His courage, and his mindset about his own personal disability, turned a group of college freshmen and sophomores—looking to party and play—into a group of serious-minded community servants that has lasted all our lives. I met Kent “KC” Codrington at the age of 19 during “Rush Week” at Cal State University, Los Angeles in the fall of 1976. He was sitting in the rain, in a wheelchair, with plastic covering his photo books, the 1975 “Frat Games” trophy and a paddle on the table. My childhood friend, Greg Brandon, and I were on our way to play dominos in the Student Union (after class, of course) when we see this guy sitting in the rain.
We looked at each other and said, “Damn, that guy must love his frat. Let’s see what that’s about.” It started a movement in the black frat movement at a time when black fraternities were dying on college campuses. It represented the rebirth of black fraternities in the 1970s.
Before meeting KC, “Big Brother Ironside” we called him (but not to his face), I was anti-fraternities. I was invited all of them. I declined three of them because I viewed them as a product of the black bourgeois, elitist and childish. I didn’t see how they fit in the pro-black radicalism that was sweeping the nation in the early and mid-1970s. Being an athlete and a conscious radical, fraternities didn’t quite fit my personal political ideology. Between the Panthers, US, Farrakhan coming to campus, and basketball practice, nobody had any time for no damn frats. Particularly in this period of hazing, which was pretty much the only thing frats were known for. The conscious brothas was not gonna let a bougie brotha hit them with a paddle (flashback to Spike Lee’s “School Daze” and you get the picture). But my encounter with Kent Codrington changed all of that. Despite my reservations, I became a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity because of KC, and committed to a life of “Culture For Service and Service to Humanity.” The frat grew from a molehill to a mountain after we joined. It was because of KC.
Maybe it was his personal persona that changed my mind. “KC” contracted polio as a child and was confined to a wheelchair for most of his life. The first thing you saw was the wheelchair when you met KC. But after meeting KC, the last thing you noticed—was the wheelchair. He made you realize he was your equal and could do (and did do) anything you could do. He was the first person I saw do a “wheelie” in a wheelchair. He could roll his chair faster than some people could run. He had 19 inch biceps. He could out lift you in the weight room, and didn’t mind wrestling with you, because once he grabbed you, you were grabbed.
KC was the first person I saw, in a wheelchair, join in a “free-for-all” at the Inter-fraternity “Frat Games.” One year, we got into a brawl with the Kappas at Morningside High School. The brothers was shouting, “Get KC out.” We looked over, KC was getting his swings in. He was that kinda dude. He didn’t think he had a disability. So we didn’t think he had a disability. He was just “KC.” And he always had the finest women pushing his wheelchair.
KC graduated, with honors, in accounting from Cal State and went on to a 30 year career with the IRS. He retired in 2010. He, and his beautiful wife, moved to South Carolina to enjoy a slower life in the country in his retirement years. We stayed in touch on Facebook and through emails. He followed me and I followed him…for 37 years.
I don’t take friendship lightly. Everybody who smiles in your face is not your friend, nor is everyone who suggests that they are your friend. We mistake popularity for having a lot of “friends” in this Facebook culture. In truth, social networking gives most people a false sense of kinship to people who could care less. It does allow us to stay in touch with the people we love that we lose touch with from time to time. I never lost touch with KC. I never wanted to.
Kent KC Codrington taught me to see the world differently, to see persons with physical challenges differently, to see social service organizations differently. He taught me (and others) that the cause was bigger than parties. That we could party after we delivered service to the community. And we did. We partied hardy. And KC was always in the middle of the dance floor.
It has been a lifelong lesson for me. Only death could separate us. Yesterday, it did.
I will miss my friend, Kent “KC” Codrington. He was one of a kind. And a true friend.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist and author of, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21 Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com and on Twitter at @DrAnthonySamad.