By Tamajai Dampeer, Staff Writer, Class of 2020
Before coming to Verb, I found myself in a state of constant defense. No matter the approach, I felt as if I needed to always be sheltered within myself so that disappointment or hurt would not be even a remote possibility. My heart was cold, and the culture shock and drastic change Verb presented to me was not something that held my interest. I was not fond of the idea of solidarity, and felt as if the world, if not against me, was out to get me.
I remember one of my first days on campus, I met a short, yet built man with a great beard and bald head. My first reaction was to avoid eye contact and to carry on with my day, but this man seemed to be looking beyond my eyes. As we came closer toward each other in the corridor, he stopped me to ask my name.
“Tj,” I told him.
“Tj, you thinking about playing football?” he asked.
Trying to assimilate into an institution like Verb was already hard enough. I thought to myself, “Football?” Before I could answer, he grabbed me by the shoulder and looked right into my eyes.
“When I look at you, I see myself,” said Mr. Fluellen. “I’ve been watching you for the past few days, and I can tell that you have a chip on your shoulder. Knock it off and make room for some shoulder pads.”
His command “Make room for shoulder pads?” reverberated in my mind. I wondered, “Who was he to tell me to knock the chip off my shoulder, so I could play on his team? He didn’t even know me or why I carried that chip on my shoulder.”
I held tight to my shield and fought hard to deflect the attacks that were not even coming for me. Over the course of the year, I continued having encounters with this man, and there seemed no way to avoid him. He was my Physical Education teacher, my Health teacher, my SAT prep teacher, and, now, most of all, my new coach: a jack of all trades.
Although he was a stellar teacher, I doubt that teaching itself is his calling. Instead, Coach Fluellen uses teaching as a gateway to the youth, and I can honestly say that he was a driving and instrumental force in my letting my shield down and opening a place in my heart I never had before.
Coach Fluellen goes through each day giving life lessons and promoting change within his students regardless of the setting. The most valuable lesson he taught me was to put action behind words. He has always been his genuine self to me, and he has never given me cause to question his intent, and, for that, I thank Mr. Fluellen.