Would you believe I met these two beautiful boys’ father almost 30 years ago in the 4th grade in Derwood, Maryland. Fresh from Ghana, about as skinny as a string bean, a thick Ghanaian accent and smile about as wide as his face, our teacher Mrs. Watson introduced us and appointed me as his buddy tasked with showing him the ropes. I can remember shaking his hand for the first time that day in the classroom. He was standing upright, confidence beaming, even while he struggled through pronouncing my name. I knew instinctively that we were going to be friends.
Starting in the 5th grade we played football on the same team all the way through high school, usually vying for running back and wide receiving roles together, but always playing corner opposite one another. Every day, Monday through Friday, my mother schlepped us from Derwood to Chevy Chase for our beltway football practice, where my father would pick us up. And while he tried to play basketball with us, most of our teammates would agree that George was mostly reliable on 'defense'.
George never missed a day of school. I remember him being awarded the “Golden Penny” for that feat as a child. Every day he went from school, to football practice, to work at Pizza Hut (where he’d save his coins, place them in a jar and send them back to his little brother, Richard, who was still living with his mother in Ghanna), and then home to finish his homework. To this day I have yet to meet a person as dedicated, focused, hardworking, and who maintained such a big heart while facing as much adversity, as George. He took care every year growing up to give my own mother a Mother’s Day card.
George played his way into college where he received his degree in Accounting from Catholic University, shortly thereafter going to work for Earnst and Young. He got married to Angie, a nurse who took pleasure in referring to me as 'White Mike' for quite some time (and maybe...actually I think still does!), and who gave him these two gorgeous twins—Jeremiah and Isiah.
Today the family lives in Newport Beach, California. And when George asked me about karate schools, which Angie had brought up on some other occasions, I simply called up Grandmaster Taylor and asked him about his school in Newport Beach—I wanted to make sure the kids would be in good hands. He assured me that it was a fantastic school. When I discovered that it was run by Master Brookman, who called me personally to inquire about my friend’s children and to set up a time to meet them, and whom I have always respected as a both a person and martial artist, I was excited.
George texted me the pic of the boys in their yellow belts at 6:30am on a Sunday morning, which was this morning (What on earth George was doing up at that time I couldn’t tell you. But obviously a lot has changed since his days at Pizza Hut!), and inspired me to really think about how life unfolds in unbelievable ways. It is hard to explain the sense of joy of his story brings me, as I still recall the skinny little African boy struggling to pronounce my name, adapt to a new country, and help support his family at such a young age. All the while doing it with a classic smile on his face.
When I first reached out to Grandmaster Taylor I was merely looking for a mentor, but I received a myriad of other unforeseen benefits. In this one, I am so grateful to bring together these two facets of my life that are so special to me, and that have done so much to help me make it through what at times seems like an overwhelmingly challenging life, making it more beautiful and worth living than I ever imaged it would be! This is evidence that one of the great benefits of our own school—Urban Kempo—is that we can continue looking after one another, both through and in martial arts schools across the country.
Here is to my lifelong childhood friend, his beautiful family, and my martial arts family in California!!
Thanks for sharing the pics George! I'll see you in a few!