Excerpt for The Ghetto Valedictorian by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Knowledge Became My Hustle!


Willis Major


Published by



Copyright March, 2 2017 by Willis G. Major

Published on Smashwords

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First and foremost, I thank God for all his blessings.

Secondly, I thank my parents for nurturing my mind & spirit in the right direction and giving me the love and support I needed.

Lastly, I dedicate this book to my children. The love I have for them inspired me to write this book and to pass on the wisdom I have learned to others while on this difficult journey we call life.

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About This Book

This book is about how a young boy from the inner city hood was able to defy the odds and become successful. He started off in the wrong direction but with the proper guidance and the blessings from God, he was able to fight through all the bad influences. He was able to stay focused enough to choose a path that would lead him to a better life, instead of staying on the path of self-destruction. Although he did not have the advantages that more well off individuals in the middle class or wealthy had, he did have the loving support of his family and a thirst for learning. So Knowledge became his hustle.

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Most kids who have big dreams and goals have a solid foundation to base those goals and dreams on. Some kids are fortunate enough to have parents, grandparents, and great grandparents who were rich, owned businesses or were highly educated and could give them that silver spoon in their mouth. Some kids might have aunts or uncles or cousins who have become so successful that they can offer advice and support to help them reach their dreams and goals. Some kids are in an area where friends and neighbors can be the inspiration and support to help them achieve their goals and give them the proper guidance in life. When we come into this world we are born equal. This is what I have always heard but couldn’t understand. How could we be born equal when some kids were born into rich families while others into poor families? How can we be born equal when some kids are born into educated families and others into less educated families? How can we be born equal when some are born to a race that has historically had all the power and influence when others are born into a race with less power and influence? How can we be born equal when some kids are born unhealthy or blind when other kids are born healthy and can see? I wrestled with this for a long time and then one day I began to understand the meaning of the words. I began to understand being born equal means equal in the eyes of God and not about equal in terms of fleshly pleasures. We are born equal in Gods eyes and how we live our life under each circumstance we are dealt is what tips the balance of the scales towards good or evil to make us not equal in the eyes of God, which is all that really matters.

I was born a Black boy in the inner city hood, of Rochester, New York. My grandfather, on my father’s side of the family, was a sharecropper with 9 kids living in Coleman Georgia. My mother’s side of the family lived in Cuthbert Georgia, not too far from my father’s side. My father had to work the field so he only had a 7th grade education and my mother was the baby girl of the family and was able to finish high school. My father went to work in a paper mill when he got older and then made his way to Rochester, NY and got a job as a cook working for Strong Memorial Hospital for over 35 years. I was born to Willie and May in Rochester, NY. I grew up in Rochester in the inner city on the west side of town near Bullhead plaza. I grew up on Troup Street, Brown Street, and Reynolds Street for most of my childhood. I played on Eddy Street, Rockland Park, Clifton Street, Wooden Street, Jefferson Avenue, West Avenue, Genesee Street, Main Street and a lot of the other surrounding areas as well. We didn’t have a lot of money and we sometimes had to get “hand me down” clothes and toys. We were allowed to roam around the neighborhood streets and hangout without anybody. This may have led us to hanging around the wrong kids, not that we were angels or anything. We didn’t have any highly educated, professional, well off or wealthy people to get any advice from. We were born equal in the eyes of God but we were born in a disadvantage state and behind the eight ball in the eyes of man. The odds of anyone doing well or making it out of the hood and turning their life around to become very successful were unlikely. Heck, we didn’t know anyone who was Black and very successful. But what we did have is 4 strong male role models who would give us guidance and whip our butt if we did something wrong. My dad and my 3 uncles provided a lot of guidance when we were young and I think every young boy needs strong male role models in their life.

I sometimes reflect back on my life on where I am now and where I started out in life. I started out on the wrong path in life and got on the right side of the tracks during high school before it was too late. I was at a disadvantage and I wasn’t supposed to become Valedictorian of my high school based on the type of mischievous things I was doing as a child. I was mainly hanging with the wrong crowd and too curious about the bad things in life. I was very mischievous as a kid and looking for ways to spend my free time. I started off spending free time by doing bad things and then sports became a better way to preoccupy my time and I finally got serious about my schooling. God made me smarter than most so schooling came natural to me and this was a big blessing for me. If I had struggled like some did in school, I might have chosen the path of a criminal instead of an educated professional. This book is about my story on how I beat the odds and how I transformed from a ghetto street kid into a mature business professional and Christian man. The Ghetto Valedictorian title of this book was the best way I could describe myself in a few words. It allowed me to describe a young disadvantage inner city kid who was doing bad things but was still able to transform his life and start doing good things. Those few words allowed me to describe a kid who was able to be smart and at the same time still keep it real by being proud of who he was and where he came from. Some people looked down on the Ghetto but I embraced the good things from the Ghetto and let go of the bad things. I learned it’s not all about where you come from but about where you are going in life!

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When I was one, my aunt gave me a shiny nickel and this must have started my love for money. I took that shiny nickel and I swallowed it. Well that was a dumb idea. I think back to this incident because it is a good mental picture when someone says a person is hungry for money. I guess you could say this was the beginning of me being greedy for money. My parents took me to the hospital and the doctors checked me out and told my parents that I would be ok and that I would poop it out. He said to check my poop regularly to see if the nickel came out. I overhead this conversation and being the smart dummy that I was, I decided to go in the corner of my mom’s bedroom and take a dump. Then I looked through my poop and I found the nickel that I had swallowed. I was so proud of myself that I immediately picked up the nickel and took it to my parents. I guess this was the start of me being too smart for my own good.

Then when I was about 3 years old, I would follow my father around the house. I guess like any kid that age I was curious about everything because everything was new to me. One day my dad was drinking Jack Daniels whiskey and he sat his cup down. The Jack Daniels was straight with no chaser. Well as soon as he put his cup down and started walking away, I quickly grab the cup and I took a big sip of that Jack Daniels and my entire inside was burning up. My dad noticed that I had taken a sip of his whiskey and said my face had a big frown on it. He quickly gave me a lot of water to drink before my mother could find out what had happened. I never knew why I like Jack Daniels so much until my father recently told me this story. It was also a warning sign that whiskey is not your friend.

Our first house was on Troup Street, on the west side of town. We lived upstairs and had neighbors that lived downstairs. When I was about 5 years old I went to some daycare, head start or some type of summer program. I turned 5 late in the school year, so I wasn’t eligible to start kindergarten. My best friend was the downstairs neighbor and he went to the same program. We had some project in class where they gave us a plastic horn that we could take home. We blew that horn in class a lot that day. Then when we got home we blew the horn some more outside. I am not totally sure how it happened but my horn broke and I didn’t like that. So as I was quickly thinking about what to do, I took my friend’s horn and I gave him my broken horn. His older sister happen to be looking out of the window when this transaction was taking place, so she yelled at me to give him his horn back. That was not about to happen so I quickly ran upstairs and went inside of my house with his horn and left him with my broken horn. When I look back to that day, this was the beginning of my future name. This was the beginning of the boy that would later be known as SLICK.

The next year, I was finally eligible to start kindergarten at George Mather Forbes #4 School. One day while we were eating lunch a bigger kid came up to me and we started wrestling all over the cafeteria table. I think later that day when school was out we met on the way home and we started fighting again. This time my cousin saw me fighting and he jumped in and we double teamed this kid. One thing about my family was we may fight each other but if you messed with us we would all fight you.

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Every summer during school break we would go back to my roots, in Georgia to visit my family down south when I was young. My grandfather was a sharecropper and had a house built on bricks with a roof made out of tin. We had a well full of water that you had to pump out instead of indoor plumbing and an outhouse to use the bathroom, but you had to watch out for snakes. My grandfather kept shot guns in the corner of the house and you would get the living sheet beat out of you if you touched any one of them. I remember he used to always watch wrestling. It was surprising that there was a TV in the house since there was no bathroom or water. This was really roughing it, I thought, since I was coming from up north, where we had a better living situation, lot of stuff to do and many stores. I actually hated going down south because of those limitations and plus it was too hot and too many bugs. I now look back and cherish those times. We went to see my uncle Jack, who was in jail. My father, older brother, and I took a picture with Uncle Jack. I was sad that my uncle was locked up. When I was older I found out he had accidentally killed someone while being drunk on Jack Daniel (Rest in peace Uncle Jack). As we headed home from down south, I was thinking of the toy that you wind up and after so many turns a clown pops out of the box to surprise you. I also saw many restaurants called “Jack In The Box”. All I know, on the way back to Rochester, everything started to remind me of my uncle locked up in Jail. I guess it scared me and maybe this is what has helped me throughout my life to stay out of jail.

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Well we came back to Rochester and it was time to start school. I went on to the first grade. I was still thinking about my uncle and I think I started to get angry about it. So I told this boy who was sitting next to me in my class, don’t say Jack in the box. He said, “What”. I repeated myself and told him not to say Jack in the box, because my uncle was locked up. Realizing what I said, he immediately started saying Jack in the box. Well I caught up with him after school and I started beating him up. His brother saw what I was doing and jumped on my back and then I flipped him off of my back and started beating him up too. They never said Jack in the box again

On another day, we were misbehaving in class because we had a substitute teacher. The next day our teacher, Ms. Young, came back and she made us do squats until she got tired. Then we all lined up and one by one she hit us on our open hand with a stack of about 3 rulers. There were a lot of tired and crying kids that day. I refused to let them see me cry or see me get tired of doing squats. I think I got my stubbornness from my mother. Maybe my dad as well, but definitely my mother. At #4 School teachers would give you a beat down if you misbehaved in class. The principle Mr. Hicks, Mr. Perkins, Ms. Young, and there was one other teacher that I can’t remember, all had no problem with spanking any kid if you did something wrong. Then when you got home you would get another beating from your parents for acting up in school.

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I was in the 3rd and 4th grade I went into this gifted and talented class. I had Ms. Smith as a teacher. I was smart but in the ghetto we tended to not read as much as we should and being Black with family from the south we tended to speak a lot of broken English. I was very smart but I was lacking in the English department. I was speaking, reading and writing very poorly. They made me go to some class to improve my reading and writing. Looking back on it, I was too smart for my own good. I should have stayed in the program longer to get my English skills on par with my other strong skills. Since I was doing so well in school, in spite of my English shortcomings, they didn’t force me to stay in that program very long. At an early age, God blessed me with a mind that could observe knowledge and think outside of the box. In the book of Genesis when God said he created man in his own image. All God did in Genesis was create. He created the earth, the animals and man. I look at how he blessed me with a strong ability to be creative and this gift of knowledge has been the very thing that I would later use to get what I wanted in life.

We had the 3rd and 4th grades combined and we would do a lot of special things in class. I remember we dressed up like Pilgrims and Native Americans during Thanksgiving. We also made some delicious soup to have as a Thanksgiving meal. This class allowed me to learn at a fast pace and it had a lot of perks so I began to realize that being smart had its advantages.

Back to my streetwise ways! While in the gifted and talented class I formed a gang, along with a few other guys. Bobby was the first boy in charge, I was second and Will was third. Bobby would pee in the first urinal; I would pee in the second one, and Will would pee in the third one. We had about 7 to 10 boys in this so called gang. I loved to fight so it was natural of me to join a gang. One day I was at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and DR. Samuel McCree Way (formerly called Bronson Avenue) and I saw Bobby twisting a girl’s arm and I went across the street and the girl asked for my help. I told him to leave her alone and he kicked me and I push him off of her. I was a good fighter so I don’t think he really wanted to fight me but we both knew it was coming down to that later during recess time. I was prepared to fight him and was going to kick his butt. During recess but to my surprise he had turned the entire gang against me. I was a good fighter but I couldn’t beat up 7 to 10 guys. They all stood around me in a circle with their fists balled up trying to punch me. As they were punching me I was punching them back and turning around hitting whoever came close enough to me. I was doing a good job of holding my own and inflicting enough damage from my blows that no one was getter the better of me. So Bobby decided that since they couldn’t beat me up he would get some 6 grade bully to beat me up. I knew I could fight but I was a little scared that I would be no match for a 6th grader. Luckily time passed by and I never had to fight that 6th grader. Well I was out of the gang.

There was a teacher named Mr. Perkins in the hallway and he saw me help a younger student out and he liked what I did. So Mr. Perkins asked me to join a performing group called The Black Seeds. I was only in the group for a little while because it was during my last year at #4 School and it was towards the later part of the year when I joined the group. I did more practicing than actually performing since I had a lot to learn to catch up to the other kids in the group. One thing I noticed is that Mr. Perkins didn’t play at all. You had better practice and know what you were doing and no fooling around would be tolerated. He would have a long ruler and if you got out of line he would smack you with it. I later found out I would pledge the same fraternity he pledged. We used to use paddles to get the fraternity pledges in line and maybe this is where he got the use of the ruler from and his scare tactics from, now that I think back on it. Lol. We had a fashion show and I can remember being behind the curtains with this girl and I let out a loud and raunchy fart to Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” song. This was my last memory of #4 School.

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They tore down the house I used to live at on Troup Street and we later moved to a house on Brown Street. This house was another double and we lived upstairs. I remember one Christmas my brother got a brand new drum set for Christmas. I must have been mad at my brother from some reason so I took my fist and punch a hole through his bass drum. I still have the scar on my fist today and I think about that every time I look at that scar. During this time period my brother and I used to get into fights just about every day. He would try to boss me around and tell me what to do. I didn’t like it and I would always stand up to him and then we would start fighting. He was much bigger than me so I lost a lot of those fights but I didn’t back down from anybody. There even was a much bigger kid who lived downstairs from me and he would try to bully me and I was not having any of that. I would start punching him and we would fight and I would lose a lot of those fights as well. But I didn’t back down from a fight.

I started getting bigger and stronger and as I would fight my brother, cousins, friends or other boys in the neighborhood, I would put them all in the head lock and no one could get out until I let go. One day I had my brother in the head lock until my mother came home. He fell asleep with me holding him in that head lock. I knew if I let him go I was going to lose that fight so I kept him in the head lock. Eventual my brother and cousins developed a way to get out of the head lock. My cousin Alvin (rest in peace cousin) bit me on the left side of my ribs to get out of his head lock. My cousin Piggy bit me on the right side of my rib to get out of his head lock. And finally my brother Rodney bit me on the left side of my chest to get out of his head lock. After three strikes I stopped using the head lock method.

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I went to #17 School in the 5th grade and join a band called the Little Americans. I learned how to blow the baritone horn but really wanted to play the drums. We went all over Rochester and to other cities as well to perform. We had to be one of the best elementary bands around because we got requests to play everywhere. One day as I was walking to school I noticed two of my friends with a Double O Seven (007) knife struggling to take it out of each other’s hand. The knife was fully opened with the blade sticking up in the air like you see in movies. As Robert and Larry were struggling with the knife I walked up to them and told them that they are going to get into trouble fighting over that knife. They would get suspended from school and their parents were going to beat them. I said why don’t you both give me the knife and you can decide who it belongs to after school. Once they handed me that knife I put it in my sock and they never saw it again. It became my knife. I held on to that knife for over 20 year before I lost it. This was another stage in the making of a boy they called Slick.

I loved weapons and I made it a point to make many weapons that I could play with. I would use that knife to help make bow and arrows. I would break a branch off of a tree and then take a rope and tie it to the top and the bottom of the tree branch to make the bow. Then I would take a smaller branch, that was very straight, and at one end I would take my knife and make the sharp point on the arrow. Then I would try to hit things with my bow and arrow set. We didn’t have money to buy these in the store and I am not even sure if they were being sold yet. There was no internet or cell phone or games like they have today so we had to be creative as kids and make our own fun. Sometimes we shot the arrows at each other but luckily no one got hurt too bad.

Another weapon we made was a slingshot. We used a wire clothes hanger and bent it into a fork or football goal post shape and added a big rubber band tied to both sides at the top of the fork. Then in the middle of the thick rubber band we added a square piece of cloth to hold a rock. This is how we made our slingshots. This was by far the most dangerous weapon we made. We would take rocks and put them in the slingshots and shot people with them. We would hit moving cars with them. We knock the windows out of people house. We tried to shoot animals with them, but never really hurt any animals as I recall. We also would set glass bottles up in an empty field and practiced breaking the bottles to perfect our aim.

Another weapon I created was karate sticks (nunchucks). We would break our mother’s old broom and get two pieces of wood about a foot long each. We would take a chain about 6 inches long and nail it to the top of each of the two pieces of wood. Then we would act like we knew karate and start trying to fight each other. We got so good at watching karate movies and copying what we saw that we even started our own karate school. We would have fights in the basement with my friends and we would make our own karate uniforms. Everything was all good until someone got kicked in the stomach or the balls. The nunchucks were great until someone got hit in the head. We were living dangerously.

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