Friday, September 14, 2012

The Experts Weigh In: Breaking Boundaries With Reginald Stuckey

BY: DR. REUBEN A. BUFORD MAY, CONTRIBUTOR (with the help of his alter-ego "Reginald Stuckey")

I never set out to break boundaries, but I've been breaking them for a long time now. How does one break boundaries if one really isn't trying? I'm glad you asked. It certainly wasn't a result of being born the eldest of three African American males to a single-parent mother who struggled to keep us all fed, clothed and protected (keep in mind, this all took place in a city known not only for it's wind-blowing politicians, but also for it's gangs, like the Black Gangster Disciples). Nor was it a result of my track record in school. In 5th grade, I received the devastating news at my new school that I was to join the slow reading group. Surely, I was not set on the path of breaking boundaries after my high school graduation either. Seriously, what boundaries could a high school graduate with a 1.8 grade point average and a class rank of 306 out of 363 students, really break?

Perhaps the secret to my success, despite all of the challenges I faced, was my mother, who always encouraged me to do my best. For example, when she sent me away to Aurora University - a small liberal arts college in Illinois - I finished my first semester with a disastrous 0.88 grade point average. In response to this news, my mother sent me a two-sentence letter that ended, "Son, you can do this".

Whenever I have had doubts, my mother has been there to offer a strong word of encouragement. Whenever I was afraid to try something for fear of failure, I would hear her refrain, "Son, nothing beats a failure but a try". But more important than her words of encouragement, was the fact that she conveyed to each one of her sons that our creativity and self-expression mattered. This, I believe, was the seed planted in me, giving me the courage to break boundaries.

Which boundaries have I broken?, you ask. I have broken those between blacks and whites; rich and poor; and the ones in my own professional life and social life. But in truth, there is nothing particularly special about this because many people do it. I think it's not so much that I have broken boundaries, but where I have broken those boundaries that makes my experience seem surreal.

After reading about my dismal academic start, it might be hard to believe that I later earned a Ph.D. in Sociology at the University of Chicago, became an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Georgia, was promoted to an Associate Professor at the University of Georgia (the first African American in the department's history), left the University of Georgia for Texas A&M University and was promoted to Full Professor (also the first African American in the department's history), selected as a Fellow at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University, brought out to Cambridge, Massachusetts as a Visiting Professor at MIT, and became the author of two books, one of which won an award.

Click here to view book
Although all these things are great and I certainly respect the work that it took for me to have these successes, I have cherished the experiences of breaking boundaries between students the most. At first I didn't realize that I was helping people come together across racial, class and gender lines. Then I received a four-page letter from a student one day, describing my entire course as "a process" of learning that helped him to see other people very differently. Soon I began to receive more notes of thanks and inspiration from students. What the students saw most in me was something that my mother had nurtured all of my life - my enthusiastic creativity and self-expression. It's the very thing that drew them to me.

Some of my students have even accused me of being "crazy with creativity". I can't blame them. After all, how many professors (or PEOPLE, for that matter) would actually create, at the age of 23, a fully cultivated "alter-ego" with a name and identity and carry it through adulthood? Or how many people would create "home movie" rap videos as a way to journal their lives and lay public claim to his alter-ego's artistic expression? I must admit, many people have thought me crazy, but my students know better. I've discovered that even this small bit of creativity is inspirational. It inspires students to try things boldly, even if the pursuit will be challenging. Each semester I see the walls between students crumbling down as they reach out to one another. They say that I have inspired them; yet, watching them break boundaries is MY inspiration.

These days when I sit at the dinner table with my wife and daughter, I often think back to the times I sat at the dinner table with my mother and brothers. My mother would serve up large helpings of inspiration and encouragement, usually accompanied by one of her favorite meals of salmon croquettes, rice, and peas or Brussels sprouts (all of which I found repulsive, by the way). I sometimes wonder if she really comprehended how important her "bites of wisdom" were to me. Perhaps she did not, but I'm certainly thankful that she fed me what I needed to break boundaries in my life.

I am living proof that we all have something to offer, even when we don't realize it. We just have to learn to take life by the hand, find something we enjoy, and let our God-given talents flourish. If we are happy with what we are doing, others will see that and be inspired. As Reginald S. Stuckey might say, "Go forth and inspire".

Dr. Reuben A. Buford May is a professor at Texas A&M, a YouTube sensation and an award-winning author. But don't be fooled by his fancy resume. He's still a simple man, choosing to eat the same lunch day after day, consisting of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a bag of potato chips, a small fruit cup and a 12 oz. water bottle. Between classes, you can find him rapping on campus or filming music videos around town. To get a glimpse into Stuckey's life, check out his YouTube page for The Stuckey Project or to check out his book Living through the Hoop, click here.

Now usually I'd stop here. After all, there's a lot of good, solid content above. But Dr. May deserves a little something extra. After all, he transformed my preconceived notions of what learning was supposed to be! He made me get out of bed every morning with a pep in my step (even for an early class)! I contacted a couple of his former students for comments and here's what they had to say. Let the love fest begin...

"When I attempted to sign up for Reuben's class, Sociology of Sport, it was full. I had to set up a meeting with him to try to convince him to permit me to enter his class, which would put it over capacity. After speaking with him and receiving the "disclaimer", he allowed me to sign up. At that point, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Reuben's class was, by far, the most entertaining and inspiring learning environment I have ever encountered. Reuben's animated, yet raw personality, captivated every student in the class. My journey with Reuben did not end there. Reuben and I ran into each other at the Student Learning Center and joined each other at a table. I will not get into the details of our discussion (because the content probably should be censored); however, that was the start of a true friendship. I should mention a friendship was also started with Reginald Stuckey. Reuben not only became a close friend, but I also looked to him as a mentor during that time in my life. He was the only person who I could be real with and talk about any issue I had going on in my life. We would swap stories, and he would always end up providing me with some wisdom - whether it was what I wanted to hear or not - that would be encouraging and uplifting. He and I continued our friendship after the Sociology of Sport class ended, and eventually, he pursued better opportunities in Texas. One of the inspirations I carried from his class and pursued in my life is teaching. Eventually, I became a middle school teacher and I will do this for the rest of my career. If I can impact students the way Reuben impacted me, I will know I have succeeded in this life."         -BRAD POWERS

"Five years after my college graduation, I am hard-pressed to recall so much as the names of my professors. If I perform the mental equivalent of squinting to bring a blurry image into focus, I can remember the rough outline of a lecture here and there or that one professor in the Classics department who always paired white socks with black shoes. Dr. May defies this phenomenon. Not only do I remember his name (all four of them), but also his anecdotes, his games, the speech he gave us the first day of the class, his research and accompanying lecture, and the look he gave me the day I misguidedly dyed my hair blue. It would be dishonest to suggest that I walked away from our class with a deep and lasting understanding of the sociology of sports (or that I took the class out of an interest therein in the first place). The resounding understanding among sociology students was simply that one needed to take a class with Dr. May -- any class. I am so thankful I did."                            -ENBAR TOLEDANO


  1. Best class at Texas A&M, hands down!

    -Charlie Gore

  2. "Nothing beats a failure but a try."

    There is no doubt that I became a better student by taking his courses. I enjoyed the spontaneous classroom environment and appreciated the organization from Dr. May. The best thing was being able to talk outside of the class - I was surprised by how he would actually get to know his students on a personal level. The highlight of the year was getting my name on a Stuckey track, ha.

    - Michael Soliz

  3. Michael, Thanks for sharing. I had the exact same experience as you. Dr. May has a special God-given talent for teaching, and just relating with people in general. I'm sure he has no idea how many lives he's affected for the better!