How are you? I know you don’t know who I am – I’m sure of that; and that’s ok. We are all likely at one time or another, to be unaware of the fact that we’ve been a source of inspiration for someone – and maybe for more than just one person. So, I’m letting you know how you’ve been that for me. I’ve done nothing extraordinary, I’m not famous or rich, or anything like that; beyond pursuing everything I’ve ever wanted and love and finding a little bit of success along the way – I’m only special because I’m a child of God. Maybe my story isn’t worthy of sharing why you mean so much to me, but if I cared – you miss your blessing; I’m not in that business being the reason people miss their blessing, I am blessed to be a blessing. So I must minimize my insecurities. My achievements small as they may be to someone else are huge to me – my life is full of the favor of God. I acknowledge that God created people like you with special gifts to hear stories about – causing people like me to open up and dig deep into my very own bag of gifts.
When my sister Eboni, whose last name was Butler at that time, went off to attend Purdue University – there was no way of knowing that that day would be one of many life changing moments for me. I was only 5 years old when she left; In moments of movie-esque style flash backs, I think often to a time I remember I was sitting in the bathtub – my sister Stefani was standing near the bathroom door curling her hair. With the vanity mirror being located just outside the bathroom, and multiple women within the household, it seemed that space was always occupied by someone. That day for reasons I really just can’t explain, I turned to my sister to ask in a small voice, “Does Eboni have a boyfriend?” She looks at me puzzled for a moment and replies, “Yeah ‘man’”. Using my nickname since I was a baby, “she does – she just met him!” I asked, “What’s his name?” She replied, “His name is Tony.”
Anthony Lenoir is one of the kindest, most brilliant individuals I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, anywhere!! When I think about our relationship, I realize I have known him literally as far back as I can remember. Most of my memories, vivid or vague, usually go back no further than the age of 5 or 6. When Eboni headed off to West Lafayette the summer of 1990, it wasn’t long after she arrived on campus that she met Tony at a party. Tony is an “Ice Cold Brotha, one of The Oldest & The Coldest, a Man of Distinction”, a member of the prestigious Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity; so it is without a doubt they were probably at a frat party. Of course there are two sides to every story – my sister can keep it pretty simple and tell you straight facts but, I like to be entertained; I prefer to hear a more interesting side, and Tony’s is all of that without question. As he tells it – he sees my sister from across the room standing up against the wall, and thinks that she is one of the finest women he has ever seen. He steps to her and makes one of the boldest statements I’ve ever heard, “You’re going to be my wife one day.” And says so with a smile. A bit confused she answers, “And how are you so sure about that!” he says, “I can just feel it!”
Seven years pass, and at the age of 12 years old I’m loving video games – and so does Tony!! We would play all the hottest games – Madden, college football, Mario Kart, track and field etc. In Tony’s transition from college to the workforce, there was a short period of time that he’d watch me during the summer months while my dad was at work. Outside of taking me to various basketball camps, there was a lot of time we spent together for he and I to just talk and chill. He schooled me on so much, he put me on game to so much hip hop music: Ice Cube, KRS-One, E-40, Run DMC, Eric B and Rakim – and the list goes on. He used to play hoops with me and my friends out in the driveway. We really did have a good time. One day while we were talking, I started to tell him about something that I wished I could do one day – it prompted him to start talking about you, Phillip. That was the first time I’d ever heard your name.
When Tony began to speak, even at my age I had a clear understanding of the impression you’d left on him. I’ll never forget the moment I began to refer to you as, “the guy who could do whatever he set his mind to”; because that’s exactly how he described you!! He said that the two of you played on a basketball team together, and mentioned that you could shoot the ball very well. One day you said out of nowhere, “Man, I want to shoot the ball from deep, I’m talking deep – I’m going to start lifting.” Tony said some months went by, and you had come back stroking the nets from just inside half court. As he was telling me this story, knowing my passion for hoops, he had my undivided attention. I’m sure he noticed my eyes were open wide; and all I was thinking was – wow I want to be like that!! Then he went on to talk about how easy school came for you and that you made the best grades with minimal effort – expressing how brilliant you are. That one day you decided you were going to learn to play the piano – and a year later, you were playing beautifully. I’ve never, ever forgotten the day he told me about you – and as fuel to my fire I’ve made him tell me about you several times since.
Who am I? My brother in law is your friend Tony LeNoir – and my life changed the day that I learned of you. Who are you to me? You are the earthly figure that receives much of the credit for giving me a new outlook on pursuing the desires of my heart, at a very young age. From the moment my brother, because that’s who he is to me – he’s more than just an in-law, told me about you – I can’t seem to shake this feeling that I’ve felt since. It’s the thought that – what if I just do it – if I just set my mind to it I can do it, I know I can!! As a result, I’ve made attempts at so much – and succeeded at much. For many who know me well, they know that many things that I do is not natural for me, and well outside of my comfort zone. There was a seed that was planted inside of me when I heard of the kind of tenacity in which you pursued whatever it is that you wanted. From that day on nothing was going to stop me. In the back of my mind you were always there, and I did the very best I could to emulate you.
Phillip Ekechi Nwokah, I have a story to tell because I choose to put my all into everything that I do. Although we’ve never met, and may never meet – I am thankful to you for being the example my heart chose lock on to.
JC Barnett III
What you’ve inspired:
- Taught myself to draw
- Taught myself to oil paint
- Taught myself to do photography [at one time displaying all of my work inside of a local art gallery ‘Artworks in Kokomo’]
- To make music completing nearly ten songs [inside of my own home studio]
- To teach myself to play guitar [played publicly at an event for my employer]
- To be a good football player [MVP of my high school football team, rushing for 9.3 yards per carry, received partial academic scholarship at a small D3 college]
- To be a good basketball player [at one time top 10 in 3pt field goal shooting percentage in the state of Indiana, played against 4 future NBA stars (Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr, Josh McRoberts, Eric Gordon), getting the opportunity to coach high school basketball and the youth in my community]
- To be a good student [my junior year of high school I made straight A’s one time – graduating with Academic Honors, received an IU degree in business]
- To be a decent sprinter [winning sectional championship in the 100m as a sophomore, racing in the Regional meet against Leroy Dixon (look him up, pretty cool!!)]
- To have my own business [JC Barnett School of Jump Shooting]
- To write and be a columnist for a local newspaper [Kokomo Herald]
- To pursue the woman of my dreams [my wife’s name is Brenda – we have 3 kids]