Marquesha: Was athletics something your stepdad approved of?
Walton: He never supported sports and neither did my mother.
Marquesha: did your mother encourage college? What were the main priorities set on you?
Walton: getting your high school diploma and moving out. I started high school at 12 and graduated at 16. I wanted to go to college, but only received a partial scholarship.
Marquesha: How did you feel about giving up idea of college?
Walton: I temporarily gave up idea of going. I was motivated to go run track but didn’t get a full scholarship.
Marquesha: how did you overcome the negativity of your stepfather?
Walton: I never did, he died of cancer. I took a psych 100 course and learned how to understand him. On his deathbed, I tried to communicate with him as a human being.
Marquesha: Was your stepfather the type of man who embodied the stereotypical black masculinity?
Walton: He was a hard man, and he acted just like his father. He had a 2nd grade education. He was also a deacon in a church. The church had a very high opinion of him. He lived a hard life, and it was the only life he knew.
Marquesha: Did you vow to be different? Same? Or started off thinking that was how a man should act?
Walton: My stepfather was helpful in knowing how I didn’t want to be. He never showed any affection, and followed a different religion.
African American males have it very hard because as soon as they are old enough to talk; they have rules and social norms imposed on them. They learn from an early age what it takes to be considered a “man.” They also learn the negative connotations that are associated with those who choose to live their lives a different way. Some black males follow the path that they see in our media of living “hard lives” and equate this to being a man. Then we have some black males who understand that this social norm that is imposed on them is only an illusion. The social norms imposed on black males are illusions because they were purposely chosen knowing that black males don’t have the same opportunities as their other male counterparts to fulfill those norms. Hypermasculinity seems to be the only option extended to black males.
Dr. Walton grew up in poverty with his stepfather and mother in Canton, Ohio. Dr. Walton’s stepfather was not very supportive of his step-children. He saw Dr. Walton and his siblings as a burden and couldn’t wait until they were out of his household. Not only did Dr. Walton excel in athletics but he also was a good student. He thought that his good athletic skills would be what helped him get to college; however he only received a partial scholarship to a local college. Dr. Walton graduated high school at age 16, and gave up on the idea of going to college because the scholarship didn’t come through. He had signed up for the Navy because his stepfather wanted him out of the household after graduating high school.
Dr. Walton was getting ready to start his life in the Navy, but first participated in a church play. It was at this play that he met his educational angel. College was brought up to him again, and as to why he had not gone to college. During this time Dr. Walton only knew this person as a stranger and couldn’t answer the stranger’s question of, “Well, why aren’t you in college then?” The stranger wasn’t aware that Dr. Walton had signed up for the Navy, but when he found out, he tried to convince him not to go. The stranger brought up that Seventh-day Adventists didn’t volunteer for the military. This seemed to make Dr. Walton think about what he was really doing and he was able to get out of that situation. Luckily he had not taken the military oath and only had to obtain his birth certificate from the military recruiter. The stranger called again but this time to extend an opportunity to Dr. Walton. The stranger told Dr. Walton that he thought he could get him into a College in Michigan that he himself had attended. This was a critical moment for Dr. Walton because he had to make a choice. He could decide to go ahead and join the Navy, but have to deal with the fact that doing so is against his religion. Deciding to go to school also had its downfall because Dr. Walton didn’t have any support. After Dr. Walton made the decision to go ahead and leave with the stranger, he had to deal with discouragement from his stepfather. Dr. Walton made it to Berrien Springs, Michigan not prepared for admission into the university and with only three dollars in his pocket. The journey to Michigan was not easy. Both men had to endure cold weather, snow, and lack of sleep. During this journey Dr. Walton finally learned the name of the stranger was, Dr. Joseph Nozaki. Dr. Walton told me that he credits Dr. Nozaki as his “educational Angel,” because he had almost given up on pursuing his education.
Things weren’t easy for Dr. Walton after settling into the university. He had to deal with financial obligations and was once saved by Dr. Nozaki before he could be suspended for not being able to pay his tuition. Dr. Walton also had to work half days and attend class half days. Another challenge was not having the right clothing for living in Michigan during the cold winters. Despite the challenges that came with leaving home and following his dreams; Dr. Walton stayed in school. He transferred from Michigan during his third year and graduated from Kent State University. Dr. Walton went on to teach high school in Canton, Ohio for three years and earned his doctorate degree. He then taught at a liberal arts college for 20 years and then made the move to Fresno, CA to teach at Fresno State.
Dr. Walton’s resilience is what kept him going and allowed him to build the life that he has now. Things were hard for Dr. Walton when he was first starting out, but he didn’t let those obstacles make him give up. Not too many people would be willing to deal with not having adequate food or clothes just to get an education. I think resilience is something that is lacking in some young black males today. They seem to not know how to bounce back from misfortunes. The same mistakes are made continuously because some black males don’t know how to get over obstacles they face. I also think Dr. Walton’s resilience helped him learn how to deal with his unsupportive stepfather. Some young men take this harsh criticism that they may be getting from home and believe it. They may start to act in self-destructive ways because they aren’t getting any positive feedback about themselves. Dr. Walton went ahead and followed what he thought was right. It is very hard to follow your dreams without having support from family. That alone makes a lot of people give up on whatever it is that they want to do. One thing that Dr. Walton told me was, “College is a matter of surviving, you put one foot in front of the other and then one day you look up and its graduation day.” It was Dr. Walton’s resilience that helped him get through school and stay away from that life that society predestined him to live.
I believe that another way Dr. Walton’s life rejects the stereotype of all black males behaving and thinking the same way. Dr. Walton’s stepfather was a very stern man and didn’t show any affection. Dr. Walton is different and used his stepfather as a model of how not to act. I believe this is why Dr. Walton exemplifies a progressive masculinity. A lot of black males tend to use models from television or people around them to build their own values. They don’t know that some of the things that were taught to them are destructive. Emotions are a part of being a human being. It is important that a person expresses their emotions, because not expressing them is damaging to one’s health. I think this notion that black males have to remain “strong,” and “act hard,” is what causes our society to have a bunch of hurt little boys running around. Dr. Walton was able to stray away from that ideology and not be intimidated by those who might have problems with him not conforming.
Another way that I believe that Dr. Walton embodies a progressive masculinity is that he didn’t feel the need to prove his masculinity. He seemed to always have been secure with himself and focused on getting his education. One way that I think Dr. Walton showed this was by learning how to deal with his stepfather. He was able put aside any animosity he had for his stepfather and try to communicate with him as a human being. Reconciliation is something that is not seen in mainstream black masculinity. Hip Hop music videos and songs are always about the artists having a “beef” with another artist. It seems that among black males, once there is conflict between people the chances are slim of them reconciling. There also seems to be a sense of insecurity in a lot of young black men, because they don’t want to be singled out for not displaying this hypermasculinity. Forgiveness is viewed as weak and the only way to show your dominance is to have “beef” with as many other artists as you can. There seems to also be praise for getting into physical altercations with those rival artists. This is what is taught to black males and sets the social norm that you always have to get even. Dr. Walton could have held the biggest grudge on his stepfather but in the end he tried to get a better understanding of him. Progressive masculinity entails maturity and by putting his animosity aside; Dr. Walton showed how mature he is.
Dr. Walton’s story shows that strength does not come from a black man’s ability to intimidate others and being too cool for school. Strength is when you have so many things blocking you away from your goal, but yet you still keep moving. Dr. Walton’s story also teaches us that hard work goes a long way. There are going to be times when we feel like giving up, but in the end all that turmoil leads us to something greater than we could have ever imagined.