Following my freshman year in college, I got my girlfriend pregnant. We were incredibly naive, “in love” and unprepared to raise a child, but once the pregnancy test read positive, we were all in. Which meant, I needed to get a job. That summer before my sophomore year at FAMU, I think I applied for nearly 25 jobs, all of which were in retail. I was 19 at the time, and my only professional experience up to that point was working on a golf course (I was Bagger Vance) and being a camp counselor at a youth camp. Thus, retail seemed like a good place to start. At the time, I viewed it as a step above fast food and guaranteed job security because people are always buying shit.
Despite applying to every major retailer in the Tallahassee area for nearly four months, from Wal-Mart to Toys R’ Us, no one would hire me, let alone grant me an interview. I remember interviewing with Sport’s Authority — a store I desperately wanted to work at because I loved sports and frequently hooped with a “friend” who worked there. After what I assumed was an awesome 30 minute face-to-face convo with the store manager, I was convinced I was finally on. I dapped up my homie on the way out and said, “Bet!” I was so elated I called my mama on my Motorola flip phone and started doing Kobe fist pumps in the parking lot.
I didn’t have a car at that point, so I was bussing it. And since it was Florida and Florida is as hot as the devil’s armpit, I figured I’d catch some AC back in the store rather than sweat my life away. When I walked back in, I noticed all the employees, including the store manager and my hoopin’ homie, were giggling about some shit near the registers. I didn’t pay much mind, just nodded with a slight smile and proceeded to window shop.
As I was aimlessly loitering I heard these static voices cracking on some sorry ass dorky dude who was looking to get hired. I spotted the source of the chatter — an abandoned walkie-talkie tucked away in the golf section — and began to eavesdrop. These dudes were lighting some chump up, talking about his busted Sperrys, and his weird voice, and said there was no way in hell he’d work with them. Seeing as how I had just had a bomb ass interview, I laughed too, because hell, I thought I was essentially apart of the team at that point. I mean, my mans told me to my face, “we look forward to bringing you on. We’ll be in touch.” It wasn’t until a familiar voice started ragging on my name that I realized these motherfuckers were talking about me. “What dude’s name is Morgan? Sorry bro, I only fuck Morgans.” Turns out, the store manager was roasting my life away, and thanks to a misplaced walkie and someone inadvertently leaning on their mic, I was privy to hearing all of it. Even my mans who I steadily hooped with was cracking jokes. Fucked up, right?
Pissed off and embarrassed I stormed out. I was discouraged as hell. I couldn’t believe these simple-ass dudes had the nerve to rag on my Sperrys. I’d just bought them mugs.
Anyway, I finally landed a gig at Target stocking shelves overnight, which I absolutely hated. I’d work from ten at night to six or seven o’clock the following morning, unloading a hot-ass trailer then putting merchandise on the sales floor and in the stockroom. It was disorganized, laborious chaos. To make matters worse, the buses stopped running at 9:00PM and didn’t start again till 8:00AM which meant I’d either have to catch a cab to work or ride this janky-ass bike I picked up for $50 at church yard-sale. But it wasn’t the commute that bothered me (I eventually made nice with some cool people who were kind enough to give me a ride to and from work). What really pissed me off was having to do this fucking work in the first place.
Here I was at one of the best HBCUs in the country trying to become an architect/journalist/accountant/economist and instead of enjoying my college experience I was doing grunt work for a measly $8 an hour. All because I knocked up the first girl who was kind (or dumb, depending on your perspective) enough to let me smash. I felt like I had truly fucked up. What began as aspirations to pledge Alpha Phi Alpha, walk-on FAMU’s baseball team, and attend law school had deteriorated to attending classes during the day, stocking shelves during the night, and changing diapers in between.
I remember one night, after a major fight with my girl, I came into work more disgruntled than usual. I was in no mood to do this menial bullshit-ass job, but thanks to bills and baby food, I had no other choice. I can’t remember what exactly happened that night (I’m sure I fucked some shit up out of sheer carelessness) but this older dude named Mitch stopped me and said, “Young fella, this job may not mean shit to you, but it means something to me, and if you gon’ be here, you might as well do the shit right and learn something.”
I don’t know what made me listen to this cat, but suddenly I began doing actual work instead of bullshitting for a paycheck. Over the course of a few years, this man became like a Black Obi-Wan to me, schooling me on logistics processes, retail organization, leadership, and more importantly, helping understand my place as a black man in America. He may have been just an “old guy in the stockroom” to most people, but he was extremely wise and experienced despite his position. I forged a strong bond with this dude, and absorbed as much knowledge as I possibly could while I could. Of course, I was still an immature little shit, and though everything he was throwing didn’t stick, enough of it did to propel my career in retail.
After nearly six years at Target working alongside this OG, I would eventually get an internship with Target, which then materialized into a $50K job out of college, then later some opportunities with Nike, The Gap and eventually helped me land my current gig (which consists of doing some pretty awesome stuff for Amazon). I don’t really keep in touch with Mitch much, but there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t appreciate the lesson he taught me; no matter what you’re doing or what situation you’re in, never squander the opportunity to use your environment and circumstance to propel yourself to something better.
I could’ve easily kept on being a little shit and sulking because my life wasn’t going according to plan — which admittedly, was my own doing. But if I did, I certainly wouldn’t have the foundation I have now. And I would’ve sacrificed some of the most amazing opportunities I’ve been fortunate enough to experience.
As Charlamagne Tha God repeatedly references in his book, Black Privilege, you’ve got to focus on simply “putting the weed in the bag,” a quote passed on from the hood classic, Belly. Too many times I’m encountered with countless people — whether it’s the high school students I tutor on the weekend or grown-ass adults I work with — who attempt to escape their circumstances through some unsustainable, ill-advised, scheme instead of relishing the opportunity to use their predicament as a foundational springboard to something better. Life isn’t quick. It’s long, laborious, and frustrating, as fuck. But within that frustration, there’s a lesson to be learned. Within the menial-ass bullshit, there’s a gem to unearth. And if you don’t take the time to recognize the value of your circumstance, whether good or bad, you will undoubtedly fall into a pit of despair.
As for Sports Authority, they went out of business because they hired trash-ass people to run their stores. Also, their backend processes, product assortment, and pricing strategy couldn’t compete with their chief competitor, Dick’s Sporting Goods. But if fate ever puts me on the same court as that dude I used to hoop with, you best believe he ain’t getting picked up and I’m dropping hella buckets. Because while I’ve come along way since those “busted Sperrys” my pettiness and jump shot are stronger than ever. Be well, folks!