Morehouse College’s Fonzworth Bentley
This Spelhouse baby recalls his days of running track and learning how to respond when being pulled over by police
Though he’s known today for being in Kanye West’s entourage, and recently for helping get West and Gucci Mane together for the track Champions, Fonzworth Bentley is perhaps best known as the impeccably dressed valet next to Sean “Diddy” Combs, and for keeping the Making the Band kids in line. But there’s way more to Bentley (starting with the fact that his professional name is a play on Bootney Lee Farnsworth, the boxer from Sidney Poitier’s 1975 film Let’s Do It Again) than carrying umbrellas. His real name, of course, is Derek Watkins, and he’s a Morehouse man who speaks at colleges around the country. He says that much of what drives him now as he navigates the entertainment industry is what he learned on the track at the all-male Atlanta college that counts filmmaker Spike Lee and actor Samuel L. Jackson as alumni.
It took discipline. I was literally running year-round. Meets would be on the weekends when everybody [else] was partying. When you go to college, it’s like … you have to go to class, and the expectation is the test is happening, you have to show up for the test and you have to make it right. Running two sports helped me to prioritize at a whole different level than a lot of my peers. I obviously wanted to perform on the track and on the cross-country field. I didn’t want to be one of those guys who was just out there, being in shape and just enjoying the camaraderie. And I also wanted to perform in the classroom. The discipline was just extraordinary. I was a biology major. The biology major is not a game. They study all the time, they’re up late. That nocturnal energy that I was creating, and that discipline really transferred to moving around in the entertainment business now.
I’m a Spelhouse baby: My mom went to Spelman, my dad went to Morehouse and the way I understood HBCUs [historically black colleges and universities] is that these institutions were put in place to curate and to produce the brightest and the best of our community, so that when they leapt out and went into the world, not only did they represent us at the highest level, but they could compete at the highest level. That’s something that was very important to me. Specifically, Morehouse College has a legacy of producing strong black leaders in the community, and I did grow up where I was pulled over in my car because it was a decent car. And it wasn’t even about it being a decent car — I was a young black man in a car. I grew up understanding that at a very early age. I remember my dad telling me, ‘If a police officer pulls you over, and it’s on a dark street, your instructions are to drive until you get to a lit area, a well-lit area. I don’t care how many sirens or how many lights are going.’ And I have several instances where that happened. But once that became a reality for me, and I literally got pulled over, that’s something that you intrinsically want to find a way to change. And what better place to build up your character and understanding of who you are, the world that you live in and how to change it, than to go to a historically black college? That was important to me.