The Turning Point: Notables Talk about Events That Changed Their Lives

Article excerpt

In almost everyone's life there occurs a turning point that leads to either success or failure.

For many it was an encounter with a mentor or an influential figure who opened the door to a new world. For others, it was a victory that brought new confidence. For still others, it was an unexpected defeat that made them face themselves and the truth.

On the following pages, a number of notables-scholars, sports figures, and entertainers-recall the crossroad events that changed their lives.

Dr. Hope Franklin


A clear and significant turning point in my life came during my second year as an undergraduate at Fisk University. I took a course in United States history taught by the White chair of the department, Theodore S. Currier. I had heard him give two lectures in a freshman survey of contemporary civilization. I was quite impressed and wondered if the impression would hold over the course of the entire term.

It not only held, but the excitement of exploring historical problems and witnessing the ebb and flow of the historical process turned me away from an earlier plan to study law to a determination to make the study of history my life's work.

Professor Currier was clearly pleased that I had decided to focus my attention on history. He set up seminars and reading courses to make certain that I would have the foundation to pursue graduate studies at Harvard with complete ease and success. When I graduated from Fisk and had been admitted to Harvard without condition, we rejoiced. But I did not have the financial means to go to Harvard. At that juncture, Professor Currier, who had just turned 33, borrowed $500 and said, "Money will not keep you out of Harvard."

He followed my career at Harvard with great pleasure and satisfaction. He lived to see me become president of the Southern Historical Association, the Organization of the American Historical Association, and Phi Beta Kappa, which he was responsible for bringing to Fisk. My greatest personal satisfaction came from dedicating my book, Reconstruction After The Civil War, to "Theodore S. Currier, Great Teacher and Friend." I could not wish for anyone more than to have a great mentor and faithful friend. My friend inspired in me all the confidence, self-esteem and commitment that I needed to face the future. I salute him now as I did almost 60 years ago.

Mary J. Blige


Like legions of other youngsters, I hung out at the local mall with my buddies. At 17, one of those mall trips changed my life forever.

I was hanging out at the mall in White Plains, N.Y., with friends when I decided to make a karaoke-style recording of myself singing Anita Baker's single, "Caught Up In The Rapture." My mother, Cora Blige, gave the tape to my stepfather, James Dillard, after which it found its way to former Uptown Records' CEO Andre Harrell. In 1990 Harrell brought me into his stable of recording artists that included Jodeci and Al B. Sure! The rest is musical history.

I always wanted to sing, but I never thought in a million years that I would be light where I am, right now. I swear I didn't.

Luther Vandross


An important turning point [in my career] occurred when David Bowie accidentally overheard me singing and liked what he heard. Afterward, he had me record on his album, Young Americans.

Recording on the album was a turning point because it was something I had wanted to do very much. I also got my first chance to leave home and travel. I discovered a lot [about myself and life] during that experience. I discovered a lot about living alone and about independence and entering into young adulthood. It's a time I'll never forget.

What I learned were things no one can learn while living at home .... I learned how to provide for myself and I learned to be my own cheerleader and my own provider and partner.

I can't say that I would do anything differently [if I had it to do all over again] because that period was a very productive, fluid period for me. …