The Moral of the Fox and the Hound: My Friend Shannon Killough

This post is about my late best friend; it is a post that I recycle every year on her birthday.  She is a person that I miss everyday. It is about a relationship that got away due to elements of a false faith in God, class, and race. This is about a relationship that has shaped my ideological and intellectual construct; it is about a relationship that pushed me towards the left and has shaped my readings, my faith, and in many ways… my identity. This is a post about my friend Shannon Killough.

Today is the 36th birthday of my best friend. At times, I am perplexed when trying to describe her to both friends and family who did not know her; I know that she emerged in my life at a time when I was stuck between two worlds: One world was made up of white privilege and religious conservatism that angered me. The other world was that of black distance and distrust of organized religion. I often struggled in trying to come to terms with both worlds. As a young black man entering the 10th grade with financial help from a private school, I was often isolated in my understanding of the white middle class, though I seemed to fit in well; I was a good athlete and eager student – though I clearly felt behind my counterparts at times; I once asked a loud, “what are French Doors” as my peers discussed their homes and the summer renovations that took place. I had never heard of youth groups before, nor did I fully comprehend the emotionalism held at youth rallies, or the exaggerated collapsing of members in the black church.

Leaving my underfunded public school, which was an extension of racial segregation and bigotry for a more privileged school, only awakened me to the realities of the world. Furthermore, it was at this nice private school that forced me, as was and is the case for many teenagers, to seek some sort of identity. My parents are not educated – at least not in the conventional sense, nor are they religious. They  taught me to love and embrace all people: black, white, gay, lesbian, poor, and the defeated growing up.

But it was my friend, Shannon, who transformed my life in a very different way. For the first time, it was okay to relax and be me; it was okay to display a sense of emotion that was not of the norm; it was alright to accept people and love the beauty of what life offered; however, it was this close relationship that impacted not only my ideological position… but my interpretation of life. I realize this was a great burden to place on one person, but I think she managed. Our friendship had its challenges: Her parents did not like me; I was not up to par vis-a-vis my race. Her family was not the only ones who felt this way; I once had to contend with a teacher that looked at our friendship with an eye of suspicion. I was troubled by this suspicion since it was generated not by my character, but by my skin color.

She and I, as well as a group of my newly minted private school friends, would often have to lie in order for her to hang out with us; my race was an embarrassment to her family. I am often reminded of the classic eighties cartoon The Fox and the Hound; it was this cartoon that can teach us much about the pain of relationships and how the dynamics of race and class often divides us. In the cartoon, the fox and the hound befriended each other only to be forced against one another by their families: The hound was supposed to hunt the fox, but that was difficult for both to accept since they met at a young and innocent age. This cartoon teaches us about relationships and the purity of its meaning.

My friend Shannon, died of cancer in the fall of 2005; I was supposed to visit her upon a return trip from Atlanta four months earlier; I got caught up in a meeting while visiting GAC (Greater Atlanta Christian School), and thus missed out on our meeting. Shannon died within thirty days of discovering she had cancer. Hearing this was tough; it was the longest week of my life; I had to stay home because I could not control my emotions. Out of anger and frustration for how complicated her family made our friendship, I took every letter she had written me over years and copied them. I went on to write a very long letter to her parents illustrating my hurt and frustration over the problems they caused. And yes, I did mail them.

I am not sure a day goes by in which I fail to think about my late friend. I do not suspect, I know that our relationship and the behavior of closed-minded people have played a major part in my ideological shaping. Thus, part of my job as a teacher is to inculcate a sense of passion and understanding in my students of all types of people. That has been Shannon’s gift to me, and hence it is my gift to my students.


12 thoughts on “The Moral of the Fox and the Hound: My Friend Shannon Killough

  1. Thank you for this beautiful story. I am ashamed to say that I did not always embrace Shannon in the friendship she offered me. She could be “different” at times and I found myself caught up in the taunting of others. Shannon and I eventually became friends in our later years of high school because, like you Eddie, I was sometimes considered an outcast by many at the private school. Shannon never cared about what the other kids said or how they acted she just accepted you for yourself. I think of her often and hope to emulate her passion for others. At her funeral service it was said that she was shopping for her family even though she had to be pushed around in a wheelchair. She wanted to make sure that others knew she loved them even after she was gone from this earth. I pray that we will all carry a little of Shannon in our hearts.

  2. Thank you Tiffany. She was different and difficult at times. There are very few people in my life that have had a profound impact on me at such an early age. I like that she was able to look beyond my ego and embrace me as a friend.

  3. I remember Shannon Killough. I did not know that she died from cancer. I’m so sorry. I remember her as a quiet, very polite young lady. This is a wonderful memorial to her and depending on your view of life after death, I think she is smiling down on your effort to enlighten people from the era of your high school days on things that we did not understand let alone embrace. I only have a high school education and I wish I could speak as eloquently as you, Eddie — Edward! May I just say this since I know I couldn’t find the right words no matter what level of education I had. The most important point of my words is that they come from my heart and very deep in my soul — I have seven of the most beautiful, precious, talented and loving grandchildren that ever lived on this earth. Three of them are either bi-racial or black. When I look at all seven of them their Nana does not see skin color. I would give my life for them. I thank God for each one of them every day and for the joy they bring to my life. I believe that Shannon gave freely and loved those around her with a love that did not see color. I guess we could say that she was ahead of her time — back then. I’m happy you had the blessing of Shannon’s friendship and that it influenced your life in the way it did. I have some good news, Eddie —- you will see Shannon again on that great day and what a feast we will all have together. Praise God for His great plan and for His son who made that plan possible for ALL of us regardless of skin color. Sending a hug to you, Eddie Carson, as you remember and honor your friend!

  4. Eddie!!!

    You are so humble. Not as cocky as you were in high school. I remember what great friends you two were. This is a great post. Keep it up man. You are a rock for the rest of us. To recall this day every year.

  5. I had to step away from this computer to take a couple of deep breaths and wipe away many tears after reading your blog post. I think, maybe, that you know how closely I can relate to your story. I appreciate you giving a voice to your experience – that is just one of your special gifts. I am so very happy to see how you used that relationship to be a powerful positive influence that will hopefully cause people to really inspect their true feelings and beliefs. More importantly I hope people learn to find courage within themselves so that they do not lose those they love and care for because of other’s inteference.

    I wish peace for you on this day as you remember Shannon. I am so sorry that you lost her. Love to you, too. Take care

  6. Ed,
    I remember Shannon well and remember the problems you discussed (I may have been one of your accomplices in hiding your friendship). What a beautiful and fitting tribute to a friend! I hope someday that my life will impact someone as positively as Shannon’s has impacted yours!


  7. you know my heart sir. ((((((giant hugs)))))) that season of our lives can never be duplicated but what a treasure it is to remember. every time i pass the clinque counter, i think of her (and at so many other times too)….

    hugs- lori

  8. Eddie ~ I stumbled upon your post somehow on Facebook. I am speechless. I went to school with you but fell a few grades below you, so you probably don’t remember me. Your words have opened up my eyes to a struggle that was taking place right before me and I never knew… I never realized the difficulties you faced, and I am so very sorry. The South is tough; deeply routed Southern religion is even tougher. But Jesus Christ is freedom for us all. That’s something I was never taught in that tiny Christian school, and obviously you weren’t either. You are brave to share your story, and I respect you for trying to make a difference in the generation to come. Prayers for you as you continue to grieve the loss of a dear friend, a process that will no doubt take many more years.

    Tamara Tew Blair

  9. This is a beautiful story, Carson. I want you to know that, in my personal experience, you have succeeded in your mission to “inculcate a sense of passion and understanding in my students of all types of people. ” Your writings and classes have profoundly impacted my worldview. You are a gift to your students, friends, and colleagues.

  10. Sitting here crying. I love you both. I knew you two were friends; I don’t think I realized you were so close. Shannon was a special young lady, and you have grown to be an exceptional man. The potential that we often overlook as we look out upon our students is sad. Thank God that he sees it and gives special friends like Shannon to shape and guide such potential as yours. Thank you for your heart, your talent, and your words. I am proud that I knew you both. Love and prayers.

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