This weekend, as I was helping my beloved move into her new apartment, I got a call from a very good friend of mine. Thinking I was about to hear her latest drunken tale, I was stunned into silence when she told me that my favorite professor of all time, Dr. J. Blaine Hudson, had passed away. I was in denial for a good 20 minutes. I kept saying, “Are you sure? But are you sure? Has it been confirmed?” I didn’t want to believe it. I knew he’d had brain surgery last semester (yes, I think in semesters), but I thought he was okay. I’d heard he was okay. So I went on Facebook, my daily news source, and sure enough, all of my PAS family was talking about the death of Dean Hudson. I felt something shut off inside me. I instantly distanced myself from the core emotion. My girlfriend asked me to talk about it, but I didn’t really have much to say. I’ve never really dealt with death the way I imagine many people do. But then again, we as a society hardly talk about death, so I don’t really know how folks deal with it. I didn’t cry, but I did get very sad. Sad for his family, some of them whom I knew well during undergrad. Sad for the students that would never get to meet him, never get to know him, that would only hear about him as the legend he is.
All these memories came flooding into my head. The way he would glide across campus in his peanut butter peacoat, black hat and scarf. I was “assigned” to be his secret Santa one year and bought him a scarf. I remember being filled with anxiety, saying “What if he doesn’t like it? Oh God I hope he likes it. Do you think this is his style?” When he wore it to class the following semester, my whole world lit up. I remember – because who could forget – the way he talked. He had a deep, silky cognac-smooth voice that went with his debonair, refined, and always cool and laid back demeanor. It was perfect for the radio and for his amazing lectures. I would sit in awe and absorb everything I could. My notes looked like a novel. I never wanted to miss a thing. He seemed to know everything there was to know about everything. I’ve often said he’s the smartest man I know. When I found out he read a book a week, it made me feel incredibly lazy, and as a book-lover, I admired him beyond measure. Anyone will tell you, he was an intellectual beast, a giant. He was a longtime activist, community educator, deeply engaged in and committed to helping expand the minds and lives of everyone around him. Read any article on him, and they will detail his intellectual and activist achievements. We all knew what Doc was about.
I always say that I can’t imagine what my life would be like had I not majored in Pan African Studies. Everything I see is through a PAS filter. And Dean Hudson is the reason for that. He was the reason I became a PAS major. My Black Women Novelist class that I took as a Psych major piqued my interest, but my African American History I class with Dr. Hudson won me over. I had originally signed up to take the class with another professor whose name I can’t recall at the moment, but a friend pulled my coattails and said “take Dr. Hudson’s class. You’ll love it.” From then on, my life changed.
I took all of his classes. Well, maybe not all, but as many of them as I could, including a grad class and an independent study course during my senior year. I became entrenched in learning about our history – specifically during slavery. There was so much to learn, so many stories that were unearthed, so much that had gone un-talked about that I wanted to know, and he seemed to have ALL the information. This was also at a time when my father and I were not on speaking terms, so Dr. Hudson became very much like a father to me. I looked up to him, respected and admired him. When we’d be in the PAS lab (where I also did my work-study) and I’d see him come off the elevators, I’d announce “Daddy’s home.” For me, it was right. PAS was home, and Dean Hudson was our intellectual father.
What I remember most, aside from his intellect, is how kind, caring, attentive and patient he was. I remember going to him during my first semester of my new major. I was very upset. All the information I was learning, my eyes being opened, being made conscious, was taking its toll on me. It was too much for my little suburban-rescued and raised sheltered brain to comprehend. I was angry all the time, and when I wasn’t angry, I was sad – angry at White people, sad and angry at Black people. How could they do this to us? How could we allow them to do this to us? I walked into his office in tears, spilling my guts, saying I just don’t understand. He smiled, swept his hand over his hair, and said, “Well, Shaunitra…” and reminded me that there are good and bad people of every hue, that as a society we have the tendency to focus on the little things that separates us, and that we must work to educate ourselves and others, highlighting our similarities and celebrate our differences. Over the years, we had many similar discussions as I tried to understand my place, role and responsibility as a scholar and as a young mother.
The thought of never seeing him again really unsettled me. I hadn’t seen him in some years, and of course, I instantly felt bad for not keeping in touch, as people often do when they hear of someone’s passing. Especially someone they care for. I regretted not having any pictures of him, not having any pictures with him, not having anything to hold on to besides my memories.
But last night (or this morning), I dreamt. And he was there. I was assisting a tour of some type of historical medical center. I turned the corner and there he was, standing there smiling. It was the first time I’d dreamt of anyone who had transitioned. Instead of his peacoat and black hat, he was wearing a light blue shirt and jeans. He was thinner, and that deep, dark melodic voice was softer than I remember, but all of his light was still there. He was still larger than life. We didn’t talk much. I remember everything around us fading away. We sat in a room. He made a light joke at my expense, then we held hands and I stared into his eyes as he told me a story about how everything is interlocked, everything is connected. Then, he hugged me tight and told me that he was proud of me. And that’s when the tears fell. Tears of joy, of sadness, of relief, of regret, of…I don’t know, just everything. We released our embrace, he took his chair, and asked me what was new. I told him about my new job at Tech, about my increasing desire to get involved in the visual art world, and to write more. “Good,” he said. “Keep writing.” The dream ended, and I awakened with a smile on my face. I was overcome with a sense of peace. I miss him terribly, and I hate that I will not be at his memorial this Monday in Louisville with my PAS family, but I’m so very happy that I got to say goodbye. I love you, Dr. Hudson.