Consider these words my flowers.
I recall being at freshman orientation in 2003. In a semi-dilapidated southern city that would eventually become grounds for my personal evolution, I was a long way from the quick-tempered blocks and avenues of Essex County, NJ. I had long dreads, wore size 38 Omavi jeans, a 4x White T and a pair of Trezeta Goretex boots, that I would still rock today if I could find them.
Young and unimpressed with just about everything other than the abundance of beautiful southern women whose asses seemed to be infinitely bigger than my lady friends in the north, I sat in Corbett gymnasium with the rest of my freshman class, bored. Getting lectured by a platoon of old Aggies about what was expected of a member of the North Carolina A&T State University family. On and on they went about how an Aggie was supposed to carry themselves, how an Aggie was supposed to fold his napkin, brush his teeth, whatever. I was ready to be freed so that I could finally scour the yard for my first piece of collegiate sex. But we had one more speaker to go.
He introduced himself as Student Government Association President Terrence Jenkins. He wore a suit, but he didn’t come off like a cornball. Something about him reminded me of myself. Except he was infinitely more refined, calculated and mature. He was poised in delivering a speech to a gymnasium full of pimply-faced teenagers. He was eloquent, but still cool. Intelligent, but confident. He impressed me… And coming from New Jersey, giving someone a compliment is foreign territory. We’re bred and nurtured haters (haters will of course, refute this).
I don’t recall everything in his speech, I do recall him saying that “Aggies always have a passport, because we are always prepared to go places.” But that’s pretty much it.
I just remember looking at him and thinking “I want to be like this guy one day.”
Fast-forward almost 10 years later to New Orleans, LA. It’s NBA All-Star weekend, and I’m face to face with that same man, preparing to share a stage with him for Sprint’s Pre-Game Concert. I’m studying him vigorously. I closely pay attention to his preparation process, how communicative he is with the producers and directors. How particular he is about his stage blocking and verbiage. I was just given a skeleton script of what I was expected to say, he lightly scolded me for needing to refer to it despite only having it in my possession for 15 minutes.
I felt strangely inferior and intimidated by the moment.
I was merely a sidekick for him during the show, and even the word sidekick may be an embellishment. Tasked with introducing some of the smaller acts and engaging with the crowd, I struggled in rehearsal to effectively deliver my words in the short allotted time I was allowed to speak. It’s way more challenging than people realize to recall and deliver a couple of paragraphs in 20 seconds, with an ear piece full of voices chattering. Add in the couple of thousand people who would later fill this room, and I thought I was in over my head.
It was in this moment that I thought about our differences. I began to compare my shortcomings to his moments of glory. He was SGA president, graduated college a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. & landed what (from the outside) appeared to be an awesome job with Nascar. I merely became a class officer, who dropped out of college, had a kid and by the skin of my teeth landed a job at Verizon selling FiOS packages.
He went on to force his way into the faces of execs at BET in multiple cities. Having an unparalled confidence that eventually led him to become the host of 106 & Park… I had an opportunity to become the host of 106 & Park, but conceded on day two that they would never actually pick me, and thus, didn’t give it my best effort and energy.
As I returned to my car service to head back to my hotel in the French Quarter, I began to feel overwhelmed.
From the moment that I embarked on my career as a host/personality, I was instantly compared to Terrence. Having attended the same University, sharing a large amount of mutual friends, and having an equally big forehead, the comparisons never ceased. As a man who prides himself on his individuality, I hated when people drew the parallels. As a working host, there truly is no greater compliment. Terrence has taken the reigns from past hosts like Arsenio, Don Cornelius and Big Tigger and raised the bar to an impossibly high standard. He has laid out the blueprint for transcending the “urban” label that too often gets put upon people in the entertainment industry who are black and can recite a Jay-Z verse or two.
A lot of people call him corny. No other host short of Ryan Seacrest and Nick Cannon can claim his level of success.
Despite never sharing too many words with him, a part of me always sought his validation. I wondered from a distance if he kept up at all with my journey. I wondered what he thought of my technique as I interviewed him along with the other stars of Baggage Claim during a press junket in Los Angeles. I respect the craft, and work tirelessly to be great at it. I want the best of my peers to respect me for that.
And the fact of the matter is, he and I are now peers. I can no longer be the wide-eyed freshman calling him better than me. I have to outwork and be better than him. It’s not even for the sake of my ego, it’s to feed my family…
As I returned to the site of the Sprint Pre-Game Concert, I felt a renewed energy and confidence. The makeshift arena that was put together filled up with thousands of fans on hand to see Kobe Bryant, Aloe Blacc, Mack Wilds, Jason Derulo and more. Terrence walked by and gave me a fist bump before the show began. No words. I watched from backstage as he opened the show. The poise, the radiant smile and the diction that allowed him to transition from BET to E! seamlessly were all on display. And then it was my turn.
I took a deep breath, and squinted my eyes against the glare of the bright spotlights of the arena, tightened my grip on the microphone and began “New Orleans, what’s up?! I’m Rodney Rikai…”
Three hours later and it was over. The lights had dimmed, the space began to empty, and several of the production crew had already cracked open beers in celebration and relief. The producers each walked up to me and congratulated me. Swearing that they needed me back next year. Several people I looked up to in the industry had made their way backstage and dapped me up saying “Good work”.
I walked to the trailer designated for talent. I had stored a bag in a room with a door that was now closed. I knocked as I opened the door. Terrence was standing at a clothes rack preparing for whatever festivities he was set to host next. I nodded to him, grabbed my bag and turned to head out.
“Yo, you got any gum?” He asked me. I actually did, and handed him a piece. “Yo man, good job out there tonight.” He said as he dapped me up. I thanked him, and turned to leave out. I wanted to tell him the story of my freshman year orientation. Express how crazy it was that life comes full circle, and what an honor it was to share a stage with him. But I couldn’t… Somewhere in that moment of silence was either the difference between he and I, or a similarity. I’m not sure I’ll ever know which.
There will never be another Terrence Jenkins. But I’ll be damned if his success hasn’t opened doors for me.
Thank you TJ.