Debrai Haile

Blast from the past


Used with permission from The Remembrancer

This past photo was taken of Haile while he was on staff during his time at WHHS.

Debrai Haile

I joined the Chatterbox staff to write a column on random topics with my good friend and partner-in-crime, Gregg Harris. We had a blast doing it every week.

I think we started doing this as juniors, but I honestly cannot recall if we did this as juniors or seniors, or both. It was either the 1988-89 or 1989-1990 school year. Either way, a very long time ago, when the Reds were approaching World Series glory. And the Bengals yet again made us dream, only to leave us suffering. Le même chose, etc.

And hip hop was becoming a real thing back then. I still remember the defiant anthem by Public Enemy in the summer of 1989, “Fight the Power,” and the eclectic vibes of De La Soul, and their classic, “Potholes in my Lawn.” And no one has anything on Boogie Down Productions (Google it, youngsters). It seemed so edgy then.

Now, I find myself feeling disconsolate listening to the inscrutable rhymes today’s hip-hop artists offer,

mostly untethered to anything beyond self-aggrandizement. Like, I get it, you make a lot of money and the ladies think you’re all that. But Chuck D moved people to action about things bigger than themselves.

It was a strange time to be a Cincinnatian back in the late ‘80s. Amazing sports teams. Photography exhibits (see Mapplethorpe, Robert) shut down by the local puritanical sheriff, backed by many local citizens, who seemed hostile to gay people or otherwise indifferent to their struggles. It was preferred that gay folks remain comfortably hidden in their closets back then, including at WHHS, where pejorative names for such folks were commonplace, as it was elsewhere. In fact, WHHS was probably more open-minded than other schools even then, but we were not divorced from the prevailing cultural norms.

Ok, I was supposed to write about what Chatterbox meant to me, in light of its 100-year anniversary. Well, first, it means I am f—— old!

But seriously, the Chatterbox instilled in me the love of the written word and its power to provoke, inspire, persuade and entertain. The Chatterbox gave me the freedom to be creative without restraint,

allowing me to test and challenge my own powers of written expression.

I had no clue I was a decent writer before I joined the Chatterbox. I assumed I was average, but the creative freedom it provided allowed me to see that I had a point of view—or a contrarian, provocative side—that could only come to fruition when I could deploy the written word to express my thoughts. It taught me that, if I could not clearly express my ideas in writing, it likely meant that I was not clear in my mind how I really felt about the topic at hand.

The confidence and platform the Chatterbox gave me as a writer and thinker led to me writing articles for my college newspaper as well as the European edition of the Wall Street Journal during my junior year at The American University. It also led to me, on the advice of my editor at the Wall Street Journal, going to law school. Because, as some of you may know, the written word is to a lawyer what a scalpel is to the surgeon. And he told me he would much rather hire a lawyer who can write than a journalism major from any school.

So, yeah, the Chatterbox was an essential link to what has turned out to be a great legal career practicing employment law in Chicago for the past 25 years. It represents the best of WHHS.

So, congrats Chatterbox and here’s to the next 100 years!