991, two siblings were added to our family, and another was on the way. Our family was growing and DeKalb presented some challenges that were new to us.
We moved from an all-black neighborhood to a predominantly white town with over 35,000 people. The schools we attended also reflected this demographic. In school, we were among the few kids that had reduced lunch. In almost every case our circumstances were an anomaly and not among the norm as they were in Chicago. For a family of our size our income was still relatively low. We moved from “no collar” to blue collar. Our meals were a little healthier than those given to us in Chicago—both at school and at home. Our parents also provided us with new clothing. We had not noticed but our clothes were badly degraded. Back in the day it was culturally acceptable to have patches on your jeans. We had plenty of patches on our clothes.
Initially, when we moved to DeKalb we were resistant to the change. We were uprooted from the only life we had ever known. And so three kids not knowing any better wanted to move back to a neighborhood where our life expectancies were much lower. We were 10, 9, and 6 years of age respectively. Later in life we would realize that moving to DeKalb possibly saved our lives. As adults we found that some of our childhood friends, who remained in the same circumstances, were on drugs, jailed, or dead.
The first few days of school were a bit bumpy. Sometime during my first week my father decided it was a good idea for a 5th grader to have a lunch box. I remember bringing it to school and getting clowned. That was the last time I brought it to school. The new clothing that we received also came with new shoes. I had a nice new pair of loafers that marked up the gym floor nicely. I love my father, and I think those first few years were an adjustment for him also. I also got into a few scuffles during those first couple of years.
High school was relatively interesting. Looking back at my freshman year physical, I measured a total five feet, four inches tall, and weighed 120 pounds. For a person that loved playing football I was definitely undersized. Eventually, I did have a growth spurt and was able to participate in the worst athletic programs in the state of Illinois. I found myself consumed with sports and thoughts of going to college. Consistently losing and watching undeserving players play in my place crushed those dreams. I believe that this is what pushed my father to enroll my brother Jason at Aurora Christian High School (I am sure that his wife Jaclyn is happy about that decision). I will say that the cultural environment at DeKalb helped me to easily adjust to life in college. During my junior year, a few of us counted the number of black people in the school. We counted 33 black people out of roughly 1200 students. While I was a very sociable person, I considered myself a “loner” back then. One of my favorite moments was participating in the Mr. DHS pageant. I was the only person to wear an all-white tuxedo (I wonder if anyone has the tape).
Upon moving to DeKalb, we immediately joined New Hope Missionary Baptist Church. Up until that time I had never seen so many positive Black people in once place. Being a regular member of a church was a new experience for me. I attended as many New Hope events as I could. During this time my spiritual growth was enormous. However, during this time I also began to develop my true identity. Along with my parents, the mothers and fathers of New Hope nurtured me into adulthood. As far back as I can remember Pastor Leroy Mitchell called me Dr. Wright. I never knew that his words would be so prophetic.
After many years in “Corn City” Illinois, we began to shed the old images of ourselves. We started to take education seriously. Our behavior improved dramatically. We had many meaningful encounters with individuals that were different from ourselves. And we committed to a church. Our dreams of becoming pro-athletes and entertainers quickly transformed into dreams of becoming teachers, lawyers, and doctors.
We visited Chicago often to see family and friends. As I grew older, I began to see things about Chicago that I could not see before. All of the dangers and consequences that I never noticed as a young child became crystal clear. The West Side taught me to never avoid a fight, but my experiences in DeKalb taught me to avoid jail.
DeKalb is a university town. We always lived near the campus of Northern Illinois University. Throughout my entire life I have always had a connection to college life: starting from my father’s undergraduate years at Eastern Illinois University, to his graduate years at Western Illinois University, and his career as a university professional at Northern Illinois University (NIU). As a high school student I could truly appreciate the opportunities available at NIU. I was able to visit classes, programs, and see speakers such as Dr. Michael Eric Dyson. As a senior, I enjoyed riding the “Huskie bus” and pretending to be a college student. These experiences also helped me adjust to college.
In 1997, I was accepted to five colleges. I was battling between two colleges. I could attend Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa and play football, or attend Illinois State University (ISU) and be a regular student. My visit to Loras sealed the deal at ISU. While visiting Loras I asked another football player that was showing me around what the racial situation was like. He informed me that Loras had 60 “brothers” and seven “sisters.” I was happy to attend ISU.
In August of 1997, my mother and I drove to Normal, Illinois to attend the last preview session at ISU. Failure was not an option. This is where the next chapter begins.
- The Fab Five
- In Living Color
- Arsenio Hall
- Learning to cut hair
- Learning to swim (very rare for brothers)
- Gasoline was 99 cents per gallon
- Watching any of Jason’s basketball games
- Street basketball and football games in the Village
- Gus Macker basketball tournaments in Sterling, Illinois
- Wright family 4th of July picnics in Garfield, Douglas, and Columbus Parks
- Chicago Bulls Championships
- My first real job at Mr. Crum’s Cookies
- New Hope MBC anniversary picnics
- Beating the original Super Mario Brothers
- Seeing my entire family at my high school graduation