Entering the gates of new territories with a much deeper awareness of my surroundings. And a steady improvement on the quality of my English.
After a whole summer spent in Italy worrying about losing most of my English, I was ready to go back to the place I was slowly starting to consider my second home. I had finished my first year with strong academic results, which allowed me to secure an academic scholarship upon my return to the States. I was also starting to get used to of not having soccer in my daily life. I had played the sport my whole life and I couldn’t imagine an existence without it, but my priorities shifted towards different goals, maybe more mature, and I was starting to like running in circles every day more.
During the summer break I was also putting my head into something that could potentially change my life forever, for the good or bad I couldn’t tell yet, but it became clear that it was impossible for me to stop thinking about it.
Even more, after a long conversation I had towards the end of my freshman year.
At tha time I was constantly “harassed” by two modelling organizations on campus. I already said I never thought of myself as this amazing looking guy, let alone being considered model material. My guess was that they wanted to brag about having the only Italian on campus, which I get, but obviously they weren’t aware of the fact that I wasn’t really the type of guy who used to killing it on the runway.
“You should come to one of our practice,” they would often tell me when they saw me around campus.
“Ehmm… yea, maybe.” Why the hell I would need to go to modelling practice anyway, but god if they were persistent. So in the end gave up. I went to modelling practice, and that decision allowed me to meet someone who not only I became friend with, but today I’m proud to call my brother.
Anyway, one thing at a time. Back to modelling…
We Are 1 Family held its practice in a hallway right above the school cafeteria. During the day it took students from their dormitories to classes. At night it was the stage of the most unique shows I’ve seen in my life.
I always imagined a fashion show as something where ill-looking people walk up and down a runway dressed in something that in most cases it’s hard to call clothes. But the idea of modelling for We Are 1, or at a HBCU in general, deeply differed from that concept. As soon as practice started, I saw men and women together getting into a formation, then some heavy-hitting club music blasted from a portable speakers someone brought in and they all started moving, twisting and twirling, all perfectly coordinated.
I was puzzled. Was I supposed to do that? They must be crazy if they thought I was capable of even thinking about trying to break my neck doing some crazy moves.
Fortunately, they finished their routine without asking me to joining in. But before calling it the day, there was a final thing to do, something I was more familiar with. They formed two parallel lines and turned the hallway in a real runway and in which everyone was showing off their beauty, or talent in turns.
“Come on get in line!” someone said to me. I had managed to escape from the dancing routine, but I had no way to run away from the runway – pun very much intended.
So, I got in line. On the runway, some were just walking up and down, but the most talented ones used the spotlight to turn a simple walk in a dance, or pose, or a mix of both. And it was amazing to watch how effortless it was for them to make it look so easy, so harmonious and powerful. Obviously, I had already decided to go for the simple walk, better not trying to embarrass myself on my first day as a “model.” There was only one thing I noticed I had to do other than walking. Upon reaching halfway of the runway, there was a sudden shoulder move made to avoid bumping into the person coming from the opposite direction. So, after seeing that my turn was approaching, I had one single thought in my mind: “remember the shoulder move. Remember the damn shoulder move, Federico.”
Then here it was, my time to shine. As soon as I was ready to take my first step a chant exploded in the hallway.
“GO RICO! GO RICO! GO RICO!”
I tried my very best to keep my composure and avoid looking at all the people who were staring at me. I even remembered the shoulder move on the way down the runway.
I was pretty much killing it.
I the arrived at the end of the runway, stopped for a few second to showcase my killer look and I started walking back, confident. I was almost at the end of my glorious debut with an ego that boosted over the ceiling, but something abruptly brought me back to the idea that after all I wasn’t cut for it.
The shoulder move. It’s supposed to happen twice. One time going down, another time going back. I did it once, forgot the second, bumped my arm on the guy walking towards me, smiled awkwardly, got back in line, head down. End of a potential great story suddenly turned for the worst.
However, nobody seemed to care about that small accident, as they were all so pumped for having me around them. “You did great!,” someone said “Yea! We we’re so happy that you came today,” another one added.
I felt warm and welcomed. Ok, maybe modelling wasn’t going to be my path in life, but even in a situation where I thought I was never going to put myself into, I found people that made me feel good and didn’t judge me for my mistakes. All they cared about was sharing their passion and get to know me in the process.
After practice, I was invited to join them to grab a night snack from the cafeteria. On our way there one of the guys approached me.
“So how are you liking it here at Lincoln?” he asked me to break the ice. “Man, I’m loving it.” I really did. I was starting to feel the vibe of a HBCU and over time I was becoming closer to its community. Antoine, that was his name, kept on asking me if I found any difference between Italian and African America people. I mean there were, but I couldn’t find any substantial one at that moment. We’re both loud, we carry great love for our families, we both appreciate big gatherings with good food and drinks, we often speak on top of each other, in different ways we like to display our sense of fashion, sometimes we talk badly about ourselves, but we never, ever, let others insult us, because deep inside we truly believe we’re the best in the whole world.
Antoine and I spend a few hours talking about our lives, hopes and dreams. He then asked me a question which defined our relationship from that moment on.
“Have you ever thought about joining a Black fraternity?”
“I actually have,” I quickly replied, knowing well that my response would have caused even more curiosity in him.
“Oh really?! Which one?” he, of course, proceeded to ask. At that time I didn’t know much about being discrete about the whole Greek life. I was an innocent kid who took interest in something so different from my culture and I didn’t see any issue in sharing my thoughts with a stranger.
I answered his question, nonchalantly: “Omega Psi Phi.”
Antoine’s eyes widened, he squared me off and with a smirk on his face he said: “really! What do you even know about them?”
I said what I knew, which were most of the reasons why I was drawn to them. Some of my closest friends on campus were Omegas, I enjoyed participating in their events and I could see myself very well represented in their principles of manhood, perseverance, uplift and, surprisingly enough, even scholarship was becoming an essential part of my persona.
At that time, that knowledge seemed enough to me for joining an organization I appreciated, but Antoine wanted to make sure I was aware of what I was trying to get myself into.
“Do you know all the other stuff?”
“What stuff?” I asked confused.
He laughed loudly, breaking the silence of the night in the dormant campus.
“Oh boy, this is going to be interesting…”