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October 2008 Archives

My Best Friend Has Died And I Feel Guilty

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God bless you.

Henry Frank Briscoe died of a massive heart attack at age 66 in Kansas City last

Saturday (Oct. 25).

I have been asked to fulfill his wish of preaching his funeral and will do so on

Saturday (Nov. 1). I expect to see many of our Sumner high school classmates there at

the Metropolitan Baptist Church with president Lemuel Norman because Henry was

endeared to us as one of the friendliness, kindest guys you could ever meet.

The news shocked and hurt me something awful because Henry was my best friend

outside my family. It also left me feeling guilty because I thought I would die first and

maybe should have died first because I thought I was far sicker.

Henry told me over the last two years that he had been battling diabetes and high

blood pressure. Since March, I have been battling brain cancer, prostate cancer and

end-stage congestive heart failure. So you go figure. Why him ahead of me? I simply

have to thank God for sparing me to live on a little longer.

Henry called me every week or so to check on me, wish me well, bring me up to

date on our Sumner High School (KCK) classmates and assure me that he and the rest

of my friends were praying for me.

But Saturday morning, my brother, Rev. Ephthallia (yes, Ephthallia, and please

stop laughing because that's his name and you'd best not mess with him because he

weighs maybe 300 pounds and stands six feet) called me and stunned me with the sad


"Oh no, not Henry," I thought. "But I was supposed to be the one with the real

life-threatening sicknesses. Was he sicker than he knew? Or was he hiding something

from me?"

Henry and I came from the South to Kansas City, Kan., in the 1950s with our

families. We were part of the Great Migration of blacks from Southern field labor to the

North for better jobs, better education, better housing and other opportunities overall. He

came from Monroe, La., and I came from Lyon, Miss.

We met as eight-graders at Northeast Jr. High School in KCK. It was a friendship

forged by mutual poor Southern backgrounds, strong Christian faith, good character and

the desire to be the best students we could be and the best gentlemen we could be. Yes,

we were super nerds. We inspired each other to make the honor roll each semester. We

supported each other in our respective endeavors. While the other cats were slouching

in class, smoking Chesterfield or Lucky Strike, drinking Mogan David and Boone's Farm

wine, and concentrating more on trying to make out with Lulubell in the back seat of

some ol' Chevy Impala, Henry and I were booking trying to make and stay on the honor


I was 13 years old and I had been preaching four years when I first came to KCK.

Henry was 12 were he had come a couple of years earlier and he would eventually

become a preacher at the age of 17. We both had picked our share of cotton before

moving north.

When I came straight from Mississippi to the North, I had a tremendous

inferiority complex because of my poor Southern diction and common mode of dress.

My classmates often made fun of me and would mimic the way I talked or pronounced

certain words. But Henry befriended, respected and encouraged me because he

aspired toward holiness and academics just as I did.

Two things perhaps endeared me to Henry is a special way. One was his respect

for my academic success and what he thought were natural leadership abilities. So

whenever there was an election for home room, class or student body leadership, Henry

would always nominate me for president. I eventually became student council president

at Sumner as a senior. But before that, my classmates refused to elect me as any

president. They chose instead to elect me as chaplain because I was a preacher. I

eventually would take that as an affront and decline because I wanted my classmates to

realize that I was capable of doing more than praying, reading the bible and preaching.

The other reason I appreciated my friendship with Henry was because he was a

handsome dude. He mesmerized the ladies with eyes the color of Budweiser and with

straight, curly hair that made black girls want to have his babies because he would

enhance the chance that the baby's hair would not be nappy,

After graduation from high school, I went to the University of Kansas on

scholarships and loans, graduated on time and had a job as the first black reporter for

the Kansas City Star waiting for me after I graduated. I also went to U.S. Naval Officer

Candidate School in Newport, R.I., became a commissioned officer during the

Vietnam War and afterward began a successful professional journalism career working

for Ebony magazine and then for the Sun-Times.

Fate was not so kind to Henry. And it wasn't his fault. He never knew his father and

he ended up being the surrogate father for his two sisters and three brothers. His brother,

Rev. Cleveland McBeth, tells me that when Henry was in junior high school, he worked

after school to help his single mother, Elvira Estella Briscoe, support the family. He

continued to work extra jobs to help his mother until his sibblings were grown.

"Henry never knew a normal childhood," Cleveland said, "because he sacrificed

that to be the man of the house. We all looked up to him. He was not only our big

brother. He was like our father."

Henry told me he eventually got a degree from Western University in Kansas City.

But Henry never was able to get the kind of good-paying job that netted him a meaningful

career with fringe benefits to include a pension. He married and had two daughters. But

when he died, he, like growing millions of Americans, had no health insurance because

of what insurance called "pre-existing conditions." And his failing health and age made it

even more difficult for him to get the kind of job he wanted and needed.

As such, I assume that Henry did not have access to competent and consistent

medical care when he died. Otherwise, perhaps the severity of his condition could have

been determined and treated early enough to have saved his life. I feel the same about

my father, who died of a stroke at age 64. The same about my mother, who died of blood

poisoning at age 42 after carrying a dead fetus. The same about my baby brother, who

died of a heart attack at age 52.

My oldest sister, Mrs. Maude Lee Burrell, got decent medical attention because she

was able to work a full career at General Motors in Grand Rapids, Mich., and thus

receive care from an affordable group medical insurance policy that she carried on

herself, her chronically ill husband and her five sons. She even spent five months in

the Cleveland Clinic awaiting a new heart before an infection disqualified her from

heart transplant candidacy.

Sure, I'm thankful that I'm still alive. God has blessed me with a good job, a super

care-giving wife in Joyce and access to affordable health care through our union's group

health insurance policy. God is also healing me partly through this instrument.

But if I did not have a decent job and affordable medical insurance, perhaps I

would have died as early as 2001 when I underwent triple-bypass, open heart surgery

at the University of Chicago. There have been other heath issue since then that could

have killed me if I had had no access to proper medical attention.

Personally, I believe that in this great America, the land of the free and the home of

the brave, competent health should be a right of every American citizen.

God bless you.

God bless you.

One thing I have gotten from my seven-month fight against brain cancer, prostate

cancer and end-stage congestive heart failure is a weakened and much more sensitive


It pains me deeply to see others suffer.

It hurts me horribly to see greed in the highest places destroying our nation's

economy and wreaking untold havoc and suffering on the masses robbing them at the

gas pumps and stealing from their retirement and pensions funds and setting in motion a

lethal chain of events costing people their jobs, their homes, their savings, their medical

insurance, their hope and their peace of mind.

When I was younger and healthier, I was just as sensitive. I would hurt when I saw

other get hurt. But my heart was stronger then. I could endure it then and the tears I'd

be moved to shed were more affordable to the rest of my young nervous system.

But the deadly state of affairs reflected in our nation's critically sick economy

really tears me up. Then there are also individual tragedies like the firing of people I meet

and find to be good people to work with. My latest pain came Thursday when I was at

the Bears training camp doing interviews and I learned that the Blackhawks, a team a

co-cover, fired Hall of Fame coach and favorite-son alumnus Denis Savard for a

1-2-1 start. Perhaps, it may prove to be a good decision later if he successor does

a better job quickly. But Savy still got a raw deal.

Would a 4-0 or a 3-0-1 start or a 3-1 start have saved him? Was the die cast long

before hand? Were there powers upstairs hoping he'd get off to a slow start so that they

could fire him quickly before he got a chance to really show what he could do? I simply

think that, on the basis of his overall progress and promise, and on the basics of the

loyalty he had shown to the organization and the honors he had brought it in the past,

he deserved and had earned a better chance of at least 10 or 20 games before

chopping off his head.

I called Denis and thanked him for being himself--a good coach and a

kind human being. You see, I've worked with some mighty mean people in my

36-career of covering sports for the Sun-Times. I have worked with some of the most

evil blessed people on the face of the earth. I'm talking about athletes, coaches and

general managers who have been blessed with good health, great talent and super

opportunities to enjoy tremendous fame and fortune. And yet many of these people

turned out to be the most hateful, ungrateful, disrespectful, mean and arrogant people

for no good reason whatsoever.

When I first started covering the Bulls for the Sun-Times in 1972, Dick Motta had

his security guard to kick me out of the locker room because I asked him for a response

to fans who feel his penchant for technical fouls was hurting the team. I remember at

that time when Bob Greene and Tom Fitzpatrick, two superstar Sun-Times writers, came

to my defense. Later Motta would coach elsewhere and we were able to enjoy a better

working relationshp.

Since then, I've had other coaches to curse me, lie to me and lie about me simply

because they disagreed with what I wrote and could not intimidate and manipulate me.

But the roll call of good coaches who, in my opinion, got raw deals grows longer and

longer, sadder and sadder. Some were able to rebound elsewhere and do well. These

include the NBA likes of Jerry Sloan, Doug Collins, Phil Jackson, Lenny Wilkens, Rick

Carlisle, Mike Fratello and Byron Scott. Other good coaches like Ray Scott, Quinn

Buckner, Dick Versace, Dave Sarachan (soccer) and Willy Roy (soccer) have not been

allowed to rebound.

Now, bad firings and trades in pro sports are not all that tragic because of the

exorbitant salaries those players, coaches and GMs earn. But the real tragedy is what

had happened to America's job market as a whole. Wall Street has greedily and criminally

mismanaged much of our country's economy into massive financial ruin and the

fallout and collateral damages are catastrophic and pestilential.

Our nation's biggest financial institutions, headed supposedly by America's

finest financial minds, have behaved wantonly and destructively to the misfortune of

millions and millions of Americans. Not only has our government allowed and helped

wealthy businesses to outsource millions of previously American jobs to cheap foreign

labor. The crooked CEOs of those businesses have pockets tax breaks and stolen the

401K and other retirement and pension savings of the employees they're thrown out of


Now, we are witnessing the planet's biggest bank robbery ever in the $700

billion bailout that is designed to help the rich first and the poor possibly and probabaly

never. The agony and anguish from this magnitude of evil is too much for even an

healthy heart to bear. And, trust me, because things are being handled this way, things

are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better.

It is seldom the nature of greedy people at the top to willingly and voluntarily allow

their wealth to trickle down to the middle class and to the poor at the bottom except by

force from law or labor unions. That history has repeated itself again and again, often

resulting in bloody revolutions where the suffering masses become so enraged they

retaliate with tumultuous violence.

What America needs is not the bailing out of the rich and greedy, but the return of

jobs to the poor and the needy. Give the people jobs, not handouts, and they will be able

to make the money they need to spend on food, clothes, houses, cars, other merchandise

as well as health insurance, health care and commercial services. What we have now is

a growing population of unemployed, uninsured American consumers buying foreign

products on credit while they are already deep, deep in debt.

Anybody with a heart, a real human, caring, sharing heart, has to hurt at the sight

of such blight. And as I continue to undergo the healing of my physical heart, I pray

more desperately for the healing of America's spiritual and economic heart. But the

disease is so advanced and pervasive that what America really needs is a heart

transplant of new leadership, fresh, honest leadership, whose competence is surpassed

only by it compassion.

God bless you.

not been so lucky.

Lacy J. Banks

Lacy J. Banks, 67, has been a Sun-Times sportswriter/columnist for 38 years and a Baptist preacher for 58 years. He has preached at more than 100 different churches in the Chicago area. A native of Lyon, Miss., Banks graduated from the University of Kansas with a B.A. in French and he served three years in the Vietnam War as a U.S. Naval officer. Lacy and wife, Joyce, have been married 42 years and have three daughters and five grandchildren. Among beats Banks has covered for the Sun-Times are the Bulls, Fire, defunct Sting, Blackhawks, Wolves, Cubs, defunct Hussle, Rush, Sky, college football and basketball and pro boxing.



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