“Gary Willis” by Sharon McPherson

sharon mcpherson            I decided to interview Mr. Gary Willis because of his determination to not only go to college but to do it at a much later time in life. I thought that he was a perfect example of a man who exemplifies an alternative type of masculinity than what we hear about in popular culture.

Me: Where are you from and where did you grew up? Tell me about it.

Mr. Willis: I was originally born in Detroit, Michigan but was raised in Chicago, Illinois. My first true memories of Chicago was when me and my mother living in a building that was set to be destroyed. One man rigged the power so that we could still be able to utilized electrical resources, I was about 12. I attended and all walk school called Pulaski Elementary were most of the kids were white or Polish and I fought every day! That was my first introduction to gang behavior because us black people had to stick together, and then we eventually got left alone. About the age of 14 in 1958 I moved in to the projects were for the first time the whole world around me was black, it was interesting. The schools were black, store owner were black almost everyone except for a Jewish people. This move would result in me not being chased home by white people any more, no more being called nigga it was a whole new life to me.

Me: How did you grow up? Where both parents in the house hold?

Mr. Willis: I grew up in a single mother household without a father. My mother had regular monogamous relationships with men but were not father figures to me. My father figure was my mother older brother, my uncle he was my role model and until this day I still remember wanting to be like him.

Me: What do you do for a living? How did you go about obtaining skills for that job?

Mr. Willis: Right now I am I full time student at Fresno state, prior to that I was a licensed real estate agent for the state of California. I specialized in real estate financing, if you needed money to get a house I would find it for you. I am now retired from that Job. Last but not least I am a co-owner of a Care Facility.

Me: As a black man what inspired you to go to college? As an older black man over the age of 21 plus?

Mr. Willis: It is really a simple answer but it gets complicated. I was BORED of being retired and I had nothing to do with my time. My youngest daughter brought up the idea of me attending college. I told her I have always been on the go in not use to setting here bored. I told her I was too old and she said you don’t look too old to me you are fully capable. So I decided to go and one of the important founders on my journey of education was Dr. Reese I absolutely loved the way she conducted her classes. It was the first time I had met a black woman with a Ph.D.

Me: With all the pervious classes you have taken (AFRS classes) how do you think you have broken the cycle of all the stereotypes about black men?

Mr. Willis:  It wasn’t my intention to break any stereotypes. I didn’t know that there were stereotypes for us until I took classes. So when you ask me this I didn’t know that I was braking anything I did not realize that I had achieved anything I have always been me. I could never be any of these stereotypes that people have created, when me and my mother was placed in a cattle car because we were black in order to travel first came fear and then hatred. So for me to conform is not anywhere near acceptable.

For me I would say the way I grew up was very sheltered, what I mean by that is I was not exposed to many of the stereotypes that have hovered over our black men for centuries. I have always heard through stories and songs about how black men never claim their baby , never around to raise their kids, always in jail, do not have a job, do not cook or clean and much more. Yet I grew up around the complete opposite, I would say my upbringing was rare for the black community almost so that it was not realistic. My father more specifically was the exact opposite of the stereotypes that I have listed above and learned about in Dr. Johnson‘s Black Male Experience class. He cooked, cleaned, did my hair, took us to school (by foot or car), participated in girls scout meetings, cheer (he was my biggest cheerleader) and the list is never ending. To me this is what a father is supposed to do and I assumed that this is how everyone’s father behaved for most of my life. The majority of my close friends had their fathers involved and both parents were successful stable working people. I think it is safe to say that I did not venture too far outside of that safety net. I never had to experience the hardship of not having a father or a manly figure in my life.

Although there are so many negative notions associated with our black men, my father and other men like him are the perfect example of black men who are not limited to stereotypes that depict black men in the popular media. It is more than unfortunate that a black man is only thought to be able to achieve the highest goal of going to prison or being dead. After watching several movies in professor Johnson’s class such as “The Spook Who Sat by the Door” and “Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned” It shows African American male figures that are smart enough to achieve highly successful jobs and for example like the main character of “The Spook Who Sat by the Door” not only was he  able to obtain a job but he was able to take what he learned from his secret agent job back to the community and showed blacks how to defend themselves against police brutality. Same type of concept with “Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned” The main character, a black man who was convicted of murder defended the community and took in a child that was not his own and showed him the right way to behave and live. It is movies like this that the mass media does not produce and spread out to the public that shows positive male images of black men. I think if I had been exposed to these movies growing up maybe my concept of the negative things the media produces may have been more balanced out in my mind if that makes sense. I always knew they stereotypes but again as I said they never really were applied to my life so I somewhat cancelled it out and sort of thought “oh that’s only in the movies,” but Dr. Johnson has done an excellent job of showing me otherwise.

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