Returning adjunct professor rises above his past

Just as philosophy is not just the writings and ideas of a bunch of dead white men, professors are not just a bunch of book worms with no real life experience.

Dr. Leamon Bazil is a case in point, having been arrested and convicted of drug possession and distribution while working on his dissertation at SLU back in 2003. Bazil was taken into custody on his way to class in McGannon Hall.

After serving three years in jail, Bazil eventually returned to SLU to complete his Ph.D. in philosophy and is now teaching in the Philosophy Department, offering a course next smester called, “Race, Social Justice, and the African-American Experience.”

Students are likely to find Bazil as easy to talk to and as unassuming as his office. His academic degrees hang not towering over his desk, but actually at waist level. Three posters, instead, are prominently featured above his higher education degrees: one of the notorious BIG, one of 2Pac and the last of Jimmi Hendrix.

When asked to describe the importance of each, Bazil turned in his chair, stared at Hendrix as if at an old friend, and talked about him as a revolutionary, an open-minded avante guard and inspiring musician who played like no one else.

Turning and looking over his other shoulder, Bazil seemed to pay reverence to the Notorious BIG poster, then talking of Biggy Small’s taking on the experience of the average black kid in New York City, painting vivid pictures through words, and, as Bazil described, being nothing short of an existentialist.

Lastly, Bazil confessed that it was 2Pac that really showed his age, but that also helped convince him that “only the bad can judge me,” linking the taking on of oppression by both 2Pac in song and by Bazil in scholarship.

While Bazil did define the word philosophy as “the love of wisdom,” philosophy as a spirit means constantly asking, “Why?”  Bazil’s goal is to show that philosophy is not just the writing of a bunch of dead white men that may not have any importance to the modern reader, but a spirit that drives critique of anything and everything, seeking to always test the validity of any rule. Bazil says he feels sorry when anyone gives up this philosophical spirit.

After all, it is the philosophical spirit, along with a strong sense of faith, which brought him from a jail cell back to the classroom. Bazil confessed that he still does not know what some colleagues think of him, but characterized most reactions as a “mixed lot.”

Growing up in North St. Louis, Bazil attended Catholic schools his entire life, actually attending Catholic elementary school on SLU’s campus in what was formerly St. Francis Elementary School, now Xavier Annex.

He attended high school at Christian Brothers College, and he recalled the drug use of close friends and acquaintances at the age of 14. Neighborhood bullies were after shoes, money, drugs and guns.

When asked about one thing that he would change about SLU, Bazil was not guarded. He would like to see a friendlier atmosphere where, like the philosophical classroom, nothing is off the table for discussion. And how can this be done? CIRCLE, or The Coalition for Interracial Communication, Learning, and Excellence, was one suggestion. Rather than some sort of utopia, CIRCLE seeks to form alliances through experiences, not just through theory and abstraction, always prompting those involved with this question: “How do you expand your circle?”

Bazil repeated the importance of not laying down when we fall down, of not hiding your talent underground and of not allowing one mistake to be your death sentence.

As imperfect beings, all humans are called to understanding, mercy and the belief that everybody can be redeemed.

Dr. Bazil used the image of a gun, since whenever someone points one at another, there are also three fingers pointed back at the shooter. For him, his current job is his redemption.

Bazil twice quoted poetry, saying that he was well aware that “life is no crystal stair,” as the Langston Hughes poem says, and that he is the “captain of his soul,” according to William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus.”

The angst and panicking that he experienced as a grad student, when his funding expired, now gives way to his conviction to work with what he has been given.

His return to SLU after his jail sentence was because of a nagging feeling of unfinished business, business that must not just be completed in the classroom, but in the community, and in conversation about ethics, race, social justice and the African-American experience.