Monday, March 14, 2016

In Darkness There is Light

Robert L Crain passed away this weekend.  To many, he was a brilliant man, an Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins University and then a Professor at Columbia University.  To others, he was less than perfect, as are we all.  To me, he was simply Grandpa Bob.

It took some time for word of this passing to find me.  Families, as it turns out, can be hard.  I've been reminded today - often - that this passing was not sudden.  After eight years of intense care, it was simply the end of a long, painful and unhappy road.  I choose not to be angry about that.  There are lessons to be learned for all of us, but I chose to take the day, with the very helpful and strong support of many around me, to look at his passions.  While he had many, there were two that very much stood out to me on a personal level:  Equality, and College Basketball.

Professor Crain spent a career studying, testifying, and teaching the joys of desegregation in education, a somewhat obscure choice for a Kentucky raised child of the 1930's.  I choose not to bastardize his career on these pages, as my scant study can't speak towards decades of work.  I do feel comfortable saying this:  He was outspoken.  He knew the difference between right and wrong.  He wanted to see us, as a society, do better.  While there are a number of themes to his research, the thread that I choose to pull on is this:  We do better as a society when we interact.  Mix the wealthy with the poor and as a nation we see more success.  Mix cultures and we may see less hate.  It's not easy.  No one is pretending anything.  But it is also there for the taking.  Regardless of what separates us, age, race, education, or just opinion, when we come together, especially in an organized setting, we more often than not move forward.

While I know he was a college basketball fan because in Kentucky it's illegal not to be, I'd like to think that he also enjoyed the game because of the way the game has evolved.  This weekend, on national TV, a melting pot of the inner city, the country, and the immigrant will take the floor when the tournament tips off.  Many writers will take the easy way out and talk about the joke that is the NCAA.  Others will write about the players as exploited labor.  Still more stories will flow once the first player gets suspended due to on or off the court actions.  All of those will be fair to write, and low hanging fruit for those that write about them.  The harder story, but the much, much greater story, is about how kids from 13 different backgrounds came together, bonded, and will very likely live a better life because they had this experience.  College basketball allows kids to cross the railroad tracks, to cross the country and to cross the world.  To some of the players that exposure alone is worth even more than the scholarship and degree.  My grandfather spent a lifetime observing just that.  As his journey comes to an end, that spirit will not.  His legacy will continue in thousands of children.  Because he was outspoken.  And he was right.  And he got to see basketball make us all just a little bit better.

Almost 20 years ago... 


  1. Sorry to hear about your loss. Losing grandparents sucks.

  2. Dan, a well-written and touching tribute. Our condolences.