Booker T shared a moment (and friendly fisticuffs) with Muhammad Ali.
Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Found Me, a newly launched periodical about “Houston and its Inhabitants,” which is co-created, coedited, and co-curated by PaperCity‘s Matthew Ramirez and Houston rapper/DJ Anthony Obi, aka Fat Tony. The magazine focuses on notable, notorious, and well-known Houstonians — as well as those who aren’t well-known. As long as there is a story to tell, Found Me tells the story, in the own words of the magazine’s subjects.
It focuses solely on the experiences, art, life stories, and creativity of people of color in Houston, considered the most diverse city in the United States. In this excerpt, WWE Hall of Famer Booker T, native of Houston’s historic Third Ward neighborhood, shares his experiences growing up as a young black wrestler in the South, and reveals how Houston shaped his professional life. Found Me is available in limited quantities exclusively at Wired Up – Modern Conveniences, 2608 Dunlavy.
Now to Booker T in his own words…
Jack Yates was an experience, man. Coming from Hartman Junior High School, there was just something about going to Yates High School for a young person back in that era. You know, the football team was killing everybody back then! Yates was right next to TSU, and that inspired me to actually make it there one day… Which I didn’t, but I loved being in Third Ward and seeing how the people lived and how the community works.
Man, just walking down some of those streets… I wasn’t supposed to go actually to Yates but I used an address just because I wanted to be a part of the school so badly. I got a chance to experience so much.
I wanted to be a drum major because I was one in middle school at Hartman and when I got to Jack Yates they had some of the most awesome drum majors in the country. It would’ve taken years for me to actually get on the squad, so that didn’t work out, but it was an awesome time. I played the trombone and baritone as well as the tuba. Music was my way out.
A man by the name of Mr. Gavis at Hartman was the one that got me into being in the band, it literally was the thing curbing me from the streets and giving me some focus. It gave me an identity. It gave me purpose. It was something that I loved to do and I was good at it. It was awesome to have someone in my life driving me towards my passions.
Wrestling wasn’t something I wanted to do at all when I first started. It was something my brother wanted to do, it was his passion for many, many years growing up. My brother finally got a chance to do it when a guy opened a wrestling school and he asked me if I wanted to try it. I was home, I had just gotten out of prison and I was trying to find something. When I got in the wrestling ring it felt like déjà vu. It felt like a place I’ve been to my whole life. It was natural for me, it was easy for me. It didn’t take a lot of practice for me. I never understood why because I had never played sports. It was definitely my calling. I was 25 years old. I’m 51 years old today.
I wrestled with my brother as the duo Harlem Heat. In the south, it was pretty easy to get audiences riled up when we walked out with our white female manager Sherri Martel. The fans have always been a huge part of what I’ve done in the ring for over 20 years. They’ve been a huge part of going out there and being a part of the Shakespearian drama of wrestling, either fueling me to go out and make them boo me, or they’re cheering for me to be successful and become a champion. I’ve always had a one-on-one relationship with my audience.
I tried to set a blueprint and set a precedent for what it would take for a black wrestler to be successful, but it’s not as easy as one would think. I was wondering why don’t we have more black wrestlers that have come along and taken my place and I had a guy tell me, “There’s only one Muhammad Ali. There’s only going to be one Booker T to break that mold. It may take awhile.” I honestly never truly looked at it like that but another one of my friends told me, “Booker T set the bar so high. It’s really hard for us guys coming up behind him!”
But I never really thought about what I was doing along the way, I just knew I wanted to leave a legacy. I wanted my name to ring just as loud as Ric Flair, Harley Race, Nick Bockwinkel, and all the great champions of the past.
It’s going to be a new era in 2020. I’m running for the mayor of the city of Houston. My life has always been one that I lead in seasons. I never wanted to get stuck in one moment in time in my life. I’ve always said I was going to be the mayor one day. It’s my passion. My love and loyalty to the city, giving back to young people, giving them some hope and someone to look up to. I’m someone that’s walked in the same shoes a lot of them are walking in right now, coming from poverty and hoping to make it to greater heights.
I always used to say when you’re poor and you’re a kid you don’t really miss what you never had but that’s not true. You really do miss and want more. People wouldn’t be doing crimes for profit if they didn’t want more out of life. Some people like myself are willing to work for it. I worked really hard and now I want to show young people in Houston that anything is possible, but you definitely got to go out there and work your butt off.
You never know what you’re good at until you try. If you got a clean cut, a white coat, and a stethoscope on and just happen to walk through a hospital lobby, someone might ask you for some help, even though you’re actually just going to a costume party next door. If you look the part and act the part, a lot of times people will believe you can play that part, but you got to believe it yourself first.
Many years ago when I first entered the business I had a guy tell me, “Man, you got a lot of talent but you’re going to come up against a lot of obstacles. You got to figure a way around them, over them, under them, and sometimes you just got to go straight through them.” You can never compromise your integrity in life. That’s just not something you can do and get ahead.
My mother taught me saying please, thank you, sir, and ma’am doesn’t cost you anything and can take you far. When I came out of prison and my brother got me a job he told me, “No matter what that job is, you do it to the best of your ability until the next job comes along. You do not stop preparing.” Preparation is the only luck that you’re ever going to have in this life.
I always thought I could be mayor one day although I didn’t know how, but I’ve always been the type of person that said, “I’m not going to look back at my life and wonder, what if.” Forget that! I have enough courage. Do I think I can change everything?
No, that’s impossible. But I really do think I can make things better. Hopefully, the city of Houston will give me that opportunity.