14 years ago this week (February 19th), we lost my godfather Mahatma White. It was one of lowest points of my life, he died suddenly and only months after the 9/11 tragedy and not quite a year removed from losing my oldest brother.
My uncle “Mahat” was a beloved figure in our family. He was a successful businessman, devoted husband, had a green thumb and excellent with plants. He cooked the best grilled fish you ever had and I still can’t replicate his recipe all these years later.
He never forgot birthday, always gave the women of the family flowers for Valentines, just an incredible man who was one my biggest fans and earliest readers of my writing.
He was soft spoken but hilarious, a business professional who seamlessly moved from a buyer for Sears to the world of plant rental and was later involved in a partnership of an independent plant business.
I used to run into him on the Northside during his workday and when I was done with school at DePaul University. His clients were some of the better known businesses on the Gold Coast (where he lived for years), and in Lincoln Park.
But he was also comfortable in his native south side and also in the ‘hood.
There was no one he couldn’t talk to and relate to, no business he couldn’t work with and anyone he talked to he made you feel like the most important person in the room.
If you didn’t know him you might think he was “uppity”, but if you knew him, he was a friend and one of the coolest cats to ever walk this earth.
A dedicated NBA basketball fan, he recorded the great NBA games of the 1980’s and had a library of Michael Jordan games too.
His taste in music was second to none, my aunt gave me his music (amazing collection of records & tapes), and equipment (a mint condition Technics system), and to this day it’s in my loft where I enjoy and reminisce about our good times together.
Before I knew what a renaissance man was, I just thought my uncle was cool. Because he was, without trying or telling you.
I ate with him at the finest restaurants that the Northside offered back in the 1980’s. He introduced me to places like Harry’s, Sweetwater (it’s now Gibson’s), Hillary’s on the 7th floor of Water Tower and the Bigg’s Mansion.
We also chowed down on Rib’s N Bibs on 53rd Street in Hyde Park, Army & Lou’s on 75th Street and Home of the Hoagy on 111th Street.
He taught me to have the class of downtown and the casualness of our native Southside. Maybe most important that there was no place a black man couldn’t go.
He taught me how to be professional but not “sell out” and how to talk to anyone and be respectful.
He refined my palate, opened my ears to the great sound of jazz and old school R&B and how the game of basketball should be played.
He had an eye for art, a tender hand for plants and how to respect a woman. He treated my aunt like a queen and respected my grandparents like royalty too.
Outside of my late father, no man taught me more but this was all by example he didn’t have to preach, he walked the talk with a smooth stroll and I’m still trying to emulate his stride.
I miss my man dearly but rely on his advice and live by his example every day.
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