In the fall of 2017, I made a conscious decision to change my lifestyle and started to workout at Camp Transformation – La Mirada, and at the time, I lost over 100 pounds (still a journey). I started competing in Spartan Races, and I was a workout machine (I am getting back to this, more thoughts in a future thought).

However, If Kamilo Ali Curry hadn’t found me, I probably wouldn’t be here writing this Unapologetic Leadership Thought: The Rise of the Unapologetic Leader or continuing to serve as the President/CEO of Compton College.

That day, June 3, 2020, was like any other (in the middle of a global pandemic, anyhow). I worked from home and actually had one of our Equity Avengers #EquityChat. I remember sitting in the living room of my house taking pictures with Kamilo as he was messing around with filters. However, as I reflected on that day, it was strange – my energy wasn’t what it normally was, so I called it an early day (6:00 p.m. is early for me). I was extremely tired and just wanted to do nothing. At that moment, I figured I must’ve been coming down with something.

At home, I went to the bathroom and told Kamilo I would be right back. Luckily, which I will share later, I left the bathroom door open. I started to feel lightheaded (but we all do sometimes, right?). I couldn’t have possibly known I was staring at death around the corner.

This was the moment that catalyzed my racial equity journey.

A pulmonary embolism, for those who don’t know, is when a blood clot, usually from somewhere else in the body, travels into your lungs and blocks or slows blood into and out of your artery. The 30-day mortality estimates vary for pulmonary embolism, depending on your source, but it is roughly 30% higher for Black patients than it is for White patients (Ibrahim, et al, 2006).

It’s interesting how we notice things because we recognize them to be out of the ordinary. Kamilo was still in the living room and when I didn’t come back right away, he knew something was up. He called for me, and I didn’t respond. That’s when he came running to find me, unconscious on the bathroom floor. This kid picked up his daddy, as I got up fighting for air. I remember thinking I was a boxer in a fight for my life. You know, swinging my arms, and trying to catch my breath.

At just ten years old, Kamilo Ali Curry knew just what to do. He called his mom and my brother-in-law, who then called 911, and Kamilo stayed with me in my office as I was fighting for my life. I didn’t want to die in front of my son. When I knew the paramedics were on the way, I knew I would make it through. I didn’t know what a pulmonary embolism was until after the body scan at the hospital. I was one of the lucky ones.

I spent over a week in the hospital and actually had to change hospitals. Think about how many individuals like me, people of color that don’t have access to medical services in their community or who do not have medical insurance. That is why I am serious about building a 24-hour urgent care facility on the Compton College campus in partnership with St. John’s Community Health.

Most people don’t know that I had my second Pulmonary Embolism on July 1, 2020, this was due to my body rejecting the medication first prescribed and I was in the hospital for several (I mean several days). While in the hospital, I was still working, meeting with the K-12 superintendent, teaching doctoral students, sending work emails and taking calls. I just didn’t tell many people that I was back in the hospital. Before my pulmonary embolism and during this experience, no matter what I was working and trying to do as much as I could to support student success.

At the hospital, everything that I had ever loved and worked for came into view, not least of which, including my son and hero, Kamilo Ali. Folks like me who were lucky enough to escape death share their stories of how they changed, how life shifted from one thing, into something different altogether.

I used to tell people in college and the years after college that I would work until I am dead, by going all in for student success and pushing to change the communities. I have finally realized that family and friends are more important than this work and the time you spend with them is critical because tomorrow is never promised.

I saw death and still have nightmares about June 3, 2020, and I think how my life was almost over. But at the same time, I know this experience was the Rise of the Unapologetic Leader. Because of this experience, I have doubled down on innovation, I have been unapologetic and stepping into old and new spaces as my authentic self. I am no longer worried if people like me or if they support my ideas. I am no longer worried about saying we can focus on Black and student males of color, and worried about what people will say. I am no longer worried if I get another vote of no confidence (I already have two – the second one came less than a year and a half after my pulmonary embolism). My number one objective or priority is to make sure our students are receiving a quality education and we support them throughout their educational journey. The support could be addressing their basic needs, financial support, making them feel like they belong and clearing the barriers so they can succeed at Compton College.

In California, I want to continue leading the Black Student Success Week, which is held the last week of April each year, and support the Community College League of California CEO Affordability, Food & Housing Access Taskforce, which is addressing student basic needs statewide.

Nationally, I want to lead efforts to support Black Learner Excellence through Leveraging Explicit Value for Every Black Learner, Unapologetically, support community college presidents addressing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility efforts on their campuses, and encourage students through college presidents to be involved in civic engagement.

It has taken me years to share this story, and I’m not sure I’d be the Unapologetic Leader I am today without this experience. I know that if this hadn’t happened to me, I wouldn’t be leading this way, having the opportunity to share my thoughts with an audience of educational leaders, or receiving the Diverse Issues Magazine Equity Champion Award in early April.

No matter your accomplishments or what you have done for students, you will be criticized or told you aren’t good enough. It used to bother me, but it no longer does – I just stay unapologetically me – focused on students, and you should too.


Ibrahim, S. A., Stone, R. A., Obrosky, D. S., Sartorius, J., Fine, M. J., & Aujesky, D. (2006). Racial differences in 30-day mortality for pulmonary embolism. American journal of public health, 96(12), 2161–2164.