Reflecting on Father’s Day, I think about the man for whom I am named and realize how much I lucked out. Man, did I luck out!

I never looked outside our home for a hero or a role model. I never looked to sports figures. My guy was living in the house with us.

Daddy turned 90 this past April. He has a pacemaker and he can be testy but other than that he’s in great shape. He drives his truck, walks in a nearby park, works in his yard and attends church regularly. Watching him as I grew up, I knew he was what I wanted to be as a man.

Daddy accepted responsibility. Born into a sharecropping family in Elmore County Alabama, he grew up poor. He was forced to drop out of school early and often to work in the fields. It’s one of his regrets. “I was a good student,” he tells me. “I was good in arithmetic.” To this day, he can add and subtract numbers in his head if needed. He got his GED after a stint in the army.

He met my mom and began the journey that produced my two sisters and me. He gave his all to us, his family. I was and am his only male child. He taught me. He taught me about work, doing what needs to be done. He taught me about integrity, a man’s word is his bond. He taught me about giving, being there for others whether they were related to you or not. He taught me not to dwell on the negatives of a situation, but to realize I was passing through on my way to somewhere else. He taught me how to love your wife, unconditionally.

When integration came to the South and directly touched our lives, in one fell swoop my life surpassed his in terms of opportunity, unchained boundaries, and new journeys. Although fearful for me at times, he let the reins go. When my new world took me in directions that he could not fathom or wanted to travel in, he let me fly, never wanting to limit or hold me back from the good things I might discover on the journey. He tells me now, “I was afraid for you being in a world I knew nothing about. I’d never had a white friend in my life.” His world was different. But he did not attempt to color mine.

He learned about football when he was a baseball man. He bought us a home, then a bigger one when our family grew. He came to my games when often times he was the only black face in the crowd. He put himself in awkward situations in my new world, where he often felt ashamed of his lack of formal education, but he knew he needed to be there for me. Tears fall from my eyes as I write this because he gave us so much of himself and kept so little for himself.

The story I tell about my dad that makes me most proud, and there are many, is “the snow tale.” We had a massive snowstorm in Birmingham, my hometown, and the city was paralyzed. As an adult I had moved into my own home but kept close ties with Mom and Dad. Knowing they lived on a hill and it would be virtually impossible for them to go anywhere, I called my mom and we chatted about the snow and family matters. I asked to speak with my dad. She said, “He’s gone to work.”

Daddy worked in a pipe shop, American Cast Iron Pipe Company (ACIPCO). I asked, “how?” knowing he could not drive his car up the sloped driveway nor on the closed roads between his home and the pipe mill, which was a good thirty-minute drive from his house. Mom responded, “He left here walking.”

“You don’t work they don’t pay you,” he always told me.

That evening in the local newspaper, there was a shot of a lone figure walking along the railroad track in the snow heading toward the pipe shop, a solitary man doing what he had to do. It was my dad. “You don’t work, they don’t pay you,” should have been the caption.

Daddy worked. He worked at the pipe shop for thirty-five years. He worked a second job at a janitorial service for many years, and he had a “side hustle” as a plumber to pick up the extra money it took to send us to private schools for twelve years.

Because he worked so much, there was little to no time for us to play catch or do the Father-Son things that I might have wanted. But I wanted to be like him. And it wasn’t long before I started down that road of, “doing what it took.”

Daddy left home about five every morning for his 6:00 to 2:30 shift at ACIPCO. He returned around 3:00 in the afternoon before leaving again around 4:30 for the janitorial job. He returned home at 10:30 that night. Before long I was like him, leaving home at 6:15 am to catch the two city buses for the private Catholic High school across town, where I had integrated the football team, and returning at nearly 9:00 every evening after football practice and catching the two buses to get back home. Sometimes we would chat for thirty minutes or so before getting to bed and doing our thing again the next morning.

We talk now and he often tells me of the things he didn’t know when I began my journey into integration, sports integration, big-time college sports, professional sports and the world of white-collar work. He says how he wished he could have done more. “I never had any money to send you when you were in college,” he regrets. “I wish I had known more, so I could have helped you when you were struggling with your coaches and things that were not fair. I didn’t know,” he laments.

I tell him, “Daddy you taught me how to be a good man. It’s the best thing you could have ever done for me.”

The first time I told him I loved him I was well into adulthood. It caught him off guard. Expressed sentiment was not a part of our lives. It was and still is uncomfortable for him. Daddy showed his love for my sisters and me in ways that words could never express and for that I am forever grateful.

For my dad, Tom Gossom, I Love You, Happy Father’s Day.

They arrived at my front door at a little past eight o’clock on a Saturday night. I’d been expecting them for a couple of hours. The Stallion had called me nearly three weeks earlier to tell me he was coming up from Sarasota to visit Sherman and wanted to see the old teammates.

Having been out of town on the day of his arrival, I was last on the list. There are several of us who played at Auburn together and who live within a few miles of each other; Ken Bernich, an All-American Linebacker; David Williams a standout linebacker; Chris Wilson, a kicker; and Carl” Hollywood” Hubbard, another linebacker. Being last meant we could have more time to catch up.

When the doorbell rang, I limped over to the door and there they were. Their grins were as big and wide as mine. “TG” they both called out.

“Sherman and The Stallion,” I returned. They could barely get through the door before we were all over each other hugging, grinning and laughing.

As teammates we had played football together at Auburn University in the 1970s. Those had been good football years at Auburn. During my four years on the team, we finished #5, #8, and #9 in the country; never had a losing season and three of the four years we never lost a home game. It was good times.

The guys ushered themselves in and exchanged pleasantries with my wife, joyce, and then it was our time.

The last time we’d been together had been a couple of years ago in the restaurant at the Auburn Hotel and Conference Center one Saturday night after an Auburn football game. That night we exhausted all our stories and begin to delve into the “do you remember game.” Names like Pete Retzlaff, Warren Wells, Willie Galimore, Sonny Jerguson, Homer Jones, and other old professional standouts brought back fond memories from our youth. Tonight, I was sure, would be just as much fun.

The Stallion, Ken Calleja, a running back was originally from Detroit, Michigan before moving to Sarasota, Florida. He was one of maybe less than a half dozen northerners on the team. Yankees, the other guys called them. Of Italian descent he was nicknamed the Stallion because of his sleek physique and his long flowing jet black hair. He was a handsome stud and he knew it… so did all the girls on campus.

The other half of the duo, Sherman Moon has health issues but other than being a bit thin you’d never know it. He is still Sherman, one of the best guys you will ever know. “Good as gold” is the description I use. If someone says they don’t like Sherman, get away from that person as fast as you can. Something is wrong with him.

Sherman, Ken and I were all ball handlers, the glamour positions on the football team. Ken was a runner. He’d run the hurdles in high school track and ran with a prance.

Sherman and I were receivers and occasional runners. With those positions comes a cockiness that is needed to run headlong into a defense of eleven angry men and think that you can out maneuver and out run them all. Yes, we liked ourselves.

Oftentimes after practice we’d brag over how good we’d been that day in practice. My favorite was “I was so quick out there today, I scared myself.”

Sherman and the Stallion were both “Florida Boys.” Florida Boys in that day and time was code for being soft. We were still playing football in the dark ages of less than ten passes a game, and “no pain, no gain,” “suck it up like a man” and “get your game face on.” With many small town Alabama roughneck boys on the team, the Florida Boys received undue criticism. The coaches were tough on them. But if you wanted to play, you paid the price.

It wasn’t long before the stories began to flow.

Ken was up first doing his Coach Claude Saia impression. Coach Saia was the Auburn running back coach. Stallion has him down pat. He not only sounds like Coach Saia, he can stand like him, walk like him, and mimic his facial expressions. One of our favorite lines from Coach Saia as he directed his running backs was to tell them, “You got to stay on Avenue One.” He never explained where in the hell Avenue One was, but all the running backs were expected to know. Ken could arch his hips like Coach and deliver that line better than Coach himself. I almost slid off the couch I was laughing so hard.

Sherman and Ken had come to Auburn at the same time, a year behind me. They were close throughout college and had many of their misadventures together. When Ken started to tell the story of the ballplayer who entered Auburn on what Ken called

“Double Secret Probation,” Sherman had to help him get the facts straight.

I interrupted, “What is double secret probation?” Apparently this young man’s grades were so bad in high school, that he’d been admitted into the University on Double Secret Probation meaning no one would admit to knowing how he got in but he only had one semester to prove he was college material and that did not include the football field.

The young man did not fare well during his one quarter on campus and decided to assist himself with his grades. His plan was to enlist some of his teammates, steal a professor’s test and secure for himself a great test score. He stole the test and scored 98 out of 100. It was however followed up by the F he was given for cheating. His double secret probation did not last the entire quarter and his teammates in the meantime received F’s as well for cheating. I had known the guy before he left, but didn’t know about the double secret probation or his misadventure in breaking into the professor’s office and stealing his test. I never knew what happened to him. I just knew that one day he was gone, never to be seen again.

We took turns talking about our offensive coordinator. Big Gene Lorendo, stood about 6’4” and was north of 250 lbs. His deep baritone voice struck fear in freshmen and sophomores. He was hard nosed and could boom out your name in such a threatening manner that you would check your football pants to see if they were wet. Since we were all on offense we all played for him. If Sherman went out for a pass, missed it and came back limping, we knew what was next. “MOOONNN ” he would bellow. “Don’t give me that hurt ankle shit, Moon.”

I often tell people as a sophomore, he changed my name from Thomas Gossom, to “Got Damnit Gossom.” You could hear him all over the practice field, screaming, “GOT DAMNIT GOSSOM.”

The stories flowed until well past midnight. I’m still laughing now several weeks later.

That night whatever issues we had with health, family, finances, or just life were forgotten as we fondly traveled back into a time that had shaped the rest of our lives. The memories in some cases were actually better than the actual time spent on the field.

After midnight the guys finally took their leave. I tried to get them to spend the night. They declined. They needed to get to Sherman’s. I thanked them for coming, for the memories, for the times, for the friendship. At the door, in between handshakes and hugs, we proudly spoke words we never would have as young, cocky, virile athletes. “I love you man, ” flowed from our mouths. “Love you too,” we all repeated.

What a special night!

Got another Birthday coming! I‘m tingling! My birthday does that to me. I love my birthday! It’s fun!

It goes back to childhood. My mom made our birthdays special. It was your day of celebration. There were few big parties. But from morning ‘till bedtime, it was your day. Mom baked the cake of your choice. Dad froze your favorite flavor of homemade ice cream. I’m a homemade vanilla and chocolate cake with pecans guy. OMG! The family sang Happy Birthday. It was your day!!!

1/21 is my day. Every year.

This year I’ll work the weekend before my birthday and take my day, Wednesday, off. My ideal day: Do the gift thing with joyce, walk the beach, a good bike ride, sit in the backyard and reflect; appreciate the “Happy Birthdays” that come my way, an afternoon movie, and dinner at Pandora’s occupying “The Gossom Booth” courtesy of the owners, The Montalto’s.

At 7:30 pm, I will think of my mom. I was born at 7:30 pm. Thanks Mom.

I’m smiling, thinking about it.

Last year on my birthday, I visited the doctor’s office for some routine thing.

The “I got an attitude,” receptionist demanded of me, “Birthday?”

“One Twenty-one,” I answered cheerily.

“What year?” she snorted.

“What’s her problem?” I’m thinking.

“Every Year,” I answered.

She didn’t appreciate the humor. I let that be her problem.

1/21 is my day. Every year.

Back in yesterday, which is a couple of decades beyond “back in the day,” I was a garbage man. A garbage man? Yes I was, and I’m proud of it, even thankful. Before I became an actor, business owner, corporate executive, etc, my summer jobs were always adventurous. With few business connections, I took whatever job opportunities I could find. While in high school and college, I was a bus boy, a women’s shoe salesman (that was a hoot), worked construction, worked in the Birmingham steel mills, and my favorite summer job; which I did two summers, I was an ice cream salesman, truck, cute music and all. (That one deserves it’s own story).

The garbage man job occurred the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. I was not able to find a summer job and a friend of mine told me about the City of Birmingham satellite lot a couple of miles from my home. He told me many of the guys who worked as garbage men were hired on a Monday, got paid on a Friday and if they were not diligent and got drunk on Friday; they might not show up for work on Monday. Thus, on Mondays there were job openings.

I needed a job! We took off walking for the lot.

Keep in mind these were the days before the municipal garbage trucks were equipped with a lifter that picked up the cans and dumped the garbage in the truck. Men working as laborers did the work, working three to a truck one perched on each end of the truck with a man in the middle. There was also a “set out man,” whose job was to walk the neighborhoods before the truck arrived and set the cans out to the curb and a “set back man” who set the cans back in the yards after they were dumped. I became “the middle man” on the truck.

Getting hired was a story in itself. When we arrived, at least 30 to 40 men, all black, were lined up in anticipation of getting hired. A lone white man was inspecting each of the Men. I was in shape for football. He felt my biceps and asked me to step in the office. My friend, bigger than me, was also selected. We filled out paperwork and we were hired. Being hired on the spot was a surprise. There was no application process, references, etc. I was told which truck on the lot to report to and my first day as a garbage man began.

I met the men on Love’s truck. Love was our driver, a nice man who shook my hand and welcomed me to the crew. I met Stumpy and Ricky the two end guys. They told me Hotshot, the set out man, was already out working ahead of the truck setting out the morning’s cans. Bear would follow along behind and set the cans back.

Stumpy and Ricky wore gloves, soft brogan shoes and worn clothes for the days work. Not knowing what I was getting into, I had on converse tennis shoes, jeans and no gloves. Stumpy and Ricky stood on their perches on each side of the truck holding onto the handrails. With no handrails in the middle of the truck, I stood over the garbage hopper on the slippery ledge of the back of the truck, the truck metal cutting into my hands.

We were off for the day.

Traveling along sometimes at 40-50 miles per hour to our neighborhood destination. It was scary hanging onto and sliding along the back of the truck.

Stumpy, a grouch and the unofficial leader of the backend of the truck gave me a worn extra pair of gloves. I thanked him.

We reached the neighborhood and the slow crawl up and down the crowded streets began. Stumpy flew from the truck, grabbed a can with one hand, spun around and slung the house’s garbage into the hopper of the truck.

I was officially a garbage man!

Love maneuvered the truck. The truck never stopped rolling. Stumpy and Ricky, like athletes ran behind the truck, dumping the days waste into the truck’s backside. I ran along between the two men until one of them called out “two,” meaning there were two cans on one of their respective sides. That was my cue. The second can was mine. I struggled. It was hard work, a grown man’s work. There was much laughter and fun at my expense, Love grinned in the side mirror.

They were men. I was a seventeen-year old boy. The laughter challenged me. I wanted to be accepted into their world.

For lunch we stopped at a service station, and the men bought sodas and pulled their homemade lunches from inside of the truck. Again not prepared, without any money, I sat alone and pretended not to be hungry. Ricky volunteered and bought me a soda. Stumpy loaned me money for a bag of chips. We all sat there like grown men, enjoying a quick lunch before finishing our day. Love, the white driver, ate with us, which was rare in those days.

By the end of the day I’d gotten the hang of it. “Two, College Boy,” Stumpy would shout. That was my cue. Stumpy had given me the name, “College Boy,” when at lunch, I had made my intentions known that I was headed to college in a year, a place neither of them had been. Stumpy and I glided to the cans in tandem, pirouetted like dancers, grabbing the cans and let the garbage fly into the truck. It was almost beautiful, poetry in motion. By now, I was smiling.

When we were done, Love pointed the truck in the direction of the city dump. Naturally, I got the job of sloshing into the muck of stinky, filthy garbage and guiding Love backward before he dumped the day’s garbage. We were done.

We headed for the lot.

Love pushed the truck along at about 50 miles an hour. It was agreed they would let me off within a half mile of my house to save me the two-mile walking distance. The time came for me to get off, but Love didn’t stop the truck. He slowed some, but we were still moving along at a pretty good clip.

“Come on College Boy, jump,” Ricky called out. It was my last challenge of the day. Would I jump from the rolling truck like they did, the pros? Love smiled in his side mirror. “Let’s go college boy,” they urged. “We want to get home.” Love slowed a little more for me. I hit the ground running, gliding into a stride like I had been a garbage man all my life.

“See you tomorrow,” I yelled as the truck roared off to the lot. “Thank you.”

I never thought I’d write this column. I never knew I’d feel this way. A teammate has passed on and I can’t stop thinking of him. Our journey together brought us a long way. Because we accomplished great things on the football field 40 years ago, the sports media named us, “The Amazins.” As we grew older, had families, and matured, learning to love each other along the way, we coined our own phrase, “Teammates for Life.”

That’s how I feel about David.

David Langner, died Saturday April 26, 2014. He was one helluva football player. A little guy, I often said he was crazy on the football field but if I had the first choice, I’d take David. I’d rather have him on my side than be against him.

David and I traveled a long way in our journey to friendship. I knew him before he knew me. We played against each other in High School. He was a star at Woodlawn High in Birmingham. They were very good. The night we played them they dressed nearly a hundred guys. They came out of their locker room, cocky and proud and ready to feast on the 40 or so players we had from the small Catholic school who had no business on the field with them. David, his brother, his cousin, and their teammates blanked us 39-0 and it wasn’t that close. David, a winner of all kinds of honors, became a highly touted signee of Auburn University.

I walked on at Auburn. One of three blacks on the practice fields of over a hundred players and the only black walkon. David and I didn’t start out as friends.

Walkons have it tough. David didn’t care for the fact that I had dared to walk on to that hallowed ground that he had already earned a spot on. To further confuse things, we had both grown up in Birmingham in the 1960’s when legal segregation meant we could not play ball with or against each other. Friendship was out of the question.

We didn’t get along. David had further to go than I did. We fought often on the field. But we were ballplayers and together we won many games. I won a scholarship and in 1972, we shocked the Southeastern Conference by winning 10 games, losing only once and finishing #5 in the nation. David was a hero that year with his two touchdowns against Alabama in the now famous “Punt Bama Punt” (look it up if you don’t know) game against Alabama. He also led us in interceptions, made All-SEC as a defensive back, and instigated many of the fights we had with other teams. He was a bad ass and we were glad we had him. We always knew he would make a big play.

As we won games, he and I tolerated each other the way teammates will do when they are not friends. Winning does that.

When we were done, he went his way and I went mine. Many years later in Nashville, while filming a Legends of Auburn video, we sat across from each other at dinner. We talked and laughed. He’d already had some health issues and discussed them freely with me. It was a great night for me and, I believe for him. After those many years, we were learning to be friends.

Later, at the thirty-year reunion of “The Amazins,” David came up and gave me a hug. Not one of those quick man hugs but a real hug. He wouldn’t let me go. I hugged him back. I remember standing there in the middle of the floor hugging. Hugging for what seemed like a very long time. That is my favorite memory of my friend David.

Since I heard of his death, I can’t stop thinking of him. I’m proud that we overcame society to be friends.

David will be celebrated for the touchdowns against Alabama, and the great career he had at Auburn. There’s talk that David belongs in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. You will get no argument from me on that. But most importantly, I will fondly remember the impact we had on each other’s lives. We are teammates for life, and now beyond.

It’s the same guy, in the same location. The other guys, the regulars – at least the ones living – still hang out there. And yes, they talk a lot of the same loud trash talk they did back in the day.

Welcome to Duke’s Barbershop located across the tracks in Auburn, Alabama.

Back in the day, we were forced to go there. No other options. Our coach made regular haircuts a mandatory team rule. No exceptions. Granted, this was before dreads and fashionable baldheads. Then, it was a time of huge afros and integration.

In 1969, James Owens had the courage to sign with Auburn University as its first black football player. In 1970, I joined him as Auburn’s second black football player. We began an odyssey that we still laugh, cry, and reminisce about today, forty odd years later.

What’s the big deal? Where have you been? College football has been king in Alabama since long before I was born and more than likely until long after I’m gone. Dragging it’s feet on civil rights and cultural integration, the deep south fought, scratched, and embarrassed itself in a fruitless fight against progress; preferring to fight to keep people from going to school, eating a hamburger or having anything to do with the Federal Government of the United States. It was serious business and those times should never be marginalized or forgotten.

But along with seriousness, lives lost, boundaries falling, and unbound courage there was also the absurd. This was one of those moments in time.

“Get a haircut,” we were told. We were reluctant but obedient. Contrary to my look today, I had a huge, sprouting, afro. James had what we described as, in those days, a TWA (teeny weenie afro).

James approached a barber in downtown Auburn who, upon seeing the strapping black athlete enter his shop with the intention of getting a haircut, nearly messed his pants. He begged James to leave his shop, “Please get out. I’ll lose everything. I can’t cut your hair.”

James asked, “Where do I go?”

We were directed to Duke’s Barbershop, across the tracks. It was literally across the railroad tracks that separated the black community from the university community. Rush, the barber, doubled as the local school bus driver; meaning, the shop was closed while Rush shuffled children back and forth to school. We had to time our haircut visits around football practice, classes, and Rush’s bus schedule.

After all these years, a film project took me back to Duke’s with James. It had been over forty years for me. Rush knew we were coming. He was waiting. We walked into the shop and time stood still. The small shop looked the same. Rush stood over the same barber chair. Regulars sat in the same waiting chairs, not to get haircuts but because Rush had told everyone he knew that James and I were coming by. “You gon’ film me?” Rush wanted to know.

The photos of Auburn athletes Cam Newton, Bo Jackson, Charles Barkley, and at least twenty more former Auburn football players hit me.

“All these guys come here to get their haircut?” I asked.

“All except Bo and Cam,” Rush answered. “The young boys, they cut their own hair now. Never cut Bo. He wanted me to open the shop up for him on my off day. Told him no sir.”

Unknowingly and unwillingly, James and I started something that lasted through the ages. The photos were a who’s who of black Auburn players down through the years, Byron Franklin, Doug Smith, James Brooks, Joe Cribbs, Harold Hallman, and many more.

“Where’s our picture?” we asked. Rush didn’t miss a beat. “Did they have cameras back then?” The laughter flowed until the phone rang. Rush answered, “Hey we filming over here, you better hurry up and get here.”

“I’ve been here since 1966,” Rush related. “Man we were proud when you guys started playing. Up until then we would go to the games and root for the other team if they had a black player.”

“We sat in Kinfolks corner,” he continued. Black spectators had to sit in makeshift bleachers in those days, separated from the white fans.

“We named it Kinfolks corner,” Rush explained. “Boy, when ya’ll started playing we had our own players then.”

James and I exchanged a look. We’d always said we felt the weight of the black fans on our shoulders. Now we knew.

More guys came in as the cameras continued to roll. They treated James and me as heroes.

Going back to Duke’s still brings a smile to my face. We brought joy to some old timers who, forty years earlier, had cheered us on in the social experiment of college football integration. Perhaps we should thank our coach for making us go in the first place.

Birthdays for me have always been celebratory. From my time as a curly-headed grinning youngster, to my memorable 21st, 40th and 50th birthdays. They’ve always been special.

Today’s celebration is also reflective, A look back, over the journey of things seen, lessons learned, and paths crossed.

I’ve jokingly talked about the uniqueness of this birthday. I’ve said to friends, “Think about it, President Barack Obama’s Inauguration, Martin Luther King’s Holiday and my birthday all falling on the same day.” Wow!

Do I feel special? Yes I do.

A beneficiary of Dr. King’s legacy and a forerunner to President Obama’s “he’s the first African American,” to do this experience, my reflection leads me back down history’s path. True history and truth are the scorekeepers for legacies. They record who is right and who is wrong.

Dr. King more than “having a dream” ushered in changes in social and economic morality in the United States. His sermons and speeches resonate today as moral, guideposts for ethics and character.

Annually, I read from A Testament Of Hope, The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King. The book, an inspiring work is a collection of King’s speeches on nonviolence, civil disobedience, and social policy. My favorite is The Drum Major Instinct, delivered from the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church on February 4, 1968. The lessons are “fitness over favoritism” and “servant leadership” (“he who is greatest among you shall be the servant to all”). I have been honored to perform these words from Dr. King’s works. I can think of no higher honor.

The praise for King did not come easy. The criticism and stinging arrows were scary and led to his assassination. He was mocked, “a communist,” “a socialist,” “…he hates America.” “An outside agitator.”

Obviously, they were on the wrong side of history.

I wonder about President Obama? The personal attacks on this President have been different. Hate filled. My friends who happen to be white, whether Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, tell me of the hate filled stories about this man that are shared with them that those same “ friends” don’t feel comfortable sharing with me. My friends tell me if they defend their points of view with intelligence and fact, the conversation becomes a treatise on” treason” and “the white race.”

George W. Bush was a bad President, most agree. His record on the economy, United States security, international relations, and other key indicators verify that. Yet there was never the personal hate this President is subjected to. Surely, if raising taxes and the deficit were the sole issue, Ronald Reagan would no longer be praised.

At a recent football reunion, two ex-teammates were somewhat embarrassed at their own words and actions as portrayed in my book Walk-On, My Reluctant Journey to Integration at Auburn University, a look at my personal sports integration of major college football. Today, they are fine gentlemen, but back then they reacted to me out of ignorance and lack of exposure. They listened to false information designed to divide people and protect economic interests. I’m sure today, it’s embarrassing.

In my presentations and speeches, I often get the audience to mentally travel along with me back to the days of southern sports integration. If they are old enough, I ask them to examine their own feelings of who they were at that time. I then ask if they would want their grandchildren to have known them back then. I ask whether they were on the right side or the wrong side of history.

Many choose to lower their eyes no longer willing to make eye contact, their action a telltale giveaway to their answer. I imagine it’s not a comforting feeling to know that you were wrong, because of your own ignorance and your own unwillingness or laziness in searching out the truth.

Finally and for my birthday, ask yourself this question; Thirty years from now, will you have been on the right side or the wrong side of history? Will you be able to look those who come behind you in the eye or will you lower your eyes in shame?