From the 757 to the NFL and back again

Story and Photo by Butch Maier

There are those who floor it on their way out of town.

No looking back. Not even a split-second glimpse at the rearview mirror.

Then there are those who could not look themselves in the mirror if they turned their backs on the places where they grew up.

"From the 757 to the NFL," a July 13 panel at Hampton University's Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications, might as well have been called "From the 757 to the NFL and back to the 757."

Three prominent pro football names from the Hampton Roads area code – Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, former Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Mike Vick, and former New Orleans Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks – returned to share stories and words of wisdom for area high school football players. Pictured here: From left, Aaron Brooks, Mike Tomlin and Mike Vick.

NFL writer Jason Reid of The Undefeated, an ESPN-run website, moderated the 90-minute-long, live-streamed event at the Scripps Howard Auditorium.

Tomlin was born in Hampton and attended Denbigh High in Newport News. Vick and Brooks are cousins from Newport News. Vick starred at Warwick High after Brooks made his mark at Ferguson High.

The three have not lost sight of their origins.

"It's as simple as paying it forward for me," Tomlin said. "I love this place. I'll always come back here. It's an awesome feeling to see that 757 guy."

He pointed to dozens of teens in high school jerseys and added, "I can't wait to see you guys."

The impact of football on Tomlin's life can't be understated.

"It was a vehicle for me and I'm sure for all of us to get out, get educated, do productive things and stay off the streets," he said.

Brooks faced similar circumstances. He seeks to offer hope and encouragement to others.

"There were strong challenges, but we prevailed," he said, mentioning his early housing struggles.

Vick will be inducted into the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame in September. It seems astonishing now, but when he left the 757 for Blacksburg, it took time for him to adjust to the college game.

"I really didn't know if I could play college football for four or five months," said Vick, who finished third in the Heisman voting as a redshirt freshman in 1999 and sixth during an injury-marred sophomore season. "There were times early in my career when I wanted to pack up and come home."

Brooks, who starred at the University of Virginia, had no such learning curve upon his arrival in Charlottesville.

"The competition I experienced in the 757?" Brooks said. "I felt like I owned the campus."

He went on to own the distinction of being the quarterback who led the Saints to their first playoff victory, defeating the defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams in 2000.

There is one distinction Brooks could do without.

Reid asked the panel if society would ever stop viewing quarterbacks who happen to be African American – such as Vick and Brooks – as "black quarterbacks" and view them simply as "quarterbacks."

"I would hope so, but until that day comes, I think it's going to be difficult for white America to accept us," Brooks said. "We don't run around saying we are a 'black quarterback.' ... It's just a stigma that's been placed on us that has been very hard to shake."

As a Pro Bowl QB, Vick had no difficulty shaking defenders early in his career.

What advice did he have for those looking to follow in his footsteps on the field?

"At the end of the day, you just have to chase greatness," Vick said. "Either you want it or you don't.

"Everything's not going to be perfect. Everything's not going to go your way." For Vick, who served 18 months in federal prison for his role in a dogfighting operation, setbacks on the field also were educational.

"Through the losses, I found out how much I truly loved the game," he said. Vick was NFL Comeback Player of the Year with the Eagles and was thankful Tomlin brought him to Pittsburgh for the final season of his career.

That was several years after the coach tried to persuade Brooks to join the Steelers.

Tomlin told him, "You'll be with a great family."

Brooks, who had children by this point, responded, "I know, but I've got my own family."

Still, Tomlin had to ask.

"I'm unashamed about my affinity for guys from the area," the coach said. "Just knowing where they are from, what they are about. There's a hardening, just being from this place."

There also are hard times for NFL coaches. Even ones with stellar records. Such as the time last season when three-time All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown live-streamed Tomlin's locker room speech on social media.

Reid mentioned how that's not an easy situation.

"It's not," Tomlin said. "But I'm not gonna trade him."

Laughter filled the Scripps Howard Auditorium.

Reid also brought up how Tomlin has been called just a "rah-rah" head coach – even after a Super Bowl title and a second conference championship.

Unfair criticism?

"It is, but not unexpected," Tomlin said. "We're compensated to be judged – even unfairly." Tomlin added that "it's tougher on my mom than it is me. I've had to convince her not to call in and represent me on talk shows."

Hampton University President William Harvey kiddingly asked Tomlin why he didn't follow in his father's footsteps at Hampton – opting instead to star as a receiver at William & Mary.

That still didn't keep Dr. Harvey and the university from presenting Tomlin with a framed honorary HU jersey to match ones given to Vick and Brooks.

How's that for a welcome-home gift?

Hampton U. film fest focuses on African-American identity

By Destin McMurray

On Thursday, Hampton University will hold its first annual Film Festival from April 6-7. The School of Liberal Arts is the host.

The inaugural festival was launched last year. During this week's festival there will be film screenings and panel discussions that focus on the complexities of African-American identity.

Two well-known Hampton University alumni from within the film industry are to be reunited during this festival. Robi Reed, an Emmy award-winning casting director/producer/vice president, president of talent and casting and original programming at BET, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in speech communication and theater. Ruth Carter is an Emmy-award winning and two-time Academy Award-nominated costume designer who also graduated from Hampton. Her most recent work will debut in Marvel studio's "Black Panther" movie.

"I'm both excited and inspired by this year's film festival," said Trayonna Hendricks, a senior journalism major from Chesapeake, Virginia. "With our theme being 'From Hampton to Hollywood' I can't help but see myself in the guests and panelists."

At 10 a.m. the film festival opened with a screening of "Tanna."

The writer is a student in the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications.

3 Hampton U. students participate in Nation magazine conference

By Leondra Head

NEW YORK – Three Hampton University students represented the campus at The Nation magazine Student Journalism Conference, where students discussed how to cover politics and social movements with professional, award-winning journalists.

Kathryn Grant, Leondra Head and Alazja Kirk represented Hampton's Scripps-Howard School of Journalism and Communications on March 24, the only Historically Black College or University at the conference. These students said they enjoy learning innovative ways to enhance their reporting skills.

"The conference opened my eyes to a lot of new ideas," said Grant, a freshman from Houston. "Each and every person came from different places with different experiences and ultimately allowed me to learn from them through their success and mistakes. I learned a lot about how to report and how reporting on things that the audience does not already know shines an even brighter light on prevalent issues."

The one-day conference brought together 60 student journalists from across the nation from schools such as Columbia University, University of Florida, and the University of California at Berkeley.

The day started with a panel about how movements are responding to President Donald Trump and how to report on those social movements. The panel consisted of The Nation journalists Ari Berman, Julianne Hing, Sarah Jaffe and Emmy-Award winning journalist Collier Meyerson.

"I've reported on social movements and protests in response to Trump's presidency," said Meyerson. "Journalists must get the juice of the story by interviewing protestors who were a part of the movement. Knowing how to report during intense protests will make you all better journalists." taught me well about what to expect, so I was able to keep up with the fast pace of the program and excel."

Students also engaged in a sports movements panel where Dave Zirin, a sports editor for The Nation, discussed how to accurately cover athletes when speaking against social injustices. Zirin reported on NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick when he decided to kneel during the singing of the National Anthem when players were requested to stand during the patriotic song. Kaepernick publicly expressed his opinion on the social injustices African-Americans face.

"The media had a field day when Kaepernick sat down during the national anthem," said Zurin. "No one expects for an athlete to voice their concerns about social injustices because they can be blackballed." Zurin also expressed his concerns on how the media publicizes black athletes' wrongdoings more in comparison to white athletes. He said, "It's important as a journalist to accurately report the truth and hold to the same standard regardless of an athlete's race."

The day ended with students networking with each other over dinner in The Nation's ballroom. Students talked about what they had learned during the conference and how they can apply those things in the classroom once they return to their respective colleges.

"I significantly learned a lot on how to be a better journalist overall," said Samantha Smith, a graduate student at Columbia University. "I can now cover protests better that happen here in New York and be more confident when I go out into the field to report."

The writer is a student in the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications.

Hampton U. student wins 3 awards at journalism boot camp

GREENSBORO, North Carolina – A Hampton University student received awards at the the 25th Annual NABJ Short Course program March 15-19.

Aliah Williamson, a senior Journalism major from San Diego, was among 30 students selected to participate in this intensive program. The NABJ Short Course is four days of journalism training that gives students first-hand experience on what it is like to be in the news business. During the hands-on workshop students produce their own newscast, webcast, podcasts and other media materials. The students also attend seminars and are mentored by industry professionals.

The NABJ Short Course program celebrated 25 years of being at North Carolina A&T State University here. The program was started by Nagatha Tonkins to help students prepare for the fast paced and cutthroat world of news. To celebrate, the NABJ Short Course program hosted a Celebration Gala and Awards event with prestigious alumni of the program returning to celebrate.

The keynote speaker of the event was American Urban Radio Network White House Correspondent April Ryan.

At the Celebration Gala and Awards event, Williamson represented Hampton University well. For her work at the short course, she was awarded the Sidmel Estes Best Producing Award, the Ted Holtzclaw Award for Overall Excellence and a scholarship for excellence from NBC Vice President of News Anzio Williams.

Williamson said, "I attribute all the success and give credit for all of the awards to Scripps Howard School of Journalism. My professors taught me well about what to expect, so I was able to keep up with the fast pace of the program and excel."

Williamson encouraged juniors and seniors interested in broadcast journalism to apply for the 2018 Short Course.

"The Short Course opportunity is one that should not be missed if you are serious about being a news reporter," she said. "The information and networking that you get from it can't be duplicated in the classroom, and it's much better to learn it now than when you're on the job."

You must be an NABJ member who has paid national dues in order to access the application. Visit nabj.org for more information

Michael Eric Dyson Returns to Hampton U. for Obama book read-in

By Kiana-Alexis Salley

The Hampton University School of Liberal Arts and Education invited Michael Eric Dyson, Ph.D., to present his book "The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America" as the selection for the 2017 university read-in. The event is Wednesday, March 22 in Ogden Hall.

The opening 6 p.m. session will be a discussion with Dyson and a Q&A opportunity about the reading. This event is free and open for the public.

The book touches upon how former president-elect Barack Obama's biracial ethnicity affected not only his presidency and the nation's identity, but his accomplishments and successes through his two terms. As Dyson sheds light on the black power structure and racial division, the book emphasizes the "damning indictment of our quest for real democracy and true justice."

As some anticipate their first read-in of the semester, others are familiar with Hampton U. tradition. Shonda Buchanan, assistant professor and former chairman of the Department of English and Modern Foreign Languages, has attended all read-ins since 2004 and finds that this event "creates an important discourse that needs to be had for this campus' population as it illuminates issues of cultures and politics." She awaits what she calls the "informative, dynamic, and fun" experience.

Differing from previous HU read-ins, it is a surprise that a non-fiction book was offered this season. Other read-ins have featured fictional works from other authors.

There is to be a re-order of more copies of "The Black Presidency" to the William R. Harvey Library on campus during the week of the event for students, faculty, and staff members.

Dyson is a Detroit native, but is no stranger to Hampton's campus. Last May, Dyson was the commencement speaker. Dyson earned his BA at Carson-Newman College, and his MA and Ph.D. in religious studies at Princeton University.

As a two-time award winner for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in non-fiction in 2004 and 2006, his foundation of analyzing the socio-economic status of the African-American community and their roles within the government has educated people across the globe.

For more information regarding the Read-in and discussion, call 757-727-5421.

Lady Pirates vs. Duke, Round III

By Taylor Lee and Carly Moon

So we meet again.

In the first round of the NCAA women's basketball tournament, the 15th seeded Hampton University Lady Pirates (20-12) will play the second-seeded, nationally ranked Duke Lady Blue Devils 9 p.m. Saturday March 18.

This is not the first time that Hampton and Duke have seen each other. It is the third encounter out of the six times that the Hampton women have been in the NCAA tourney in the past eight seasons.

Duke won the last meeting on March 24, 2013 by a 67-51 count. In 2010, Hampton lost 72-37.

A 15th seed beating a 2nd seed team has been done before by three Historically Black Colleges and Universities, all men's teams from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC): Hampton University, Norfolk State, and Coppin State University.

The Lady Pirates defeated Bethune Cookman University 52-49 and earned the 2017 MEAC tournament championship on March 11.

All-time scorer Malia Tate-DeFreitas, plus Ashley Bates and Chanel Green were three Hampton University regular-season starters that were sidelined because of injuries. Low post player Kaylah Lupoe was injured during the MEAC championship game. Together, the four student-athletes accounted for 57.5 percent of the team scoring.

"It was unlikely and improbable. We've got three starters sitting on the sideline, and then Lupoe gets hurt," said coach David Six (photo right). "And we still find a way."

"I am just so thankful to be a part of this team. When everyone thought we were going to lose or give up, we actually won," said Monnazjea Finney-Smith (photo right), member of the MEAC all-tournament team. "To be able to play against a great team [Duke] with such a great history is just exciting.

"I trust my coach will prepare us and have a great game plan, and I am definitely excited to be here."

To catch the game, tune into ESPN3 at 9 p.m. on Saturday.

If you want to support the Lady Pirates at the game in Durham, North Carolina, the Office of Student Activities is taking a bus to to cheer the girls on. The first 200 people to sign up can go for free. A mass email was sent notifying students to "Get on the Bus." In addition to a free ride and ticket to the game the passengers also get free T-shirts and lunch boxes.

"I want to make sure that the team has full support from their peers," said Anzell Harrell, director of student activities, "because I have watched them work so hard to get to this point."

Some Hampton students speculated on whether the women's basketball team could make it past Saturday. "I get scared when I hear big-school names like Duke compared to Hampton. They probably think it's going to be an easy win," said Isaiah Spencer, a sophomore journalism major from Montclair, New Jersey. "I know we're going to prove them wrong."

The writers are students in the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications.

Blacks in STEM: ‘Why can’t we just be diamonds?’

By Atira Kennedy

In a society that debates the value of HBCU's -- Historically Black Colleges and Universities -- these institutions generate the most STEM graduates, Claudia Rankins of the National Science Foundation said Thursday March 16 at Hampton University's Black Family Conference.

Rankins, Ph.D. and former Hampton U. School of Science dean, said HBCUs produced twice as many Science, Technology, Engineering and Math bachelor degrees per 1,000 students than so-called predominantly white institutions [PWIs] in 2014.

"HBCUs were and always are at the forefront of social justice," she said. "HBCUs overproduce in engineering degrees."

With only 15 accredited engineering departments at HBCUs, Rankins said here focus has been geared toward the success and development of the programs. To assist, the NSF began a "GEAR UP Program" that is very popular at Howard University. The students accepted into the program spend 10 weeks abroad learning different aspects of science and engineering.

Other programs include the "Hampton Nano Club" and the "REU Program" (Research Experience for Undergrads). Each program provides the eligible students with money towards their schooling such as $34,000 stipends, and $5,000 for summer training work. An additional $12,000 allowance goes towards the student's school. This 10-week paid internship program is offered to majors in the STEM fields and the social sciences.

Back in the late 1800s said Rankins, HBCUs opened its doors to anyone, including women and Native Americans. HBCU's were and still are at the forefront of social justice and change, said the speaker. HBCUs – 107 institutions – compromise about 3 percent of the nation's higher learning and in 2014, said Rankins, they enrolled about 9 percent of all African-American undergraduate students.

Many non-HBCUs collect funding from the government and additional help from other sources, so Rankins turned the attention to the schools in need. "Diversity helps the community," said Rankins. She believes that every student that attends an HBCU should be provided with the same opportunities and resources as other colleges and universities, especially because of their value and quality. She is willing to put forth the additional effort to make new opportunities available for students who have open minds to accept them.

"Why do we have to be diamonds in the rough," said Rankins, "why can't we just be diamonds?"

Kelsey Crimiel and Kaelyn Lowe contributed to this report. The writers are students in the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications.

STEM mentor Isaiah Warner of LSU to close Black Family Conference

By Timia Whitsey

Hampton University's 39th annual Black Family Conference is set to end on Friday, March 17, but not without a bang. The conference aims to celebrate the many achievements of black families and explore the developments that have propelled the families' progression in society.

At 9 a.m., the final day of activities will consist of a student research symposium poster session led by the School of Engineering and Technology, a talent show and a luncheon featuring closing keynote speaker, Isaiah Warner, Ph.D.

Warner is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute professor dedicated to engaging undergraduate students in science. He currently serves as a professor at Louisiana State University and was recently named the 2016 Southeastern Conference Professor of the Year. Warner's determination to help students reach their full potential just as others did for him during his childhood drove him to not only teach, but also pioneer a mentoring program for first-year science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) students.

"At points in my life when I've been in a quandary, there have been people showing me the way, and without them I wouldn't be where I am today," said Warner.

To continue the legacy of mentorship that essentially birthed Isaiah Warner's career and love for science, he designed his program to ensure that it comes full circle. After STEM students receive assistance in their studies, they are expected to guide other students in need.

Warner's impact reaches more than just his own students. His devotion to the youth makes him fit to share his teachings with aspiring scientists across the country.

In fact, some of Hampton U.'s own STEM majors anticipate Warner's appearance at Friday's luncheon and appreciate the time that he set aside to impose his wisdom on students.

"It's great that Isaiah Warner is coming to speak at the Black Family Conference," said Brian Hicks of New Orleans, who is in 5th year of the 6-year pharmacy program. "It means a lot to me that he cares enough about our future enough to come talk to us."

Through workshops, dialogue and entertainment, the Black Family Conference intends to help individuals gain life-changing knowledge that will improve the community.

Friday's series of events and closing speaker serve as the cherry on top of an inspiring and informative 3-day event.

The student is a writer in the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications.

Limb regeneration doctor inspires students at Hampton U. confab

By Montana S. Crider

Hampton University is hosting its 39th annual Conference on the Black Family from Wednesday, March 15 to Friday, March 17. This year's conference seeks to explore the developments of technology and increase public recognition of how technology affects us all and the generations to come. The theme, "Design 101: Black Families Rising Up!" will acknowledge attributes, the work and research done by African-Americans in the STEM fields -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- along with Hampton students.

The opening ceremony took place at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Ogden Hall, with Cato Laurencin as the keynote speaker. Laurencin is an expert in limb regeneration research, and serves as a professor at the University of Connecticut.

Once serving as dean of U. Conn's School of Medicine and the vice president for Health Affairs at the university from 2008 to 2011, he has currently taken on more roles as the chief executive officer of the Connecticut Institute for Clinical and Translational Science, the director of the Institute for Regenerative Engineering, and the director of the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Center for Biomedical, Biological, Physical, and Engineering Sciences at the University of Connecticut.

Laurencin is one of only three practicing orthopedic surgeons in the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, and was the first Orthopedic Surgeon to achieve University Professor level rank in the country, according to his biography on the U. Conn website.

"Science, engineering, and technology are fields where most African-Americans feel they do not belong or will not strive well, so to see a black man who has held his head high through times where he may have been shot down is inspiring," said Gibril Ghee, a sophomore kinesiology major from Atlanta.

"I am a biology major, hoping to go into dental, but it is harder to stay afloat when there are not many people on your side once you get into the real world," said Lauren Brown, a sophomore biology major from Burlington, North Carolina.

Laurencin, and many people like him, are changing and opening a path for students of color. His achievements give students of color hope, and encourages them to set forth on a path that many do not think is for them.

Hampton University's Conference on the Black Family shed lights on families and individuals who make a change and inspire those who wish to follow their path. "I hope to meet more and more people like Laurencin because they are such an inspiration, even for me, an accounting major," said Morgan Harris, a junior from Hartford, Connecticut.

The student is a writer in the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications.

Hidden Figures’ author to visit Hampton Roads Convention Center

By Roger Wynn

On Tuesday, March 7 at 7:30 p.m., writer, researcher and author Margot Lee Shetterly will hold a book signing for her No. 1 selling book "Hidden Figures" in Hampton, Virginia. Shetterly, 48, will speak at the Hampton Roads Convention Center, which is open to the public. Initially, the event was to be held at the Virginia Air and Space Center, but it was moved to a larger venue due to the expected 1,000 people to attend, according to a NASA Langley Research Center announcement.

Shetterly will also hold a book signing for pre-purchased copies of her book immediately after her talk. Since September, the Hampton History Museum has sold more than 500 copies of the "Hidden Figures," according to the museum staff.

Shetterly's talk in Hampton is the most recent stop she has done since her national tour started in early September. The film based on her book was nominated for three Academy Awards. The "Hidden Figures" author was in attendance at the Academy Awards last Sunday, while the cast members, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, presented the award for best documentary.

The "Hidden Figures" story takes readers through a historical period about the untold story of the African-American women who helped win the space race. The book is a USA Today best seller, a top book for both Time and Publisher's Weekly, and a No. 1 New York Times best seller.

The book that was released in September gained a boost in sales due to the release of the movie on Jan. 13.

In early January, Shetterly was at the Hampton History Museum for a previous "Hidden Figures" book signing where over 200 people were in attendance. A couple of weeks after Shetterly was present for that event, the museum opened an exhibit inspired by Shetterly's book and called it "When the Computer Wore a Skirt: NASA's Human Computers," which was open to the public. The exhibit shines light on the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson and Mary Jackson, the women who contributed to NASA's success in the space race during the period in time of Jim Crow segregation in Virginia. These women were mathematicians whose calculations helped American make some of its biggest achievements in space.

After Shetterly's national tour ends, she said she will continue writing her next book. The 7:30 p.m. event is at 1610 Coliseum Dr.

The student is a writer in the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications.

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