It’s never too late to be who you were born to be!
In the fifth grade, Tommie Mabry stood in an orange jumpsuit next to his father as the judge sentenced him to two days in a detention center for breaking and entering. He was discouraged and defeated as his father looked down at him, disappointed that he was following in his footsteps of early incarceration. Mabry had been counted out and put in the system before he could legally drive. But he turned it all around, earning his doctorate from Jackson State University.
The youngest of six children, Mabry was the first to graduate from high school and proudly dismantled the generational curse in his family.
Excuse the tears in this video But today is one of the best days ever. Allow me to re-introduce myself I am Dr. Tommie Mabry!!! I did it pic.twitter.com/W8vzkj44yh
— Dr. Tommie Mabry (@TommieMabry) August 22, 2020advertisement
“My mom and dad [have] all my books in their house, they’re proud and they’ve come to all my graduations. Hopefully, if God says the same, they will be there at my Ph.D. graduation in December,” Mabry told Because Of Them We Can. “My mom said she didn’t think I would make it and now [I’m] the only doctor she knows.”
His road to becoming Dr. Mabry wasn’t easy. As a child, ten schools kicked him out before he got to high school. He said basketball saved him because it gave him hope and exposed him to what was possible.
“I start playing basketball, and Tupac’s lawyer, Chokwe Lumumba; he took me on the road with him and exposed me to AAU Basketball. I credit AAU for saving my life,” Mabry said. “Going on the road with him, I was able to see other ballplayers from other states that were dreaming big…They were telling me they wanted to go to Duke and play for North Carolina; I said, wait a minute, y’all dream different. I started to think I could do it.”
His impressive basketball skills garnered the attention of college recruiters from all over the country, but a freak accident with his foot, his senior year of high school changed all of that.
“When the doctor asked me what I was now that I didn’t have basketball, I said nothing. Without that I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.” he told BOTWC. “Colleges that were writing to me before revoked my scholarships.”
That life-changing moment caused him to take stock of his life and led him on a spiritual journey to find peace and understanding.
“I got ‘God is good’ tattooed on my neck because that’s the first time I started seeking God. When I got baptized, I went in on crutches because I’m like everyone I am hanging with is either going to jail or dying, the streets done took them, and I’m still living, but I’m making the same mistakes that I see everyone else do,” he said. “In order to get something you never had, you have to do something you never did and become a person you never been. I had to sacrifice. I had to sacrifice friendships, to get to another place I had to be different from that attitude, then that same year I met actor Tommy Ford.”
The late actor from the hit television show, Martin, took him under his wing and began mentoring him. He used his advice to not allow his circumstances to define him, which propelled him to push through his senior year. When he graduated with a 1.8 and gained acceptance to Missouri State University-West Plains, he was ecstatic. He’d made it to the big leagues while defying all the teachers and judges who told him he’d be dead or in jail before he reached manhood.
“I didn’t know how to write a paragraph until college, and they don’t teach that. I had a professor tell me I wouldn’t get a degree because I don’t write the way I should, I’m not a scholar. So I stayed In the writing lab at every college I went to,” Mabry said. “The hard thing wasn’t the neighborhood; that was easy because I’m from it. It was sitting in a classroom with other scholars and scared for them to call on me to spell something on the board, that was my biggest fear. I worked on that my whole college career, but my mind was different, my why was different.”
He turned his 1.8 high school GPA into an honors bachelor’s degree in education from Tougaloo College, a master’s in child development from Tougaloo College College, and now a doctorate in Urban Higher Education from Jackson State University. He’s defied every obstacle put in his way thus far and now empowers men in prison and children across the country through teaching and leadership development.
“I’m teaching them how to tie a tie bringing in consultants and exposing them [to what’s possible], and my men are teaching them trades and financial literacy. Two of my guys just graduated. I got 3 of them accepted to Tougaloo College,” he said. “That’s what we are supposed to do; we gotta leave them something. We got to put them in place to graduate…that’s how we build.”
“We punish our kids for the ignorance we showed them. Our kids lack knowledge and reasoning skills. Reasoning skills are taking information and applying it; you shouldn’t be learning reasoning skills when they hit that gavel and put you way,” Mabry told BOTWC. “A lot of our kids are locked up based on the ignorant principals we showed them. Look at where they are at and who’s around them. Sure there may be doctors and lawyers coming from their neighborhoods, but they don’t ever stay there when they ‘make it.’ Kids learn off of observational learning, not because you told them. They learn from models and what we’re showing them is ignorance. If you want kids to value life, you gotta give them life.”
Research has shown that when children have teachers that look like them, it creates a positive impact on the student’s attitudes, motivation, and achievement. However, only 14 percent of teachers in public schools are Black, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, which reduces those leading the classrooms’ cultural competency. Mabry believes Black teachers must be in front of Black children.
“Black people, especially Black men, need to be in the classrooms…Teaching [with] culture relevancy [is important] because every kid isn’t the same. We teach the model kid, who isn’t hard to teach at times because the household expectations are different,” he said. ” How you making the classroom environment conducive to a kid like Tommie. I’m the one who’s going to destroy your classrooms and mess up your teachers. We gotta enter these kids’ world and catch them where they’re at.”
As he looked back over all he’s accomplished, he said his goal is to leave his three kids a legacy to be proud of and to ensure Black children everywhere know they matter and can do anything.
“The legacy I want to leave for my children is access and for them to know that their daddy didn’t quit or give up,” Mabry said. “I work for that last name, not the first, my first name is for me. My last name is connected to a generation of people. My wife gave up her last name for my last name, that means it’s a little deeper than you think. Anything I do can either negatively impact them or move them forward, so I’m working on a legacy that’s bigger than me.”
As for what comes next, his goal is to have his life story made into a movie produced by the likes of Tyler Perry, Ice Cube, or Will Packer, and to found an all-male academy similar to Lebron James’ school.
“I did everything I said I wanted to do…I want a successful story of a Black man that looks like them. Boyz in the Hood is an iconic movie but Doughboy never made it. I want them to see Tommie. I come from where I come from, but I have a success story,” he said. “In five years, if God says the same, I’m gonna have that movie and have my school on the way to being built.”
“First doctor, first high school diploma and first everything in my family, but everything is impossible until somebody does it,” he said. “I wanted to break those impossible barriers; now that you’ve seen me do it, you’ve got it. I am breaking these generational curses and letting everyone see it.”
To learn more about Dr. Tommie Mabry and his educational and speaking services you can visit his website here.
You encourage us to be excellent, Dr. Mabry!
Photo Credit: Tommie Mabry