Wednesday, May 23, 2012


     Well, Bruins, God works in mysterious ways.  On Wednesday of last week, I started a virtual inspirational SHOUT (Shine, Have Hope, Overcome, Use God's Power, and Trust God) on my blog, not knowing that instead of inspiring others, I would be preparing myself for the news I would receive on Friday about John Morgan Caldwell, Jr.  When the phone rang, I was working on Saturday’s blog and up to the U, “Using God's Power.”  But before I could put the words on the page, I ended up on my knees weeping because my buddy had passed. Once I was able to pull myself up, I wondered, “How could I possibly write about “Using God’s Power” when I felt so weak.

     Within moments, I was reliving the last six months with John.  In late October or early November, I received a phone call from my friend Lori, saying that John was refusing dialysis and that he was tired of fighting for his life.  She was at Cedars with him, and I asked her to put him on the phone. She did, and because I was driving on the freeway and there was no time to mess around, I told him with a clear, firm voice, “You are the anointed one; you have so much to give to this world. God needs you.  We need you.  We all love you.  I know you’re tired, but rest, and let’s get on with it.  I’ll be there in a little bit.” He didn’t respond, and I hung up and made plans to get to Cedars as soon as possible.  I’m told he put everyone out the room when we hung up.  When I finally arrived at Cedars later that evening, I wasn’t surprised that his room and the hallway surrounding it were full of people. 

     Still, I darn near climbed in his bed for a hug, as he whispered, “Life ain’t been no bruin walk, Meme.”    I whispered back, “I know, John.  It’s been tough on many of us, especially during the great recession.”  I didn’t know what to say to give John Hope, but God led me to talk about Mom, a Ph.D. educator, and former Superintendent of Compton Unified school district.  John was always proud of her and that she was my Mom.  As many of you reading this know, he loved high achievers, and my mother had overcome incredible health challenges.  So I said, “32 years she battled cancer, John.  You must keep up the fight. I’m here today and made it to UCLA because she did not give up:” Both breast removed, parts of her thyroid removed, countless rounds and years of chemotherapy, and radiation scorching her body, yet she never gave up.  He listened and didn’t argue with me that night.  I knew he understood that he had to fight for life.

     John was one of the first people I met when my Mom dropped me off at Rieber Hall in the summer of 1977.  He and my roommate fell madly in love and were inseparable, and so we spent lots of time together that summer.  John was the S in SHOUT! His light was bright. His smile, his stories, his pure joy of life all beamed with brightness and sunshine.  It seemed we both believed in fairy tells and happy endings.  He had the girl, was the smartest dude in the dorm, and everyone loved him. He was Mr. L.A., sophisticated and witty.  Unfortunately, my roommate left UCLA early and we lost contact with her, which meant I became the official historian of "John’s love."   For the next four years, he would call on me often to explain to his buddies about his pure romantic side.  So although I admired his wit, was in awe of his intelligence, galvanized by his commitment to social causes and community service (he had me in the middle of Westwood and Wilshire protesting Apartheid) The John I knew was all about love! 

     And that’s all we talked about when I visited him over a dozen times between October, 2011 and May, 2012.  I would politely excuse myself when he started “holding court” in his hospital room, showing off his wit and intelligence, because he and I knew that, just like a Barry White song, it was only about LOVE.  I would give him a look and he would understand, I believe, why I had to leave the room. I had fallen in love also in Rieber Hall with my college sweetheart:  A UCLA basketball player, who was good with John because John loved basketball.  We’ve been together for 35 years and have three adult age sons.  When John and I were alone, he wanted to know all about my life and whether I was happy.  I explained that I was, that having a family and being in love were all I needed.  I live a simple life.  As a hobby, my husband cooks delicious food for me every night.  So while everyone was going to law school, I was happily nursing babies. “I knew then, John, that life was about love. ” I whispered, and he responded, simply, with a smile.  

     There were so many attorneys and Judges streaming through, I begin to fear that my “John in love” historian skills were not needed, but then she came:  Ms. Laquita Hamilton, the woman he fell in love with while in law school at the University of Texas.   And, in a flash, my job as John’s love historian was restored.  While I was around the two of them, he called after her like a baby boy.  And grinned at me as if to say, “I still know how to love, Meme.” He asked me on a couple of occasions, “What I thought about his love for Laquita.”  After being in her presence a few times, I was able to offer an opinion:  “She’s the one, John. Go for it,” I encouraged.  “With love, you can conquer anything.” He wanted to hear more:

A picture I snapped as the Love Historian of John and Laquita at BeverlyHills Rehab

     As his love historian, I had done my investigation and was ready to give him additional facts: She’s pretty, smart, and got straight As in undergrad.  She was admitted to Harvard Law the same time as Barack Obama and a mutual friend tried to get her to go out with him. She wouldn’t because he was not her type. She chose the University of Texas Law School over Harvard because she received a full scholarship. Of course that is where she met John. He was smitten with her when he first met her and she soon decided he was her type and they were inseparable until John returned to California.

     “She’s down to earth and loves you, unconditionally,” I rattled off.  He was impressed with my investigation.  “She and I have a special connection, just like me and Annette, my freshman roommate,” I added for backup.  By then, Laquita and I were texting each other like crazy.  “She can text an entire manuscript, can’t she” he chuckled.  He was back at Cedars and had decided that he had more love to give and receive.  I gave him a book, “The Treasures of a Transformed Life.”  I told him God is about to use you, so…you need to get close to him

     Around the Thanksgiving holiday, I went to the rehab center in Beverly Hills after talking with Laquitta.  She had told me that he’d had a rough day and so I decided I would go and just have fun and dance.  So we had his buddy Ike switch on the boom box, some oldies but goodies, and I danced and danced until I had worked up a sweat and John had had enough and told us to turn the music down.   He also watched me dance for my 40th birthday.  I remember him content, sitting quietly, and watching us dance; Lori, the friend who called initially, and I are born on the same day and so we had a joint 40th birthday.   The John I will always remember was loving and grooving with life.  Always ready to serve.  But, more importantly, always ready to give love, receive love, and loved watching others dance through life.

     Laquita stayed by his side, caring for him at his home, although she lived in Texas, and had to go back and forth a few times to handle her family responsibilities there. I went with him to his first dialysis treatment, and we talked about how he was about to share more with the world.  We talked about his writing a book and getting on the speaking circuit.  While recuperating and getting stronger, He continued to ponder how he would give to the world and the Los Angeles community when he became stronger. He’d taught Laquitta how to cook and she was there preparing his favorite meals and doing whatever she could to make him happy.  The three of us laughed lots during my visits because he was in love and feeling hopeful about life.  Unfortunately, we know how this story ends.

     After I received the call on Friday, Laquita and I talked and she shared that in his last days, John was thinking seriously about a lay ministry, a way that he could help others with His unique wit, intelligence, street wisdom, and new-found spiritual growth.  She was encouraging him to do something that would use his natural ability to connect with people.  I’m not sure if he ever read the Treasures of A transformed Life, by United Methodist Minister John Ed Mathison.  I can only pray that he did.   She recalled that he used a catchphrase when referring to himself.   He said he had lead "An Essentially Moral Life" and he wanted to encourage the community he believed he was born to serve to do the same. And we all know John was a highly moral person and good to his core. I believe his final chapter ended on a positive note.

     We are all now connected through John, and will come together on Friday to celebrate his life.  When we leave, let's continue John's legacy and ask ourselves, “What would John do?”  Who would he serve? And, more importantly, who would he have us love?”  He loved his buddies, that I know for sure:  Jimmy, Ike, Bobby, James, and, Mandla, and they loved him back.  I’m sure they’re many more.  He loved his Mom and Dad with all his heart.  When I arrived at Cedars, he was loving on his sisters, Cherry and Jennifer, whom I hadn’t seen in decades. So he re-introduced me to them, proudly, “These are my sisters,” he said with pure love in his voice and eyes. I could feel that he was proud of their beauty.  He was grateful for his secretary, Cynthia.  And he finally got to experience a loving relationship with the woman he had talked about for 25 years, Laquita. If you saw the way he smiled at her, you knew his life was complete. They were lovely together and spoke or spent almost every day together since she arrived at Cedars. Yes, we know how this love story ends, but I know he was truly happy and at peace at the end.

     Now we’re all connected through John’s love. So I SHOUTED on this past Sunday like I had planned to do when I started the virtual SHOUT on Wednesday. I found the verse that showed me how God’s power works when you’re on your knees, feeling powerless:

            "But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, 
             for my power is made perfect in weakness. ” 
            Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about 
             my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest 
             on me."

           2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)But he said to me,

     On Sunday, I would have been up to the T in SHOUT, and had planned to do a fiery blog post about Taking Charge of one’s life, filled with lots of positive affirmations that we’ve all heard before.  But, instead, I SHOUTED for John. I went to an exciting church in North Hollywood, and the preacher, Pastor Toure Roberts, gave a prophetic and anointed sermon about living a life on purpose, the only way to live, he said.  As I SHOUTED God assured me that John was sitting on God’s right side.  He lived on purpose, indeed:  Helping others, serving others, mentoring others, and defending his clients.   He took it to another level before he left us by just contemplating a Lay Person’s ministry.  As for he and I, we were back at Reiber.  He was in love, and I was there recording it all, in case he needed to explain his romantic side to his buddies.    

      The T of SHOUT came:  Trusting that all is well with John Morgan Caldwell, Jr. He’s in heaven, and we’re all now connected by his love and asking, “What would John Do?  Who would he serve and who would he love?”

              "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean  
               not on your own understanding; in all your
               ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct
               your paths." 
               Proverbs 3:5-6

John’s SHOUT!

Shine (Always as a successful attorney)
Have Hope (Always mentoring and inspiring others)
Overcome (There wasn’t a problem that he didn’t think could be solved with a march or protest)
Use God’s Power (Considering a Lay Person’s Ministry, Wow)
Trusting God (All is well with John Morgan Caldwell, for he loved and served.  Let’s celebrate Friday)

His family has advised that in lieu of flowers, donations should be made to:
UCLA Black Alumni Association, P.O, Box 83422 Los Angeles, CA 90083
Memo line: Freshman Summer Program -- AAP


  1. Meme, I found this post on your Facebook thread. I reread this blog a couple of times with tears streaming down my face. I didn't know John. I saw him occasionally on campus. His carefree smile stood out to me. But the many, many heartfelt Facebook tributes speak volumes. And to read your post I now understand why his heart and mind captivated those in his life. Gone too soon, yes, but he won't be forgotten.

  2. Laurie, it's so sweet that you were touched by the post. I write from my heart so...comments like yours make it all worth it. You said it perfectly, "Gone too soon, yes, but he won't be forgotten." Thanks so much for taking the time to share. You made my day:).

  3. As someone who grew up with John and his sisters, and knew him for over 40 years, I am deeply touched by this post. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you, Omowale. Coming from someone who grew up with him and his sisters, your comment means the world to me.