The Wire Reimagined: From Gangsters To HBCU Leadership

I believe your reality is what you make it, what you choose to see, and what you choose to allow yourself to do. There are possibilities all around you – magic all around you – no matter what situation you’re in. – Keke Palmer

HBCU leadership. Who is protecting African America’s corners and towers? The corners representing the social, economic, and political capital that leads to the empowerment of a people while the towers represent the physical communities African America exist within. In the HBCU world of leadership there are many presidents and administrations that reflect in the behavior of The Wire. From those who want to form the New Day Co-Op so that HBCUs are stronger together with less friction and creating more opportunities to those who want nothing more than to wear the proverbial crown and are willing to destroy the community to do so. There is also the underlying reality that The Wire portrays brilliant minds, strategic thinkers, and ambition in African America that often gets wasted in a game that never creates institutional empowerment for African Americans. But what if those talents were redirected? If they were used to do just that, build the institutional empowerment of HBCUs and thereby strong African American institutional power. Based on their talents and characters what role would each of them play and why.

President: Slim Charles

In The Game: The Pawn who became a King/Queen. Slim Charles was the consummate soldier first serving the Barksdale Organization, then the lieutenant for Proposition Joe. He is the only one who truly sees Marlo as the threat that he is showing a keen sense of foresight. A sense of loyalty and code matched only by Omar Little, best exhibited when he kills Cheese to avenge the death of Proposition Joe.

HBCU Translation: Slim Charles is chosen to be an HBCU president because of his keen strategy abilities, intelligence, foresight, adaptability, and willingness to make tough decisions. His sincere desire to ensure what is best for the organization is at the foundation of his decision making versus his own desires makes him beloved and respected by all who serve under his leadership.

Provost: Omar Little

In The Game: The Robinhood of The Wire whose main occupation is robbing the drug kingpins. There are two moments when Omar’s acute intellect is highlighted. He is set to testify against Bird and there is an officer who is trying to complete a crossword puzzle about the God of War. Omar ultimately solves the puzzle for him recalling his early school days. He also best Levy, the white lawyer who serves seemingly as the lawyer for every drug kingpin in The Wire, who is representing the character Bird on a murder charge. In the exchange, Omar states simply that, “I got the gun, you got the briefcase. It’s all in the game though, right?” Omar squashes Levy’s notion that he (Levy) is absolved of his profiting off of the drug trade in Baltimore just because he is not in the streets. That they are both are profiting off the drug trade, as it just happens that Levy’s white privilege allowed him to attend good schools, live in a safe community, and eventually become a lawyer while Omar having the same mental capacity (if not more) was brought up in a toxic environment that often laid brilliance to waste.

HBCU Translation: As provost, Omar Little would help shape the learning environment and academics of an HBCU in ensuring that those who matriculated through the institution would leave no stone unturned to reach their full potential. He would oversee research, teaching, and service with vigorous passion. Provost Little would also use the institution’s strength to increase the strength of the African American PreK-12 pipeline that feeds into the HBCU.

Associate Provost: Brianna Barksdale

In The Game: She is the sister of Avon Barksdale and mother of D’Angelo Barksdale. While not seemingly playing a direct role in the Barksdale organization, it is always clear that she has the ear of Avon Barksdale and often is seen providing him with valuable advisement. After her son is murdered in jail and made to look like a suicide she continues to probe his death as the circumstances surrounding his death do not seem to quite add up.

HBCU Translation: While Omar is keen on the rigors of academic development for the students, Brianna sees to the nourishment and growth of their personal development. Ensuring that students develop the soft skills and maturation necessary to excel about matriculation.

Chief Financial Officer: Stringer Bell

In The Game: Was there anyone more focused on building the wealth of Barksdale and Bell than Stringer? While everyone was just relying on the economics of the corner, Stringer was taking economics classes at the local community college and engaging in entrepreneurship and real estate development. He ultimately believed that what was in the best financial interest of B&B was to move from retail to wholesale in Baltimore’s drug game. Stringer also understood that they were in a unique situation to be the “bank” of all the heroin that came into the city which would allow them to become impervious to law enforcement and therefore eliminating the risk to their lives or imprisonment. His desire to engage Clay Davis, albeit naively, showed that he understood that there was bigger money to be made. One could argue that had Stringer had his way, Baltimore ultimately would have been redeveloped by his desire for more.

HBCU Translation: With Stringer Bell as the CFO and head of the endowment, an HBCU would be ensured of a healthy financial future both today and for generations to come. Investment decisions would not be stuck in the past, but would constantly be forward looking. It can be argued that one of the major issues for HBCUs is their inability to be financially creative and benefit from new investments or even be financially aggressive with their endowments. If Stringer Bell is at the helm of the purse, rest assured his eyes would be on his HBCU competing with the Harvard endowment and nothing short of that would be acceptable.

General Counsel: Chris Partlow & Snoop

In The Game: The GOATS of drug land assassinations. Marlo Stanfield’s rise to the top simply does not happen without these two protecting his organization and its interest. Chris serving as the number two in the organization was even quite good at calming (as best one could be) Marlo’s hot temper. They were professionals, not just killers. The prophetic, “Get there early” was the mantra by which they operated their craft.  You simply did not get the drop on these two and once they set their sites on you the next time anyone would see you would be on a t-shirt.

HBCU Translation: It may seem strange at first that two enforcers would be serving as your legal counsel, but a good legal counsel protects and enforces an organization’s interest. These two will see that there will be no frivalous lawsuits against the school, nor bad contracts entered into by Stringer, and may often go on the legal offensive as Slim Charles sees fit in the best interest of the institution. They will provide the hard power to Government Relations soft power diplomacy.

Government Relations: Clay Davis and Maurice Levy

In The Game: Clay Davis arguably was the government and Levy understood the inner political workings of the governmental offices as well as anyone. It was Clay Davis who bamboozled Stringer Bell out of six figures of money and it was Levy who told him how Davis did it. Levy was also exceptional at getting intelligence and his clients often were always a few steps ahead of the government’s war on drugs efforts. Both were “veterans” of the machine and understood all too well that the true power was not in the streets, but in offices where decisions were being made by those who knew the language of diplomacy, lobby, and influence.

HBCU Translation: When it comes to local, state, and federal funding and policies impacting their institution nobody knows more than these two. They not only know what is happening before it is happening, but are also part of shaping what is going to happen. Part of their strategy involves the shaping of former alumni into future politicians who will be beholden to the school and its interest above all.

Vice-President of Research: Lester Freamon

In The Game: The unsung genius of The Wire. Lester was thought to be wise and intelligent police officer, but his work on helping crack Marlo’s organization code ultimately shows his true brilliance.

HBCU Translation: Building your HBCUs research structure needs the mind of someone who will spend countless hours doing so and that person is Lester Freamon. He integrates research throughout the entire institution from the groundskeepers to science labs. Ultimately, he and Stringer Bell work closely in helping the HBCU commercialize and profit from much of their groundbreaking research bringing in billions of dollars to the HBCU’s coffers for the creation of state-of-the-art labs and research facilities.

Professor of Aquaculture: Wee-Bey Brice

In The Game: Arguably one of the coldest killers in The Wire, Wee-Bey has a soft spot for fish. When he has to go “away” for a bit of time, he entrust D’Angelo Barksdale to look after them. Albeit, D’Angelo thought he was actually about to kill him.

HBCU Translation: On the school’s farm, Professor Brice leads extensive research on aquaculture, which is the breeding, raising, and harvesting fish, shellfish, and aquatic plants. A few of his students go onto form aquaculture startups, which find early investors from the school’s endowment, while others make their way into the USDA’s most prominent positions of leadership over the years.

Professor of War Gaming and Game Theory: Marlo Stanfield

In The Game: Marlo is the head of the Stanfield organization and ultimately the kingpin of Baltimore’s drug trade. He is ruthless and in many ways lacking almost any emotion along the way. He understands the moves necessary to wear the crown as it is called among Baltimore’s drug dealing community. The shrewdness and calculated moves to eventually get a line on Prop Joe’s connect and then eliminate him insuring he controlled the city’s supply would have found respect by even those at the Pentagon.

HBCU Translation: War gaming and game theory are not typically found at HBCUs, but this is a fictional HBCU and we believe that far more African Americans needs to learn the art of corporate and military strategy, both of which these fields cover. Understanding your own position, your opponents’ position, and the moves that will ultimately make you the victor are vital both individually and institutionally as our students graduate and go on to run African American institutions of their own. There is nobody better suited to teach them than Prof. Stanfield.

Dean of the Law School: Bunk Moreland

In The Game: Detective Moreland is a cigar smoking cop who grew up in the very neighborhood he now tries to solves murders in. His relationship, especially to Omar whom he was a few years ahead of seems to offer him a unique place in The Wire’s two worlds.

HBCU Translation: Dean Moreland may seem like an odd choice at first given that he not a lawyer, but as mentioned – he was from the community and that carries a special kind of weight to it. He still believes in the community and the people in it. At one point even chiding Omar on a park bench about how when they were younger the hardheads would not let him hang around so he would avoid trouble and stay focused on school and now the likes of Omar and other gangsters no longer uphold that level of honor. While he may not be your traditional law school dean, he is exactly what an HBCU law school needs. To realize that those African American lawyers are going to be more than just lawyers, they are going to be soldiers for their community on the legal battlefield.

Chair of the History Department: Proposition Joe

In The Game: Prop Joe was the wise elder statesmen gangster. He prided himself on always finding what we believed were win-win situations. But his true joy was knowing the history of the community.

HBCU Translation: Not only does he lead the history department, but he ensures that no student regardless of major leaves the institutions without a reverence for those that came before them. He teachers students, but also staff and faculty as well about the importance of ensuring students know the history of anything they are learning. You may see him leading a conversation on the African American history of math or nursing on any afternoon. He believes the cultural assets of the HBCU are vital to its success.

Director of Development: Malik “Poot” Carr

In The Game: There are few characters in The Wire who lived to see the END. Surviving in this context meaning both being alive and not in jail. Poot starts as a low-level drug dealer working in the Pit. Eventually rising to Bodie’s lieutenant as they formed their own crew. He has seen it all, been part of it all, and seemingly knows everyone.

HBCU Translation: The head of development’s job is to bring in the money from alumni and corporate sponsors and that is done through the building of relationships. Poot’s existence as both an alumni of the streets and then moving into corporate life at Foot Locker give him the relationships and skills to interact with both alumni and corporate to fill those coffers. He can tell the stories that alumni love to hear about the good old days and why their donations will help with the future.

Director of Academic Counseling: Howard “Bunny” Colvin

In The Game: Colvin is a cop for most of the series but eventually goes onto work with youth hoping to help turn their personal and academic careers around. His signature moment is visiting Wee-Bey in jail and asking him to “let go” of his son Namond and give him a chance to be successful at something else other than a gangster. That he has real promise in another world and no chance in his current one.

HBCU Translation: There is no doubt that with the proper resources he would assure that students were getting the academic and personal development necessary to thrive both while matriculating and thereafter.

Director of Alumni Relations: Preston “Bodie” Broadus

In The Game: Bodie is what one would call an independent contractor selling the dope of whomever has the most power. He prefers the Barksdale organization, but eventually falls under the thumb indirectly of Stanfield who begins to control the supply. Arguably one of the show’s favorite characters, everyone sees his potential beyond the street life and fighter attitude – arguably everyone except him. Easily could be so much more, but is committed to the life of the streets.

HBCU Translation: The HBCU alumnus who credits his HBCU for everything in his life that has been good. He was a diamond in the rough that was given the space to grow, mature, and find himself. Forever grateful to the institution, he decides to come back after working for a shipping and logistics company owned by a fellow HBCU graduate to head up the institution’s alumni relations. His ability to generate alumni fever is unmatched because of his deep desire and love for the institution.

Chief of Police: Brother Mouzone

In The Game: A legendary hitman was Brother Mouzone. A hired gun eventually for the Barksdale organization with deep connections to New York. He is able to stem the tide of market share loss for the Barksdale organization as the Stanfield organization and others encroach on their territory. His ability to dissect situations intellectually and keep a level head at all times makes him revered in the streets.

HBCU Translation: What is an HBCU Chief of Police’s job? Is it just to be another police force? No, HBCU police chiefs carry a special role of protecting a Black space and ensuring its safety in a world that constantly has them under attack. Chief Mouzone would most likely have intelligence units operating at all times gathering intel on any potential threat to students or the institution. If necessary, he will even take offensive action with the permission of leadership should it call for it. The institution and the area around it would become a sanctum of safety.

Athletic Director: Avon Barksdale

In The Game: The head of the Barksdale organization. Avon is well respected in the streets (and in jail). It is clear that Avon’s youth was spent in sports and athletics. Cutty eludes to a time when Avon was a golden gloves champion, but Avon explains his career was cut short due to a physical limitation. Avon invests $15,000 into Cutty’s boxing vision and directs him to take care of the little ones.

HBCU Translation: Avon truly understands the power of sports in the community. He possesses a certain charisma that people are drawn to which will make his ability to build corporate relationships and bring in quality coaches. Never losing the bigger picture, he realizes that the athletic department is just a small piece of a wholistic institution. As quick as anyone to not allow the fanaticism to rule. He keeps a heavy hand on graduation rates, discipline, and ensuring that the department serves as true ambassadors for the institution’s image.

Men’s Head Coach: Dennis “Cutty” Wise

In The Game: Once a legendary enforcer, Cutty gets out of prison and for a period of time goes back to the streets only to realize his heart is no longer in it. He wants to work with youth sports and help mold and shape young boys and men before they see death or prison.

HBCU Translation: Coach Wise does not just care about wins and losses, in fact they are acutely secondary. His most proud accomplishment is his athletes graduation rates. He prides himself on his athletes strong discipline, high character, and achievement in the classroom.

Women’s Head Coach: Shakima “Kim” Greggs

In The Game: A detective who is one of the strong voices and characters in the show as the police force tries to bring down the city’s drug and violence problem. Able to hold her own in any situation. While being a secondary character in many respects, in a show with few women leads, Detective Greggs always shines and is a force to be reckoned with when shown.

HBCU Translation: Coach Greggs is a no nonsense coach who demands her players push themselves beyond their limits. They are required to sit in the front of class, volunteer in the community, and be disciplined. She coaches to win and dominate.

Head of Facilities & Groundskeeping: Reginald “Bubbles” Cousins

In The Game: Bubbles is often described as intelligent and caring person within the community and ultimately one of its many victims of the heroin trade. A heroin addict himself, Bubbles has a knack for being on the “scene” at opportune times. This allowed him to be one of the police more reliable sources of information throughout the series.

HBCU Translation: As head of facilities and groundskeeping, he is one of many redemption stories among HBCU staff and one of its unsung heroes. He is the type to make sure a hungry kid gets fed or lets a promising student into a building to work on a project after hours. These stories and many like it are what makeup the foundational fabric of HBCUs, their students, faculty, and staff having an important role in the success of the institution. Bubbles prides himself on taking care of the buildings and the grounds as part of giving and creating the type of environment that students and faculty can find peace and thrive in.

SGA President: Namond Brice

In The Game: A charismatic kid who was never really built for the street life, but is bullied into it by his mother. Eventually saved by Bunny Colvin who sees his potential to be more and allowed to leave the street life by his father’s Wee Bey’s blessing who overrides his mother’s sentiment who believes the only life for her family is the street life.

HBCU Translation: Namond has an oratory gift and is extremely well-liked and respected student at his HBCU. He becomes SGA president during his matriculation and is a student-leader and ambassador for the institution.

Valedictorian / President of the Philosophy Club: Michael Lee

In The Game: The next generation of brilliance in The Wire. There is no one who questioned the game and its rules more than Michael. He is often chastised by his handlers for not just doing what he was told. Michael has serious problems with the way life and death is decided in the community, but is always intelligent enough to be one step ahead of those who would suck him and throw him away just as easily. He is often seen as a reluctant leader until the end where many argue he takes over as the new “Omar” in the community.

HBCU Translation: Michael leads mostly by example and takes his studies seriously. He is seen engaged in late night debates in the dorms with his fellow classmates. A PhD is definitely in his future, but not before he takes a few years after graduation traveling the world and learning the philosophies of Africa’s great scholars.

Ultimately, the purpose of this reimagining is to show and highlight just how much talent there is in the African American community and how much of it goes to waste due to poor institutions. That so many brilliant minds never get the opportunity to be part of building our community and our institutions into something greater. Poor institutions produce poor individuals and create a vicious cycle, but make no mistake about it – the talent and ability is there. Unfortunately, the resources and opportunity usually are not. However, this should not be taken as a message to then “get out” of our communities and into other’s spaces where we have no ownership and just end up being the talent that builds for other’s benefit. Instead it should be a call that we have to do things different and imagine different. Can we imagine a world where we are empowered? Where are most brilliant minds build up our institutions for our community’s benefit. That we can compete on the fields of power the world over. Imagining the New Day Co-Op as an investment firm of pooled resources by the business leaders of the community who then invest in startups, real estate development of the Baltimore harbor, build new African American schools, hospitals, research facilities that would make John Hopkins blush, and other institutions that are ours. After all, as the vice-president of research Lester Freeman once said, “We’re Building Something, Here, Detective, We’re Building It From Scratch. All The Pieces Matter.”

One response to “The Wire Reimagined: From Gangsters To HBCU Leadership

  1. What a refreshing and compelling analysis that positions HBCUs at the center of black life and vitality in a novel way! This piece reimagines HBCU sustainability and significance by strategically harnessing the power of black talent. It also provides a pathway to economic viability and structure for the future of black institutions for (and by) its stakeholders! I appreciate the writer’s ability to see the value and potential contribution of human talent from among America’s so-called disreputable populations (e.g., gangsters, dope fiends, criminals, etc.) and those from legitimate occupations. We need all hands on deck in building an innovative and autonomous future for HBCUs!

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