A black man dies in a terrible event. Not killed during the commission of a crime. Not karma coming to collect an unpaid debt. And most certainly, not just another statistic. Who was this individual? Must his life have ended in this way? And what promises of family, friends, and neighbors will the world not see realized? When we begin asking these questions. When we no longer do as my late father would say, “Turn our heads and walk away.” In those days, we will cry inside when a black man dies. And we will take seriously the task of slowing what is taking their lives?
This article introduces you to Terrell Cowherd, Jr., a young man I never met in-lief, but whose death has touched me deeply. At the close of this article, I will appeal to you for help in honoring this wonderful individual.
At approximately 1:30 a.m. on the morning of August 17, 2013, Terrell Cowherd, Jr. (26) of Dallas, TX was murdered in the 2000 block of Greenville Avenue, outside Kush Mediterranean Grill & Hookah Lounge.
Cowherd was attempting to diffuse a fight when he was jumped and stabbed to-death by Jerry Brown Jr. (23) and Julian Terence Martin, Jr. (23). Cowherd was transported to Baylor University Medical Center where he was pronounced dead. Brown was captured a block away after the fatal incident. Martin turned himself into authorities after a video of the encounter reached local news and social media.
Another source of sadness in Terrell Cowherd’s death is that our society pays little attention to these tragedies. Like a vaccine that builds our resistance to an illness, the frequency of black men killed on American streets has somehow made us immune to the shocking nature of these events. Just minutes after the incident, local media interviewed [white] patrons along Greenville’s restored entertainment district. Each expressed a sense of safety. None were particularly outraged.
One can only image what might the sentiments be had Cowherd’s last name been Silverstein, his hair blonde, or his face of a vanilla hue.
But Cowherd was a black man. And black men all too often carry a stigma of misfit, deserving of suspicion, and prone to dark-side behavior. Is that not what we are to think when black men sport the ear ring? Or the cap turned backward? Are these not conclusive evidences of thuggery? Are not such photos conclusive evidence of a habitual menace who deals drugs under the cover of night? Is not what we are indoctrinated to think about buffed young brothers when these images fill our television sets, newspaper articles, and social media networks? Are not the images that draw almost godlike worship from some whites of Mark Wahlberg, Leo DiCaprio, and Brad Pitt the very images that raise fears when seen in African American men? It is this cover, or more specifically society’s propensity to judge the cover of black men, that creates an unwritten bond among us. The society that celebrates the feminization of black men harbors contempt for the image of strong black manhood. Terrell Cowherd projected manhood and thus finds a favorable place in the psyche of black men in-general.
And yet, beneath the cover, the life of this fallen victim reflected the complexity of African American men that is not so easily bottled by society’s visceral disdain. Terrell Cowherd was not a one-dimensional figure that fit society’s stereotypes. His life was more nuanced as are the lives of a whole segment of American society so readily mis-labeled and maligned.
Terrell Cowherd is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., a predominantly black Greek letter organizations, founded in 1911 at Indiana University. Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. along with Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc., Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. comprise what is referred to as the Divine 9.
Those not familiar with the black Greek system might consider the handshakes, paraphernalia, step shows, and other elements of Divine 9 traditions as gang activity. But these traditions reach back into African roots and the African American experience. The footprint of these organizations spans African American culture. And Divine 9 contributions to our nation have been felt in the form of politics, faith, science, athletics, education, and virtually every other realm of society. Black history is to a large extent Divine 9 history.
Terrell Cowherd was a part of that history. In this sense, he was connected to the Bill Russell, Colin Kapernick, Pastor Gardner C.Taylor, Byron Cage, Dr. Calvin Butts, Pastor and musician Marvin Sapp, Rep. John Conyers, professor Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, journalist Tavis Smiley, businessmen Robert Johnson and the late Reginald Lewis (Beatrice Foods), Rep. and Federal Judge Alcee Hastings, the late Johnnie Cochran, civil rights attorney Percy Sutton, and countless other men of distinction. Indeed, I am proud to call Terrell Cowherd my Kappa Brother and saddened by his death.
In the days following his death, I found myself participating on social media threads that questioned why Brother Cowherd would get involved in stopping a fight – an act that would claim his life. That kind of indifference is a byproduct of some negative influences in the African American community. Indeed, one might observe that African Americans who question Brother Cowherd might also be the very voices who call for blacks to start cleaning up our neighborhoods and relationships. Likewise, the broader society (i.e., media) often cites the need to take more responsibility for our conditions. This is disingenuous rhetoric as it presumes blacks are not actively taking responsibilities on myriad levels and in countless dimensions. Questions that indict African Americans as being indifferent come from sources that have little real sense for the dangers people face when putting themselves in harm’s way; whether that means closing down crack houses, mentoring young people away from gangs, or intervening in disputes. In addition, criticisms levied at African Americans ignore the unfortunate reality that blacks know all-too-well the hurt that results from family members, neighbors, and friends being murdered. None would be happier than this population group to find a solution to an epidemic of violence.
Brother Cowherd’s intervention is not a mystery. First and foremost, Brother Cowherd was raised by parents who love Jesus Christ and a servant spirit was cultivated in him. In speaking of his son’s death, Terrell Cowherd, Sr. noted, “That’s just the kind of person he was.” Even in this horrific end that would pierce the heart of any parent, the parents of Brother Cowherd remain resolute in their faith.
In addition, the moment of decision to intervene is not so scripted that critics might suggest. Sometimes, we simply find ourselves in that moment. Life does happen fast. And for African Americans, it moves at this pace at least once in a lifetime more often than not. Once as a teenager, I found myself in a very similar situation. Grown men, more than twice my age and each standing 6-feet tall, were beating another man with fists and canes. Instinctively, I ran to his aide and to stop the fight. During that intervention, one of the aggressors lunged at me with a knife that barely missed my body. If not for God’s grace, I would have been injured or killed. \
That is how it happens. There are times when our humanity moves us to action. It moved Terrell Cowherd, Jr. One does not necessarily explore the calculus in the same way the Good Samaritan on the Road to Jericho did not stop for a risk assessment. As for the chain of events on August 17, 2013, the outcome cannot and should not be a matter of criticism of his actions, but rather a criticism of those who caused his death.
Further, having been a member of Kappa Alpha Psi for 34 years, I suspect the influence of Kappa (and black Greek life) played a role in this young man’s efforts to de-escalate a dispute. These organizations were founded on principles, one of which is to serve mankind. Service and building the lives of high school males is at the center of the Kappa League program, established February 12, 1970 by the Los Angeles Alumni Chapter. The message of stopping the violence underscored the New York City Nupes presentation at a 1994 national stepshow competition. Kappas are not alone in this call.
Unfortunately, the misguided individuals who took the life of brother Cowherd did not heed the call to reject violence, even when the message was being delivered face-to-face by a courageous mediator — Terrell Coward, Jr.
While we cannot know what entered Brother Cowherd’s thoughts, it is very possible that fraternal influences thrust him into the center of a dispute in hopes to avoid other men going to prison, being injured, or ironically being killed. One need not exercise wild imaginations to see how a dispute could have ended with some bystanders, perhaps a young woman, being injured or cut down by a stray bullet. I choose to believe Terrell Cowherd’s instincts to serve mankind, through intervening in a civil dispute, loomed larger than any fears that would prevent him from doing so.
Brother Cowherd has reached what we Kappas refer to as “The Chapter Invisible“. Days following Brother Cowherd’s death, his Line Brothers held a community gathering to remember a fallen member of the Bond.
Who was Terrell Cowherd? This Houston, TX native with an ear ring, hat turned to the rear, chiseled frame, and three Kappa Diamond brands was also a scholar. In May 2011, Brother Cowherd graduated from Texas’ prestigious [HBCU] Prairie View University (Prairie View) with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering.
His academic achievement reveals yet another dimension of the tragedy of Brother Cowherd’s death. At a time when our nation falls behind globally in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics [STEM] and struggles to sufficiently produce highly-educated individuals in technical fields particularly, Brother Cowherd personified excellence.
Founded in 1876, Prairie View is the second oldest public university in Texas. The institution’s 46,000 alumni include Congressman Emanuel Cleaver [D-MO] and Dr. Inez Beverly Prosser (first African American woman to earn a PhD in Psychology). Terrell Cowherd joined a select group of young people to receive a degree from the Roy G. Perry College of Engineering. In 2010, only 4.5 percent of our nation’s engineering degrees were awarded to African Americans. As the numbers of blacks in engineering and computer sciences are disproportionately low, Brother Cowherd’s death robs from a very limited pool of promising African Americans in these fields.
Brother Cowherd’s professional career was just beginning. In January 2013, the State of Texas Board of Professional Engineers issued Brother Cowherd a Certification of Engineering In Training [CIT]. This followed his passage of the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Examination, a demanding 8-hour test administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES).
His career career was well underway with Brother Cowherd’s employment as an engineer in the mining department at Luminent Corporation, a Texas-based energy firm. According to Luminent, Brother Cowherd was responsible for preparing and submitting mine permits to the Railroad Commission of Texas for the company’s Monticello and Thermo Mines.
Raised in a Christian home by parents whose faith is left to sustain them in this difficult time, Brother Cowherd was well respected in the workplace as he was in the community. His profession is lost when a public only sees “one less black man sharing the air”. We lose sight of the personal commitments this young man made to enter the field of his choosing. Brother Cowherd was following a path of professionalism in a field where African Americans are grossly under-represented. Further, will never know how many young people Brother Cowherd might have mentored and otherwise encouraged to also enter a STEM-centric field.
Luminent released a statement following news of Brother Cowherd’s death. In it, Kim Mireles, Vice President of Environmental Services, added:
“He was known as one of the kindest and friendliest people on our staff, always smiling and cordial. It is not surprising that Terrell interceded in an altercation to calm the situation. Terrell exuded leadership qualities at a very young age…”
Carrying Forward His Spirit…
Nothing that we can do will return Terrell Cowherd, Jr. to his parents and family, friends, Kappa brothers, employers, and neighbors. No words, here or elsewhere, are adequate to heal the hurt caused by the evil that claimed his life. And yet, we can choose to honor a life well lived, even if that life never intersected with our own.
By this, I am requesting that you join me in keeping alive the very spirit that intervened on the fateful evening of August 17, 2013. Here’s how you can participate.
I am in-contact with Prairie View University, a member of the Texas A&M University System, to establish as Terrell Cowherd, Jr. Future Engineers Scholarship Fund. The fund will be established as an endowment designed to provide annual awards to undergraduate students in the College of Engineering. As such, Prairie View, will handle all ongoing aspects of the funds, including but not limited to: accepting and handling donations, financial reporting, vetting scholarship applications, making awards, etc. The university provides fund management by charging a modest, 1-time, 6 percent of the contribution amount.
As an endowment, Prairie View has committed to using its Office of Civil Rights (OCR) funds as a dollar-for-dollar match. Awards will be granted from the interest on the funds, which allows these scholarships to continue into the future.
The goal is to raise $250,000 that will enable us to access another $250,000 from Prairie View’s OCR funds. At 4 percent interest, this would provide approximately $20,000 in annual scholarships.
Here’s how you can help:
- Make a donation.
- Get the word out to others about Terrell Cowherd and the fund.
- Ask your employer to to match contributions.
This request goes out to all readers. However, it comes with special emphasis to the Men of Kappa Alpha Psi in the U.S. and abroad. Likewise, I would hope that the Prairie View family and members of Divine 9 organizations participate. And know that my parents raised me to not ask of others something to which I would not first commit. My personal donation will be the first made to the fund and will be submitted with the paperwork to have it established at Prairie View. This will take place by September 28, 2013. And I will follow-up with you as to its availability and associated information.
Please share this with others. Let’s honor Brother Terrell Cowherd, Jr.
COMPLETE TO RECEIVE A NOTICES OF THE FUND
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