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Like Memories of Yesterday

Back when we were learning Swahili and listening to X-Clan, we just wanted to be as cool as Dr. J or Big Daddy Kane. This was before we learned the "killer crossover", how to cook crack or started calling girls bitches.

We were free.

We were Afro-American then, a few years ahead of African-American becoming the in-thing. My grandfather was still a Negro and his grandfather was Colored on a good day, nigger on most. My father was Black, capital B. He came of age being told that black was beautiful, something to be proud of, and powerful. Yeah, Black, capital B, works for me too.

The world was much bigger then.

I used to fall asleep during the 45-minute drive to New York City my family often took. My cousins from Down South saved for two years to spend two weeks with us. My dad saved for a year to take us to Disney World. No one else looked like they had to save; most of the families looked as if they woke up that morning and decided to go see Mickey. There were hats and shirts, snow globes and glow sticks. Occasionally, there was a family that looked like us: a princess wand for my little sister and a Magic Kingdom t-shirt for my mother.

You learn the difference in happiness at a young age.

We ran from dogs, ran our mouths, ran from cops and ran home when the streetlights came home. All we looked forward to was gym class, two-hand tag after school, hide and go get it on summer nights and the day we were “grown”. We weren’t concerned with the consequences on the other side of grown, though we were surrounded by all of them. I still remember the day I stepped on these little glass vials on the way to school in third grade.  We lost our fathers. We lost our grandmothers. Some of us lost our way.

Everything changed.

The hustlers drove Jettas and Blazers, wore 8 Ball jackets and shearlings. We rode handlebars and wore hand-me-downs. Mr. Walker drove an El Camino. We all rode our separate ways; some went to college, others got jobs, many more went to prison. Mr. Walker’s wife kicked him out. 

The streets renamed many who didn’t live up to the names their mamas gave them. They took names like Ski, Buddah, Supreme Knowledge, Divine Wisdom, Malik or Muhammad. Boulevard corners, the 5% nation and Minister Farrakhan became their family. Some were left orphaned, on their own to survive.

We were a long way from Grandma’s house.

What school didn’t teach us, we learned on corners, in locker rooms or at the barber shop. I was a boy learning the lies of men. They laughed hard. My dad too. However, he never shared any stories. He just laughed and offered an occasional “that’s right” or nodded his head in agreement. I don’t know if he did it because I was with him or because his life with mom was genuinely happy. Either way, I appreciated those trips to the barbershop, when I got to spend time alone with my dad and hear all of those lies.

But, there was still so much to learn, so much that wasn’t taught, because there wasn’t enough time. The world didn’t slow down for Black boys then and it doesn’t now. We figure it on our own or we don’t. We ignore our abuses; of women, of one another, of ourselves and blame it on the world. Yeah, we learn to lie extremely well. And hide our hurt. And our shame. And our dreams.

And our memories of yesterday. 


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