Richard Antoine White, I'M POSSIBLE

Richard Antoine White, I'M POSSIBLE

“I want to offer the world my very best. I don’t want to deprive the world of the best version of me.” Professor, author, and principal tubist for the New Mexico Philharmonic Richard Antoine White joins Zibby to talk about his debut memoir, I’m Possible. The two discuss how the tuba found Richard, what experiences are on his infinite bucket list, and why teaching is the greatest thing he’s ever done. Richard also shares how despite all of the challenges he faced early in life, he wouldn’t change anything that happened because it made him who he is today.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Richard. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss I’m Possible: A Story of Survival, a Tuba, and the Small Miracle of a Big Dream.

Richard Antoine White: Hi. It’s a pleasure to be here today. Thank you.

Zibby: It’s an awesome subtitle and an awesome book, so there you go.

Richard: I appreciate you.

Zibby: Why don’t you tell listeners what your book is about? Which is really your whole life story, but tell them what inspired you to make it into a memoir.

Richard: The title started with I’m Possible. The idea is that it’s against all odds. In the book, I say that I want everyone to read it and feel like they are a superhero. Sometimes in life, I feel like everyone needs to make the decision to be their own hero. The thing I like about heroes is that if you’re a hero, it signifies that you can conquer limitations or there are no limitations. I really like that. The book talks about my journey, born homeless on the streets of Baltimore, some challenges, some normal challenges and some different challenges. Much like any normal kid, my day consisted of playing and enduring things, but a few things that are different. Sorry, the dogs are barking.

Zibby: Oh, that’s all right.

Richard: Things were different in that I had to really get my nourishment from the environment around because we didn’t have a home. At the end of the day, it was my job to find my mom. Some days, I was successful. Some days, I wasn’t successful. The book travels through that journey with my relationship with my mom. The most poignant thing I want people to get from the book is the village that helped me. From those triumphs and those struggles from my mom, there was a village, every friend, every stranger, every teacher, every mentor. I tried to credit them in the book because the village, I believe — you hear this saying, it takes a village. The village that helped me is remarkable because the one thing they have in common is that none of them ever gave up on me. After that, it travels through my education and my career. Ultimately, I made history by becoming the first African American to get a DM in tuba performance, which is incredible. Against all odds, I made it into the New Mexico Symphony, which is now the New Mexico Philharmonic. That’s a really brief synopsis.

Zibby: That’s good.

Richard: fast-forward. We can unpack some of that if we need.

Zibby: It was really amazing, the way you talked about growing up and waking up. There was a scene you wrote about where you would wake up in front of a tree. You’d be like, well, where is Mom today? Then you’d go have to pick yourself up at the roots of a tree and literally just go try to find her. The one scene where you were a baby, which you don’t remember, but when you were crying and people heard you crying and had to come rescue you in the house, this is tough stuff. You’re in it as a child.

Richard: Through it all, I’m often asked, would I change anything? The answer is absolutely not. It was the hand I was dealt. I played it to the best of my ability. If I change anything, I might not be the person I am today. I’m okay with the person that I am today. It doesn’t mean I don’t have my own faults, but I’m working on them. I’m proud of who I am. I saw a word the other day, flawsome. Flawsome means an awesome person that understands they have faults but is working on them. I’m like, what an incredible word, whether it’s a real word or not. It’s really awesome.

Zibby: You know what? You and I are just going to decide to make it a word today. From now on, I’ll start using it. You start using it. Who’s to say? That’s how it starts.

Richard: Excellent.

Zibby: Most people have flaws and faults. It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t. I guess in truth, we’re all really products of our environment. Who’s to say if we would’ve been better — I can’t imagine you achieving anything more. Let’s pretend you had been born into a different environment.

Richard: I always feel behind.

Zibby: You reached the heights of your career. You can’t go any higher, in other words.

Richard: That is true, but there are new endeavors. I always feel behind. I have a huge bucket list. One of the saddest things to realize in life is that you get to an age and you realize, I’m not going to do everything I want to do in this life. That’s a sad thought. At the same time, it also puts things in perspective to say, let me cross as many as I can off. We’re probably both at that age.

Zibby: Yes. I know. I’m like, well, maybe I won’t go on a safari, ever. Maybe I will never get to India. Australia, I don’t know, sounds great, but probably not for me. What’s something you’ve resigned yourself to maybe not achieving that you wish you could or somewhere you wanted to go or something? What did you scratch from the bucket list?

Richard: I think I could best answer by telling you what’s on my bucket list.

Zibby: Okay, let’s do that.

Richard: My bucket list includes being the first classical musician to say I’ve done a recital on all seven continents. Left is Australia, Antarctica, and Africa. I’ve gotten invitations from Africa and Australia because I was on another interview and I said this. They’re like, we’d love to have you here.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, look at that.

Richard: That’s going to happen. I want to win a Grammy one day. I have this idea to create a yoga CD because I think low tones would be just great for any yoga studio, to have those vibrations. The ultimate goal, which you’ve read in my book, is that I want to create my RAW Tuba Ranch, which is now kind of morphing into a place where people can come twenty-four/seven, have beer and chili. The City of Albuquerque acknowledged me, and we’re thinking about having a music and art school. It’ll be my residence. We’re trying to put all the pieces together. Those are the top three things on my bucket list. If I had to answer the question of, what’s on my bucket list that I think I won’t be able to do — my ultimate goal in life is infinite. It’s not going to have a completion. When I write on a piece of paper, “What do I want most in life?” the two things I want most is to be a monumental figure in classical music and to inspire hope. What I realize is that those things are ongoing. I can always do something more in the classical field. Inspiring hope is something that’s infinite. Maybe it will happen after I’m gone. I used to think the other thing that would stop me from being successful in life is death. I no longer believe that because I think if you leave the correct legacy, you’ll still have a life after death. I hope I can accomplish that.

Zibby: Wow, that’s a serious goal.

Richard: I think big.

Zibby: It’s immorality, really. That sounds good to me too. I’ll take that. That’s the cool thing about books, like books like yours. You spill your story. You inspire. Then each time, you leave it behind, and then that’s it. That’s exactly what you’re talking about. Books are the tangible proof of immorality and that your words and thoughts will live on. There you go. You already did it.

Richard: We have to start thinking collaboratively in our world. I always say, if it was up to me, I would sit on the couch every day, eat donuts, and play my Nintendo Switch and be just happy, but I want to offer the world my very best. I don’t want to deprive the world of the best version of me. I don’t want to deprive you of the best version of me. I don’t you to deprive me of the best version of you. Although, I just met you.

Zibby: I don’t think you’re getting the best version of me today. I’m sorry. I’m blowing my nose every two seconds. My heart’s in the right place.

Richard: Cumulatively, if we always put our best efforts forward, then that has to equal something magnificent. Sometimes best effort is, hey, all I got is seventy percent today. If that’s your very best, that is awesome. We have this conception, I’m going to win, I’m going to win. We have to remember the goal is never to win. The goal is always to do your best. Winning is a byproduct of doing your best.

Zibby: Yes, that’s true.

Richard: You’re doing your best today.

Zibby: Oh, thank you. You too.

Richard: Thank you. You’re awesome.

Zibby: Tell me also about — I saw on your website, the film version as well, the RAW Tuba. Tell me all about that with Early Light Media and everything, part of the Invisible Thread.

Richard: Wow, it’s amazing. Right now, there’s all kinds of confusion. If the listeners are listening, if you go search RAW Tuba, which is the title of the initial film, it’s not going to come up. It’s on Magnolia as of January 5th, but it’s called Hi, I’m Richard Antoine White. It’s part of their Hi series. The way this came about, they were making a film about the arts and how the arts are under-published and underfunded and we should give to the arts. Someone at the Baltimore School for the Arts, because they were connected to the Mountainfilm, which is a big film festival, said, “Hey, you really ought to talk to Richard White.” They called me up hoping that they would have a ten-minute conversation. We had a forty-five-minute conversation. They said, “We don’t what’s going on, but we’re pretty sure you just changed our mind. We’re going to do a movie about you now. We’ll call you back.” Amazing, right? I was like, what? We ventured out. They came to Albuquerque. I went to Baltimore. Lots of weeks in the making. I had no idea how much time goes into ten seconds of a film when you see it. It’s actually incredible. They made the film. The rest is history. Now it’s touching so many people. My ultimate hope is that the film and book will be part of school curriculums. There hopefully is a young readers’ edition coming. I just got an email today saying, hey, how about a picture book?

Zibby: Yes!

Richard: I think that’s a great idea. Maybe we’ll have a remake of Tubby the Tuba, but it’ll be RAW Tuba: Tubby the Tuba for kids.

Zibby: I love that. That’s perfect. It’s perfect. It’s already so visual. You could take these cover characters and — it should actually be animated, right?

Richard: What do you think about the cover, by the way? It was a big decision to pick the cover.

Zibby: What do you think about the cover? I think it’s cool.

Richard: Oh, I love it. I love it. I think it’s remnants of Keith Haring.

Zibby: Yes, it does remind me of Keith Haring, for sure. You could do a whole thing with those characters.

Richard: I see a mind working over there.

Zibby: It is. It is working. I’m envisioning the whole thing. That’s awesome. There’s so much potential. Here’s what I always wonder. This is going to sound ridiculous. I’ve never tried to play the tuba. What if I was the best tuba player in the world and I never even knew it? How do you make sure you find the thing that is going to distinguish you in the world? You and tuba, how do you know? How did you know? How do you know going forward? Where do these skills come from? Do you know what I mean?

Richard: I understand what you’re saying. Without sounding too romantic, it was meant to be. There was no other option. I got lucky. I found what I was supposed to do. I found my voice. I found a relationship with an instrument that was me. There was no other choice. I think when you’re presented with those situations in life, you really get to shine and be the best that you can be because it’s all you got. You’re all in. I really think that the tuba found me. I didn’t necessarily find it.

Zibby: I knew you were going to say that. I knew it. I knew it was coming. I knew you were going to say, the tuba found me. Okay, so I shouldn’t even have asked.

Richard: It’s all right. I know that’s a cliché statement, but the amazing thing about this is that the tuba and me share so many similarities. I’m 6’5″, 330 pounds. Could’ve been a football player. Tuba’s the biggest instrument in the brass, low — boom, boom, boom — often the butt of jokes, often the underdog. Boy, talk about an instrument that represents my life. You couldn’t pick another one.

Zibby: Wow. That would be a fun thing if you’re developing a website — I love your website, by the way, but if you did a whole quiz on the site. Actually, this probably isn’t brand-aligned with you. How do people figure out what instruments they are? How you have that story, like you’re the tuba, and then I could go on your site and figure out, maybe I’m a — I don’t know.

Richard: Oh, man, you’re giving me lots of ideas. I should probably write more. I used to write every day and post on Facebook. Then I transferred them to something on my site called RAW Wisdom. It’s just my thoughts about topics from A to Z. It’s weird. I should go back and fix some of the writing. I’ll wake up at three AM and say, hey, I’m going to write. How that happens, I don’t know. Do you ever do that?

Zibby: I don’t do it at three in the morning because I force myself, usually, to stay in bed at least until four, but yes, I do that all the time. The other day, I was in the middle of something — I shouldn’t even admit what I was doing. I was doing a publicly facing something or other. On the side, I wrote a whole article. I was like, I have to write this right now. I’m going to half-pay attention, but I’m also to going to half-write. Whatever.

Richard: I call those zero hours if you get up before six, those zero hours, because nothing’s going on. If you can do something simultaneously, especially in this hybrid world we live in now with normal and virtual, you capitalize on what I call zero hours. Congratulations.

Zibby: Thank you. Thanks. I think that those musings of yours, though, that come at the — it’s an unguarded moment. It’s a direct line with no filters into the soul, essentially, is what it is. Sometimes it takes all the other things in life to be stripped away a little bit to access it. Then when you get those clear — it’s like the clouds parting when there’s an airplane and all of a sudden, you can see the beautiful ground. You’re like, oh, wow, I better look right now. It’s the same thing.

Richard: I couldn’t agree more. I think more people should embrace the point of exhaustion. I think we’re all afraid to get to the point of exhaustion because we think that’s where it ends or we stop, but the point of exhaustion is where new beginnings happen. If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’re going to keep getting what you’ve been getting. When you reach the point of exhaustion, it’s a new day. You’re going to learn something that you previously didn’t know that will allow you to elevate in new ways.

Zibby: Wow. Very cool. In addition to the tuba, which obviously you are, in every way, uniquely suited to be attached to, your voice itself is so distinctive and rich. I don’t know what the words are. Not that you haven’t been doing enough, but I don’t know if you ever thought about — I should stop giving you ideas. You have plenty to do. It’s not like you needed help. I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s gotten into me.

Richard: No, I love your brainstorming. It’s really awesome. I’ve gotten several emails saying that I should do voiceovers from other authors. Hey, dude, I heard your audiobook, and I’m just going to throw this out there. I haven’t entertained it yet, but maybe there’s a future there. I’m still trying to figure it out. I’ll have more time now because I just made full professor, so that means I get to say no to a few things at school. Still have to work, but I think when you reach the full professor stage, you can say no to a couple things, and they’ll still like you.

Zibby: That’s amazing. You’re like James Earl Jones version 2.0 or something.

Richard: Yes.

Zibby: With the professorship and student interaction, tell me about someone’s life that you saw that you affected profoundly and what that felt like.

Richard: Like in the book, regardless of what I do, I don’t think anything will trump what I feel is my greatest accomplishment. That is that I am a teacher. Every day, I get to go to work and make a difference in a kid’s life because that’s what someone did for me. It is my greatest accomplishment by far. In a moment of transparency, I think we have a problem in our country. We’re willing to give help, but we’ll distribute help at level five. If you don’t achieve or you’re not successful at level five, then you’re not applying yourself or you must be lazy. We all have different strengths and weakness. Maybe this person needs level-six or level-seven help for them to thrive. That’s what I’ve seen in my teaching. I’ve come in and students were like, “Oh, man, I’m going to drop out. It’s taking me seven years to finish that undergrad degree. I really don’t have support. It’s really hard.” I give them that extra help and see them thrive.

One day, to a student, I said, “Hey, let me tell you something. Come close.” Same thing I said to a friend of mine in a different way. I said, “You know what? Whether you graduate in four years or seven years, when you walk across the stage, your degree is going to say the same thing as the person that graduated in four years.” The student’s eyeballs lit up and said, “Oh, my gosh, you are right.” They finished. Now they’re pillars in our education community here in Albuquerque. It’s more than one that took multiple years to graduate. I think what we have to do as educators and people is to actually meet people where they are. We’re not honest about the level of labeling and stereotyping we put on people. It’s out of control, actually. If we’re honest about that and we can fix that, then we’re allowed to meet students where they are. What does that mean? That means that, as an educator, you have to find something that you absolutely love about every student. That will give you the endurance to go beyond. That will help you both elevate. The student gets to be successful. You get to sit back and watch the student successful. As an educator, you never take credit for a student’s success. If they’re successful, it’s because they did the work. All you want to do is just nudge them in the right way.

Zibby: I love that. That’s so great. Have you crossed paths yet with Brendan Slocumb?

Richard: Why does that name sound familiar?

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, you guys have to talk. He wrote a novel called The Violin Conspiracy. It’s fiction. He’s in the symphony as a violinist. His novel, which is loosely based on parts of his life, tracks his journey being a black teenager renting the violin, his whole journey. The novel goes off and talks about — it has more of a thriller aspect to it. You’re both referencing the same percentage of how there’s less than three percent — he had said 1.7 percent of performers in symphonies were black. Whatever the percent is, it’s dismally low, of course, and ridiculous. I feel like you have so much in common from different sides of the stage.

Richard: I’ll definitely reach out and read his book. Thank you for the tip.

Zibby: What do you like to read?

Richard: I like a lot of self-help books. One of my routines every day is to look up quotes, obviously, because I’m a motivational speaker now. I really like to read a lot of quotes. In my spare time if I’m not reading or playing tuba, my guilty pleasure is playing Pokémon GO. I’m a Pokémon GO player. Any self-help books, though, I really like to read. Stephen Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People; Tim Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek; those are my type books.

Zibby: Love it. Awesome. I’ll bet you’ll add your own to the mix at some point.

Richard: I hope so. There’s a famous music book that’s often recommended when students have trouble. It’s called A Soprano on Her Head. I’m drawing a blank with the author right now. I hope my book becomes that book where teachers go, hey, read this. The publishing business is crazy. It’s a slow grind. I’m trying to inspire hope as best I can. I really appreciate you having me on to tell this story. Ultimately, that’s what I want people to understand. Whether you’re at an advantage or disadvantage, I want people to know that you can do it. I want everyone to recognize that great people aren’t born great. They grow great. As a community, we have to see that greatness and help it grow.

Zibby: I love that. Great people aren’t born great. They grow great. That’s awesome. I love it. I’m inspired already. Oh, wait, last question. What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Richard: Wow, aspiring authors, I would say, follow your heart. My advice to aspiring authors would be, think “in spite of” instead of “because of.” Oftentimes, we hear, because of this, I can’t do that. Because of this, I don’t have the funding. Think, in spite of not having the funding, in spite of all these roadblocks in front of me, I’m going to show you that I can do it. Outside of that, my message to anyone listening and just humans in general, my message is always, there are thousands of problems in the world, but ninety-nine percent of them can be solved if we were just kind to one another. Be kind.

Zibby: I love that. I’m all about that. I talked to a woman the other day in London. She said above her desk there’s a big sign that says, “Work hard, and be kind.” I was like, that’s it. That’s it right there.

Richard: I love it. My message to aspiring authors, think “in spite of” instead of “because of.” Sometimes “because of” has a negative connotation to it. “In spite of” means, I’m just going to show you.

Zibby: I’m just going to do it. I love it. It was great to meet you, Richard.

Richard: Yes, so awesome.

Zibby: Sorry for my present state. I’m excited to see all the things you have up your sleeve and coming out in the future. So exciting.

Richard: Feel free to email me with all these amazing brainstorming ideas. There may be a collaboration here. I appreciate you.

Zibby: That’s great. Yeah, email me anytime.

Richard: Thank you. Buh-bye.

Zibby: Take care. Buh-bye.

Richard Antoine White, I'M POSSIBLE

I’M POSSIBLE by Richard Antoine White

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