Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What's My Name?

There’s so much in a name, and over the years I’ve had so many. My first name, given to me by my older brothers, was "Apple." I still have few cousins that call me that more than anything else. Thankfully, my parents decided that Apple wouldn’t fly on my birth certificate, so my government name ended up being Andrew Foster Williams. I love having my mom’s maiden name as my middle name—it’s not exactly sexy, but it makes me feel connected that half of my family, both dead and alive. For example, when my Colombian and Cape Verdean host families look at me like I’m crazy for dumping hot sauce all over my food, I can blame it on my Southern blood.

I once got called "Andy," but I shot that fool in the kneecap and it hasn't happened again since. My only other nickname as a child was Gizmo... I was the cute one, but legend has it that if you get me wet or feed me after midnight I will spawn two larger, uglier version known as Barry (Gremlin #1) and Jaime (Gremlin #2).*

Fore some reason, the only person that ever got away with calling me Drew as a youngster was my Godfather, Maurice. And then high school happened. Among many bad habits, teenagers are obsessed with calling their friends by anything but their real names. So one day I looked up, and I was Drew, just like that. Around the same time I started deejaying, but I was more focused on honing my craft than coming up with a cool name. My brother's friend, Dwight, had taken to calling me "Ref," which was short for refugee.** Being a fan of self-deprecation, I decided to adopt the moniker as my DJ name, so my first semi-crappy mix-tapes and parties were brought to you by DJ Ref.

As a freshman in college I crossed the burning sands and became a Nupe. The name I was given by my Kappa Chi brothers—the name that I earned—was Sokrates. I thought that was a significant upgrade from refugee status, so I became DJ Sokrates in 2001. I've always been a proud Virgo, so I began recording music under the name "Sokrates The Virgo" after my mom—also a Virgo—passed away later that year. It looked kinda cool when I wrote it out, but it sounded a little ridiculous/pretentious when you said it out loud—as in, "Hi, my rap name is MC I'msuperprodoundandspiritual"—and that just wasn't the look that I was going for. Besides, everyone in the music community had already started calling Soks or Sok, so I decided to roll with it—and so I became Sok The Virgo.***

Then one I woke up one day in 2007 and realized that the music business was a horrible and awful lifestyle that was sucking my life-force dry. Actually, that’s a little extreme. Really, I fell out of love with the business over the course of a year or so, and eventually decided that I had enough cool stories to tell my future grandchildren. What I really wanted to do was coach and play soccer, so I threw myself into it, and became Coach Drew.

So, what am I trying to say? As I've evolved through a few different stages of life, and moved through a few different time zones, my name has always been an important reflection of what my mission is. I can be as simple as the difference between André (portuguese) and Andrés (spanish). Or it can be as huge as the difference between Sok the Virgo and just plain Drew. I still answer to any of these names, but I cherish the difference between them all. When someone calls my name, the name they choose to call me speaks volumes about the relationship that we have. Did we meet backstage or at the studio? Have we known each other since the diaper days? Did you pawn your kids off on me every Saturday morning for a few years?


Since we never stop growing, it’s only appropriate that I now have another new name—"Profe" (pronounced "proh-fay"). Profe is short for Profesor, which in spanish just means teacher. Ironically, I hated it when my Cape Verdean students would call me “Teacher." But “Profe” has a classy ring to it, and “coach” sounds funny when you say it with a Colombian accent. Every day I wake up and walk to work, and in just a few short blocks I hear little voices yelling “Profe, Profe” from inside houses and behind bushes. A little boy looks up from a game of marbles to greet me with a beaming smile... “Profe!” An old woman in a rocking chair gives me a nod while rolling out a handful of bollo... "Profe!"

It's not just a name, it's my responsibility and my place in the community. Our center serves over 400 kids, age 5-15—a good size for any program.**** Now consider that our community only has about 8500 people living in it, and you can imagine the impact of the program. Being Profe puts me at the center of it all, and it is the most rewarding thing that I can imagine. For the last few weeks I've had the challenge of working with a young boy who needs a lot more than a little extra attention. Just to be clear, I've never met a 6 year old that didn't have "special needs," but this boy makes me rethink my skepticism about drugging kids with attention deficit disorder. Today was a particularly challenging day. I spent most of the two-hour session in negotiations with my little buddy—being ignored, punched, kicked, bitten, spit on, and occasionally hugged. I'm not gonna lie—at one point I looked at him an thought to myself, "If you were my son, I'd spank the sh*t outta you."

I'm not proud to admit it, but I had given up, and was secretly praying that his family would just decide it wasn't working and would keep him home from the next class. It really got me wondering what kind of discipline, if any, this boy receives at home. Last week his mom was so late coming to pick him up that I walked him halfway home before meeting her in the street. Today I told him that we were going to have a nice, long talk with his mother and grandmother about his behavior. As we walked home hand-in-hand, he started to drag his feet, and his eyes teared up. "Profe, please don't tell them," he pleaded.

"Why shouldn't I?" I asked.

"Because they will beat me," he sobbed. Well, what do you say to that? Obviously, it stopped me dead in my tracks, literally and metaphorically. For the next few seconds, my head swirled with thoughts about my responsibilities as Profe. Wasn't I the one who was silently advocating a swift kick in the ass just a few minutes before? But really, it was a no-brainer—of course I wouldn't rat him out. Instead, we made a pact. He promised me he could and would do better, and I promised him that as long as he did, I wouldn't be knocking on his mama's door. We walked on for a few minutes until we came to a house with an open front door. "This is it! Ciao, Profe!" He was clearly anxious to see me on my way.

"Hola?" I called in to the house, hoping to catch a glimpse of an adult—no luck. We slapped high fives a few times, then I started to walk away. After a few steps I turned back to check him out. After checking to make sure that I wasn't looking, the little man scurried a little further down the black and slipped in the front door of a little white house—the one he actually lives in.

Pura Vida,

*At age 14 I was about 4’11”, 98 lbs (1.50m, 44kg)—do the math.

** My older brothers still deny that there is any truth behind this legend... but have you noticed how you never see them and the gremlins in the same room at the same time? I’m just sayin’.

*** I still deejay under the name DJ Sokrates. 

**** Fútbol Con Corazon serves 2,000 kids in the Barranquilla area, and is part of the Fútbol por la Paz network that serves 25,000 kids throughout Colombia.


  1. This was a really great entry - probably my favorite to date. I really enjoyed the story of the little boy who gamed you on that walk home.

    I never really thought of it, but you do have a lot of names, and you answer to all of them. They represent different stages in your life and your journey, and I think that's really cool.

  2. Oh, and you're not alone. Hilton puts hot sauce on EVERYTHING... except apple pie, which he puts cheddar cheese on.

  3. What up Andrew! Touched my heart with that story. Keep on bringin tough love. You may be the person who can show your little buddy that live isn't always about feeling ignored.
    Big hug to ya all the way out there!

  4. Beautiful Apple, (my personal favorite). I always thought we called you apple because your head was shaped like one. Anyway, you inspire me. Keep it up

  5. It was so cool reading about the different names you've gone through. It makes me think now of the different names I've gone by. It's great to hear you're doing well in Colombia :)

  6. It is so good visit your site and see your progress.
    I hope the future is bright and for certain WE must work to get you elected to office in 2012 in order to make the world a better place. Gregory Foster