Forrest Gump’s got nothing on Reverend Jacqueline Giles, math professor extraordinaire. Gump, whose entire fictional life was just one crazy story after another of his fortuitous meetings with some of the world’s most famous people, could very well have been based on the life and times of Giles. From US presidents to African leaders to NFL players, legendary authors and more — greats both near and far have been part of Giles legendary life.
Don’t believe me? Check this out, in Giles own words.
Gets it from her mama
“(My mother) would tell me how she was part of the first calculus class at Jack Yates High School. There were only three or four in the class. I remember two names that she would mention: Robert Terry; he was the president of TSU for a while and Bernice Reed, the sister of the great mathematician Dr. Kennard Reed who graduated with a Ph.D. in mathematics at 24 years old. He was in a program that took him out of high school at 14 years old, went to Fisk, and then from there to NYU. He taught me my senior year at TSU. I ended up getting a degree in Applied Mathematics.”
“TSU really mentored me in the 60s. I was there from ‘61 to ’66, and the environment was a supportive environment for students at that time. I’m still grateful for the mentoring of Dr. Llayron Clarkson and Professor Alvin Wardlaw, because they made a big impression on me. Clarkson gave me my first “C” when I was about 19 years old, and I said, “I’m going to do this mathematics and show him I can do this stuff.” I stayed in touch with Clarkson until he passed away recently.”
“I needed some legal help when I was younger, and my daddy sent me to Fifth Ward to a lawyer who had an office on Lyons Avenue. And guess who that was. Barbara Jordan. When we went to court and caught the elevator in Harris County, I remember Barbara, taller than me and very powerful, but I was a talker. I thought I was smart in those days. And I remember her saying on the elevator, imitating Jordan’s voice, ‘Now, Jacqueline, when we get to court, I’ll do all the talking.’ I never forgot that. I watched her throughout her career. I said, ‘Oh my God, my daddy sent me to somebody who became extremely powerful and articulate.’ And, I love that.”
“When I was living in New York’s Brooklyn Heights, one day I was bored, and I caught the A-Train to go to Midtown Manhattan. When I got on the platform in Midtown Manhattan, somebody called my name: ‘Jackie. Jackie.’ And guess who that was? Eldrewey Stearns. Eldrewey Stearns was the attorney that helped the TSU students protest at the Weingarten’s on Almeda. He knew me from TSU. I didn’t really know him. I was surprised that he even knew my name. But he said, ‘Jacqueline, I want you to meet me at a book signing tomorrow in Harlem.”’ And I trusted him, so, I did meet him in Harlem. And guess who I met and was introduced to by him. Maya Angelou. That book signing was for her first book.
“And I’m gonna tell you something else. I’m humble now, but when I met her, and I thought I was so smart in math and engineering, I wasn’t impressed. But as I watched her career, I said, ‘Oh, wow.’ I mean, what is the probability of me seeing Eldrewey Stearns on the subway platform in Manhattan, and he knew of the book signing for Maya Angelou? But he introduced me to one other great woman. He said, ‘I have somebody else I want you to meet.’ And he wouldn’t tell me the name. But I met him in Midtown Manhattan a few days later and he introduced me to Dr. Margaret Mead (famous American cultural anthropologist).
“Nobody but the Holy Spirit allowed me to be positioned to meet Eldrewey Stearns, the great lawyer, who eventually introduced me to two great women. That raised my expectation of what I could do in life to meet those kinds of people.”
Royalty and heads of state
“I was teaching at UH Downtown and had an older, Nigerian man in my class. He already had degrees from Nigeria, but he wanted American degrees. And he loved the way I presented the mathematics. One day, he said to me, ‘One of these days, I’m gonna help you travel all over Africa.’ I went and told my mother, ‘I think this Nigerian is a little crazy. How could he invite me and tell me that one day he’s gonna help me travel all over Africa?’ Well, he ended up being a very powerful man named Prince Jubril (Jubi) Adelegan, and he owned a newspaper in southwest Houston called ‘The Houston Punch.’ He asked me to write a few editorials, and I did. He loved the way I expressed myself in writing. Well, eventually he received a letter from the White House to travel with President William Jefferson Clinton and he was told that he could bring anybody he wanted on that trip. So, he called and invited me to travel with him, with President William Jefferson Clinton’s entourage.
“We had dinner with Nigeria’s President Olusegun Obasanjo; me and others. In fact, Sheila Jackson Lee was at that trip, and she was surprised that I was on that trip. I’m just a math professor … After leaving Abuja, Nigeria, Air Force One and Air Force Two flew to Arusha Tanzania. We went to the Burundi Peace Conference. At that conference, we were able to see Nelson Mandela and other world leaders. Then, President Clinton decided to add to the itinerary … So, we went to Cairo, Egypt and I got a chance to see the pyramids… But even before that, I did go to the inauguration of Olusegun Obasanjo, May 29, 1999.”
“Daddy would say to me as a little girl, ‘Your gift will make room for you and bring me before great men.’ So, daddy was praying for me all those years. And what he spoke into my life became my reality. That’s why daddies need to stay close to their daughters. Daddy used to say something else too: ‘Jackie, you’re smarter than 10 Negroes.’ I said, ‘Daddy, don’t say that. You’re gonna run all the Negroes away from me.’ He said, ‘But what I want you to do, baby, when you get in the door, always bring a strong Black man in there with you. Don’t just go in there alone.’ So, one of my strategies in life, whenever I get into an unusual, echelon of society, I always invite an African American man to accompany me like my daddy taught me.”
Wall Street education
“I actually started my (teaching) career on Wall Street at Merrill Lynch. I was in the strategic planning department doing statistical analysis working with an econometrician from MIT. I was the only Black in that department on Wall Street … I was also still taking classes in the engineering school, which was predominantly Jewish. But there was another great student there from Howard University. His name was Eugene Deloatch. Eugene had taken some classes with me, and I guess he was impressed with my responses in those classes. One day in the cafeteria at the engineering school, he came over to me and said, ‘Jackie, one of my friends is the executive director of a program affiliated with State University of New York, Stony Brook, and he needs math teachers. I think you’d make a great math teacher.’ I said, ‘But Eugene, I wanna be able to make money.’ He said, ‘Oh, this job pays well’ … So, I went to the interview and got that job. And when I started teaching, I loved it … That’s how my teaching career started. Eugene Deloche, the one who mentored me and strongly encouraged me to become a teacher, he founded the engineering school at a school in Maryland. I have to tell people now that I was mentored by this great man, but I didn’t realize he was as great as he was when we were young. I taught for three years for the State University of New York Urban Center in Manhattan. And I also taught one semester at Columbia University in their Urban Center.”
Back down in H-Town
“Eventually I did come (back) to Houston, but when I came to Houston, the teaching pay was not that good back in the 70s so I started doing community work and I met Lillian Stafford at one of the forums in the community. And she asked me would I like to work for the Houston Area Urban League? And I did take that job and I ran the ESAA program for a couple years. Eventually I became the executive assistant to Larry Cager, who was the executive director of the Urban League in those days. And then eventually I worked for Mack H. Hannah, perhaps the first Black millionaire in Texas. I worked for him when he was about 74 years old. He wrote the (reference) letter for me when I was nominated as an outstanding teacher in HISD. I also worked for James Lemond who was working with Mack Hannah. He’s the first African-American to get the law degree from UH. He was also an executive assistant to one of the mayors in Houston. So, I’ve been exposed to some smart people and I know what the scripture says, ‘Iron sharpens iron.’ That’s exactly what has helped to sharpen me; being in the company of people like me and even sharper than me. And I’m comfortable with that because I learned from them and I’m grateful to have had that opportunity.”
“I taught at Texas A&M when I went there and I got a master’s in pure mathematics in ‘86. Then I stayed there and worked a couple of years for the doctorate in mathematics. And while I was working at A&M, they had me teaching pre-cal for engineers. Eventually, I was on a radio program talking about the history of Blacks in STEM and how we’re underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math. And a great professor heard me on KAMU Radio, the Texas A&M radio station. He invited me to work on a doctorate under him with a fellowship in interdisciplinary engineering in the civil engineering department. His name was Dr. Richard Schapery. He’s a guy who’s so famous, he’s written more than 166 articles in the area called viscoelasticity. So, I got a chance to sit with him for a year and then I realized I needed to come back home and get my children well-educated. So, I came on outta school in ‘89 and started working full-time at Houston Community College. And I’m an adjunct at Texas Southern University. I teach at Texas Southern because I loved the background that I developed at Texas Southern and I wanted to inspire this generation to do well or do better.”
NFL player benefits
I was a tutor in the math department during the years I was an undergraduate (at TSU) and Coach Alex Durley would send his football players to tutoring so they could keep a good average, otherwise they’d get put off the team. A couple of football players came to my tutoring session and I’m at the board writing the mathematics, and one of them, good looking guy named Warren Wells (who went on to play in the NFL for the Oakland Raiders) sat in the audience of my little class and said, ‘Jackie, you do mathematics on the blackboard. I do math and physics on the football field.’ And I said, ‘This negro is cocky.’ I never will forget that.”
“Years later I looked at his data and his yards per reception average was 26.8. His career average was 23.1. Well, I loved to do sports analytics. Not only that, after Warren’s career in football with the Oakland Raiders, he had some transition challenges, which many of them do. And, the Holy Spirit told me to go and encourage him. So, I drove down to Beaumont and he was not doing well.
“When I went to go see Warren, he was picking up cans up and down the street of Beaumont and selling those cans to have spending money. I said, ‘Why are you doing that, because, in the 80s you came to me and I wrote that letter to Gene Upshaw and you asked me to help you get your disability check from the NFL.’ He said, ‘Yeah, but I don’t get that check no more.’ I said, ‘That doesn’t make sense.’ But, when I got back to Houston, I called Gene Upshaw and Gene remembered me. I said, ‘You know, I wrote the letter to help Warren and his family get that retirement check. What happened?’ He said, ‘He still gets a check.’ I said, ‘But he told me he didn’t.’ He said, ‘When he turned 65, we stopped the disability check, but we started the full retirement check.’ What we found is that someone in the family told him that the disability check was terminated. But unfortunately, they didn’t make him aware that his full retirement check was still coming. And I don’t want to cause any trouble. But you understand where I’m going. So, I told him he needs to go live where his checks were being delivered; which he did.”
“But on that initial trip I took to Beaumont to check on Warren, he said, ‘Jackie, what are you doing here?’ I said, ‘Well, you may not understand, but the Lord told me to start writing and comparing your data with others to show that many of you all from the HBCUs were outstanding, but are not getting the media coverage to promote your career like some of the other players.’ I had done some research and found that many of the guys who get nominated to the Hall of Fame, they get it because sports writers have promoted their career and have recommended that they be considered. So, I started doing writing for the Bleacher Report. I wrote about 1,600 articles, doing research on Prairie View players and TSU players, mostly. Now, I did write under a pin name on purpose. The last pen name I used was Honor Warren Wells TheTorch, because he passed away. I started out with my pen name, Damali Binta, an Africa name I picked in the ‘70s.
“Clem Daniels (PVAMU alum and former Oakland Raider) saw the research I was doing, and he decided to take it on and help me because he was still living in Oakland and he knew Al Davis’ son Mark (the current Raiders’ owner). I kind of stepped back and they used my data, but Clem helped Warren get reconnected to the Oakland Raiders.”
Miracle at Shea Stadium
“But during Warren’s playing days, I was living in Brooklyn Heights. Warren knew I was living in New York. He and the team arrived in New Jersey and he called me and said, ‘Jackie, you never did go to the football games at TSU, and they said, I was the top wide receiver in 1969, and we’re gonna play the Jets Sunday. George Atkinson (legendary Raider) is going to come with me and I’m gonna bring you a ticket. I want you to see me play.’ That was the Raiders and the Jets, December 6, 1970. So, they caught the subway and brought me a ticket to my apartment in Brooklyn Heights. And I got excited. I said, ‘I’m gonna go to this game.’ I dressed myself that Sunday morning and caught the subway and went in one of those booths and took a picture of myself all dressed up and went to the game. I never will forget, it was 33 degrees at Shea Stadium. It’s the only pro football game I’ve ever been to in person. The first quarter to me looked like the Jets were doing better. Second quarter, the first touchdown was made by Warren though, for Oakland. And then the third quarter. But it was the fourth quarter. Only eight seconds left. And the Jets were leading and (the Raiders offense) huddled at the 33-yard line. Darryl Lamonica was the quarterback. They say Darryl Lamonica looked over at Warren Wells and said, ‘Man, you can help us win this game.’ So, they broke loose from the huddle and Darryl threw a pass and Warren told me this later, it was like the wind carried the ball and he was in the right place at the right time and he caught that ball and fell into the end zone and made the touchdown. And the score was tied 13-13. Then George Blanda kicked the (extra point) and they won 14-13.”
“Eating at SHAPE is an important weekly practice for me because my husband, who was from New Haven, Connecticut, and who had a business in Harlem, when he moved to Houston, he’s the one who introduced me to Deloyd Parker (SHAPE co-founder). My husband, Stephen Hopkins Giles, he’s the one who borrowed Deloyd Parker’s Swahili book to name our first child, Karume Kanyama Giles. My husband also would volunteer at SHAPE and make freedom lamps and, and teach the kids and work around SHAPE. And, I just have an honor that I met such a gentleman who had the Afrocentric state of mind, because it helped bring me into it. And so out of honor of that and to also try to encourage my son, who I just lost December 19, my son named by his father. His father passed away some time ago. In honor of that memory of being brought into the Afrocentric state of mind with Deloyd and all of them.”
“I’ve been recently appointed to a project. Dr. Emmanuel Neba-Fuh has put me on his steering committee for a United Nations Colonization Memorial that he wants to establish here in Houston. I’m willing to what advocate to help other people get full benefits or whatever they need to do better in life. And I feel like this project is gonna be a powerful one because when I lived in New York, I did have friends at the United Nations. So, I considered it a miracle that I would meet somebody who’s starting a United Nations Memorial Project right here in Houston. And I think that Dr. Emmanuel was surprised that I actually had two or three powerful diplomatic friends when I lived in New York. One of them, a world banker is named Dr. Paul Kwame Acquah. And the other one who passed away recently was Dr. Sam Quaicoe, a journalist.”