Professor Gerald, one of my dearest mentors, passed away last week. I was broken up when I heard the news. I had been knowing him for six years and everytime I needed encouragement or advice he was there to help. Gerald had a Morgan Freeman-like voice and a sly smile. His skin was a deep brown and his heart was always warm. I remember spending many meetings in his office, which was a collage of his expereinces and inspirations, listening to him answer my countless questions with sincere honesty.
Gerald would regularly tell me about his travels to Brazil and Africa. We would talk about the significance of Celia Cruz and Black spanish-speaking bodies. In his epic voice, he would push me to write and create art that was a real depiction of the human experience. “Why aren’t you writing?” he would ask me when I started to waver from my purpose in life. What I never thought about was that his questions that seemed so surface-level were actually meant to help you dig deeper.
He also understood my passion for the international arts and challenged me to think beyond the U.S. when forging a career.
“I think you are discovering your future path as you prepare to leave the university for new horizons. I can imagine running into you ten years from now on a beach in Cuba, Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, and elsewhere. Perhaps you’ll be the owner of several nightclubs in each of these places and making tons of money. Then you’ll have lots of cultural material to write into your bi-lingual plays. And I’m sure there are a few films inside you too!”–Stephen Gerald, Email, March 14, 2014
My favorite memory of him was when I was heading to class and he was sitting by the FAC (a computer lab on campus). I didn’t see him sitting there but he called me out in front of my friends. I sat by him and we talked about life for about an hour. I could have easily chatted and left but I am glad time permited me to have that moment with him.
Another time, my best friend and I sat in his office in 2012 to plan a trip to New York and D.C through a professional development grant. Gerald went all out! He hooked us up with artists who would show us how to make a living from our craft. He spent hours sending emails and chatting with his former students and collegues so that we would get a lot out of the trip. He hipped us to the New York subway system and the NYC culture in true SG fashion.
Before he died, I told him that I had finished my Theatre degree and he replied “Hallelujah!” When I graduated this weekend, I was hoping to see him sitting on that stage. On my big day, a former UT student informed me that Gerald was really proud of me. It was like recieving a message from him personally.
I could write a book on the life of this wonderful man and the impact that he had on who I am as an artist and a person. His legacy lives on in his family, his children, in his students and in the art that we create.
Thank you Stephen Gerald for changing my life and the life of so many others.
Rest in peace and power.