The Boost

SW Atlanta favorite son, Brother Eric Bernard Jefferson (1962-2023); a charmed and giving life…well appreciated and well done



During the 1980 spring of my senior year at Omaha NORTHWEST HIGH SCHOOL, I gave a classmate a ride down to the Navy Recruiting Office. My plan was to wait in my car. The Navy’s plan was to talk me out of my car and get me inside to take the ASVAB Test. Once they got my results the next words I heard were, “Broadened Opportunity for Officer Selection and Training” (BOOST) Program. Then the next word I heard was “San Diego.” I said, “where do I sign?” I breezed through Boot Camp then marched six blocks across the Esplanade Canal with my seabag slung over my back to my new duty station HQ, the BOOST School at SSC San Diego.

{PHOTO: Fellow Graduating BOOSTers ’81 (l to r) Track I Petty Officer 3rd Class Ron Cooper, Los Angeles; Track II Seamen Apprentice M. Darry Woods, Omaha; Track II Seaman Derrick Mills, Atlanta}

At the start of classes in September 1980, a dude walked up to me, slapped my text books out of my hands, mumbled something to me with a southern accent and strutted off. I said to myself, “What the…” Long story short, that dude would become my roommate, my best friend at BOOST, my window to the New South, my brother. His name was Derrick Mills (may he also rest in peace) from the Atlanta SOUTHWEST HIGH SCHOOL Class of 1980; renamed not long afterwards for the 6th Morehouse College President (1940-1967), Dr. Benjamin E. Mays. Mills said, “Let me introduce you to the ‘Georgia Boys.’” There was Hudson, Shelton, Hutchins, McCarden, Strozier and Jefferson; an Eric Jefferson, an Atlanta Therrell HS Class of 1980 graduate.

Growing up in Eastern Nebraska in the predominately white city of Omaha, even in an integrated public school system, 98% of my many, many friends were (colored, then Negro, then Afro-American, Brown then) Black. So, I understood the non-Southern-American Black Experience as I saw it through the eyes of my friends, their families, my family, my Baptist church congregation, my big afro, our soul, R&B and funk music, Ebony & Jet Magazines, and the 1970s Blaxploitation movies. I didn’t know in 1980, Atlanta Hartsfield Airport was the 2nd busiest in the world behind our Midwestern-own juggernaut, Chicago O’Hare. All I knew about Georgia was what I saw on TV, and the #9 rated show in America during my HS senior year was The Dukes of Hazard; Luke, Bo, Daisy and Uncle somebody. Jesse, I think. The TV show’s Waylon Jennings-performed theme song is still in my brain to this day, “Just some good old boys, never meanin’ no harm, beats all you never saw; been in trouble with the law since the day they was born…”

My new best friend and shipmate from the Adamsville section of the SW Atlanta, Derrick, would quickly help me get my mind right on the so-called “Deep South” in 1980. He would quickly help me get my mind right on Georgia. He would quickly help me get my mind right on Atlanta. Good old boys? No, these were the Georgia Boys!

Earlier this year I received a “post?” Covid Era photo of some of those same BOOST Class of 1981 Georgia Boys gathered around a Denver favorite son birthday brother. The photo took me back to the 1980-81 era that I am now posting about. A time when our Commander in Chiefs transitioned from the Carter Administration to the Reagan Administration. The schools and popular culture in the previous decade of the 1970s in the North, taught and preached that the North was good and the South was bad. That the South was dumb, as in the Dukes of Hazard; and the North was smart, as in the #8 rated TV show of our senior year, The Jeffersons, set in Manhattan, New York.

Today, we would call that propaganda, indoctrination; all of which came to a screeching halt in my mind when I met Brother Eric Jefferson and his fellow Georgia Boys. These brothers were (are) brilliant. These brothers were (are) confident. These brothers were (are) strong. These brothers possessed what we would call a decade or so later, swagger [SWAG: SOUTH-WEST ATLANTA GEORGIA]. These brothers were America’s brightest. These brothers were America’s future. I said to myself of 1980, this Atlanta, Georgia must be some kind of amazing place to be young, gifted and Black; and Atlanta was where I would end up after the Navy, Wayne Williams in custody or not. I wanted to go to the region, to the state, to the city that produced the “Georgia Boys.” My fellow shipmates. My fellow BOOSTers. My fellow Americans.

I had not had a chance to have a 2-way conversation with Brother J. since we all graduated from the first ever Navy Track II Broadened Opportunity for Officers Selection and Training (BOOST) Class, meaning none of us came through the fleet to get to this program. We came straight outta high school. So, not long after our June 5, 1981 graduation ceremony, we all would go our ways, one way or the other. Fast forward some four decades when I started to hear about Brother Jefferson health concerns and issues. I would send positive messages, thoughts and vibes his way whenever he came to mind. I hate that I never got the chance to tell him what I am saying right now about how the Georgia Boys affected my life. I reached out and grabbed on to their high confidence level, pocketing as much as I could for myself. Today, this so-called 20th Century “Nebraska Boy,” who intersected paths with the Georgia Boys? Yes! Today, I believe there is nothing I cannot make happened. Where did I see this first? From a Southwest (Benjamin E. Mays) HS brother who slapped my books down as his way of saying, “Hello.” Where did I continue to see this can-do attitude? When Mills introduced me to Eric Jefferson and the Georgia Boys. I thank them. I honor them. I’m proud of them and all their post-1981 accomplishments and achievements.

Through the eyes of the Georgia Boys, I learned who Mayor Maynard Jackson was; I learned who developer Herman Russell was; I learned who City Councilman John Lewis was; I learned who the educator Benjamin E. Mays was; all before I would learn during the 1983 “20th Anniversary of the March on Washington” who the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. really was. I want to say to all of Brother Eric Bernard Jefferson‘s family and lifelong friends that beautiful lives are (have been) lived. I’m so sorry your (our) loss. I thank you for your service, Brother J.

M. Darryl Woods, US Navy BOOST Program Class of 1981
North Las Vegas, Nevada

This is an open letter for a dear friend and fellow shipmate who has always been there for all of us. Today, 9/4/2023 he told me he was feeling down over the loss of his Brother Eric Bernard Jefferson. So, I got to writing…The BOOST