RBYZ: Straight Outta Deep South (#002)

Years later at a very dark and difficult time in my career and life, I happened to find the photograph. I blew it up and put the caption on it to always remind myself what real hardship was.

Born to a working-class African American family of five children in the segregated South, got drafted to Vietnam leaving his newlywed wife behind and handing in his fate to the unknown…

My guest today is Mr. Jess Womack, former Los Angeles Unified School District’s inspector general, who defied Rock Bottom and rose to the top.

What you’ll hear:

  • What was it like to be born in the ’40s Alabama?
  • How did he deal with race in the segregated South as a kid?
  • How books changed his life.
  • What did he learn from his White teachers when the family moved to the North?
  • What impact did Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech have on him?
  • What did his two-year Peace Corps sojourn in Kenya teach him?
  • How did he keep having faith as he got drafted to Vietnam?
  • How did he deal with self-doubt as a young lawyer?

Links from the episode:

To the rest of us, Jess seemed to start from the Rock Bottom:
Born to a working-class African American family of five children in the segregated South, got drafted to Vietnam leaving his newlywed wife behind and handing in his fate to the unknown…

And yet, decades later, he is a revered lawyer who not only served his country, but also served as the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Inspector General, twice, building hundreds of schools for kids, lots of whom first-generation immigrants.

Jess Womack
Jess in Vietnam, 1970

Note from Jess:

This photograph was taken somewhere on a muddy hill in Vietnam where we stayed for about 3-4 weeks, which was a typical deployment. The contact we experienced there was atypical and costly. We were glad to leave. As I was rounding up the last of our guys, one said, “Hey Sergeant Womack, turn around!” It was that moment he caught. 

The caption — Perspective!  Years later at a very dark and difficult time in my career and life, I happened to find the photograph. I blew it up and put the caption on it to always remind myself what real hardship was.

Give it up to Mr. Jess Womack, my dear friend and mentor.

And one more thing: Happy Birthday, Jess!

 

Listen and subscribe to Rock Bottom with YZ:
A weekly podcast for and about anyone and everyone who has spiraled downward and doesn’t know which end is up.

Listen to Rock Bottom with YZ on RadioPublic

 

Yours truly,
YZ

PS. Click here to see ways to help #RBYZ to grow.

Author: Rock Bottom with YZ

YZ is a Shanghai-born LA-trained bilingual storyteller in various spheres.

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