This is a story of family love, wisdom, inspiration…oh, and professional football. This story came to us through Kaylee Lumsden, who grew up with grand adventures at her grandparents’ Eagles Perch Acres within Tejon Ranch. She learned to chop wood and drive big machines with Grandpa Jim Lumsden. Learning and fun go together for Kaylee, who graduated with a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) from college…and then she fell in love. Her boyfriend wrote a story that Kaylee wants to share with families here. His story shows how family love can grow strength in the face of challenge. Kaylee’s boyfriend is Alex Okafor, who plays football with the Kansas City Chiefs. His story is in memory of his mother, and of the pain of losing her. Kaylee’s Grandpa Jim Lumsden said Alex Okafor’s story turned the suffering and loss of his mom into a pathway for helping him understand better how to cope with the covid pandemic and the turmoil of national protests. Now he wants to open a wider conversation about freedom and justice.
Turn your wounds into wisdom — By Alex Okafor
After an injury in Week Fifteen of the 2019 season, I watched my Kansas City Chiefs win the Super Bowl from the stands, with my parents.
It was a heartfelt experience. There’s nothing that I wanted more than to be on the field, battling with my teammates. But being able to watch our team win, with my parents next to me, is an experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I wish time would have stopped and we could live in that moment forever.
Just a few months later, my Mom was in the hospital, diagnosed with acute Myeloid Leukemia. Because of covid-19 coronavirus pandemic restriction, we could not even visit her in the hospital during her chemotherapy. Within three weeks, at only age 59, she was gone.
Soon after, so were three more African-Americans: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. At this point, I’m about to melt down. The pain from my mother’s death is sitting heavily on me, not to mention the rage that has taken me over since these slaughters.
I’m overwhelmed with so many emotions; all I wanted to do was to crawl into a cave and hide while the rest of the world burns down.
Then I thought to myself, “What would Mom have done?”
Sonia Danette Alexander Okafor has always been my biggest role model.
She grew up in East Texas, lost her mom at 9, and went to Grambling State University to major in criminal justice studies.
Mom grew up in the civil rights movement. She experienced a lot of racial trauma post-segregation. She always made my brother and me aware of the racial injustices in this country. She did her best to prepare us for the obstacles to being Black in the suburbs of Texas:
Don’t stay out too late.
Don’t wear durags in public.
Drive carefully while passing through Williamson County.
Put both hands on the steering wheel when being pulled over by the cops.
She stopped at nothing to assure everyone in my family excelled. She had a kind heart and was always trying to improve society.
Mom worked as a probation officer for 11 years and was certified as an alcohol and drug-abuse counselor. Later she worked for a nonprofit organization finding housing for underprivileged families. I’m sure if she were alive today she would say we need more organizations such as this to help level the playing field.
She was one of the most courageous people I know. My dad moved from Nigeria at 19 and met my mom at Grambling. Shortly after marriage, his mother got sick. He wanted to bring her to the U.S. for better medical care. But he wasn’t a U.S. citizen yet, so Mom volunteered to bring my grandma back. My mom had never been to Nigeria, and the area my dad grew up in wasn’t safe for foreigners. Nevertheless, she went there and brought my grandma back seamlessly. That kind of courage and selflessness is what we need right now.
We also need more of her tolerance. Which reminds me of the story in which my dad brought home goat meat for the first time.
In Nigeria, the head of a goat is considered a delicacy. My dad was saving it for a special occasion. When Mom opened the freezer door, she screamed: A goat’s head was staring back at her! Initially, she was terrified, but she made it a point to learn about the Nigerian culture so she could understand my dad’s upbringing.
Mom eventually came to eat goat meat but never would try that goat head! She knew it wasn’t fair to judge my dad without truly understanding where he came from.
We as a nation need to come together to learn more about one another’s upbringing too. The more we learn, the more sensitive we will be to other demographics’ struggles.
Mom was a huge fan of Oprah Winfrey. She recorded every episode of her show and bought all her magazines. Nowadays, I get emotional every time I see or hear someone mention Oprah.
I see my mom in her. Both are strong Black women who strive to make this world a better place. Oprah once advocated, “Turn your wounds into wisdom.” This resonates with me because if Mom were alive, I believe this would be her advice for our country.
We must learn from the recent murders if we want to end systemic racism in the United States.
After Mom passed away, I vowed that I’ll stop at nothing to make her proud. I’ll be the best man I can be while honoring her to the fullest.
My first big step is to make a legitimate effort to end racism in this country. As much as I wanted to cut off all news networks and social-media outlets so that I could mourn in peace, I know this is not what Mom would have wanted.
Because of her, I’m writing this article.
Because of her, I want to have this uncomfortable conversation about racism and inequality.
Mom worked as an alcohol and drug-abuse counselor for 11 years. There’s a term in that field known as “emotional sobriety.” In order for the Black community to take the next step, we must embrace these emotions of anger. We have to address our pain and agony in a way that doesn’t eat at us anymore, but motivates us to take care of our own.
We must practice emotional sobriety so that we can take these negative emotions and channel them into concise and conscious efforts. This includes voting, and not just in the presidential election.
Mom always urged me to go vote. If I had time in my schedule I would, but I never took it seriously. If I voted it was only because Mom kept bugging me.
Growing up, Mom used to always say, “If you don’t like what’s going on in your life, what do you plan to do about it?” Well, since my mother is no longer here to pressure me every election, I must take it upon myself to vote while encouraging others to do the same.
Mom, I love you. I’m more determined than ever to continue your work in creating a better society. A better America.
Kaylee Lumsden grew up strong and adventurous, running and working in the rolling hills of these mountains, visiting her grandparents’ place within Tejon Ranch.
Above: Kansas City Chiefs Defensive End Alex Okafor. Left: Okafor and Kaylee Lumsden, who grew up learning her own strength and resilience by running in these mountains on her grandparents’ ranch. Kaylee attended Super Bowl LIV in Miami Gardens with him, while Okafor was out with an injury and unable to play.
Alex and Kaylee at Super Bowl LIV in Miami Gardens
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This is part of the January 22, 2021 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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