Find Your Voice

Emily K Center

As I briefly mentioned in our last The High Road, my walk to work takes me down Chapel Hill Street and right in front of the Emily K Center. Contrary to some disbelievers thoughts, being active on Twitter has its advantages. Durham Cares, a non-profit with an office in American Underground, praised their tour of the Emily K Center in a series of tweets which caught my eye and piqued my interest. Durham Cares was gracious enough to set up a tour for me and a friend a few days later.

Actual floor of 2001 National Championship won by the Duke Blue Devils Men’s Basketball Team

At the tour’s end, our guide invited us to come participate in Career Exploration Night as part of the Scholars to College program. A chance for their students to get to speak with real professionals about their jobs and careers: how they got there, what education helped them get to this point, and so on. I have had a plethora of jobs over the years, none of which I was “qualified” for, but I have always been enthusiastic about the opportunities. The same applied to Career Exploration Night.

19 professionals.

20 minutes each.

3 rotations of students.

I have never done more adlib in my entire life.  These kids were asking the tough questions. Questions that, as a writer, I had not considered until that evening. Growing up, I always enjoyed writing and telling stories. It was how I managed my overactive imagination. When given the chance to explain my own story with these groups of students, it took about an hour to finally put the train of thought on the right tracks…

Buddy Ruski is the pseudonym I use as a writer. It is a nickname my father gave me when I was a kid. His holiday cards to me are signed in big broad strokes, “Love, Ruski Buddy” my father’s counterpart to the nickname. He graduated from North Carolina Central in 1991, a year after I was born, with a degree in English and Journalism. Perhaps it is at the root of my desire to write.

I have always wanted to be like my father. On the phone, even our own family members cannot tell us apart. We make the same terrible jokes, both groove on an array of musical styles, and enjoy being in the kitchen. As a kid, I did not consciously aspire to be like my dad, but I admired a lot of things he did. He was a great listener, and an even greater storyteller. He has an affection for history, people say, like his father before him. It took me years to finally come to the realization that I too wanted to be a great storyteller.

After starting my first blog in response to the Trayvon Martin murder investigation, the writer in me started to take shape. My Grandfather and Grandmother Laidlaw were the only ones who read my blog, but it was a way for them to peer into my vision of the world. I wrote about music and politics, right and wrong, myself and others, and I found that I much preferred telling the world’s stories to mine.

Durham had been so good to me, and I felt that I owed the people of Durham in some way. My passion was telling stories, and Durham has so many great ones, so many individuals with different contributions to add to the community’s narrative. But the question remained:

How was I going to tell their story?

The only way I knew how was to write it down.

Near the end of my presentation at the Emily K Center, a young lady who is a freshman journalism student at Riverside High School, asked the toughest question of the night.

“What advice would you give an aspiring writer?”

Wait a minute…

Last time I checked, I AM the aspiring writer! Five pairs of adolescent eyes were staring at me in anticipation of some grand idea that would change their lives, and I had nothing. The writer, the wordsmith, had nothing to say. Ironically, the phrase I blurted out was, “Find your voice.” The concept was catalyzing in my head all night as I explored the past and present of my journey as a writer. How had I come to the conclusion that telling stories would bring me the happiness I was searching for in a career?

Ultimately, that is what these kids were looking for, what we are ALL looking for: a voice. A voice in the biggest conversation taking place on Earth. Each one of these children hope to graduate from college with a passion and make a positive contribution to life. When we are born, before we achieve anything else, we say our first words, searching for our own voice.

I owe my father, my grandparents, and the City of Durham, among many others, for helping me find my voice as a writer, and I want to thank the Emily Krzyzewski Center for allowing me to help the next generation of writers find theirs.

Columnist Justin Laidlaw is a renaissance man. His interests range from the music business to politics, from Durham’s history and culture, to the world beyond. The co-host of Clarion Content’s podcast, he is fast becoming a veteran columnist. He is a fashion model, a tech sceptic, a business manager and more.

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