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The Storm Before the Calm

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The Storm before the calm
Reflections of the life and times of Benjamin Vaughan Jr.
In the third person

Benjamin W. Vaughan Jr.
Personal Leadership Development, October 31, 2015

He was a recently discharged Vietnam veteran who relocated to the big city to find work. She was a single mother working for the federal government trying to navigate through the mysterious maze of life. They met in our nation’s capital, a true dichotomy of politics and the underbelly of American society. On a temperate day on the last Saturday of October in 1974, the birth of the second son of the two working class residents of Park Morton would consummate a strong bond and this would become the first day of life for Benjamin Wesley Vaughan Jr (BV). In order to understand the man he is today, you must understand the boy he was; an above average student who underachieved yet found his way through life experience, luck and circumstance. The early years set the precedent for the next stage of maturation: the teenage – young adult years. The teens and early adult years resemble a budding flower which is overwhelmed by life’s challenges and influences, wilting away seeking sunlight. Adulthood begins with a hurricane of events that lead to a chance encounter that will change his life forever. By the end of this recollection, you will know where he is going because you will see where he has been.
Benny Sr. and Bernadette were the ideal parents, blessed with perseverance, tenacity and a strong determination for their offspring to succeed at any cost. Benjamin Sr. was a strict disciplinarian who tirelessly worked to make a cub to a lion. He enjoyed his vices while never deviating from his principles. Bernadette was a nurturer who instilled the values of hard work, frugality and honesty. She was a silent assassin; quiet and unassuming but her impact was immeasurable. As a team, their positive influences would guide Benjamin through the perils of life while always being a lifeguard in an ocean of sharks. Richard was a quiet, unassuming big brother who led by example and influenced his younger brother with his success, sense of style and fervor to work hard. BV is his father’s child and mother’s baby.
The Early Years
The Vaughan family was a middle class family living in the middle of one of the most crime ridden neighborhoods in the city. Home was an oasis in the ghetto- discipline, expectation and respect formed a beautiful fortress seemingly isolating the family from the knife fights, drug use, armed robbery and eventual daily gunfire of the world just a few feet away. Early childhood was carefree times when the only challenges were not to use the bathroom on yourself, eat and watch TV. One unusually windy November, while the dad was walking the 5 block trek to the baby-sitter carrying his son, BV gasped for air uncontrollably and begin to fade in and out of consciousness. Memories of the being in day care included cultivating the thirst to learn, breeding competitiveness and the beginning stages of understanding what made BV’s life different from the very friends he was closest to. BV was ahead of his time….he could calculate 2 digit problems in his head, read @ a 3rd grade level and was as articulate as a senator by the age of 5. One day, dad came home with a puppy named Ebony, a black-coat, over-exuberant bundle of joy who would win the hearts of the whole family and live for 22 years. There was an unconditional love for Ebony that was indescribable…her obedience, intelligence and loyalty were direct reflections of the character and disposition of BV. It was now time to realize the untapped potential and let the cub out of the cage to join the pack in elementary school.
Parkview Elementary was the local school where all children from kindergarten to 6th grade attended. Going to school was relatively uneventful until a shortcut to school was discovered. There was no way to know that by taking this path to school, BV would see things no child should see; heroin use and crack smoking that smelled like burning plastic mixed with formaldehyde, Vegas style crap games and Jean Claude Van Damme style fights where knockouts and blood was a common theme. BV flourished in the classroom becoming a mainstay on the honor roll, winning a region wide slogan contest and receiving numerous awards for scholastic achievement. Ms. McLeod, the sixth grade teacher, challenged him with algebra, current events and politics which expanded his mind and quenched his thirst for knowledge. Grade 7 was one of the watersheds of BV’s life. Francis JHS was the first time he left the neighborhood and would be exposed to kids just as smart and smarter, different races and different faces. He was a fish out of water and struggling. While trying to meet expectations, peer pressure began to take precedence over academics. However, natural talent and a photographic memory help to right the ship and make him successful. High school was on the horizon and reliance on what worked in the previous years may not work. Lethargy was also a bad trait manifesting.
From Childhood to Adulthood
Banneker was a high school with college requirements from day one. The coursework was extremely rigorous and competitive to get in. The school had 100% college acceptance and complacency was not accepted. These were some of the best years of his life because he would learn things even when he did not realize it, form life long bonds and the school insulated it students from the dangers of the streets. The pressure to emulate “thug life” was as exciting as opening gifts on Christmas day. This negative perspective on life led to mediocre grades and constant disciplinary action. One memorable event was the morning of a big basketball game, BV and his cohorts decided to chastise some of the students in order to gain favor with the local drug dealers. Eggs and disrespectful rants were the theme of the day. There also was a fight where he punched an innocent kid and put his head in the toilet; suspension and a severe spanking was inevitable. Learning through osmosis and the constant inundation of collegiate academic principles was overwhelming. It was here where he learned how and why things happened. With all the elements to succeed in place and readily available, BV chose a path of laziness, dysfunction and disorganization and breezed by. Notwithstanding of being sidetracked, BV would go on to attend a prestigious urban university (Temple) where the poverty and destitution around the campus was as prominent as the school’s reputation.
College life is filled with freedoms and endless opportunity. It was 2 hours away from everyone and everything he was familiar with. Former relationships faded and new ones formed. Imminently, the negative peer pressure and vices attracted BV like a lion to its prey. Skipping classes, all night parties, and inconsistent focus on academics was the norm. BV was oblivious to the strain college put on the family financially and these bad habits would affect him tomorrow. Being broke and destitute also was an uncommon theme he had to acclimate himself to. These times were an enigma: the poster boy for the fast track to success with the demons in the closet of potential unfilled, credit and creditability in shambles and instant gratification being a core value instead of embracing the challenges and succeeding at the highest level. He had become transient, a lost soul surviving on instincts and a group of lifelong friends. His intelligence was suppressed by his iniquities. It was here where the camaraderie with his fellow classmates would bring out the best in his benevolent spirit. BV shared his resources with other underachieving, fun loving classmates that struggled just has he did. A major watershed during this time was the Million Man March in Washington. The brotherhood and barrage of positivity and inspiration hit him like a ton of bricks. He realized the struggle of his people and was rejuvenated to make a difference. This galvanization was short-lived whereas he continued to struggle and concede to questionable judgment and mediocrity. Consequently, upon graduation day, he tasted failure; not graduating on time. This would shake the foundation of the strong bond of his family and cause a rift that was as painful as an infinite migraine headache. Left to figure out his next move, BV was at a crossroad in life. There was no way to know that a change of venue, survival and cyclical times would be on the horizon.
Life has he knew it was at a fork in the road. There was the prospect of being totally self-sufficient and he was ill-equipped. Brain dumps and innate ability would not be enough. No longer was the insulation of academia available to him. He had to survive on his own. Confused and without a definitive plan, BV decided to join a childhood friend in Music City in the heart of the confederacy, a long way from home in a strange land. The elements of the unknown scared the hell out of him. There were myriads of dead end jobs, failed romances and unfulfilled financial and personal obligations. He was spiraling out of control and most unfortunately, he got shot. Life as he knew it flashed by. The pain and uncertainty was prominent. It was time for a change or his destiny would be pre-determined. He shifted his life focus to securing a job in healthcare and coming up with a plan not to be a subordinate. With a renewed vigor, he began to utilize his interpersonal skills, scholastic and pragmatic skills learned throughout his 17 year academic career, and the fear of being unsuccessful to climb the corporate ladder. BV met his wife in a random encounter with a friend while she covered from dental surgery with swelling the size of an orange. The prospect of success scared him and he felt he was the product of his bad choices and was subject to languish. His wife pushed him to reach for the stars and comforted him in assuring him that she would unconditionally love him and support him. She would support him in reprioritizing his life and require God, family and integrity be the pillars of the relationship. As a result of her persistence, unconditional devotion to family and new core values, the dream job came and the instability has subsided. One noteworthy test of faith and devotion came in April of 2008 when his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. This brought the best out of his human spirit whereas he stayed by her side and supported her tirelessly until her eventual recovery. Our son has grown up to be his own man. His childhood has created life long memories and his destiny is to be determined. His life resembles BV; full of promise yet navigating through the life’s challenges. Roger, the family pet, has also showed us resolve by enduring an ACL tear, fatal liver damage, and diabetes while being energetic and affable.
In conclusion, the trials and tribulations of Benjamin W. Vaughan Jr. are a tribute to a life long journey filled with positive and negative influences. From Pre-K to pre-AARP years there have been a multitude of experiences that are laughable and heart-wrenching. Over time, he has transformed himself from a man without a plan to a loving husband looking forward to continued growth and prosperity. The future is unknown. However, the desire for financial independence, strengthening of the family bond, seeing his son become a successful, productive citizen and most importantly keep God first in his life drives him to repel the demons of his past and learn from his mistakes. This story is proof that the choices you make today will affect you tomorrow.

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