By Wayne Dawkins,
Special to the AFRO
David E. Talbert, an award-winning playwright turned Hollywood director, told 600-plus Morgan State University graduates May 21 that there were detours along his career journey.
He began college as a division III-basketball star at Western Maryland University where he was among two dozen Blacks at the overwhelmingly White campus. Then he transferred to Morgan State University with an athletic scholarship in hand and on arrival realized he, the fastest, hardest, strongest basketball player at his former school, was “slowest, softest, weakest, Whitest,” student-athlete at Morgan in the late 1980s.
Then he fractured his ankle during a pickup basketball game with some OGs. For that act he lost his scholarship. Now what would Talbert do?
The 1989 graduate said he embraced Morgan as the “Disneyland of Black people, the happiest, most melainated place ever. I got my swagger back. I threw off my crutches and healed.”
He earned a degree in marketing. Talbert traveled west and became a radio DJ in the San Francisco Bay area that was preceded by a stopover in Las Vegas where he met his future wife.
“Morgan messed up my mind,” Talbert explained in a resonant baritone, “And made me believe I could do anything.” After watching a performance, he told himself, “I can do that,” and switched careers again to become a playwright.
That choice stuck and was the theme of Talbert’s 20-minute pep talk to graduates:
“Have the courage to create. You are the creators, graduates. Introduce and even reintroduce yourself.” It could be normal, he said to change career paths a handful of times before graduates settle into what they love. Family, friends, yourselves even, will have doubts, but trust.
And before there is courage, you must face your fears. God will open a window and pour out a blessing. It’s time to receive.”
Director Talbert referenced his debut Hollywood film, “First Sunday,” saying that it “was Morgan State University-made,” triggering roars and applause from the nearly packed Hurt Stadium crowd despite the 95-degree heat.
The commencement speaker’s resume included many hit comedies such as “Baggage Claim,” and “Almost Christmas,” “Jingle Jangle,” and more than a dozen theatrical tours that reaped 24 NAACP award nominations. In recognition of those achievements Talbert earned an MSU Doctor of Fine Arts degree.
Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters recipients included Colin Kaepernick, the Super Bowl star NFL quarterback who was banished from the league in 2016 for taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem before games as a protest against police brutality and systemic racism. Sidelined, Kaepernick reinvented himself as a social justice activist.
“You are part of a legacy of thinkers, doers, luminaries and revolutionaries,” he told graduates via a remote message projected on a jumbotron.
Among the revolutionaries Kaepernick referenced were the Morgan State students that led 1955 lunch counter sit-ins at Howard Street, in Baltimore.
“As I was sifting through Morgan State’s archives in preparation for these remarks, one theme that came up time and again was Morgan State’s transcendent belief in the power of service to others,” Kaepernick said, “the transcendent belief that in the service of others, we can elevate our entire community…the transcendent belief that you, the 2022 graduates of Morgan State University, can pry open the possible and break down barriers toward our shared liberation.”
Dawkins is a professor of professional practice in the Morgan State University School of Global Journalism and Communication.
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