Everything I know about writing a critical essay I learned in Professor Clayborne Carson's Introduction to African American Studies class I took, as I came of age in 2004-2005 upon turning 18 at Stanford University. What he gave me extended outside the classroom, venturing into the field of life and beyond.
What made this class stand apart?
While I was commonly getting used to small panic attacks before other classes, I would tremble with fear waiting for my grades from Professor Carson each week. But even with that in mind, there was always an excitement that accompanied my feelings walking into this classroom, not because I felt confident in my own 17-year-old thoughts, but because of the silent security I gained from the way Professor Carson demanded the best in all of us. He tolerated nothing but the greatest original thinking we could bring in our backpacks, and of course that meant that we had to be prepared for all the readings we were assigned. I enjoyed learning in this class so much that I still carry this foundation with me to this day at 31 years of age, and it gives me the greatest satisfaction to know that I enjoyed gaining this knowledge for my life.
Why was this class time in my life so significant?
The nature of who Professor Carson was, and the environmental conditions of the classroom that he constructed were what made this important class stand out to me. More than the personal connection to the nature of the content connected to my African-American heritage, Professor Carson taught this class from a complete historical perspective that allowed us to understand the entire landscape of ideas coming purely from a specific set of unique American traditions.
The best part of this class was the fact that you earned your grade. Anytime you are dealing with a grading criteria involving critical response essays, you are always going to worry that your ideas won’t come across as correct; this was the greatest worry I carried all throughout my time at Stanford and especially as a 17-year-old freshman in this class filled with mostly juniors and self-assured seniors. In this class, every week, Professor Carson awarded my bold bravery and trepidatious courage with an “A”. I will never forget how my spirit lit up with ten times the amount of intensity that I felt when I was breaking records on the basketball court. All because of this man did I feel successful at Stanford, where he told me I belonged in the form of the grades he gave me. I will never forget him for doing that for me, it’s like he knew me better than I ever knew myself back then.
Greatest of all, was how easy this class and my time with Professor Carson made the game of basketball for me to play at Stanford, when practically every aspect of my life was being evaluated and scrutinized beyond mental capacity.
Because of the rigorous example he set before me, I could grade myself each day on the court with the same criteria Professor Carson gave me, and not think less of my standards because someone else said so.
The man who always showed up for me.
Outside of the classroom, he would be sitting in the same seat every game at Maples Pavilion, and his silent encouragement on the sidelines gave me someone on campus that I could depend on, at times when it felt like the whole world might possibly be against me. It is far greater than what I can explain, because of the great void he filled by just simply being there for me. He was there all the way until the end, even making the trip to the Pac-10 Tournament Championship at the then HP Pavilion in San Jose, when we beat Cal in an intense final matchup. I can still feel the joy in my spirit when I saw Professor Carson in the stands after the game, and how accomplished I felt because of what I learned about myself from him.
Thank you Professor Carson, you have done so much for me!
Four time All-American, WNBA Champion, Edutainer and Coach