Following his election as chair of the UM System Board of Curators for the upcoming year during its meeting Thursday, Darryl Chatman shared a story of dedication and optimism spanning three generations.
Chatman’s father, who passed away in March, grew up in the Pruitt–Igoe housing projects of downtown St. Louis. Despite the financial burden, Chatman said his grandfather believed in education enough to send all eight of their children to Lutheran High School North, despite having never graduated high school himself.
“He never discussed the hard times that he had,” Chatman said during the Thursday meeting. “He only shared his stories of hope and optimism about the future of his family, his great state and the future of our country.”
His father followed the tradition by sending Chatman to private school from kindergarten onward. At that time, his father lived in a trailer park, Chatman said, making sacrifices so his son could graduate Lutheran High School North in 1992, as he had before him.
Chatman’s father supported him academically and signed him up for every sport available, he said, aiming to keep him busy and out of trouble.
All the while, his father never complained about his family’s financial struggles, the political and racial climate of the era or the death of Chatman’s younger sister to sickle cell anemia when Chatman was 4 years old.
His father was his greatest inspiration, Chatman said, having overcome alcoholism when Chatman was 10 years old and living sober as an active Alcoholics Anonymous member for the next 35 years.
He supported Chatman through his part-time jobs as a janitor at University Place Apartments, a farmhand at an MU dairy farm and a meat cutter at the Mizzou Meat Market.
“His optimism about life was contagious,” Chatman said.
Chatman went on to graduate from MU in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in animal science, his first of four from the university. He would later obtain two masters’ degrees from MU, in animal science and agricultural economics, as well as a master’s in public administration from North Carolina State University in between the two at MU. Chatman earned his Juris Doctorate in 2008. He played as a linebacker on MU’s football team during his undergraduate years.
During Chatman’s second year of law school, before his grandfather died, he would regularly talk to Chatman about the accomplishments of African Americans from across the political spectrum, and the ideals they strived for. The picture Chatman took with his father at his law school graduation still hangs in his office in Jefferson City, he said.
Earlier this year, when Chatman’s father’s health began to decline, he invited his father to live with him. He declined, saying he wanted to die on his own property. On March 13, he died on his front porch following a heart attack, overlooking a property he’d spent his life dreaming of, where the two had watched deer stroll, fished and shot target practice with their .22 rifles.
“I am the first lawyer in my family,” Chatman said. “I am the first Division I athlete in my family to compete in the Big 12 as a three-year starter and inside linebacker. There are also not many African American attorneys specializing in agriculture.”
“None of this would have been possible without my father and my grandfather’s guidance, love, discipline, sacrifice and, most importantly, optimism. I’m living the American dream that so many in our country have fought and died for. I’m living the dream that my grandfather and father envisioned, and I will continue to share their optimism for this great institution that we represent.”