The Aquinian

William Barber powers up for a woman of vision

Before I boarded the plane to come home from prep school, I called my mom with a wonderful surprise. I’d been fortunate enough to earn a Division 1 scholarship to play at the highest level of college basketball in the United States. When she picked up the phone, she told me she was in the hospital. She was sick and fighting for her life.

(Sean Murphy/AQ)

At first I thought it was a joke; she had to be playing around with me. I couldn’t wrap my head around the thought that my mom was so sick that she might not be coming home. I could hear the pain and sadness in her voice. She wasn’t her spunky self and my mom was always full of life and spirit no matter what. I felt there had to be more going on than she was telling me.

I became so sidetracked by her bombshell that I forgot to tell her I had committed to the University of North Florida to play on their basketball team and go to school.

•••

I felt like I was dreaming. There was no way my mom, my backbone, my greatest supporter, could be this sick. She was the crutch I leaned on for strength and advice, playing the roles of both mom and dad for me. She was there at all of my games, cheering for me on the sidelines; she even let me dribble the basketball around the house. And now that might be all gone. I’d never felt so helpless.

My mom had diabetes and was blind in one eye. I remember when we’d come home from games she’d always grab on to me to make sure she didn’t fall. It made me grow up faster and become more responsible. I had to take on more of the day-to-day tasks to keep our house in order. Now, she was fighting a losing battle against a respiratory disease she’d gotten from black mould in our house. It started to take my mom away from me.

We grew up in the projects in southern Indiana on the border of Kentucky. It was nothing for me to see a drug deal or a homeless man sleeping out on the sidewalk on my way to the bus stop. Most African-American males didn’t make it where we lived. A lot of them got involved in selling drugs or ended up in prison.

My mom knew it would be easy for me to go down the wrong path, but she also knew that as long as I stayed disciplined and focused I could make it out. She always told me that I just needed to be passionate and dedicated and then there would be no way I would fail. She showed me how to use the gift I was blessed with to get away.

She made a fan club button of me because she was so proud of how far we’d come. She would sit in the front of the crowd to make sure I saw it. That was always the first thing I’d look for when she was at games.
•••
I rushed from the plane to the hospital because I felt something wasn’t right. When I walk into the room I could see my mom getting ready to leave us. I couldn’t hold the tears from rolling down my cheek. I was watching my world crash right in front of eyes.

The doctors came rushing in, telling me that I had to go. I froze, and this image of my mom popped up in my head. It’s of us at a game and her just smiling and waving at me. It felt so surreal. I read her lips and she’s telling me to keeping going: “You walk by faith, not by sight.”

I’m now playing basketball at St. Thomas University. The journey here hasn’t been easy. I play every game in her honour. On a pair of my game shoes, I’ve written her name so that I’m always reminded of her. Her name was Samshell Fields. Walk by faith and not by sight – those words will always be here with me.

She’s my guardian angel and still my biggest fan.

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