My Rites of Passage

Kwame J. C. McDonald. (Photo courtesy Mitchell Palmer McDonald)

Kwame J. C. McDonald. (Photo courtesy Mitchell Palmer McDonald)

Da’ Kwamsta’ was my Rites of Passage. From the moment we first met.

I was raised by my Aunt/Mother Willie Mae Johnson at 718 West Central and St. Albans. Willa Mae was very Old Skool, born in 1918: Faith and Trust in GOD. Sincere Prayer was number one at 718 West Central. I thought the world was coming to an end when I was in the first grade.

In 1992 I was hired by the Inner City Youth League to create effective programs for this new generation the elders had a difficult time communicating with. It was a challenging time; we went through four EDs (Executive Directors) in less than six months. Meanwhile . . .

About to turn twenty-one in less than three months: two children, round three stacks in debt with Child Support Enforcement Agency. Where are my Rites of Passage?

I’m on a speed of sound . . . Japanese train to financial devastation, not only for myself. Not knowing, I would force my children to eat and digest the unfortunate meal of poverty and want. I was so confused; I couldn’t explain what I was feeling inside of me, this formless matter affecting me daily.

The next day at work, I received a memo stating that Kwame McDonald was hired and would be starting the following Monday. I smiled and said, “The Creator always answers every one of my prayers!” Immediately, Elder Kwame started talking to me about harnessing my anger, channeling it into positive actions, ways I can give back to where I came from: my village.

Da’ Kwamsta’ taught me that I must work on changing my thoughts to learn how to do what pleases the Creator: love myself, love my village, love my community.

Da’ Kwamsta’ taught me how to make money with the gifts the Creator blessed me with. Every day Kwamsta’ would express to me, “It’s all about the children, and if that is not your agenda, then you’re just wasting your time here!”

Da’ Kwamsta’ always told me, “Kemet, you don’t have the type of atmosphere to work for anyone but yourself!” He would explain to me over and over about the loopholes, the codes, to survive as a young Black man. He would express to me in parables that this road that I chose was a very, very lonely road. Self-love was critical to further my faith and trust in the Creator, and to my personal growth and development.

The Wonderful, Tiny, Short Moments Before

It started on a very cold morning. I ­always hit my favorite spot in Saint Paul, the Golden Thyme Coffee Café early in the a.m. to run over my daily schedule: projects that need to be completed, guarded from procrastination. The owner of the café informed me that Kwame was looking for me. At the time my mind and heart were so heavy. It was one of those moments . . . missing my mother so much—just to talk to her . . . for a few ticks. . . .

A couple weeks went by. I was in my regular spot at the window listening to the wind howl against the glass pane like an opera soprano. Seconds later in comes Da’ Kwamsta’. He enters, sits in his chair, looks at me.

I say, “The Kwamsta.’”

He replies, “Everythang is Everythang. Kemet! I been looking for you. You change your number again? I mean . . . What’s up with that, man?”

I said, “I know, Kwamsta’ . . . just been going through it . . . like Whoop-Tee-Whoop . . .” My head’s down as I’m writing on my blank sheet of paper.

“Are you working?” Kwame asks.

“No, sir, just got fired yesterday.”

We both look at each other . . . [Pause] . . . then a hard laughter that I really needed. This is how this small moment in time begins.

Almost every day after that, Da’ Kwamsta’ created some work for me to do, knowing that I needed something. He could see the pain, hurt, heaviness, and darkness, the “I’m about to cock the hammer” look.

Da’ Kwamsta’ would take me to lunch and begin to teach me like I never heard him teach. I would always say, “Kwamsta’, do you mind if I write this down?”

He would reply, “Please do. That’s why I’m buying your lunch, because you listen.”

I laughed—holding back tears at the same time. He would glance through the window with that thousand-yard stare all Black men have when you choose to be on the Front Line. And then he’d begin to teach again. He answered so many questions that plagued me for years—questions only the Creator knew about.

I was asking the Kwamsta’ . . . “Am I really off or crazy like people saying I am? I still don’t fit in anywhere.”

He chuckled and replied, “Kemet, don’t you ever change, the Creator gave you who you are.”

Da’ Kwamsta’ started having me do li’l errands here and there for him, and wow, the teaching was getting more intense. All I would do was record what he was expressing to me.

A couple of weeks after that, the Kwamsta’ started not feeling so well. The weeks before he was called Home, he left me a message that he really needed to speak to me. Understanding the timeline, I called Steve Winfield to see if he could run me to where Da’ Kwamsta’ was at.

I get to his room, saying, “Da’ Kwamsta’.”

He says, “You got it, Kemet.”

I sat down with my blank sheet of paper waiting for his knowledge to hit me like an unexpected uppercut while looking the opposite way. Steve handed Da’ Kwamsta’ the newspaper, and he goes right to the sports page, and says, “Let’s go get something to eat and see what the Gophers . . . ”

I’m sitting like . . . um . . . what? In my mind, I was like what is this all about, what am I to get out of this? Am I being selfish, this is not about me? I wish he would just tell me something important. But it never happened. I had to go to Drill Team practice.

On my birthday, 10-26-2011, I got a call from Steve. I hang up and was like…

On my birthday.

Complete silence.

Kwame really loved me.

He really loved me.

Now who will tell me it’s okay that I got fired? “Just create your own,” when at this very moment, most don’t really care for me. He was the one to work with a very confused, lost child from his village.

Love you, Kwamsta’.

He gave me my upcoming book title: The Many Mistakes I Made on My Way to Heaven.

Da’ Kwamsta’ was/is My Rites of Passage. From the moment we first met.


Kemet Imhotep was conceived in Oklahoma and born in Saint Paul. As a child, Kemet was left under the care of his great uncle and aunt. His aunt, Willie Mae Johnson, who was born on a plantation in Arkansas in 1918, was a strong believer in faith and trust in the Creator. Kemet struggled with the public school system. He was in the class of 1990 at Central High School, and finished at the Area Learning Center located in the Uni-Dale mall. At present he says he is a lost and troubled soul, still finding his way through the quicksand.

One Comments

Leave a Reply