John Legend & Shawn Dove

Date: 24 Feb 2015 / By: Admin / In: Book Excerpts / 0 Comments
John Legend:
There were two other male figures who helped me along, especially during my high school years. One was Michael Dixon, my guidance counselor. He was one of the few black men on staff at my school. Mr. Dixon set me a very high bar and held me to it. He saw my potential and wanted to make sure that I didn’t mess it up. It’s important for a young person—even a self-motivated young person—to have that sort of guidance and support. Mr. Dixon was someone I was accountable to at school, someone whom I trusted and knew had my back.

Another key figure was Arlin Tolliver, the director of the community choir in our town. I started developing a reputation as one of the kids in town who could really sing. Arlin invited me to join the choir, which I participated in for several years. Like Mr. Dixon, Arlin pushed me a bit, held me accountable, knew what to do to ensure I wouldn’t let things slide. He saw my potential and wanted to help me maximize it. So he would get me a lot of gigs as a singer and pianist on the local church circuit, playing concerts, weddings, and funerals.

Shawn Dove:
After the fourth grade, my mom and I moved down to the Upper West Side in Manhattan and lived together full-time. She always made sure I was getting good exposure to good people and good experiences. I spent quality time with my paternal grandfather, Charner Dove. He was a carpenter who also loved horse racing. We spent many a summer Saturday afternoon at Aqueduct or Belmont. I observed his quiet confidence, experienced his gentle love of me. I also spent time with Lil’s son, DeWitt Thompson, a Harlem hustler who believed in uplifting his community. Neither of these men conformed to the gender norm of being the strong, silent, inaccessible type. They offered a model of confidence and security, but they were also very loving, very nurturing.

My mother was also a stickler for education. Going into seventh grade, I was faced with the option of picking a major. It was either gym, which most Black and Latino students picked, or math and science, what mostly all the white students chose. I can remember opting for the gym track and bringing the form home for my mom to sign. Her reaction reflected her approach to raising me. “Oh no,” she said. “You’d better go back and sign up for math and science.” While my friends were playing sports, I was in the lab grudgingly learning about Bunsen burners and the like. But because of that choice, I was to attend one of the best high schools in New York City, Brooklyn Tech.

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