Thursday, January 21, 2021

Inspired: How I Became A Writer Part 2

This is part two of How I Became A Writer from my series, In My Lane. This series details how I’ve gone from poet to journalist to magazine publisher to TV producer to TV staff writer. My journey isn’t over, but I wanted to share some of my steps in case it helps or motivates anyone to just keep going and just keep writing.

After graduating from Morehead State University with a Masters Degree in Sociology with an emphasis in criminology, I felt more determined than ever to use my passion for writing and love for music to make my mark in the world. But it was a blatant act of discrimination that made me realize I was special and needed to do something important with my life. 

A blatant act of discrimination made me realize I was special…

See, when I was in my graduate school, I had a professor, let’s call him Dr. Gee. Dr. Gee was a professor from Poland who, as rumors had it, had begun to struggle with mental disease. Dr. Gee for one whole semester focused on teaching me that I was less than the other students. First, I noticed he wouldn’t call on me in class when my hand was raised. Then I noticed he graded my papers lower than the other students for what was arguably similar and at times superior work. The final straw came after I’d done several extra credit assignments and he withheld the points from my final grade. 

Now the whole time this is happening, I’m wondering, “Does Dr. Gee have a problem with me?” “Does Dr. Gee have a problem with Black students?” “Does Dr. Gee have a problem with Black women?” Yet, no matter how much I wondered about it, I kept my head down and did the work. I remember receiving counsel from other professors and them saying to me, “Yeah, but the grading is subjective, so…” Dr. Gee’s fellow teachers weren’t going to say he was discriminating against me. So like so many other students before me, I had to figure out a strategy. I wanted to complete his class with an A and I didn’t want to be discriminated against. However, if he continued to discriminate against me—as I believe he was—I was going to document the hell out of the situation. 

Does Dr. Gee have a problem with Black students?

The first part of my strategy involved office hours. Before and after tests, before and after assignments, before and after receiving grades back, I would go to his office and ask questions. If I misunderstood so much as the placement of a semi colon when I read Contemporary Theory text, I made an appointment. And, I showed up to every appointment. I showed up tired, hungry, irritated, and feeling discriminated against, but I showed up. 

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The second part of my strategy involved extra credit. Every time I was graded on an assignment or test in which I did not receive 100%, I requested extra credit. Yep, every. single. assignment. This is what gamblers would probably call loading the deck. The logic behind this part of the strategy was simple. By giving me additional assignments, it would make the professor feel more power. He’d think he was making me work harder.  However, these additional assignments would give me enough extra credit points that any B-’s would become B+ and any A’s and any A would go even higher. I didn’t get C’s, the professor, thankfully wasn’t reckless enough to lower my grades that much.  

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Every time I was graded and did not receive 100%, I requested extra credit.

The third part of my strategy involved class participation and of course, recording everything. I didn’t miss class. I raised my hand and always contributed. But most importantly, I recorded everything thing my professor said. See, I’ve learned people lie. Yes, they do. Professors lie. Teachers lie. Doctors lie. Journalist lie. Shoot, Writers lie for a living. So, you get my point. Something in my spirit told me that if I had to fight this professor for discriminating against me, it would be helpful for me to have recordings of every class.  

I recorded everything my professor said.

The fourth part of my strategy involved subtlety counseling with other professors about the challenges I had in Dr. Gee’s class. They didn’t know it, but they were my witnesses-to-be. Again, something told me, if I have a problem and can’t get through to my actual professor, talk to his colleagues, voice my concerns, essentially, get my concerns on record. And I counseled with three witnesses, professors,  but all in all I thought my four part get an A in Contemporary Theory strategy was a winner. 

I made it through the semester, knew I had a practically foolproof plan and felt pretty optimistic. But, this is where the story gets murky. I remember being at home on a chilly December afternoon and receiving my grades in the mail. All A’s except for Contemporary Theory? I almost passed out on my bed. What the actual F#$k?

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All A’s except for Contemporary Theory? I almost passed out on my bed.

No lie, I sat stunned for a full hour. I had tears in my eyes and everything. What had happened? I’d stacked the deck, engaged in a four part strategy, and participated in office hour meetings when I’d rather be flushing my head down the toilet bowl. A mistake had been made and someone was gonna fix it. But how? And who? Who was gonna back a Black graduate student who claimed her White professor discriminated against her and thereby gave her an unfair grade? I made it my business to find out.

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Who was gonna back a Black graduate student who claimed her White professor discriminated against her?

The very first day of the next semester, I visited the chair of the Sociology Department. I told him what had happened, detailed all four of my strategies and shared my outrage at the final result. He told me I was being emotional. Yep. Angry Black woman on aisle three. But after identifying that I was being emotional, he told me what I needed to hear. He said, “Document why you believe you should have received an A in the class and submit it for review. Leave your emotions out of it, just lead with the facts.” I walked out of his office part pissed off and part happy because my four strategies were absolutely, positively all about documenting. All I had to do was type it all up. 

Angry Black woman on aisle three.

I typed up all the office hour visits, the extra credit, the class participation, the comments he made on my assignments. I submitted it all and the board at my university gave me my day in court. And when that day arrived, I came ready to do a Johnnie Cochran on ’em. I was prepared to change laws, rules, regulations, precedents. About five minutes into the meeting, just long enough to have the fake niceties, I was told by my chair that the department was, in fact, changing my grade. Wait, come again? I looked at Dr. Gee and back at the chair who basically said, “We’ve reviewed your documents. Based on your extra credit, we believe you earned an A in the class.” And then, the meeting was over. 

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When the day arrived, I came ready to do a Johnnie Cochran on ’em.

Almost disappointed that I didn’t get to do any neck rolling, eye rolling, cursing and fussing, the victory seemed too easy. But then I remembered that don’t look a gift horse in the mouth thing.  I held my head high, contemplated awful situations I’d like Dr. Gee to find himself in and proceeded back to my dorm. But, before I could even leave the building, Dr. Gee stood, arrogant, blocking my path and with his hand outstretched. His final words to me? “You won.” I looked at his pale, white hands that I refused to shake and walked away. Didn’t realize it was a game. Didn’t realize my graduate school transcript was being produced by Parker Bros. 

As I descended the stairs and the crisp Kentucky air beat me about the face, I thought about my supportive professors at Hampton University, my parents who I could talk to about my challenges, my brother who I’ve always been close with, my fiancee who supported me furthering my education even over us getting married. I was a Black woman who had support and yet I was discriminated against and this professor from Poland didn’t care. If I didn’t know how to strategize and rally for myself, I would have become just another statistic to him—a Black student who couldn’t cut it. It was in that moment I decided that no matter what I did with my life, I would make a difference. I would write, be passionate, mentor others, be helpful, use the tools I have—including my support system.   

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I would have become just another statistic… a Black student who couldn’t cut it.

The next step in my journey reveals how I used these realizations to become a journalist, a hip hop magazine publisher and during the late 90’s, only one of two Black women who owned an entertainment magazine.  To find out what I did next, please check back next week or subscribe to get blog alerts so you’ll know when it hits the site. This is part two of the series, In My Lane: How I Became A Writer – part 2

Yasmin Shirazhttp://www.yasminshiraz.net
Yasmin Shiraz is a Screenwriter and TV producer who has worked for Lifetime, A&E, Bravo and PBS. She's a best selling author of more than 11 titles and the founder of Black TV Film Crew. She is the CEO of Still Eye Rise Media.

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