In the fifth grade, Tommie Mabry was given a two-day detention center sentence for breaking and entering while standing next to his father in an orange jumpsuit.
He felt defeated and discouraged as his father looked down on him and expressed displeasure that he was continuing his early incarceration legacy.
Prior to being allowed to drive, Mabry had been counted out and entered into the system. But he made a complete 180° turn, graduating from Jackson State University with a doctorate.
Mabry, the sixth kid and youngest, broke the family curse by being the first member of his family to graduate from high school.
My parents are happy and have attended all of my graduations. They proudly keep all of my books in their home.
Hopefully, if God says the same, they will be there at my Ph.D. graduation in December,” Mabry told Because Of Them We Can.
“My mom said she didn’t think I would make it and now [I’m] the only doctor she knows.”
His road to becoming Dr. Mabry wasn’t easy. As a child, ten schools kicked him out before he got to high school.
He said basketball saved him because it gave him hope and exposed him to what was possible.
“I start playing basketball, and Tupac’s lawyer, Chokwe Lumumba; he took me on the road with him and exposed me to AAUBasketball.
I credit AAU for saving my life,” Mabry said. “Going on the road with him, I was able to see other ballplayers from other states that were dreaming big.
They were telling me they wanted to go to Duke and play for North Carolina; I said, wait a minute, y’all dream different. I started to think I could do it.”
His impressive basketball skills garnered the attention of college recruiters from all over the country, but a freak accident with his foot, his senior year of high school changed all of that.
When the doctor asked me what I was now that I didn’t have basketball, I said nothing. Without that I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”
he told BOTWC. “Colleges that were writing to me before revoked my scholarships.”
That life-changing moment caused him to take stock of his life and led him on a spiritual journey to find peace and understanding.
“I got ‘God is good’ tattooed on my neck because that’s the first time I started seeking God.
When I got baptized, I went in on crutches because I’m like everyone I am hanging with is either going to jail or dying, the streets done took them, and I’m still living
But I’m making the same mistakes that I see everyone else do,” he said. “In order to get something you never had, you have to do something you never did and become a person you never been. I had to sacrifice.
I had to sacrifice friendships, to get to another place I had to be different from that attitude, then that same year I met actor Tommy Ford.”
The late actor from the hit television show, Martin, took him under his wing and began mentoring him.
He used his advice to not allow his circumstances to define him, which propelled him to push through his senior year.
When he graduated with a 1.8 and gained acceptance to Missouri State University-West Plains, he was ecstatic.
He’d made it to the big leagues while defying all the teachers and judges who told him he’d be dead or in jail before he reached manhood.
I didn’t know how to write a paragraph until college, and they don’t teach that.
I had a professor tell me I wouldn’t get a degree because I don’t write the way I should, I’m not a scholar.
So I stayed In the writing lab at every college I went to,” Mabry said. “The hard thing wasn’t the neighborhood; that was easy because I’m from it.
It was sitting in a classroom with other scholars and scared for them to call on me to spell something on the board, that was my biggest fear.
I worked on that my whole college career, but my mind was different, my why was different.
He turned his 1.8 high school GPA into an honors bachelor’s degree in education from Tougaloo College, a master’s in child development from Tougaloo College College, and now a doctorate in Urban Higher Education from Jackson State University.
He’s defied every obstacle put in his way thus far and now empowers men in prison and children across the country through teaching and leadership development.
“I’m teaching them how to tie a tie bringing in consultants and exposing them [to what’s possible], and my men are teaching them trades and financial literacy.
Two of my guys just graduated. I got 3 of them accepted to Tougaloo College,” he said.
“That’s what we are supposed to do; we gotta leave them something. We got to put them in place to graduate…that’s how we build.”
We punish our kids for the ignorance we showed them. Our kids lack knowledge and reasoning skills.
Reasoning skills are taking information and applying it; you shouldn’t be learning reasoning skills when they hit that gavel and put you way,” Mabry told BOTWC.
“A lot of our kids are locked up based on the ignorant principals we showed them. Look at where they are at and who’s around them.
Sure there may be doctors and lawyers coming from their neighborhoods, but they don’t ever stay there when they ‘make it.’
Kids learn off of observational learning, not because you told them. They learn from models and what we’re showing them is ignorance.
If you want kids to value life, you gotta give them life.”