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Radio host explores value of ‘otherness’

| Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Verge “Brother Sage” Gillam, former radio show host on WBST and a well-known member of the African-American community in South Bend, spoke at Saint Mary’s on Wednesday on “The Value of Otherness. ” Sage, who is a “griot,” or storyteller, displayed the titler otherness though examples of his own family.

Gillam said his ancestors were slaves from Ghana who were brought to Virginia. As an African American man, he said his story is very different from that of a white person, as 91 percent of African-Americans in the United States are here because of slavery, not because they were trying to escape oppression, he said.

“We didn’t have a choice in the matter — we were out of luck,” Gillam said

Gillam said he loves traveling to different schools and other places to share his unique story and the otherness of his family.

“I love engaging people,” he said. “The basis for all of us is our families.”

Gillam was raised by his mother alone and didn’t get to know his father until he was 13 years old, he said. His father passed away in 2006.

“I miss him because that is who I am,” he said. “I am here and I am thankful.”

Gillam was proud of his mom, who went back to school after she had her kids and got her degree when he was 16, he said. Times we tough during that period of time.

“We were proud of her, even though sometimes I didn’t know where my next glass of milk was coming from, unless I did something about it,” he said.

His mom pushed him to get his education and embraced the “otherness factor,” Gillam said.

“The otherness factor: you have to better yourself,” he said.

With three children and nine grandchildren, Gillam said he wants his family to carry on the legacy of his family who were in slaves in Virginia all those years ago. He said his grandchildren will be the fourth generation of his family to get their degrees.

“Once you have an education, it will carry you far,” he said.

An example of otherness is having a rare opportunity to talk with an African American man about his story, Gillam said. He said that often time we can not understand otherness and embrace it because we want what is the same.

“We want what is similar,” he said. “We want what is comfortable.”

Being open to otherness is most important because once you’re open to otherness, the world will be open to you, according to Gillam.

“The world is constantly changing,” he said. “Not being open to understanding will limit your learning.”

The best thing one can do is to immerse themselves in different conversations with different people, to read different books and to watch different movies, because then you will be able to utilize the value of otherness, Gillam said.

“Otherness, you grow; sameness, you drown,” he said.

Being well rounded is crucial in being able to understand otherness; in everyday life, we should be open to learning and forming new ideas in this changing world, Gillam said.

“The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts,” he said.

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