It wasn’t long after I arrived on the campus of Syracuse University as the newly appointed Program Director for the University’s public radio station that I received a highly anticipated telephone call from my hometown of Baltimore, MD. The voice on the other end of the line informed me that my submission to the annual WMAR TV Arena Players Black History Month new playwright contest was selected as the winning script. The screams of excitement were heard throughout the studios and offices I assure you.
You see, there was a time when I fancied myself a writer. I had dreams of creating great works of poetry and fiction. Maybe even becoming a screenwriter. My best bud, Sean Yoes, and I would put a pen to paper transferring thought to pad as we itched to create the next great work. We’d hit the open mics and spin tales of urban woe; oppressed warriors shaking the shackles of modern slavery; and even tales of love and lust. In truth, our shit might have stunk, but we couldn’t smell it. Creativity was our drug and the Jones kicked in every day.
You should have seen us two knuckleheads from Walbrook High fumbling around the Mid-Atlantic Writer’s Conference back in the late 80’s. It was a conference full of academia and professional writers. We were the second coming of Arna Bontemps and Countee Cullen. The Harlem Renaissance would be reborn in us on that day…or so we thought.
The conference concluded and our resolve strengthened. We had dreams. Dreams of being writers. Dreams of being film makers. We would be integral parts of the creative class come hell or high water.
During that period, a local television station sponsored an annual contest for up and coming playwrights. The station, WMAR TV, partnered with the Arena Players, a local African-American community theater organization, to host the contest in celebration of Black History Month. The chosen playwright would receive a $1,000 cash prize and his/her play would be produced by the Arena Players and aired in the Baltimore metropolitan area on WMAR TV. It was a big freaking deal.
Twice before I attempted to submit a competed script and twice I failed to realize a finished product. Writer’s block got the best of me as did a lack of technology.1992 was a different year. 1992 would be my year. I was arrogant enough to condemn prior contest winners to the dung heap. Yet, as arrogant and cocky as I was, I still needed permission from my new bride to buy a word processor. Handwriting a complete script proved to be daunting.
$500 is what I needed to prove myself worthy of the dream. It might as well have been $5,000. $500 was a lot for us to consider spending. Having just jumped the broom three years prior and adding a new addition to the family, every penny was needed for daily necessities. Yet there I stood before Angela Lee breaking down my simple plan – buy a $500 word processor on credit (a personal computer for us in the early 1990’s was unthinkable), write and submit the script, and win $1,000 for a net gain of $500.
It didn’t take much convincing. I could see the concern on her face but it quickly turned to a smile and a “yes”. Angela has always believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. Her confidence in me fueled my creativity as I banged away at the word processor keyboard. It’s why I continue to be in love with her today.
I submitted the script to WMAR TV and accepted a new job in Syracuse, NY simultaneously. So much was happening at the time and it was overwhelming.
Flanked by my bride and 1-year-old daughter, mother and mother-in-law, I stood in the crowded Arena Players theatre listening to the buzz around me, anticipating the moment that my work would come to life on stage. Announcements made, lights dimmed, and there it was; a cheap imitation of Zora Neale Hurston and influences of every Harlem Renaissance writer I had ever read appeared on stage. The work wasn’t very good; it was just unique enough to win. The actors breathed life into my play which, ironically, was about fulfilling dreams.
I was buoyed by my family and good friends like Sean Yoes and Tony Perkins. Yet despite the kind words and praise of the actors and theatre attendees, I knew as I stood there that the dream had come to an end. I held my squirming 1-year-old and looked at my beaming bride and knew that the work that was ahead of me was not as a dramaturg, but as a husband, a father, and a radio guy. And with no regrets.
I think about Hughes’ question all the time. What happens to a dream deferred? We all have dreams. Fruition is the end game for all but only the lucky few get to see their biggest dreams unfold on the grand stage. For the rest of us, those dreams go through a metamorphosis of sorts. It doesn’t have to dry up or fester like a sore. And it needn’t sag like a heavy load. A dream deferred merely becomes a different dream and the dreaming itself is what sustains and drives us, isn’t it? Today my dreams are simpler and they change from day-to-day; but always centered around my girls.
My friend Sean parlayed his dream of becoming a writer into a career as a journalist. Between the two of us, he was the far more talented scribe. As for me, I just needed some sort of creative outlet. My dreaming is never-ending. There is no tragedy in unfulfilled dreams. Tragedy exist when we stop dreaming altogether.
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.