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‘Grustling:’ A ‘Dad’ and a daughter’s road to college

    This was not the 1980's television hit "The Cosby Show," where the problems of the central characters were solved in 30 minutes or less. This father was not a doctor who was married to a lawyer living in a spacious brownstone with five kids in tow but never a mention of a late bill.

    Interviewing Gary Greer about the often-stressful times of putting his daughter, Amber, through college was more like reality TV.

    In TV land, I helped the Grinch steal Christmas. I was Malcolm X's right hand man, so he never died. I was the missing African American on "Friends" and I went to visit Oprah when she was in jail in "The Color Purple." I married Thelma from "Good Times," Denise from "The Cosby Show," Jada Pinkett from "A Different World," Jennifer Anniston from anything and Julie Chen from "The Talk."

    All the while Gary Greer – now the coordinator at the Memphis City Schools' Pupil Services Center – was in the real world with his foot planted on the neck of adversity.

    College was a 5½ experience for Amber Greer. She changed her major a couple times.

    "Still, no matter what, we knew she wasn't going to quit and that she would finish," said Greer. "Going to college in our family is not an option, it is a lifestyle. My graduating class (LeMoyne-Owen College) celebrated 25 years just last year.

    Kelvin Cowans: While in High School it's understood that most kids will be prompted to behave a certain way because mom or dad is watching and are there to say follow the straight and narrow. However, when in college, no professor is coming to your dorm room to wake you up for class. So, what did you tell Amber about your expectations of her?

    Gary Greer: I expressed to her that the way that she had been raised was that when it's a directive from me, then you don't have a choice. When I give you an option, then you have a choice, and you are then made aware of the consequences of the choice you make.

    With her going off to school, I asked her did she know what was important to me as her Dad; because to me there is a difference between a father and a Dad in my book. A father is the person who dropped the seed. They may be around or may not be. To me, a Dad sacrifices no matter what the situation intels. He makes sacrifices for the child's benefit to make sure that the child needs are met.

    I wanted her to understand the difference between the two. If she got to college and messed it up, then I wanted her to know that I would give her a time period of six month's from when she messed it up to get out of my house or go to the military and let them pay for your college. Had it been a boy, then he would've had six weeks.

    As a great Dad I know how to love you from a far, so she needed to know up front what I expected of her as a Dad. I didn't raise no loose woman, so I don't expect you to get up there to college and be loose. I bought her first flower, I took her on her first date and opened the doors for her. There is a level of standard that her mom and I set for her to have and that's the bottom line.

    KC: I'm catching certain words that you're using – directive, sacrifice, intel. Do you have a military background?

    GG: Yes, I do, I'm a former Marine. As a former Marine, you are taught to do things a certain way and in excellence, from shining my shoes to making my bed. I found that training to take me a long way in life. My dad was also a former marine and I instilled much of the training I had and how he raised me into her.

    Amber graduated number 13 in her class with honors at Melrose High School in 2007, all while playing volleyball, basketball, track and softball. At the time Melrose didn't even have a golf team, and I remember her heading up a campaign for them to have one. As a result, some kids that came behind her received golf scholarships."

    KC: Awesome!

    GG: The thing is that Amber eventually showed more interest in basketball than the other sports and had a scholarship to go to TSU (Tennessee State University) to play and she went. I only had to pay a little money here and there at first and that was cool. I didn't save up for her college as I should have, so this worked out in our favor.

    But after her first year of college her grades dropped and she lost her scholarship but she needed to stay in college. So as a good Dad I had to become what I call a Grustler. That's grind and hustler put together. I simply refused to take out loans for her tuition.

    I would take money off of my credit cards then pay that back. But then during this time, all kinds of things were happening. I had two hot water tanks go out at our house, AC unit, the furnace, and I'm a married man. I had a mortgage, insurance and the up-keep of our vehicles. There came a time that I couldn't put it on a credit card, so I had to work on the side of working. I would referee basketball games, hold basketball camps and DJ and save money from it all for her education. Every now and then I'd get help from family or her mother, where I'd pay the tuition and she'd pay for the books."

    KC: Her beautiful and soft-spoken mother, whom I have met, is Mrs. Robin Greer, who is a program manager at Bridges, Inc. USA, correct?

    GG: "Indeed. Sometimes (our) income tax check refunds were for tuition payments, we sacrificed a lot. Many times I wouldn't allow Robin to help because I felt it was my duty. I'd be out there with sore knees and all officiating games because it had to get done. I had my Icy Hot or whatever and I was grustling. I sold my Suburban and I stopped shopping, and I love to look nice. I started taking my food to work for lunch because that's what I had to do. I just didn't want her to graduate with debt like we once did. I took away her excuses.

    KC: So the long-awaited end result to this sacrifice was a college graduate.

    GG: Yeah, a college graduate, a psychology major. She's getting ready to go to nursing school and I got reservations about her taking out loans for that. I wish all parents, and especially in the black community, understand that you do whatever it takes when it comes to your child's education.

    We have to get to the point where we understand this. We have to get to where we understand the fiscal part of life. We have to know and understand words such as investments, tax shelters, mutual funds and annuities."

    KC: I agree, anything you want to say to Amber?

    GG: I love you to death. Your mother and I love you unconditionally and we expect even more out of you. You come from a family full of people who have all kinds of degrees and that's just how we get down. Going to college is the culture of our family for many generations. We have one family member who actually has six degrees.

    I just thought it best that I put my best foot forward to make sure she had an even playing field for a good life. This is real life and you have to look at it that way for your kids.

    (Kelvin Cowans can be reached at ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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