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A farewell to K-Town and a message of encouragement to the Class of 2021

My family seemed very proud, but no one was prouder than I was that spring day in 1984.

John Fountain with his mother at his graduation from Wright College in 1984.
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This column is an excerpt from John Fountain’s memoir, “True Vine” and his message of encouragement to the class of 2021.

My cap and gown were black. I wore them proudly, standing before the crowd made up of mostly grinning mothers and fathers with cameras that clicked throughout the ceremony. My wife was there with our three kids.

My baby, Rasheena, was already going on two. A pretty little girl with thick braids and a head full of barrettes, she sat on her mother’s lap. Mama was there, as was my stepfather as well as my siblings Jeff, Net and Meredith…

At 23, I was finally graduating from college. Actually, I was receiving a Diploma in Arts in journalism that day and would be awarded my associate’s degree once Wilbur Wright College had received a transcript of my freshman-year grades from the University of Illinois. That would happen as soon as I paid my long overdue bill at the University of Illinois that had accumulated penalties and interest.

My family seemed very proud, but no one was prouder than I was that spring day in 1984. After the ceremony, I introduced my family to a few of my classmates and professors, who said glowing things about me, including what a promising future I had.

I remember standing there, trying to process it all and wondering if they were just saying these things to be nice or if they actually meant them.

After the ceremony, Mama held a reception at her house. There was a great big spread of fried chicken, potato salad, cakes and other soul foods. There weren’t many people at Mama’s. Not that the whole Hagler clan wasn’t invited.

They probably had some church function to attend. I cannot recall. But it seemed even then that the further I moved toward success and self-sufficiency and the more I embraced education and ventured into the wider world, the more it became clear that I would have to walk that road without them.

They didn’t understand this obsession of mine with education and my wanting to move all the way to Champaign, as if I was deserting them and maybe feeling they were no longer good enough for me, that I no longer needed them.

Except that wasn’t the case. I needed them, only in a different way. I wasn’t leaving my grandfather’s True Vine Church and Chicago out of spite but to try to better myself and to benefit my family.

There was a part of me that hoped to return to True Vine someday and work in the ministry alongside the other Hagler men. But I came to understand that a lot of Black folks, especially church folks, were narrow-minded when it came to education.

They had a tendency to pooh-pooh the things of the world, and they failed to recognize the potential benefits to God’s people and the furthering of the Gospel, which is every good Christian’s aim. It was as if they believed that education, spirituality and faith could not coexist.

Maybe they were afraid that once someone ventured long enough and far enough away to see all that the world has to offer, they would become brainwashed by the devil and would never want to come back.

I wished the saints and some of my other family members who had prayed with me and helped me through all those difficult times had been there at the graduation or at mama’s place afterward to share my moment.

But as we sat around, eating and celebrating my big day, I was more moved by the relatives who were in attendance than those who were not.

Dear Class of 2021, Congratulations and Godspeed!

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