Welcome to Name Great! Many of my blog posts revolve around my life; and I do my best to shy away from the spotlight and deflect attention, whenever possible. Name Great is my opportunity to shine that light on individuals who are making it happen. Extraordinary people, like you, are achieving at the highest level while overcoming adversities. In short, other people’s stories are better because I am boring.
My goal with Name Great is two part: to share journeys and to inspire change with the narratives of people who have overcome challenges. Hearing how someone else circumvents pitfalls goes a long way in your personal development; would you agree?
I had the distinct privilege of interviewing an American Hero, Kwame Presley (soon to be known as DaGreat). Keep reading to see what I mean. Kwame is a Veteran, Saginaw-born, Georgia-raised and most important, my cousin. Kwame has a great name and great story.
Kwame Presley (KP): I’m more of a hands-on type of person, or and in-class learner. If they offered me a computer, I wouldn’t learn anything from that.
Shell Brummell (SB): I guess that was the official start of the interview.
Where did you grow up?
KP: I grew up in Saginaw, but my mom found out who her real dad is, so we end up moving to Georgia. She felt it would be better for us so I wouldn’t end up locked up or end up dead. It was definitely the best move, so I now I stay in Douglassville, and I love it. I don’t have to carry protection with me everywhere I go. I have it in the car with me, but I never had to use it. There’s not trouble here unless you’re trying to find trouble.
SB: So you were born in Saginaw? How long did you live there?
KP: We moved to Georgia in the 8th grade, so I was about 14 years old.
SB: What was your experience like growing up in Saginaw?
KP: I wasn’t all the way stay in the streets or violence. My mom’s side was kind of into that. The only reason I was over there because I didn’t have a brother until my stepdad came into my life. He had sons, and we became cool. But, my cousins on my mom’s side were my brothers.
John helped me out a little bit, he didn’t introduce me to the street life, but just stuff that was good to know so that I wouldn’t be lost in the world. I didn’t take that street life. I had to make something better life for myself.
SB: What’s your relationship like with your biological father?
KP: My dad was always working. He was always in the studio. He was very knowledgeable about life. My mother has a big heart. You can see it from down the street. She did a lot for me.
SB: Did your parents breaking up affect you negatively?
KP: Nah, not really. Like I said, John came in my life, and he earned my respect. He dealt well with my mom, my twin sisters and me. Plus, he had kids of his own. But, he still showed us love. He showed me a lot about making relationships work.
SB: Is John from Saginaw? I don’t think I ever met him?
KP: Nah, I don’t think you ever did. He wasn’t able to come to the graduation. He’s from the country part of Saginaw, BV (Buena Vista).
SB: Not the country part of Saginaw? (Laughs)
KP: He calls himself Country Boy.
SB: I grew up in BV as well. It’s like the cornfield meets the city. I can see why somebody would consider it country.
KP: How many siblings do you have? The twin sisters and I have a half-sister.
SB: That would be Taviona, Daviona and Zion? What kind of influence have you played in their life?
KP: Not much. I would watch over them. I would try to guide them in the right direction. Tell them that the street life isn’t good. That’s all I could do, but when I got in the military, I would send them money when they got good grades.
SB: I might have to ask them myself because I think that’s big. Things that may seem insignificant to us could mean the world to the other person. Also, you never know when a seed that we planted will turn into a tree. It may be ten years from now when they’re dealing with a boyfriend, and they say Nah, this ain’t right, my brother never treated me like this.
Do you think the move to Georgia was a good move for you?
KP: Yes! I had to adapt quickly. I met one of my best friends here. He taught me more about this Atlanta lifestyle, helped me out with my swag. My swag got up, and I got a little respect.
SB: That’s funny because when you left, I was probably gone already, so it felt like a bigger gap for me. Next time I saw you, you were like I’m about to go to The Army.
KP: Maannn. Before I joined The Army, a lot of people didn’t take me seriously because, you know me, I liked making people laugh. A lot of people thought I would have never gone into the service.
SB: Why did you choose The Army over college, trade school or every other option?
KP: It wasn’t forced. My parents supported me with whatever I wanted to do. There are so many reasons.
SB: My mom never wanted me to join The Army, even before I thought about it. My brother went to The Army, and a couple of his sons joined The Navy.
What was your experience like in the service? What did you take from it?
KP: Let’s start with Basic Training. It was a lot of stress, and it was different. They put me in charge a week after we came. I had extra work because I was in charge, so I was responsible for them. They would yell at me for everybody, and there was nothing I could do about it, but when they let us go to the bank, I withdrew $1000, and I put it in my pocket.
KP: Everything! It stayed in my pocket. Every time they stressed me out I would say I’m getting paid for this! I would ask to go to the bathroom and count the money. “I can use this for that, and this to my mom, and still have some left over.” (Laughs)
SB: That was motivation, right? How long did you do that? Was it always a thousand?
KP: Yep, that was my motivation. It started at $250, and then I withdrew some more, and I withdrew some more, and it turned into $1000 and then as we got closer to finishing, it turned to $1500. I thought about it, and having more money makes things easier.
SB: I can agree with that in some aspects. Money makes some things a little bit easier. It makes a lot of things a little bit easier.
KP: But yeah, some problems come with it!
SB: Most definitely. So, after Basic Training, what happened?
KP: After Basic Training, I went to Washington State. I just wanted to get there and get it over with.
When I got there, I got into a routine, and after a month, one of my homeboys from Basic Training came out to Washington.
After he got a car, we started going to the clubs and started hanging out and talking to different women. No lie, every weekday we would wake up, go to PT at 6 something. We would get back to base at like 4 AM and sleep in his car for a couple of hours and do it all over again.
SB: So, was that your entire life?
KP: Girls. So, many girls wanted a relationship with me. All of those interactions gave me experience with the relationship I have now.
SB: I always say we have one successful relationship, with a significant other, and that’s the one we die out of it. You can call it whatever you want, I’m not going to mince words, but the other relationships failed. I feel like God puts us with the right person at the right time, and you end up dying out of that relationship, and it’s a success.
What was your biggest take away from Basic Training?
KP: I got bigger, stronger. It gave me more discipline. I was able to follow orders without catching attitudes. I wasn’t just a boy who grew up in the streets.
KP: Yeah, every day helps me grow up! Everything I go through helps me grow. Every day I learn something new.
SB: Life is about learning. I wish I could stress that to more people. If you’re not learning as you go through life, you’re not living. You’re just existing until the day you die.
Where did you get deployed?
KP: Afghanistan, April 2014.
SB: What was that like?
KP: Nah, it was the experience before. Before you do something good, something always tries to knock you down before you go where you’re supposed to go. I ended up getting in a relationship. It was a jump. It wasn’t anything but puppy love. I used to drive two hours every day to see her. When I got deployed, she started stressing me out. I had to worry about her watching my stuff because I left everything with her. My mom flew to the State of Washington to get my stuff and drove my car back to Georgia. After that, it got easier.
SB: You had other important things to worry about than your stuff, so I know that was a relief once it was taking care of. So, once you were able to focus, what was the experience like in Afghanistan?
KP: When I got to Afghanistan I was so happy. At nights in Afghanistan, you would hear whistling and “DO-DO-DO-DO-DO” and then you would hear it again “DO-DO-DO-DO-DO.” I ain’t know what the hell to do. I was stuck, frozen, looking around like what do I do? My big brother in The Army, he just grabbed his pillow, cover and got under the bed and went to sleep. That was his second deployment. He was used to that.
Two or three days after I arrived, we had to go on a mission, route clearance. I was the lead driver, and I had to pay attention to everything. I was just so scared. They told me I couldn’t drive anymore. They made me a Dismount, and after that, I got cool with the locals. We bought fruit from them. I had to carry a 50-pound signal jammer. It protected us when walked so that nothing would blow up.
One mission, we were told that we had to blow up this bridge to let the water get through in a town, so we were all carrying heavy equipment and we end up walking for like 4 hours. Everything looked good along the way. I was confused like why are we out here? We ended up doing this long ass mission just to get some Afghani bread! Are you kidding me? That was just ridiculous.
Also, My Platoon Sergeant and Squad Leader were beefing. So, when the Sergeant would get mad at our Leader, he would take it out on us. Honestly, all that stuff made me stronger because I had Army knowledge, street knowledge and common sense. I always read the regulations about what I could and could not do. I became a beast. They couldn’t touch me.
It was cool down there. A lot of cleaning weapons. We had internet, pool tables. I used to call home. I would call Zeek, Rest In Peace, Zeek. I used to call him every chance I get.
SB: How long were you there?
KP: I would say six months and a week.
KP: They made a list of the people who wanted to stay, but they didn’t need us anymore. So, on the way back we stopped in Romania. I was relieved; I was playing with the grass. I was happy for fresh air because it was so dusty in Afghanistan. We stopped in Ireland to grab some food and then we were back to America. When we got back, I started to call all of my old women to see what they were doing.
Back in Washington
SB: This is back in Washington?
KP: Yeah, we had a lot of time off work, but it seemed like the people who stayed in Washington didn’t do anything, so we had to pick up their slack.
About a month after I got back I started feeling sick. I was losing weight and couldn’t hold anything down. I had migraines all of the time; it was just sucking. Then I was moved to a different Company, and they were telling me I need to be more concerned about myself, which was different from my previous Company where they were telling me that my team came first and I came last. Life was so much easier.
The doctors told me that they didn’t know what was wrong with me. They don’t know what’s wrong with me to this day. They said I had Celiac Disease, allergic to gluten. I ended up not having Celiac Disease, but I am allergic to gluten and a whole bunch of other stuff. I was med boarded out of the military, so I couldn’t serve my full term.
SB: How long were you in there total?
KP: 2 years and 11 months. It was supposed to be 3 years and 16 weeks.
KP: Thank you for your support.
SB: Is there any chance that you would go back?
KP: I would go back if the economy was down, but I would go back in with a waiver. I talked to my girl about this, actually my fiancé.
SB: Wait, what? Fiancé. When did this happen?
KP: Sometime in September. She was the only girl that kept it real with me. I was so used to have multiple women in Washington; I realized that I didn’t want that. I just wanted someone to keep it real with me. A lot of these women only want to smoke, drink, have fun, have a lot of people around them and she wasn’t like that. She was pretty, smart and doesn’t really like me buying her anything. She can do it for herself.
SB: What was your rank when you got out?
KP: I was a Specialist. I was late to my own promotion! I had a doctor’s appointment.
SB: What skills did you pick up in The Army?
KP: Accountability. Integrity. Knowing when to mind my business. Cleanliness. Leadership. Punctuality. How to show up. How to follow. There was so much that I learned and I didn’t know a lot of it was important because it was just stuff that we had to do.
SB: You mentioned integrity and leadership, and going back to those seeds. Some of the stuff planted in you won’t blossom for a few years. I always talk about trusting the process and respecting the process. I’m writing about leadership and influence right now, getting people to do what you want to be done, make them want to do it, and help them feel good about doing it.
KP: I learned that. When I was in Afghanistan, there was this dude named Sergeant Clerfe. I learned that if your leadership can do it, why can’t you? Sergeant Clerfe got his hands dirty. He was by the book, no way around it. He never told me to do anything to harm myself. I learned a lot from him about leadership and relationship.
SB: It’s easy to work for somebody who’s going through with you, someone who wants to help.
KP: Exactly, leadership is showing you as a person that you care about them.
SB: I agree with you. It reminds me a lot of Servant-leadership.
KP: Other leaders were driving around in golf carts and drinking smoothies, but Sergeant Clerfe wasn’t like that, he was hands-on. It got up to 138 degrees, and the other leaders were just in the way. We didn’t even want them near us.
Did You Realize That You Are a Champion in Their Eyes?
SB: Do you think you’ve inspired people in your family after you went to The Army?
KP: Yes, they’ve told me that I’d inspired them. I was flexing on Facebook with money, but it wasn’t to say I’m getting bread now. It’s to show that there are other ways to get money. I can do stuff without being in the street and robbing people. I inspired so many of my friends to go into the military. I would say about 30 of them. I showed them a different way to do things. I went through 4 cars in 2 years in the military.
SB: You inspired me! I was like this young man grew up quick. I saw it on Instagram like everybody else. You always made me smile. I know where you came from and I see where you are now, and I’m proud. What do you like to do in your free time?
KP: I can’t sleep that much because of disabilities, so I spend a little time watching television series. However, I’m always searching for a good job and researching what I want to go back to school for. I’m researching different industries to see what is on the rise and where I can fit in.
SB: Manage to the inputs. You have to get in front of the changes because technology doesn’t go backward for anybody. People are crazy if they think this company won’t replace you with a robot.
KP: In the military, you ain’t nothing but your social security number. No race, none of that. I realized if I work somewhere I want them to want me. I want them to need me.
SB: I think that’s what a lot of us are striving for. You have to make yourself a specialist. You have to put your all in it. Put your heart, mind and soul in it.
You can replace hands and backs, but you can’t replace hearts and minds.
Men of color have to go above and beyond because you are not going to get the benefit of the doubt. The playing field is uneven. The only way you can even it out is to be better than everyone else.
I’ve Got Too Much To Live For
You touched on some of your disabilities. What are some of those if you don’t mind sharing?
KP: Tendonitis, Back Pain, Migraines – 3 or 4x a day. The longest migraine I had lasted 16 days straight.
KP: Yeah, 16 days straight. I’m allergic to gluten, shrimp, peanuts, cockroaches.
SB: You’re allergic to cockroaches? (Laughs)
KP: Yes, German Cockroaches. A couple of different trees. Another reason I get discharged from the military was that I am allergic to Washington?
SB: The whole state? (Laughs)
KP: The environment. It’s just a long list. Major depression, anxiety, bipolar, anger issues and all of that stuff. I have about twenty different disabilities.
SB: Did that stuff come from The Army or just life?
KP: I would say I had depression because of dealing with being away from home, but I didn’t let that affect me.
And then my brother died, John’s son.
He died a month before I came in the service and that had a big effect on me, and other people died in the family, and it was like, dang! Now people I am talking to are being chopped down.
I’ve got my brother here, Jaquan, and I had Azikiwe. After Azikiwe died I told Jaquan, you are the only person I have left. Besides you, I don’t have anybody, but my girl and family, but you know how family is. With your friends, you can keep it 100 with them.
SB: That’s funny. I said today is my last day of mourning for Azikiwe. I’ve just been forcing myself to get through it. The first few months, I couldn’t grieve at first because I was on the road for months for work. I cried a little bit at the funeral, but I don’t think I cried again until the middle of the year.
It happened randomly when I was driving to Washington, DC. It came out of nowhere. I was crying, and then I started laughing. It was funny because Zeek, your dad and Shaki would always say when I laughed it sounded like I was skipping beats. After that, I felt like the grieving officially started.
So today is the last day. I feel like the best way to honor him is to embrace a little of his spirit. He was a people person. The media is going to say what the media is going to say, but you know Zeek was truly unique. So, I’m going to embrace his storytelling spirit.
KP: Oh yeah, he was a storyteller. He told everything. He would tell his whole life to you, even when he went to prison. Always telling stories about getting this ink and that ink. He raised me. He was like my dad. He’s the reason I am so good at math. I’ve learned some good things from him. I have him tatted on my shoulder. I know he’s around and I know he is helping me through life.
What Am I Supposed to Believe In?
SB: We’re getting that way, but what is your relationship like with God?
KP: I went to Grandma church and they’re Methodists. I think my Grandfather here is Baptist. When I went to Basic Training, they’re covering it all. They talked about The Bible. When I was there it hit me, I know I believe in a god, but I don’t know what god to believe in.
KP: I know God is there. I know he is real. I pray every night, but I don’t have a certain religion to go to right now. So many people are saying this, and so many people are saying that, but I need to find out what’s best for me. It’s probably best for me if I just read the Bible and I find out who God is myself, instead of paying somebody money to teach me the Bible, when I can buy a Bible myself, stack up my money and give that to the homeless or something. You feel me?
SB: That’s real. I like what you said. It’s important. One: you have to find out who your God is yourself. Two: Jesus says to give your money to the homeless. Take care of his people. I believe in Jesus as my Lord and Savior, and I don’t push anything on anybody. I always tell people, you need to figure that out for yourself. So I encourage you, keep reading that Bible. If you have a heart for people, Jesus had a heart for people. It wasn’t for show. It was for the people.
KP: I remember when I was in Michigan, I hit at the casino, and I saw a homeless man on the way to Wal-Mart, and I gave him $100.
SB: That’s it, man. There are so many different religions. Even in Christianity, there are so many different subsets, and I got tired of it. So, I just started reading the Bible for myself, by myself and I let Jesus give me my insights. He’s going to talk to me. I have my own relationship. He’s going to let me know who I need to talk to. He’s going to let me know who I need to hug.
I think church is great. I’m never going to say anything bad about the church, but you need to figure out who Jesus is for yourself. His relationship is like any other relationship, and you’re going to have to grow in it, and he’s going to prove himself to you. He brought me through different situations.
I’m not forcing anything, so if you have any questions, just reach out to me. I’m proud of you for realizing that you need to figure it out for yourself.
KP: I know he’s there. There are so many different religions. I have questions like, what if you don’t know about God? Would you still go to hell? Who decides? How can they go to hell if they don’t know?
SB: You’re right, people make whatever they want to make their god. On the back of the dollar bill, what does it say?
KP: We the people…
SB: In God we Trust. People make money their God, and money’s telling you to trust in God.
KP: I know Jesus is real, but a god can be anything, and some people believe in money. They do all the wrong things for money.
SB: People make money their God, and usually it doesn’t work out for them. I live my life now like I’m living forever, and my decisions now have forever consequences.
KP: I always ask myself how can I leave an impact. How can I be in the history books? How can I make people mention my name to say he was a good man?
SB: How do you leave a legacy?
KP: The doctors would ask me if I’m suicidal. I would laugh and say, nah. I don’t know what my calling is. I have too much to live for. I’m not just going to off myself because times are hard. Another theory I have is that God drags you to hell before you come to heaven. There are going to be bumpy roads even if you make.
SB: That’s real man. I will be praying for you and that you find the way. I’m happy for you. Spiritual growth is important. I’m going to suggest the next time you jump in the Bible read the first chapter of the book of John, just John, not 1 John, 2 or 3 John, just John; the first chapter. (Laughs) Let me know when you do, and we can chop it up about it.
KP: It’s too many Johns. (Laughs) I see why I know so many Johns, and Oh yeah!
SB: What’s your definition of love? You’ve got a fiancé now, so what does love mean to you?
KP: Somebody to care for you. Honesty, trust, caring, support, tell me the truth, be real and straight up. Let me know if I’m being an asshole. Tell me your goals so that I can help you. We have to have a vision. We plan our finances. Love means so much to me. All of my previous relationships were experience, and they all help me now.
SB: I heard something recently, and it stuck with me, Do what love requires. Filter your interactions with people through love, even if that person is being a jerk.
KP: Grandma Lynn taught be to kill a whole bunch of hate with kindness. I worked on that in the military. They would call me names, and I would let it go. They would speak, and I would speak, and we would get our points out.
SB: Seek first to understand and then to be understood. People just don’t listen well. Everybody is really good at talking.
KP: Azikiwe was excellent at talking. (Laughs)
SB: I know! I would be around him so much, and I would just be like, alright bro. (Laughs)
KP: Like yeah bro, we get the point. (Laughs) People just want to be heard; you don’t even have to say anything back.
SB: You’re going to have a successful marriage young man. What are some misconceptions people have about you?
KP: They think I’m a jerk, but I am the complete opposite. I treat people with respect. You can say almost anything you want to say if you say it respect. I would cuss out my sergeant and end it with a sergeant.
SB: I’m going to try it at work. I’m going to cuss out my boss and say boss at the end. Are you still active on social media like you were?
KP: At first I was, but now I’m not. I just like to have people guessing. I check up on people, but not like I was.
SB: What’s your number 1 accomplishment so far?
KP: I don’t have it yet, but I am becoming a better person every day.
KP: Or Saginaw follows them. You have to adapt to your new environment.
SB: 100% correct. Where you are from shapes you, but sometimes you have to move on. I’m proud of you for doing that. You’re a light now. I consider myself one, as well. We are a family of immigrants. I’m trying to show people that the things I am doing are definitely possible. We’re doing something different. Your family is going to change with you.
Why is your Name Great?
KP: I always figured that I was going to become somebody important. It’s funny you asked that because I’m going to change my last name to DaGreat. I want to change my family’s legacy. I want to start from scratch.
SB: I’m going to use you on a billboard! I respect that. Fresh starts are always good. Anything that you would like to say that we missed?
KP: I like barbecue sauce. (Laughs)
SB: And noodles. (Laughs)
KP: I can’t eat the noodles anymore, but I put barbecue sauce on everything. Pretty much everything that ketchup should go on. (Laughs)
SB: I don’t think ketchup is supposed to be on some of the stuff you put barbecue sauce on. (Laughs)
KP: I remember you telling me you put hot sauce on your tacos and you asked me when are you going to eat like a man? I said I am eating like a man. (Laughs)
I want to add you can become whoever you want to be if you put your mind to it. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t. They said that I wasn’t good enough many times, but I loved proving them wrong! I still love proving them wrong; it gives me a rush!