Off to Dillard University
Last week, my young cousin Byron left Los Angeles to attend Dillard University in New Orleans.
Byron, the oldest son of my cousin Illona, was born a sensitive kid, and sometimes that sensitivity wandered into moodiness (hey- I understand that one). When Illona gave birth to Justin, Byron’s younger brother, she decided to close up the day care business she had run since she was a teenager, and take a job at USC, in the hopes that both of her sons would take advantage of the tremendous educational benefit offered to employees and their families, and attend college there. But Byron struggled academically. I remember a couple of years back when I heard he was considering colleges in Louisiana, asking him what had happened to USC.
“I can’t get in there” Byron said, with an air that was matter of fact, but masking a ruefulness at the same time.
Justin has greatly excelled academically, and also packed up to go off to school this year, to a prestigious boarding school on Ojai, to which he received a scholarship. Illona gave them a farewell party a couple of weekends back, and I felt some undercurrents of “less than” expectations for Byron, while, of course, very high expectations were expressed for Justin. Not a healthy situation, perhaps, for either of them.
Illona was very happy that Byron was accepted to Dillard. “They’re willing to work with him” she said. “He’ll get more attention there.”
I am thrilled that Byron will be spending the next few years in New Orleans and wrote him a good bye letter saying as much. Here is a copy of the letter I wrote and delivered to him the day before he left:
We are all so proud that you are going off to attend Dillard University. And I am so happy that you will be spending the next 4 years (at least) in magical New Orleans, the city of your ancestors.
I want to remind you, as Ms. Leah Chase told me, that when you walk through the French Quarter, the beautiful architecture and ironwork you’ll see was created by your people, the free Creoles of color. When you get the opportunity to dine at the world renown restaurants – Galatoire’s, Antoine’s, Brennan’s, the Court of Two Sisters and Commander’s Palace, remember that the cuisine was created, and graciously and hospitably served to visitors from all over the world by our people, even when they were not able to dine in those restaurants themselves. When you hear the strains of New Orleans jazz, know that the music – America’s only indigenous art form – was created by the Creoles of New Orleans.
Remember, that in large part, the civil rights movement had its birth in New Orleans with a man of our own community- Homer Plessy, and that the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. had very close ties to Dillard University.
You have that greatness in you, too, Byron, and we all look forward to the great things you will do in your life.
My hope and prayer for you now is that you will love your time in this city, and that you will always look back on it as one of the greatest times of your life.
I love you.