Old Reality

The story always seems to begin the same.

They just wanted to go home.

But the story always seems to end the same.

They are not able to make it home. Their loved ones miss them, and they will never truly understand why their baby is no longer here in the physical form.

I can only imagine the pain of a mother or father losing their child – to something as innocent as just wanting to go home.

All their lives, parents try to protect their babies from the folks we generally classify as evil doers. The Danger Strangers that McGruff the Crime Dog urged you to steer clear from.

Apparently, the overzealous neighborhood watchman, rogue cop, and suspicious store owner weren’t on that list.

Earlier today, I saw a post from a mom that was sharing how her young child was processing the verdict of the Trayvon Martin case. Essentially, the child said they wanted to be White – they did not want to die because they were Black.

That broke my heart.

In a reality that is new for these children, how do we calm or eliminate this fear? A nightlight or a warm embrace will not stave off the monster that lurks freely in the streets – consuming the lives of innocent children that never had the chance to live out their potential.

But these fates are not new. You can replace the cold, hard concrete of a BART platform in Oakland with the thick branch of a polar tree in Tennessee. Blood on the leaves. Blood on the street. The difference is all but non-existent. The crime: Black skin, usually a male looking “suspicious,” and wanting to just simply live. They say that history repeats itself – but in some ways, that history has never ceased.  It is an evil that has been reincarnated and is resilient to any form of exorcism, purification, or cure. It’s racism.

Someday, I hope to have children. But I am honestly at a loss as to how to prepare them for a reality they are destined to face.  It’s a painful and harsh reality in which saying “everything will be ok” just simply will not ease. It’s a promise that may be impossible to keep.  I pray that The Lord has mercy on us all.

Let Us Not Forget…

oscar mural

I didn’t know Oscar Grant. Personally, at least. But my mom remembers him working in the butcher department of Farmer Joe’s Market in the Fruitvale area of East Oakland. She remembers his smile. His eagerness to help customers. His spirit.

I didn’t know Oscar Grant. Personally, at least. But I am all too familiar with the fashion of how he lost his life – at the hands of someone that decided to be judge, jury, and executioner. Emmett Till. Latasha Harlins. Sean Bell. Amadou Diallo. Trayvon Martin. Jordan Davis. Ernest Hoskins. And many others. And just like those that succumbed to the same fate as Oscar, the person or persons responsible for their deaths did not receive a punishment that quite matched the crime. Maybe a few years in jail – and in some cases, just a $500 fine and probation. But is there ever such a thing? Is there an amount of punishment that will bring the deceased back to life? That would heal the gaping wound in hearts of their mother, father, children, etc.?

I didn’t know Oscar Grant. Personally, at least. But at the time of his death, there was a desire in me to do something. After seeing the grainy footage of his death over and over again on the news, included were images of his mother, Wanda Johnson, his uncle, Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson, his girlfriend, Sofina Mesa, and his daughter, Tatiana Grant – emotions within me stirred. Anger. Sadness. Frustration. Sorrow – especially for little Tatiana. In every photo of her and Oscar that I saw, I couldn’t help but feel the happiness and joy within both of their eyes and smiles. I could only imagine the pain this child felt knowing that her father would not be coming home again. Would never pick her up in his arms – hugging her so tightly with the hopes that nothing would break their bond. But something did – a single bullet from a gun.

Shortly after Oscar’s death, Farmer Joe’s Market placed canisters at each cash register to raise money for little Tatiana. Such a noble gesture on the part of the store, I thought. What the fundraising would yield, could never replace what this child lost – but in some way, it could help. On a day of shopping, I decided that I would donate what I could in the canister. I reached in my purse to find some money – “She gonna put her money towards THAT?!” exclaimed a voice from behind me. The voice belonged to an elderly Black man, that had extremely perplexed look on his face – but he wasn’t looking at me. Apparently he was talking to the cashier. It was as if I didn’t exist. The cashier looked at me, and shook his head. In that moment I had a choice. I could do what us Oaklanders call “flash” (i.e. completely go off on this man in a fit of anger). Or ignore that man’s ignorance and place MY money in the canister. While giving the man an icy glare,  I chose to do the latter. This money was for Tatiana – and I couldn’t taint a good deed with venomous rage.  

On July 12, 2013, Fruitvale Station is set for nation-wide release. So far, the film has garnered huge accolades in the arts and entertainment world. I am not really a movie buff – I may go to the theater once a year, and I rarely have enough time to watch a flick at home. But I do plan on going to see the film that focuses on the last day of  Oscar’s life. In promoting the film, it seems that Fruitvale Station’s PR team is making a conscious effort to not let people forget what this movie is about – Oscar Grant III and the injustice that surrounds his death. In sharing some of the film’s Facebook updates, there have been a mixture of reactions from some of my friends. Some are eager to see the film. Some see the film sanctifying a hood, and that Hollywood is just using Oscar’s story to make a buck. I didn’t know Oscar Grant. Personally, at least. But I do hope that the film encourages folks to not tolerate injustice – to remember that a son, nephew, boyfriend, father was lost that fateful New Years day in 2009. And most importantly, to not forget Oscar Grant III.

 

Where’s Your Cape?

The other day, someone told me I wasn’t “superwoman.” I don’t think I know how to take that. My intent isn’t to be, but somehow this comment rubbed me the wrong way. I toggled and toggled over it – trying to figure out what was the intent of that phrase – or what I have done or am doing to give the allusion that I am a cape crusader.
I guess what trips me up is that what I see as resiliency may be misconstrued as something entirely different. If we rely on the definition noted by Merriam-Webster, resilience is defined as:

1: the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress
2: an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change

As I began to unpack this definition and integrate it within my experiences, my DNA, my upbringing, the communities I have been raised in – all of these attributes becoming interwoven and tightly bound – resulting in the cape that others may see.
One strand of thread that popped in my mind was an experience I had in 5th grade. I was a student a E. Morris Cox Elementary School in East Oakland, and my teacher was Mrs. Cheney. She was from Germany, and had an extremely strict structure to her teaching. But this structure was not strict with the overt intent to make us resilient and excel beyond our fullest potential – to me, the outcome of this environment was the polar opposite.
I can remember a particular incident so vividly. I had turned in my math homework that I had completed with care the night before. It was done on tan-colored recycled paper that was so thin, that if you erased too much or too hard, and fuzzy film would develop before the thin layer underneath ripped. In an effort to preserve this delicate sheet, I conducted my work on a piece of scratch paper, and proceeded to double and triple check my work before I transferred it on to that tan sheet of paper. With all this care, I neglected to notice that I didn’t not wipe off the part of the dinner table where I conducted my work very well. This resulted in three small stains – I didn’t think Mrs. Cheney would notice or even care. But she did. And she let the whole class know. Upon gathering the classes attention – she decided to make an example of what “disgusting work” looks like. She held it up and told my classmates, “Look at this. What a disgusting mess. I won’t even grade anything that looks like this.” After this declaration, she ripped my sheet up to pieces and handed back to me. I was 10 years old. I was in the 5th grade. I was broken.
I was at a complete loss as to what to say and do. My stomach was in knots, my head hurt, and I wanted to go home. When the bell rang at the end of the day, I think I was the first kid out of the school. My mom came to pick me up, and I jumped in the front seat without saying a word. In her usual, comforting way, my mom asked, “How was your day, baby?” Silence. All the way home. When we got in the house, she asked, “What happened today? Did someone bother you?” I reached into my pocket and pulled out the crumpled, torn pieces of the tan-colored paper, and handed to her before bursting into tears. Needless to say that my mom wasn’t happy about this in the least bit. Ok, that previous sentence was a total understatement – my moms was HOT! And when my grandmother found out about it, the anger boiled over. When things cooled to a manageable level, my mom called our principal, Dr. Cooke, and requested a meeting. She told him what Mrs. Cheney had done, and he was livid. The next morning, my mom, granny, and I visited with Dr. Cooke. I told him first had what happened. Shortly after, he requested that Mrs. Cheney come to the office. She tried to deny that the incident happened that way – that I had tried to submit some extremely messy homework, and when she didn’t accept it, I got mad and ripped in frustration. I was 10 years old. I was in the 5th grade. I turned in disgusting work. I was a liar.
Needless to say, Dr. Cooke didn’t believe her and she was reprimanded.
In looking back – I could have easily bought into the picture that Mrs. Cheney tried to paint me in. But being raised by two of the most resilient women that I know, that wasn’t even a factor. So am I bitter about what Mrs. Cheney did? No. But I do thank her for having a hand in crafting the cape that freely flows in the wind behind me.