Luard Scholar 1987 - 1988
Morehouse College - - London School of Economics
The Road to the Luard Fellowship
by Demetriouse L. Russell, Luard Fellow 1987-88, Morehouse College '88
From an early age I knew that I wanted to see the world and be anywhere other than my immediate surroundings. I was one of eight siblings born to my mother, Gloria, who struggled to do her best to keep us fed and safe. Playing basketball became my refuge and savior from a neighborhood not known for producing positive outcomes. I, however, wanted better for my family and myself. I was born in Chicago's Cabrini Green neighborhood, where my mother grew up as one of 16 siblings. When I was two, my mother stole away in the middle of the night, taking me and my older sister, Lollie, on a Greyhound bus bound for a better life - to Boston, MA. Up until the age of 9, we lived in Fidelis Way, Brighton, MA - an innter-city neighborhood where I made lots of friends in large part due to my skills hones on the outdoor tar basketball courts with no hanging nets. At the age of 9, I was shot in the head with a beebee gun while playing outside after school, (by a person who will forever remain unknown), my mother decided that it was time to get us out of Fidelis Way. We needed to get out - and get out of there fast -by any means necessary. She hadn't moved us to Boston to have to confront the same challenges and threats that we faced on a daily basis living in Cabrini Green.
My mother, a deeply spiritual person, faithfully brought us to the Kingdom Hall in Newton, MA -every Sunday! Newton was a beautiful, safe, affluent suburb of Boston I never thought that we could afford to live in a place like Newton until the day we received "good news" at the Kingdom Hall. In 1974 the Massachusetts Legislature passed a law requiring suburban communities to allocate ten percent of their housing stock for affordable housing. Newton was the first suburban community to adopt the new law. This was our chance to move away from the violence, danger and lack of anything positive or, as my mother would say, "this was a sign that God had sent us a life-raft." My mother (with the support of the congregation from the Kingdom Hall) made it happen. We're moving to Newton and all I could think of was that the song from the TV show, The Jefferson's "We movin' on up to the Eastside to a deluxe apartment in the sky, oh we movin' on up..." To my surprise, I felt trepidation about moving and living in unfamiliar surroundings. Over night, we moved from a "concrete jungle" - the only world that I had ever known - to green grass, trees, and the opportunity to play outside without danger. Again, my love for sports and basketball, in particular, helped me make new friends fast. As a fourth grader at Beethoven Elementary School (renamed Zervas Elementary), I picked up a picture book that had a photo of the Eiffel Tower and I thought, "I want to go to the Eiffel Tower, heck, I want to see the world."
Growing up in Newton, I quickly adopted a new value system. I went to school, got good grades, stayed out of trouble, played sports and made lots of friends. I also got a paper route and started going door-to-door asking if people needed their leaves raked. I was forced to become fiercely independent at an early age. By the age of 11, I was making enough money to support my food and clothing needs, especially for my basketball sneakers. After finishing elementary school, I attended Weekes Junior High School, then Newton South High School and, during those years from 1974-84, I became an accomplished student-athelete who was well regarded by my peer, teachers, and community leaders.
The idea of attending college was foreign to me, but my teachers and especially my high school basketball coach, Joe Killilea forged the idea in my head of attending college. Coach Killelea taught me mental toughness and understood the value of a college education. He admonished me, "You're not going to be able to spank a basketball for the rest of your life; you need to study and focus on getting an education if you want to make something of yourself one day." I became the first person in my family to graduate from high school. I decided to attend Middlebury College with great enthusiasm with the opportunity to play basketball. While attending Middlebury, I noticed that many students studied abroad in their junior year. I figured, "Why not me...I'll study abroad, too - I've always wanted to see the world." Well, things don't always go as planned. I ended up transferring from Middlebury College to Morehouse College after my freshman year. Middlebury was a fantastic school, particularly for liberal arts majors, but I knew in my heart that, for me, it was not going to be the proverbial "best four years of my life." With the change in colleges, I abandoned the notion of studying abroad and fulfilling my desire to see the world.
Morehouse College requires that students attend Vesper Service during the week. Speakers from all around the world would come and "preach" to us on whatever was on their minds. I like Vesper Service, but found ways to get around it. My mouther would always say to me, "You got to show up in life because if you don't you'll miss the blessing that God has in store for you." Well I'm grateful for that advice because the day I attended Vesper Service was the day an announcement was made about the Luard Fellowship sponsored by the English-Speakiing Union. I recall hearing that it was an all-expense paid scholarship that would enable the student to study in Great Britain at a univeristy of the student's choice. I thought, "Are you kidding me, here's my chance to study abroad and see the world." Then I heard that the Luard was only open to two students and the students would be chosen from 47 UNCF member colleges and universities. My excitement deflated like a basketball with a hole in it. "How can I win something like that, the competition must be fierce?" I pondered, "I'm sure there's going to be plenty of talented people, far more talented than I, applying" and thought " Who wouldn't want to study abroad on a scholarship...?" I heard my mother's voice telling me, "Son, if you want something bad enough, y ou have to get out there and give it your best shot and then leave it in God's hands." So I mustered up the courage and fortitude, go the application, complete it and set it to the Luard Scholarship Committee. I went back to the business of being a student and forgot about it and my dreams of seeing the world. Then one day I went to my mail box and there was this envelope from the English-Speaking Union. I thought, "It's kind of thick; if it was a rejection letter, why couldn't they just send a one-pager." I tucked myself away in the corner of the mail room. I couldn't wait to get to my dorm room to open it. I took a deep breath, said a short prayer - "God, please let this be good news, I promise to write to my mother more, be a better person - AMEN." I opened the envelope and there it was - "Dear Demetriouse, you have been selected as a Finalist..." - it was promising news. I couldn't believe it; it was a letter informing me that I had been selected as a finalist with an invitation for a final interview in New York City. I tripped over the steps dashing out of the mailroom gushing with excitement. I rushed to tell my roommate, Ket Jackson, and anyone else within ear-shot that I had been selected. "OK, now I have to make it happen!"
New York City was big, intimidating and alive. I arrived at the YMCA, got my room, played some basketball and prepared myself for the interview. I showed up the next day for my interview in a blue pin-striped suit that I had bought at a second-hand clothing store for 10 cents. The pants were a little short but the jacket was a good fit. I remember sitting ouside of the room where the interviews were being held, sitting and chatting with the other candidates, checking out their faces as the exited interviews, trying to play it cool I remembered thinking, "My god, what a talented group of people from the likes of Spelman, Hampton, Howard." I steeled my nerves and thought of Coach Killilea teaching me how to be calm under pressure. He put our team through drills that the Navy Seals would envy. Now it was my turn to be interviewed; I figured that I had nothing to lose - it was quite an honor just to be chosen as a finalist. I walked into my interview feeling like I was wearing a $1,000 Brooks Brothers suit. I was relaxed and the Luard Scholarship Committee was warm and inviting - "Hello, Demetriouse...we're delighted to meet you and we're happy that you are here, welcome." After completing the interview I thought that I given it my best shot, now it was in the hands of God.
All of the finalists were invited to a dinner at the home of a Luard Scholarship Committee member. I was blown away by the home, the elegant furnishings, the elevator leading in the house - I felt like it was a museum. The meal was the tastiest and fanciest meal that I had every had. After we had dinner it was time to announce the winners. I was holding my breath as we were told and there would be two this year. At that precise moment I sensed all of the oxygen in the room being sucked into our collective lungs. The first name was announced, "Cathy Hampton from Spelman College," and our second winner is "Demetriouse Russell." I couldn't believe it. I don't even remember exhaling. I felt like I was floating. My childhood desire to see the world would finally be fulfilled. I was astonished and stunned. I was overwhelmed by the moment. Everyone was congratulatory and asking, "Where are you going to study, Oxford, Cambridge?" I responded by saying, "I have no idea at this point, I'm still trying to get over the shock that I have just won the Luard Scholarship."
After much thoughtful deliberation, I decided to attend the London School of Economics where I studied International History, was captain of the LSE National British Universities and Colleges Basketball Championship team, traveled throughout Europe and set foot on the African continent and kissed the ground, fell in love with Betty Carter and Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club, joined a few clubs, made lasting friendships with other students from around the world, developed a wonderful relationship with Mrs. Yvonne Theobald who taught me about British culture and how to use silverware at our monthly lunches. But, most of all, through the Luard Scholarship and the generosity of the English-Speaking Union, I was able to fulfill a childhood desire to see the world which has led me to try and give it all back to those who look at a picture book and dream. Thank you!
Demetriouse Russell is a Director, Corporate Relations & Market Development for Harvard Business School Executive Education. He lives in Boston, MA. He majored in History at Morehouse College, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. He was a Luard Fellow from 1987-88, attending the London School of Economics (LSE). He graduated from Harvard Business School, class of 1998 and, after 20 years in the financial services industry, has returned to his alma mater in his current capacity. He has been active in numerous community service activities and has received various awards and recognition including being selected as an Olympic Torch Bearer in 1998. He is Life Member of the Morehouse College Alumni Association and a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated. He is also a member of the American Friends & Alumni Association of the LSE and a member of the British American Business Exchange, a two week study -tour sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council and Boston Center for Community and Justice.