Mr. Addison C. Fair Jr.
Our Spotlight for the month of August 2013 is someone with whom Destiny – Pride has worked in past years during our Toys for Tots Holiday endeavors. He has also assisted us in a number of other activities in which we have been involved. His name is Mr. Addison Fair, Jr. and I have had the pleasure to know him in the years prior to Destiny – Pride when I was with the Department of Human Services. At that time he was a Staff Sergeant with the US Marine Corps. He also for a number of years was the Coordinator for the US Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots Program at the Marine Corps Site Anacostia, based at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling located here in Washington DC. We will talk with Mr. Fair about his life before, during and after the US Marine Corps – including his work with Toys for Tots. (Click on photos to enlarge them)
Destiny – Pride: Good afternoon, Mr. Fair. Destiny – Pride thanks you for agreeing to be our Spotlight for August. We have known each other for a number of years, but I’d like for our visitors to get to know you as well, so let’s start off by telling them a little about yourself, starting with to whom you were born, where you were born, and then give us a brief synopsis of your early childhood years.
Mr. Fair: Thanks for having me. I was born in 1963 right here in Washington, DC. My parents are Addison Clay Fair, Sr. [deceased] and Barbara Anne Fair. My father’s from North Carolina. My mother’s from the DC area. The majority of my life was spent between Northwest DC – where my grandmother lived – and Palmer Park, Maryland. That’s where I gained my roots – Palmer Park, Maryland. I lived on the same street as David Jacobs – that’s Sugar Ray Leonard’s trainer. When I came up, it wasn’t hard. It was easy for us in that area. We had a civics association. We had the Palmer Park Recreation Center where all the kids were always unified. We had that good ole fashion “village raise the child” type of attitude. Everybody knew everybody. All of my neighbors knew us. We were doing fine.
My mother took on most of the brunt of raising us because my father decided there were other things that he needed to do. They separated when I was about twelve years old. It wasn’t a trying time. We welcomed it, as a matter of fact. We briefly moved to Laurel for about 6 months, and then came back to Palmer Park. My mother was able to pull it off because, like I said, all of our neighbors pitched in and raised us. Even when she was at work, we were never alone. Even before email, twitter and stuff like that, we had the “twitter” account right around our neighborhood. If I did something wrong, before my mother got home, she knew about it. But we were pretty good kids, so there wasn’t too much that she had to worry about. I equate a lot of what I’ve learned and the things that have happened to me with my mother raising me and the things she had to do.
One of the hardest decisions she had to make was when I was 15, when she sent me to live with my father. That decision was made because at the age of 14 and nine months, I became a father – a teenage parent. That time, the age of 14 and 15 – I try to forget it, but I always remember it – because that’s the time when I started trying alcohol and marijuana – just hanging out and doing things that I wasn’t raised to do. It was real problematic for my mom. I had a little brother, a little sister and an older sister.
Destiny – Pride: What are the names of your siblings?
Mr. Fair: Tammy Fair is my oldest sister. Her last name’s not “Fair” anymore. It’s Paige. I have a younger brother; his name is William Albert Fair, and he’s my best friend in the world. And then there’s my baby sister that we all took care of – Cheryl Simms. So there are four of us: two boys and two girls. My father had another child that we just learned about when he passed – another sister that came before me. I thought that I was my father’s oldest child, but I’m not. Those are family secrets that hadn’t been let out; we’re still trying to figure things out.
That period I call my “one-year lapse.”
Destiny – Pride: And you were living with your father?
Mr. Fair: No, I was still living with my mother going through that trial when my son was born. I was 14 years old and 11 months when he was born. I was still going through harsh times, and my mom made the decision “You need to go live with your father.”
Well, I wasn’t having it, so the first thing I did was I went to the “mom,” the “guardian” – my grandmother. I ran to her house. Nobody messes with Bula Mae Owens! [deceased] When my father came to get me, I sat there with my grandmother and said “Do I have to go?” She said “No you don’t.” Now the one thing my father wouldn’t do is cross my grandmother. But she talked me into it and I moved in with him.
The time that I moved in with my father was the time that I got to sit down and think. I lived in DC, but I went to school in Maryland. He gave me the option that I could go to school in DC or continue going to school in Maryland. I decided I wanted to continue going to Maryland, so I got up every morning at 5:00 to head out to high school.
During this period I was better than an average basketball player. Going into my sophomore year I was very good. That was the first time I walked into “Skip” Davis – Alfonso Davis. He was a basketball coach, but I had him for Algebra. He was 6”6’ and 270 pounds; probably the largest man I had ever seen before in my life. He had asthma, so he had a really bad breathing problem.
During my transition stage, I was a clown. That’s what I was, I was a clown. I would make fun of him every day. After school I would go and I’d play basketball. I’d play against the varsity players and any other players that would come over there. Mr. Davis said, “Oh, you’re pretty good!” I said, “No, I’m better than good!” He said, “Really?” Okay, so this man told me, “Until you learn how to be a man, you’ll never play for this high school.” I said, “Hey, whatever!”
The turning point was one day when I was in school and I was arguing with my baby’s mother in the hallway. Ms. Chambers, who was a counselor at the school, heard me. She said, “Young man, what is your problem?” I looked at her and said “Lady, mind your f’-ing business!” She said, “From this day on, you are my ‘f-ing’ business!” Mr. Davis came in and he snatched me up and said, “You will learn how to be a man, and I’m going to make sure of that!” So not knowing it, Ms. Chambers changed my counselor from a young white guy – I never knew what his name was – to her.
Mr. Davis took an interest in me, and when basketball season came around, there were 75 kids in the gym. I was sitting there and he walked in. I didn’t know until then that he was the basketball coach. He said, “Ah, everybody’s here.” He looked up and said, “Mr. Fair!” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Get out!” I said, “What?” He said, “Get out! You’re cut!” He put me out of the gym in front of all the kids, and the bad thing about it was that I had to wait two hours until the bus came. So I sat there, humiliated. Then he came to me and he said, “You will go down to Palmer Park Rec. You will play for the 16 and under basketball team. Next year when you come back as a junior, you will play junior varsity and I will ‘think’ about letting you play varsity in your twelfth-grade year.” I looked at him and said, “I’m not doing anything you say.” He said, “Yes you will!”
Well, I went and played basketball for Palmer Park Rec. The next year I came back. He made me the Captain of the JV [junior varsity] team and I played basketball, even though I was good enough to play varsity. He made sure that I didn’t wear tennis shoes to school; I carried a briefcase; I didn’t curse. He made sure I enunciated my words. He made me wear ties. On game days, I wore sport jackets. He taught me how to be a man and then he taught me that, “The world is not about you; it’s about what you have to give back to everybody else.” I changed my way of thinking.
Mr. Davis told me not to worry about college, and I didn’t, but he put me on a path to college. He was my first mentor and that’s when I started changing my life.
Destiny – Pride: What is your marital status and are there any kids?
Mr. Fair: I’m divorced and I have five children: (i) Addison III; (ii) Aris; (iii) Macia; (iv) Aldon; and my youngest is (v) Aydon. I have 8 grandchildren.
Destiny – Pride: Is there anything related to your educational achievements that you would like to share?
Mr. Fair: I’m continuing my education. At the age of 50, I’m set to graduate next year in June. So my education is continuing.
Destiny – Pride: What faith, if any, are you and how, if at all, has it played a role in your life’s decisions?
Mr. Fair: My faith is Baptist. My family’s been going to Peace Baptist Church in Northeast [DC] for God knows how long. My great grandfather was there. Grandmother was there. My uncle is still a deacon there. My mom still goes there. That’s our family church. I was never a church going child, even though we spent a lot of time in church, as I was young. I’m not overly religious. I do believe in God. I also believe that everything happens for a reason and it’s not me that makes it happen. It’s always a higher power. I’ve always been skeptical when I listen to Bishops, preachers and things of that nature. Spiritually, I’m always my reminder that there is something or someone that is always helping me because in those times of trouble when I’ve really fallen down, I’m lifted up by someone or somebody or a dream to let me know “You know, you’re not by yourself, and you didn’t make this happen by yourself.” So somebody’s helping me, even though I don’t know who that somebody is. I always realize that I have extra help from somewhere.
Destiny – Pride: Who are individuals who have either influenced you, and/or who have helped to shape you into the person you are today? You have already mentioned your basketball coach.
Mr. Fair: Yes, Alfonso Davis is the biggest in my younger days because he set the boundaries of me being a man. Also, my mother, Barbara Fair. I always tell people that she taught me more about being a man than any man has ever taught me. Then I have a group of friends – six brothers – that’s been with me. Lenny has been with me since we were in kindergarten.
Destiny – Pride: And who is Lenny?
Mr. Fair: Lenny Isaac Fulwood is my best friend. He’s a prominent worker in the government. And then there’s James Stevenson, who is my brother that has passed. James passed a number of years ago, but we still meet and go talk with him at his gravesite. And then there’s Lawton Frazier. Lawt and I have been friends since junior high school. When I moved to DC, he moved to DC with his dad and we used to always ride back and forth together. We played on the basketball team together. We’re pretty much inseparable. Ciscero Plummer is another friend since junior high school and Kenny Frazier is another friend since junior high school. And then there’s my buddy Eric Holder, but not the Eric Holder that everybody thinks of. Eric is in law; he is a lawyer. He’s now a pastor and he has his own church in Baltimore. These brothers, we’ve been together since high school and no matter where I travel in the world, I always let people know that I have a group of brothers that always have been my brothers and have accepted me, no matter what I’ve gone through. They’ve been a big influence in my life.
Destiny – Pride: I’m going to put these next two questions together. Tell us about your life prior to becoming a US Marine and what was it that made you decide to serve in the military.
Mr. Fair: Prior to the Marines, as I’ve said, I played basketball. Going into my senior year, that summer my father and I were making our tours around colleges to see which school I would be going to. Mr. Davis told me “Don’t to worry about it. I’ll choose the schools; you go visit them.”
I visited two schools. I visited St. Francis in Pennsylvania. It was up on top of a mountain. It was a Catholic school – a four-year school. My dad took me there. One of the things Coach Davis said was “Well, for your first semester, you can’t drive. You can’t join a fraternity. You have to take four years of religion – Catholic religion. And you won’t be able to move out of the freshman dorm until you become a sophomore.” To top that off, I noticed as I walked around the campus that I was the only black face on the campus. I said, “I need to think about it,” but my father said, “Oh yeah, he’s going to St. Francis.” I’m thinking, “Dude, you’ve never even seen me play basketball, so you’re not going to make this decision for me.” So I didn’t choose St. Francis.
After playing my senior year, I went on another visit to a junior college in Garrett County. This time my father took me and my grandmother and my mother went with us. Again, it was up on top of a mountain – Negro Mountain – in Western, Maryland. There were only six blacks in the entire county. Five of us played basketball; one played baseball. During the visit, I turned around and looked at my grandmother. I said, “Grandma, do you like this place?” She said, “Yes.” I said, “I’m going here.” My father had this disdained look on his face and says, “How can you make a decision like that, just because your grandmother says so?” I said, “Because my grandmother says so.” So that’s why I chose Garrett College.
I went to Garrett College and I played basketball. I did pretty good my freshman year – better than good. At times when I had problems, I came home, talked to the guys at home, went back up and started to flourish. In my sophomore year, I started planning to go to a four-year school because I was at a two-year school, and I had a number of schools looking at me. Again, I had a son, and I was summoned to go to court to deny it or admit paternity. I had already started school and my mom couldn’t pay for me to keep going back and forth, so I came down to go to court.
By this time, my father had gotten married. We co-mingled the family and he wanted me to be a big brother to this young kid – my stepbrother – and I wasn’t really feeling that. I’m 19. I’m playing ball. I don’t have time for this kid. I had my own brother. So I came home to go to court. The plan was that I go to court. My mother brought me down; my father sends me back. So I came down to go to court and I admitted paternity. The court said, “Okay, you don’t have to start paying child support until you finish school. The state of Maryland will take on making child support payments to take care of your child because you’re in school.
We finished that and a week goes by. I said, “Dad, I’ve got to get back to school.” Well I’m into the habit where I would ask him if I could use his car. This time, though, he said, “Did you ask your mother?” I thought, “Why would I call my mother and ask if I could use ‘our’ car – a Cadillac – which he and I had always shared?” He then said, “I’m talking about Mrs. Harris.” I said, “She’s not my mother; she’s your wife,” and we got into an argument about it. He said, “Well until you can respect her as your mother . . .” I’m like, “I’m 19. I love her. She’s Mrs. Harris; she’s not my mother.” And I love her today – she’s my stepmother. But that argument between my father and me prompted me to leave. I asked him again, “Are you going to send me back to school?” He said, “No,” so I left and went to my mother’s house. I was there for about three weeks but I cannot sit in my mother’s house and do nothing. I didn’t know if I was getting my scholarship to another school or not and I was missing classes. So, I said, “You know what? Even though I despised the military, the Air Force I identified with. Let me do that.”
So I walked from Palmer Park to Prince George’s Plaza to see the Air Force recruiter. He wasn’t there. I walked back home. I did it again the next day. He wasn’t there. I walked from Palmer Park to Hyattsville – on foot. The third day I walked, he still wasn’t there. A Marine Corps recruiter – Staff Sergeant Dyer – was sitting there. He said, “How many times are you going to keep coming here until you realize this dude doesn’t work?” I said, “And who are you?” He said, “I’m Staff Sergeant Dyer, of the United States Marine Corps.” Now I’m thinking, “I’m not joining ya’ll because ya’ll are ‘whack jobs.’ Are you crazy?” He said, “Come here and let me talk to you.”
He said, “So, you’re just out of high school?” I said, “No, I’m in college.” He said, “Why aren’t you back in college?” I said, “It has something to do with family, but I can’t stay home. I need to take care of my son.” He said, “Well, I’ll tell you what. You look like an athlete. Are you an athlete?” I said, “Yes, I play college basketball.” He said, “Yeah, well we play basketball in the Marine Corps.” I said, “Can I play in Boot Camp?” He said, “No.” I said, “Can I play when I get out of Boot Camp?” He said, “No.” I said, “So when can I play?” He said, “When you join your first unit.” He said, “I’m going to tell you, we’re not the average branch of service. We’re the best; it’s the hardest. If you don’t want to be the best, then you can go deal with one of these guys over here. That’s all that I have to give you. Yes or No?” I said, “Okay.” That was October 27, 1982.
I went home and told my mother, “I’m joining the Marine Corps.” She said, “Yeah, right!” I told my girlfriend I was joining the Marine Corps and I was leaving December 1st. They didn’t believe me because I was so anti-military. As a matter of fact, to this day I still haven’t signed up for selective service because I’m so anti-military.
December 1st rolled around, Staff Sergeant Dyer pulled up in that car, and that’s when everybody realized, “Oh, he’s serious!” And I took off to join the Marine Corps. The plan was four years in the Marine Corps, establish myself, go back to college and finish playing college basketball, head over to Europe and play basketball for five or six years before I come back, get my son and start my life. By that time I figured I’d be about 28 years old. I would stash some money, because I knew the NBA was not a reality, but playing overseas was a reality. So that’s the path I was going to take.
I joined the Marine Corps on December 1st, 1982. It was a shock, but I took to it like a fish to water – from Boot Camp on. I started off just one of the regular people in Boot Camp and became “the Guy” – the Platoon Leader, because I wouldn’t take any trash from anybody.
Destiny – Pride: For our visitors, what is Boot Camp?
Mr. Fair: Boot Camp is your basic training. The basic training you go through is 13 weeks. Back then, you made two phone calls. One phone call was home to let them know I was there; another phone call at the end was to say I’m graduating. Everything else was by letter: “I’m fine; I’m this; I’m that; don’t send me anything.”
Boot Camp back then was brutal. Three of my drill instructors were Vietnam Vets, and I’m glad they were because they gave me leadership the hard way. Then I had a young brother who was my senior drill instructor. That’s the “Top Dog,” but he was a “show pony.” I didn’t have too much respect for him.
Another person in my life that had an impact on me was one of my drill instructors. His name is Staff Sergeant Willard. He was a young white gentleman and he taught me more about leadership and being a man than anybody that I could ever imagine. He was the one who started instilling in me, “Hey look. It’s not about you. You must train these boys to not only trust you, but to depend on each other.” He said, “You can take care of you, but your responsibility is not you. Your responsibility is these 67 young men that are behind you when you walk in this formation. Once you put that together, you’re a leader. But if you look good, and they don’t, that means you failed as a leader because you’re selfish.” At first it sounded like a bunch of baloney to me. But then I noticed that every step of the way, when they are yelling and screaming and doing all of this, he would pull me to the side and say, “See what I’m talking about? This kid right here needs help. You’ve already got them. Focus on the kid that needs help. He’s the weakest one. If you lose him, then you’ll eventually lose all of the ones in the line. You must know each and every individual and their tendencies. That’s your job.” He kept pushing and kept pushing. By the third month, I understood everything he was saying.
There were two incidents that happened that really just kicked me over. In the first incident, he [Staff Sergeant Willard] was late one day. He woke up late. One of the guys woke me up and said, “Hey, Fair. The drill instructor is not getting up.” Everybody gets up. We turned the lights on and started getting dressed. We were dressed, set and ready. I’m banging on his door. I said, “Staff Sergeant, get up!” The Staff Sergeant says, “What?” I said, “Sir, it’s five o’clock.” He was supposed to have been up at 4:30. He says, “Oh my God! Where are they?” I said, “We’re out on the road.” Then I remember him putting on his clothes. He says, “Right face!” He’s screaming at us while he’s inside getting dressed. “Forward, march!” And we’re marching. We don’t even see this guy. He’s still in the building putting his uniform on. We sort of automatically knew where we were going, but we would hear his commands. Then all of a sudden we heard, “Mark time, march!” He came out – perfectly dressed! Everything was straight. “Let’s go!” We went, we ate and we came back, and he said, “Come here, boy!” I said, “Yes, Sir.” He said, “That’s what being a leader is all about.” He said, “You could have just let me flop and die in the water. But you took my career and made it your priority.” Had I left him there asleep, he would have been relieved.
Second incident. We’re out on the rifle range. You’re never supposed to look a drill instructor straight in the eye. That’s what they teach you over there, and Wallace and I were just staring down this one drill instructor. Staff Sergeant Willard says, “What are you boys doing? What are you staring at?” I said, “That drill instructor right there.” He says, “What’s the problem?” I said, “That’s the one that called Wallace a ‘nigger.’” He said, “Really?” This particular drill instructor was young.
So he called him over and he said, “Let me talk to you, drill instructor.” He said, “My two boys over here told me that you called Wallace a nigger when they were in Receiving.” This was about three or four months back. He said, “Yeah. So what?” He said, “So what?” Then he says, “Boys, on the count of three, I want ya’ll to whip his butt! One . . . two . . .” and then he stopped. He said, “Let me explain something to you, young man. Just because you wear that hat does not mean it gives you the right to degrade any man out here.” He said, “I’m going to tell you something. Wallace is from DC; Fair is from the DC area – from Palmer Park. If I release these two on you, they will beat the hell out of you. Okay now. Remember who you are. Don’t let that hat fool you. They are still men.” Then he said, “Boys, go back.”
So we went back into our formation. Wallace and I looked at each other. The last thing we expected was for him to do that. When we looked back over, he had taken that kid over to the side, and he thrashed him. “Don’t you ever in your life think you have the right to talk to a man out of his name! I don’t care what we do out here. Don’t you ever forget that!” He said, “Because that man will probably save your life one day, and you want to call him a nigger? He might just turn his back on you and leave you there.” His doing that really made me believe in the Marine Corps and the Marine Corps way because he didn’t have to do that. He went above and beyond. That’s when I said, “Okay, this is the place for me,” but the dream was still to stay four years and go play basketball.
Destiny – Pride: How many years did you serve?
Mr. Fair: Twenty-two years. Those four years turned into twenty-two years.
Destiny – Pride: Now explain to our visitors what a Staff Sergeant is and does.
Mr. Fair: A Staff Sergeant, if you look at it in corporate terms, is mid-level management.
Destiny – Pride: Okay, now explain the chain of events. You started out as a Marine . . .
Mr. Fair: I started out as a Private, and then Private First-Class. The classification goes from E-1 through E-9. I attained the rank of E-6.
Destiny – Pride: And what is “E”?
Mr. Fair: “E” is for “Enlisted.” O-1 through O-12, those are [Commissioned] officers. The number coincides with the rank; they tell you what you are. Once you become an E-4, you’re now thrust into that leadership, supervisory role. Once you become an E-6, you’re in that managerial role, and from there on you are in a managerial role. I reached up to an E-6. As I always overachieved above and beyond whatever my rank was, I learned some valuable lessons. I know I could have achieved more rank if I had taken a different path, but I chose to stay on a path that was more comfortable for me. Where I could consciously look at myself and say I never stepped on another man to achieve anything. I may not have attained that rank, but I attained that level of respect. So even though I never became an E-7, I gained the respect of an E-9 because of my leadership style. I refused to step on anybody just for personal gain. I never have and I never will.
Destiny – Pride: Briefly describe some of your Marine experiences. I know that you did several deployments. Were you ever in the combat zone?
Mr. Fair: Yes. The first time I was in a combat zone was in Bosnia. I had a stint in the Marine Corps where I was listed as a conscientious objector. It was a little bit because of my arrogance and my confidence. One of the officers I served under didn’t appreciate that. It was black Colonel – a Naval Academy Grad, which are very prominent – who left me with some words of wisdom, which I wish I had been told when I was younger. He said, “Son, everybody wants you to work ‘for’ them. Nobody wants you to work ‘with’ them,” meaning you make changes, and you make people change. As long as you work ‘for’ me, I look good. But when I promote you to a rank that’s equal to mine, now I have to compete ‘with’ you; so it’s easier to get rid of you than to compete with you.”
Well, this young gentleman decided in my paperwork to put in a code that I didn’t know about. That code was a conscientious objector code, which kept me at the rank of Sergeant for almost ten years. Even though it’s not supposed to hold you back, it does. When somebody sees that you’re a conscientious objector – especially in the Marine Corps – nobody wants to work with you. They put that “black-eye” on me for almost ten years. Once you reach a certain rank after a certain amount of years, if you don’t attain that rank, then you have to move on.
After 13 years, I was still a Sergeant – that would be an E-5. So I had to leave the Marine Corps, but I left active duty and went to Reserve duty. I became real bitter and angry. One thing I don’t like is for somebody to accuse me of wrongdoing that I didn’t do, but nobody could explain to me what had happened to me. My record was impeccable. I was always either number one or number two out of everybody in my rank, but nobody could explain it to me. I just rolled it off and said, “You know what? Forget it. Thirteen years. That’s all God wanted me to do, so that’s all I’m doing.” But my friends at home would say, “Come on! Thirteen years. You have seven more to do.” I said, “But I’m nobody’s Reservist!” They said, “So what, dude. Thirteen years of your life. You have seven more to do before you retire.”
So I started going to Reserve meetings. Now Reservists are different than active duty. Very much different, because they go home every day, and they have two days out of the week to serve. So you don’t get the best of the best until it’s time to deploy. Well, throughout this process I decided I’m going to go back, and I volunteered to go on a mission with Civil Affairs to Bosnia. That’s when I came in touch with my Colonel. He pushed me to take my situation to court. I told him, “That’s fine, Sir,” and he gave my case to Colonel Gittens. He then told me, “While he’s working on your conscientious objector case, I would like you to come with me to Bosnia,” which I did.
We served on what was called the “Refugee Reconnaissance Returns Team” (RRRT), and our job, then, as Kosovo, Bosnia and Serbia were still heating up, was to travel between Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia. What we did was the recon [reconnaissance] to see if it was safe for anybody to go back home. We would do interviews with the Chief of Police, hospitals, schools, people in villages. We traveled on a team of five – four Marines and one interpreter. You never realize the danger until you get back. We would go to different opstinas – which is what they call cities – and we’d be gone for three and four days. Anything that happened, happened. If we were robbed and if we called for radio help, it’s going to take a couple of hours before it gets there. We were pretty much on our own when we left out, which made me more alert. I was real, real careful of what I did and what I said. My job was to make sure the kids I took with me came back. I would say that we did about 30 missions, and all of my kids got back. Nobody was hurt; no problems. As I said, you don’t realize your dangers until you come back.
Destiny – Pride: How long were you over there?
Mr. Fair: I was there for nine months. As a matter of fact, you can still read some of the reports online that we did back then.
Destiny – Pride: And President Clinton was President at that time, right?
Mr. Fair: President Clinton was President at that time.
Destiny – Pride: Any other deployments?
Mr. Fair: I did OIF II [Operation Iraqi Freedom II]. That was in Iraq. I served in Iraq in 2003 to 2004. I took a group of 13 kids over there in a Civil Affairs capacity. We served under the Army. Again, we went on mission after mission. I didn’t personally lose anybody. We had one young man – Howard – from the DC area who was the only one that was injured. We were lucky. We had no casualties, but that’s not to say that we didn’t have casualties on our base. I think the most we lost in one day was 30.
The most difficult thing to do in the combat situation is to keep your men thinking on an even keel because the first thing your kids think when one of ours gets hit is that we want to go out and we want to hit. But it was my job to be disciplined enough to talk them down off of the roof. “Okay, this is what we have to do. . .” The first thing we do when the smoke goes up is you count your bodies – “one, two, three . . . okay, I have mine. Give me a report. You have yours? You have yours? Okay, we’re good. Bring them here. This is what we’re going to do next.” I think that was the most difficult thing to do in combat: keep your kids on an even keel; especially when you went out on a mission. We had to stay focused and alert at all times.
Destiny – Pride: We’re now going to fast forward. How did you get involved with the Toys for Tots Program?
Mr. Fair: I got involved with the Toys for Tots Program after coming back from Bosnia. I had an injury to my knee and ended up having six knee surgeries. One of my good friends, Mike Johnson – a Master Sergeant – served under me and my buddies in 1986 while we were overseas. Now, fast forward, I am serving under him. I was out of work and was hurt for three months, so I stayed home until I healed. I didn’t have a choice in the matter. When I came back, he said, “We need somebody to run this Toys for Tots Program,” and since I wasn’t there, they said “Let’s let Fair do it.” So he called me up and said, “Hey, I have a job for you.” I said, “What’s that?” He said, “You’re going to run the Toys for Tots Program.” I said, “What is that?” He said, “Oh, it’s nothing, man. You’ll be able to sit in your office and lay your legs up and just deal with these toys and kids.” I said, “Jay [for “Johnson”], you’re setting me up.” He said, “No. It’s piece of cake.” I said, “No. You’re setting me up.” “No. It’s a piece of cake.”
I came in and sat down. He gave me a book. “Here you go.” It was probably one of the biggest headaches I’ve ever had in my life. That first year of navigating through the paperwork and the money and the people and the events, dealing with the Reservists and getting everybody all on one page, it was mind boggling. I think in that first year, we raised about $60,000 and we only collected about 57,000-58,000 toys in the DC area. That’s how you get most of your jobs in the Marine Corps. When you’re not there, somebody else volunteers you. If you’re not there to say “I’m not doing it,” then you’re doing it. So that’s how I got thrust into it.
Destiny – Pride: Okay. That was your first year. What was the greatest level that you achieved? You said you raised $60,000 the first year and collected 57,000 toys. That was your first year. Where did you eventually take it as you exited out?
Mr. Fair: As I exited out, we would on the average raise about $200,000 a year. The most I think we’d gotten was $250,000. We averaged about anywhere from 200,000 to 300,000 toys. We went from being one of the smallest entities in the Marine Corps to one of the top three in the Marine Corps for a five-year span.
Destiny – Pride: What year was it when I engaged you? Let me let our visitors know that you had been a good friend to the Department of Human Services when I was in DC government and you continue to navigate us through the process, so when did you get involved with us?
Mr. Fair: I think it was around 2004 because I retired in 2005.
Destiny – Pride: I notice that you talked in a very concerned and protective manner about the “kids” you supervised in the Marines. I also know that you’ve taken under your wings a group of “kids” who live in the community around here. Tell us about those kids and how you’ve been working with them to provide guidance, to uplift their lives and to improve their destiny.
Mr. Fair: In the Marine Corps I adopted mentoring young Marines. It kind of gave me a sense of what I wanted to do with my life. As I retired, I started coaching, and while coaching I noticed a lot of those young men didn’t have that father figure in their lives. I think I alluded to the fact that although I lived with my father, he wasn’t that father figure for me. These young men, they not only needed discipline, but they needed guidance.
I had in the back of my mind a nonprofit group called “I’m My Brother’s Keeper,” but I needed a forum. When one of my buddies asked me to help out with coaching a football team, then I figured, “Okay, I have some time. I can teach a little bit about coaching football,” but what it evolved into was a lot more than football. I was able to teach – and continue to teach – these young men not only about playing football and the true meaning of team sports, but also what it is to be a man and to be responsible for people other than themselves.
In the Marine Corps we had a message that we gave that everybody is a leader. How I try to teach them through football is not only teaching you how to be a man and teaching you the things you need to be a man, but also teaching you to be responsible for somebody other than yourself. “My Brother’s Keeper,” that I have in my mind, the gist of it is not just mentoring them, but teaching them to be mentors. If you teach them how to be teachers, then they will reciprocate and just keep that revolving circle going.
There are a lot of young men, including myself, that have learned from great men in our neighborhoods. But the problem is that once some of us leave, we never come back. The message that I try to instill – now approaching high school football – into my players is that it’s not just your responsibility to play and represent your schools, but you should also cultivate the ones that are coming behind you. That message that I’m giving is the same thing that the Marine Corps preaches; same thing my mom preached; same thing Mr. Davis preached: Always teach the next person.
I’ve learned throughout life that my success comes from my watching the people that I mentor exceed the things that I’ve done. I was a Staff Sergeant when I retired, but I had Marines that are now Captains, Sergeant Majors, Master Sergeants and Gunnery Sergeants – exceeding what I did, but they come back saying that the gist of this is learning from one man. I’m trying to instill that into every young man that I touch. It’s not just about you. It’s about the people that are coming behind you. If we build strong young men now, and teach them to cultivate the ones that come behind them, then may be – piece by piece, little by little – these kids will start getting a stronger message. They’ll know that you don’t necessarily have to have a father. Everybody wants a father. Everybody wants a dad, but there are other people out here that care about you, and you can do the same thing.
I joined this community of football coaches and I didn’t understand until I started coaching how many of us that are out here giving of our time, energy and money. We look for no reward. The only thing we look for is to see that first child go to college and come back and say, “thank you Coach!” That’s the most fulfilling thing: to watch them leave and go off to college and come back, and now they’re teaching the new kids on the block. That’s the message that I try to convey, that if somebody gave something to you, then you are obligated, not only to come back, but to pass that on to someone else.
Destiny – Pride: What is the age range of the kids that you mentor?
Mr. Fair: From the age of 6 to 18. I’m dealing with high school now, but I do have young men that are in their early 20’s that I still teach and we talk and we go through things. Just because you get to 20 doesn’t mean that you’re mature. They always ask me, “Where did you go for guidance?” and I tell them that I have an ole guy in the city named Rufus Mayfield that takes care of that for me. I know that I’m not always right. Every time I think that I know everything, he seems to teach me something else. My sons tell me the same thing. They say, “Dad, every time we think we have you on something, you teach us something else.” That’s what I want to do, just to continue to teach and continue to learn.
Destiny – Pride: Since you have been working with our youth population, what do you see as being needed to get many of our youth population back on track?
Mr. Fair: The biggest thing I talk about all the time is that the people my age – and I’m 50 years old – our generation feels as though we’re entitled to do nothing, or we don’t have to teach anything. The generation before us took all of the brunt of the punishment, the fighting, the protesting and all of the other stuff, so that we could gain prominence – so that we can live the way we live. But the people my age have decided, “Okay, we’re here. We don’t need to go back into the neighborhoods to help anybody. The only ones that we need to help are the ones we bear.” It’s a big problem with us.
There are a lot of prominent men who go into neighborhoods and help these young men. And then there are the ones who will turn their noses up at them. And those are the ones that I have problems with because let’s say, for instance, a young man walks in for an interview. He has either flip flops or tennis shoes on. Now I would pull him to the side and say, “Look, young man. Do me a favor. I want you to go home and put on some khaks [khakis] or slacks and shoes. You don’t have to put on a tie, but put on a button-down shirt. And then come back and see me.”
But we have those who, instead of helping them, they would mock them. I have always had a problem with that. So okay, he has a problem. What are you going to do to correct the problem? Many of us do nothing. We do nothing. We go back to our homes. We go back to the suburbs. We sit down. We watch our TV. We play Nintendo with our sons. We play catch with our sons in the yard and then we take them out and play football for an organization and buy him $300,000 worth of gear while the kid that’s over there with torn up shoes and dirty socks on and everything else is doing all of the blocking and tackling and making this kid look good. You can take the time to just talk to him and teach him.
Another one of the biggest problems I think we have is the way we deliver our message to young men. There’s something my father used to do – and men his age would do – and I used to always tell my father, “When you use that term, I’m not listening to you.” That thing that he would always say is, “What you ‘need’ to do is . . .” I would look at him and say, “What I ‘need’ to do?” My father had a big thing of telling me how the military was. I said, “Really?” He would say, “What you need to do while you’re in the military is . . .” I’d say, “But you’ve never spent a day in the military, so don’t tell me what I need to do.” You can “suggest” to me things to do, but don’t “tell” me what I “need” to do.
I’ve learned when you come to a young man and say, “Hey look. What you need to do is you need to get yourself straight. You need to go to school and get your education. That’s what you need to do.” Well, they’re not listening. It doesn’t resonate. But when you come to them in a different way, saying:
You: How are your grades in school?
Kid: Well I’m good in English but I’m not good in math.
You: What’s your problem with math?
Kid: I’m really not interested in math.
You: Okay, what are you interested in doing?
Kid: I want to do computers
You: Well, son, if you’re going to do computers, math is a big part of that. So in order to attain something like that, you must study math. Have you ever had a tutor?
Kid: What’s a tutor?
You: Somebody that will help you.
Now you’re engaged in a conversation. Now you’re making them feel like their part of the conversation. Now you’re giving them a sense of worth, instead of talking down to them. And I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter what neighborhood that I walk into, once you start talking to a young man with a sense of worth, he’s more subject to listen to what you’re saying and grasp it. They’ll say, “You know what? Maybe I’ll try it this way.” The kids on the outside call me “Coach,” and they say, “I’ll try it because Coach is giving it to me a different way, instead of that angry way.”
There’s another thing that I teach them. The first thing I always do to the young men is I extend my hand and shake theirs. And I always say, “Hey, how are you doing?” or “Coach Fair/Addison Fair, how are you doing?” One of my kids asked me, “Why do you do that, Coach?” I say, “Because when I extend my hand out to you and shake your hand, what can you do other than to say, “Hello”? He said, “Nothing.” I say, “Whereas, when you guys walk by each other, you just stare each other in the eye and keep walking until you pass each other.” That’s what’s missing in our community. What’s missing in our community are men who come back and talk to our young men as men instead of talking down to them. You’d be surprised how many kids that will follow you when you give them a message the right way.
Now the gang members and anybody else that’s out on the street, they say to the kids, “Now I’m going to give it to you raw.” Well that’s the way the kids take it. That’s the only message he’s getting. So if that’s the only message that he’s getting, then that’s the only thing he thinks is right. But if you give him another message, now they can go home and sit and think: “Is Coach okay, or is dude on the block just talking BS?” Well you can take the BS that he’s teaching you and you can learn something from it. And you can also learn from what I’m telling you. But now you’re well rounded because you’re “streetwise,” and you have another sense of, “Okay, let me take this education and this street knowledge and blend it. Now I’m dangerous because I know both sides.”
Destiny – Pride: You’re still relatively young, but what would you consider to be your greatest accomplishment so far?
Mr. Fair: My greatest accomplishment so far – I would have to say that I haven’t reached it yet. I have a lot of things that I’m proud of. I’m proud of the way my sons have turned out. I’m proud of their attitudes and the way they speak upon things. I measure my level of success with the people. The Marines I’ve taught; the young men I’ve taught that went on to do better things. This was the first year that I coached and I had to stand on stage while three of my kids will go to college. They signed their letters of intent. That’s an accomplishment for me. I’ve gotten to watch numerous of my Marines surpass the rank that I had. I watched the ones that I thought would get out go on to retire.
I had one named Tevepaugh that I won’t forget. Tevepaugh reached the rank of E-9, and he called me right before he retired. I was working, and he said, “AD?” I said, “Your voice sounds familiar. Who is this?” He said, “It’s Tevepaugh.” He said, “I called everybody under the sun until I found you! The reason I had to find you is because I did a retirement ceremony six months ago and the gentlemen asked, “Who was that one Marine who turned your life around?” He said that one officer went on to tell him about the Marine that had turned his life around. He then said, “It prompted me to thinking: ‘When did I turn my Marine Corps life around?’” Then he said, “1985; Okinawa; Addison Clay Fair, Jr.!” I said, “For real, T?” He said, “Yes.”
Tevenaugh was a Lance Corporal, an E-3 – not a leader yet – and I simply told him one day, “Son, you’re one of the best that I have out here. We were mechanics and I said, “You can work on any piece of gear. You’re a record driver. You’re great! But your uniform and your attitude are trash.” He said, “Well, I’m a grease monkey.” I said, “No. You’re a Marine. When you come to work, spit shine your boots, press your uniform; take it off; put it up. Put on your coveralls; work. When you’re finished, wash; put your uniform back on because when you walk out of here, you represent me and my platoon. So you need to take pride in that.” He said, “I started doing that, and then you started pressing me: “Go to school. Take classes. Do your MCI’s [courses at the Marine Corps Institute]. You were always on us to do this and do that. You had the path.” As a matter of fact, I had a program where I had classes set for all my young men that they had to take. They would take these classes one-by-one. I would set up five classes. Everybody rotated until everybody finished.
Destiny – Pride: What would be your major disappointment?
Mr. Fair: My major disappointment was in my 10th grade year in high school because that’s when I was doing all of my drinking and when I became a teenage parent. I look at young kids now and I always talk to them about protecting themselves and staying away from drugs and stuff like that. I tell them, “Look, I’m not telling you this because this is what I went through and this is what happened to me. I’m not telling you this from St. Jude’s mode, where I never did any wrong. I did do wrong and I’d rather for you not to do wrong.” My sons and my daughter all veered down that path. The difference, though, is that when I questioned them about it, they were able to talk to me about it and get back on the right path. So that was my biggest disappointment.
Also, it was when I got put out of the Marine Corps. I was disappointed then because I thought the Marine Corps was my life, which it was. But I learned a very, very valuable lesson, which was, even though you take care of others, you must take care of yourself first. I learned that valuable lesson because I’ve poured my heart and my soul into everything that I’ve done. You go through that “God, why have you forsaken me? What did I do so wrong? The only things I do are right. I do right. I do right. I do right. And then this is what happens.” Well, God taught me to stop looking for praise in man, and to enjoy the accomplishments within. So I don’t look for accolades anymore. I do the things that I do because I want to; not because I have to.
Destiny – Pride: What hobbies or activities do you do to help you to relax?
Mr. Fair: Coaching football. I started coaching sports because somebody asked me to help out.
Destiny – Pride: Suppose that it’s in the summertime?
Mr. Fair: I still do it. We train kids in the summertime. It takes a lot to teach during the wintertime and you have such a short amount of time. I still do it now. I get up. Get my sons off to school. By 8:30, I’m picking up at least 8 to 12 kids and we’re on our way to the Base and we’re working out. We’ll work out and I’ll tell them to come back at 12:00. They’ll take a nap and we’re back on the football field at 3:00. That relaxes me because that gives me an opportunity to teach. It also gives me a forum because you can’t just go into a recreation center, grab a couple of kids and say “I want to talk to you.” When you have that forum and you have those kids on that stage, that’s my relaxation. Let’s just “teach.”
Destiny – Pride: What last thoughts or insights would you like to leave with our visitors?
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Mr. Fair: I have a saying that I’ve been saying for the past 20 years now, and I’ve passed it on down to my sons: “Never judge a man by his accomplishments. Only judge a man by how he overcomes his adversities,” meaning that you can accomplish a lot in your life, but if you’ve never fallen down, you don’t know how to get up. That’s my goal. That’s what I live by and that’s what I instill in my sons and other young men that I mentor.
Destiny – Pride: Mr. Fair, thank you for being our August 2013 Spotlight. We have enjoyed our conversation with you, and Destiny – Pride has enjoyed working with you over the years on various activities, including our Toys for Tots endeavors. We are delighted that you continue to work with our youth in ways that inspire them to establish high ideals for their lives. We wish for you the best with whatever life path you choose to take now or in your future endeavors. We are sure that you will be successful in whatever it is you decide to do. Again, many, many thanks!
Mr. Fair: I would like to thank Destiny – Pride for making me the Spotlight of August. I have enjoyed working with Destiny – Pride – for them and with them. I also would like to thank Rufus for being one of my mentors later on in life. I enjoyed this. Thank you.
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