Back in the 1940s, out in the West Texas town of El Paso, lived a black woman named Rose Richardson, although everyone called her "Ole Mama."
Ole Mama had a husband, Miles, who couldn't work because of an accident that covered him in burns. She had a job at a small chicken restaurant. She had a three-room house – kitchen, living room, bedroom – in South El Paso, which is a nice way to describe an area that was essentially a barrio, so close to the Rio Grande you could chuck a rock into Mexico.
And she had nine children and grandchildren living with her. Nine.
Now, this was something. Poor? Oh man, they were poor. Hopeless? Well, close. This was the segregated south, Jim Crow, and the only relief from heavy racism was to cross into Mexico where no one would deny them access to lunch or a movie.
Ole Mama had a grandson named Nolan, a gifted athlete, particularly in baseball and basketball. He was also someone everyone knew early on was headstrong and whip smart.
The kid was something, but even then, Rose Richardson knew the odds were stacked tall against him. She knew the struggle was impossible to fathom and opportunities would be scant and fleeting. So she'd preach the same message to Nolan over and over, tell him to do the same thing if the world dared to unbolt a door to a better life.
"Crack it," Nolan Richardson recalled. "She said, 'Crack it. If they give you a crack, kick that son of a bitch down. If they give you this much [of a] crack, Junior? Kick the son of a bitch down, because they shouldn't have given you that much.