It started on Wednesday after practice and ended on Sunday night. The bye week has usually been a week for me to get away from it all to clear my mind and rest my body. However, this year has been different. Yes, I got away, and yes, I cleared my mind and rested the body... but this bye week provided meaning in my life and I spent it with a great friend.
When I was a senior at the University of Michigan, my good friend Kunta Littlejohn was diagnosed with lymphoma. I never had a friend diagnosed with anything much less cancer, and I struggled to find a way to show my support.
That following April, I was drafted by the New York Giants and Kunta had some advice for me. He said, "If you want to be anybody, you have to rock a bow tie." I said, "man, you're crazy, I'm not rockin' a bow tie... the only people that wear bow ties are people like Farrakhan and Pee Wee Herman." Kunta said, "I'm serious, if you want to be someone in that city, you have to rock the bow tie."
As the months went on during Kunta's recovery, I continued my thought process on how to support him and it just came to me. In silent support of my good friend, I started rockin' the bow tie. He got better, and I never took it off. Since then, the bow tie has made a significant difference in my life and Kunta continues to provide inspiration.
We left Cincinnati in an RV late Thursday night and arrived in Ann Arbor at 3:30 a.m. The day started at 8:45 a.m. with a slew of phone interviews about my reason for being back for homecoming. The visit was two-fold. One, I had the opportunity to be a professor for a day through the University of Michigan Center for Entrepreneurship. Two, I was unveiling the Mott Bow Tie that benefited C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.
The reason behind my visit was in direct relation to understanding and telling a very personal story. In reality, my conversations with different groups are very close to show and tell sessions. It's a story of two young black men, meeting at Penn State University at an engineering conference for high school students. We ended up becoming great friends and have shared many ups and downs... some bigger than others. However, this year has proved to be big ups for both of us as we have reunited through the bow tie.
I believe we begin to uncover ourselves through conversations of substance... conversations that challenge us, that change us, and that ultimately educate us. Over the last year, I have engaged in many of these conversations and they have created a great avenue for me to critically think about meaning and purpose in my life, in addition to what is important going forward.
In April of 2009, I was interviewed at The Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock, Arkansas. The interview turned into a conversation that was part of the William J. Clinton Distinguished Lecture Series and I was asked many challenging questions that led to further dialogue.
The pivotal question was not only about why I wore the bow tie, but what the story was behind it. That specific question allowed me to understand the reason why I started wearing a bow tie and also made me realize the importance of sharing my story. The bow tie has now become a catalyst and a vehicle for me to ask others about their story and I have thoroughly enjoyed the many conversations it has fostered.
In recent months, I have challenged others to rock a specific bow tie that signifies commitment and meaning in their lives. I have also provided an opportunity for others to design their own bow tie in direct relation to their passion and personality. In essence, the bow tie has become a great tool for self-expression and representation, which leads to education.
My favorite definition of education is from Dictionary.com, and it states, "the act or process of imparting or acquiring particular knowledge or skills."
Embracing the process of life is an education in itself. Yes, we have to have classroom structure and we must attend to learn. But another route of education is to engage in conversation with people that challenge you, that are smarter than you, and in the end, make you better for conversing with them. Conversation provides an avenue to listen with intent, to acquire knowledge, and to embrace the process.
If we dare to change the world, much less ourselves, we first must understand our stories and how conversations define and add color to our canvas. The Bow Tie has done that for me and I hope it will also do that for others.
The Essential Question
What is your story?
Visit Rock the Bow Tie to continue the conversation.
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