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Unfair Treatment

Life Story Club Contributor

July 29, 2020

This happened back in ’73. I had won the Ford Foundation scholarship, which was an academic scholarship that had me being recruited like I was a basketball player. And I ended up going to Pace University in Pleasantville, which at the time… And I stayed in the dorm because I came from Chicago. And their student population at that time, less than 1% of 1% were students of color. Now, mind you, I’ve got an Afro like Angela Davis, and I am truly, I guess the word would be Bohemian in my dress because, you know, I might have on a yellow shirt with some red pants and, I mean, you know, because I like color. And I’m a science major and I’m the only student of color in a organic chemistry class. So we have our first lab, I write-up my lab report and I’m just a little bit, just a little bit anal. So every little mistake I had to start all over again because it had to be perfect. So we go, we turn it in to get the results. I get a C. I mean, my paper is pristine. There were no real major corrections on it. I get a C. This white boy next to me, his paper looked like he just took it out of the garbage can, balled it all up, he gets an A. Okay. What’s up with that? What? I don’t think so.

Now, I am, of course, being a person of color in an all white environment. But I’m there for a purpose. So, I know that I am not going to go left. Plus, my mom had always told me when you can’t be polite, don’t, you know, step out the way. So I had to do this and be polite and also express my displeasure without accusation and without antagonizing the professor. So what I did was very nicely, Dr. Salado, I go to his desk, I put my paper down and I looked him in his face, in his eyes, “How do I make this an A?” The expression on his face was priceless. But, you know, I’m like, “I’m just a dedicated student. I’m just trying to do my best here.” So of course after that up until the final lab, all of my papers were A’s and I got a C on the last one because I put the decimal point in the wrong place. And he said, “You know, better than this,” but, you know, that was that. So I thought the treatment, and based on results going over, the treatment was unfair. And I think the piece about how did I overcome that, I could have very easily went to anger. I could have very easily went to victim. But instead, I kept my eye on the goal. What is my goal? My goal was to get an A. I’m like you. I like them A’s on my report card. I love them. And I don’t mind messing up the curve, I done got cussed out because I messed up the curve in statistics. Hey, do what you got to do.

And what I carried away from that experience through these years is that I don’t need to run off of my initial emotional response to a situation. Oftentimes, if I just take a moment and breathe, I can find a way to address just about, just about any situation in a respectful, loving, and compassionate way. I don’t have to buy into whatever motivation the other person has. And I’ve run into situations on, when I was working and the same thing I did. And I must tell you this, it was a manager. Whoo, she had it out for me. I would never come out of pocket. I’d always hit her back with stuff that was indisputable, professionally presented. Oh, she was livid. But I think it serves me to just take that moment rather than just react, because I have a rather… Well, I used to have a really nasty mouth. I thought that was a very good lesson, especially since it carried me. And I chose this picture, you get, or the saying, “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for,” because rather than acquiescing to these feelings of like you say, “I know I’m better than this. Or maybe I’m really not that good.” But to say, “Well, this is what I want. I want an A out of this class, I’m going to ask for it.” So, you get what you asked for, but courage.

A Memorable Stranger

Life Story Club Contributor

July 22, 2020

So this happened, I would say, maybe five to six years ago. I had just joined or I had just started going on a regular basis to the church that I go to now. And thinking about this, you know, it’s…when you say church, you know, I always come to this preconceived notion of what church is. And actually, the name of it, it’s a cultural center, because the philosophy is it’s not about religion, it’s about a lifestyle. And each summer, we have a picnic called summer fest where we rent out this whole big amusement park with rides and things like that. You know, it wasn’t the same place that I had the climb the wall event, but a similar kind of place. And it was my first time and I was really excited because up until the time of my participation with the fellowship, I wasn’t a very open to people knowing me type of person.

And so, we had to order tickets because it’s a very popular event in the church. I mean, it’s like 15, 20 buses, the big buses that go. So, I go online. Listen now, I called myself, ordering my ticket and, you know, we get there. And I’m not a very patient person, so when I see this long, long, long, long, long line, I’m like, “Okay.” So, all my friends, we gathered together. There’s about maybe 15 of us, because you have to be together if you want to sit on the same bus. And they are talking back and forth and they kept mentioning about, “Oh, did you get your email?” I’m like, “What email?” So they started questioning me, “Did you order your ticket?” “Yes, I ordered my ticket.” “Well, did you get your email?” “Well, no. I don’t remember getting the email,” but I’m one of these people that, you know, stuff can just do right over my head and I have no idea.

So, we finally get to the place and they said…one of the ladies said, “Well, if you don’t have your confirmation email, you probably don’t have a ticket.” And I’m like, “No, no, no, no, no,” because I really I wanted to go. I wanted to go hang out with my newly invited friends who were just so loving and caring for me. Some of them said, “Okay, come on. Come on. You know, just stay here.” I mean, when I tell you this line is long, I’m talking about a two-hour line, you know. So, we’re leaving at 8:00 and they want us there at 5:30, 6:00 in the morning. It’s an hour and a 15-minute bus ride for me, so you know I’m up at the crack of…halfway through the night, but I wanna go.

And I’m starting to feel very discouraged and, like, “Oh, please let…” Long story short, I get to the front… So, they’re checking people in, “Well, your name isn’t on the list but, you know, you keep going. Once you get up to the desk, maybe they can help you.” So, I get all the way up to the desk and I am absolutely devastated because they don’t have my name. They don’t have any more tickets because the tickets go on sale today, three or four days later, they are basically sold out. I am so hurt. So, the suggestion was, “Well, why don’t you just kinda hang around and see if somebody doesn’t show up, and you can, you know, get into their spot,” which generally doesn’t happen. So, I’m like, “Okay. I’m just going home. I’m going home.” “No, no, no, no, no, no, no.”

So, after going through that for a couple of minutes, one of the ladies came and said, “Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here.” I don’t wanna cry. So, as she handed it to me she said, “One of the ladies that was in the line behind your group heard you and she came up to us, and here’s your ticket.” Now, you can show the picture. Now, you wanna talk about a happy camper, that’s a happy camper. I mean, I was just, like, totally blown away because…I mean, have been so excited. And when she gave…you know, that lady gave me that ticket, oh, my goodness, oh, my goodness. And I had no idea who she was. She never said who she was and she was right behind me, you know, but I wasn’t paying attention to her. So, I got to go. And I had a ball. And if you can’t tell anything else, you can tell at that particular moment in my life, I was happy.

Each year after that, whenever I would get my ticket, I would always buy an extra ticket because I would have been heartbroken had I not been able to join my friends, and just the kindness of strangers…isn’t there a play, a Tennessee Williams play where they say all we rely on the kindness of strangers or something like that? That’s not what I do, but that just came to mind and that was wonderful. I eventually did get to meet the person. And it was so funny because it’s just like whenever we see each other, we just, “Hey, how are you doing,” give a hug, and keep it moving. But, yeah, that was really, really a beautiful, beautiful thing. Thank you.

“We Must Not Be Defeated”

Life Story Club Contributor

July 1, 2020

My church gives a picnic, an annual picnic and we usually rent out this whole park with rides and things like this. About 2 or 3 years ago, I think I was either 67 or 68. My friend and I had the bright idea that we were going to climb this wall and zipline across the lake. Now, mind you, I’m not into exercising, and athletics, and all of this, so what made me had this bright idea I have no idea. But then I looked over to the left, there’s a lady we were tethered and she would do like this. She waits until she gets distracted and she says, “No, but I’m not going to help you up this wall.” I’m not gonna tell you the thoughts that ran through my mind. But anyway, so I start up this wall and about halfway up, and I’m just about a little past halfway up in the second wall, I’m like, “Well, what possessed you to do this?” By the time I get to this point, I am so hot, and so sweaty, and so tired, going back the other way sounded like a really, really good idea. And at one point I’m standing, I’m holding on for dear life up there going, ‘Well, you know what? You really could go back down. You know, it’ll be okay.” But then something kicked up and I just said, “No, this can be done and I can do it and I’m going to do it. So I guess I just kind of took this whole second breath.

And what also happened about this time is like you have to line up in order to get up on the ride, it was a long line, we had stayed on the line all day. And all of a sudden I hear, “You can do it. You can Do it, Will.” From all… I don’t know these people, I mean we go to the same church, I mean some of us because you could invite your friends and family. But I hear all this voice, “You can do it. You can do it. You can do it.” I said, “Well, here we go.” Now the photo I couldn’t find was the photo of me at the top, and all you can see is this pitiful foot hanging over because, by the time I got to the top, I was totally, totally whipped. But I refused, and when all these people could cheer me on I’m like, “I can’t disappoint them. I have to go on. I have to go on.”

So I’m at the very top and I stretch my hand up and the guy looks at me and I go, “Well, aren’t you going to help me?” He looks at me and he says, “Well, yeah, I could do that but it won’t be as much satisfaction as if you do it yourself.” It took a moment, I said, “Okay, you’re right.” And I struggle up those last… I mean when I tell you, I wish I could… You have the picture because you could just feel the exhaustion and oh, my God. So I did it. I said, “You gotta give me a minute, you gotta give me a minute.” He said, “Yeah, I understand.” And then I zipline across. And the last picture, the song that it reminds me of is the “Eye of the Tiger” because I’m walking like, “Oh, yeah. I got this. I got this.” It was great fun. And it just showed me what in addition to my own desire to climb something, it’s also inspiring and encouraging when you have someone cheering you on. So it’s always like if I’m going to go into something, I need to make sure that I’ve got a cheering squad, but not just cheering me on, you know, giving me directions. “Okay, go this way, go this way. Okay, hold up, hold up,” or even giving me correction. But then, I always think that things done with your friends, they’re going to give you honest feedback because that’s what… But that, I felt really good about making it to the top because it was some serious, oh my goodness, everything hurt. But that’s my time when, you know, I had a strong desire to quit. Except that this wall had beaten me and I said, “Nope, not gonna happen. Not gonna happen.” And I made it to the top and we talk about it. My friend who was also on the line, we talk about it sometimes from it’s facing challenges and you know like sometimes we’ll be going through stuff and we’ll go, “Yeah, but we made it up the wall, right.” And my friend has been battling cancer for over 10 years, so it’s like, “All right now, we can do this. We can do this.” So that was a great day.

A Series of Changes

Life Story Club Contributor

June 24, 2020

I chose the question, “Have I ever changed my mindset or way of thinking?” I wanted to be baptized when I was six years old, and because of my age, they asked me, “Well, why do you want to do that?” I said, “I want to be just like Jesus Christ.” Now, of course, I can’t remember last week, so you know I don’t remember when I was six years old, but based on just remembering my history with involvement with the church, I could see me saying that. The church at that time, when I was young, because we lived in the South, which was very segregated, the church was basically our social hour. It was just basically the center of the world.

As I grew up, I remember I was very interested in learning about the Bible and asking people questions. Sometimes that wasn’t taken too well, but what can I say? When we moved to Chicago, we started attending a church right down the street from us. I can remember asking, “Well, if Adam and Eve were the only two people, where did Cain’s wife come from,” which I think is just, I didn’t realize it at the time, a standard question. I was told I shouldn’t be asking questions like that, which I did not take to heart. I just didn’t ask them anymore.

At that time, the church was just an oasis of calm, because coming from the South, and coming from the deep South to Chicago, I had the Southern accent. I had all of these weird sayings like yellow breasted sapsucker when I went to call myself cussing somebody out. My mom still made a lot of our clothes. I had this long hair that she would braid into three braids, one in the front and two in the back, which was definitely not Chicago fashion, but it was okay because I could always find solace and calm and acceptance in the church.

When I was about, I would say, about 13, and we’re sitting in morning worship, which is like this is the time that the whole community worships before God. It’s a holy time. Well, lo and behold, if this woman in the back of the church, I mean, in the back of the church, the preacher stepped up into the pulpit and she called him a black MF, not once, not twice, but like rapid fire. The pain. Because, I mean, I didn’t understand the dynamics of what was going on with them, but I knew that the words that she was using and the tone in which she was addressing the preacher was totally disrespectful. That was a pain that just took me to my core. I mean, it just shattered everything. I told my mom I was never going to church again. Surprisingly enough, she didn’t make me. She didn’t explain to me what was happening, so I had this pain, and then when I tell you it was like deep to the core, that I didn’t have any words for. I’m 13 years old. What do I know?

Over the years, my thing was the church is full of you know what. The people in the church are full of you know what, because at that time, the people were the church. I wasn’t at a level of understanding that the church is what’s in your heart and how you go with that. Over the years, I tried Buddhism. I have visited every form of religion I think there was, because regardless of my rejection and pain of the concept of going to church, there was this search for a spiritual grounding that had me reading all kinds of things. I came up with all these kinds of ways, “Well, the universe will provide, if I’m a good person,” and all like that.

Each of the times I would go visit a church, and I said, “Oh, okay. They cool,” and I’d go for a minute, and lo and behold, here comes somebody pluck my last nerve. “Okay, I’m out of here,” because again, I’m looking at the people and not what the church really is. A couple years ago I’m done with the church. I’m like, “Okay, good, I’ll be fine. I try to do the right thing. I know enough.” A couple years ago, a young man who I had met when I was working in Manhattan called me. I had not seen this young man since 1995. He had been arrested and he was on house arrest, but they would allow him to go to church and he asked me to meet him.

I said yes before I realized that it was an hour and 15 minute away on the bus, but I said, “Okay, you’ve said … ” I got there, and it turns out that a friend of mine was going to that church. I got there and I sat during the service and I was … The pastor, he wasn’t doing that what we call hooping and hollering preaching. He was teaching, which appeals to me because I like learning. I said, “Okay. All right.” I sat there, intrigued and everything. Me and the young man missed each other. “Well, let’s try next week, and let’s try next week.” That was in 2014. I’ve been going to that church since then and I haven’t seen him yet.

At some point, I took a look at my objections to the church. I had learned by my continued exposure to this pastor’s teaching that it wasn’t the building. The people were a part of it, but the church was something different in terms of my relationship to it and its relationship to God. It’s a community of believers.

I slowly began to see that Christianity, for me, was what I was grounded in from a child. It was what was going to be. I said, “Okay.” I kept going, I kept going. Then I decided to join. I joined the church and took classes, because in the new member class I said, “I want to be baptized.” There was a whole conversation about that because the baptism is a public declaration of your belief and where you want to stand in the body of Christ and in relationship to God, that whole theological thing, but for me, it was really challenging to go through baptism, because even in my quest, even in my journey towards spiritual maturity and spiritual growth and intellectual growth, there were things that I had to come up against. One of the biggest things was my past hurt, some of the other hurts that related around the church, the concept that Christianity was a white man’s religion used to enslave and justify slavery, and they want a whole litany of things.

Then I sat and I thought about it and I reasoned it through. I said, “Well, it’s not about all of that? It’s about, do you want to establish a personal relationship with God as you understand him?” Of course, my understanding changes as my knowledge grows. I did, I got baptized. I will say, “Yes, yes.” The concept around baptism is a public display. For me, it was just like a private declaration that I was going to be committed to this process that’s part of a church’s model that says spiritual seekers into transformed believers, that this is what I’m going to go through, whatever waves come and whatever waves go. This is where I’m going to be. The bottom line for me is faith is a reasoned trust. As I go through and as I experience things, I understand that I have made the best choice for me. That’s my story.

The Definition of Beauty

Life Story Club Contributor

June 17, 2020

I went to Detroit in March for my three weeks worth of babysitting duty. Not for her, the little one’s younger sister. And my sister, who’s an excellent cook, and another one of her friends wanted to, the one on the left-hand side, wanted to learn how to make Parker House rolls. The young lady who is in the forefront on the right-hand side is a baker. She makes cakes and rolls and bread that, Oh, I’d pay for it, if I was in Detroit.

So one day while I was there my sister–that’s the one in the back, that’s my baby sister, that’s the one that can pluck my last nerve and take me to the highest of heights, but she’s mine–decided that she was going to have Renee come over and give them a lesson in making these rolls. So I have all these videos and pictures of them making a roll.

And looking at answering the question, I looked up the word beauty, because you hear this thing, beauty’s in the eye of the beholder, and it’s about form and completeness, and pie ratios and all of this other stuff. And this is prior to me selecting this photograph. And then I came across something that talked about emotional beauty is just emotional wellbeing. And that caused me to remember something that I heard that said, “Beauty,” I don’t know if it was beauty or art, “connects us to the divine.”

So when I saw this picture I said, “Now that’s beauty.” Because, just the love and the care. And it’s generational because that’s my great niece. That’s my one, two, my second great niece. And she wanted to be involved and she can’t cook, she can’t stir, she can’t read, but they included her in this cocoon of care. So they would let her do little things like push the butter off or something just to let her know that, “You are a part of this.” And the beauty for me was just, I remember watching them and taping them and laughing with them. And my soul was just so full. There’s something about family and friends and children and love. And for me, this picture just kind of brings it all together.

And that’s beauty. Yes, I looked at–I love trees. I like taking photographs of trees and sunsets. And as I was looking through my photos, I said, “Oh, that’s nice. That’s nice.” And I have a really nice one of the sun coming behind the tree. We did a sunrise tour of a golf course when we were in Hawaii on one of our trips. And it, even in my humble opinion, it is beautiful in terms of form and color and things like that. And there’s emotional substance because I was there with my sister. And as you know, I’m kind of fond of her, but it did not have the emotional content that for me, was beautiful as this one does. And by the by, the bread was delicious. So, I enjoyed this question.

I enjoyed this question because it causes me to reflect. I think for me, beauty is found in meaningful relationships with people who challenge you to grow, who give you correction when necessary, who, you down on the floor and they don’t know what to do they lay down on the floor with you. And it’s just this unconditional, unadorned, just pure love. And there’s also something about sharing food. There’s something, I don’t know, I don’t have the words for it, but one of the things that’s true for all these ladies is that, if you’re with them and you’re in their home, you’re going to eat and you’re going to eat well. And to have a youngin, that’s a little one, just experience that and be in the presence of that love, what that does to her. She’s already independent and vocal, but just to know that there are people around you that will love you and protect you and teach you and guide you, to me that’s beauty. That’s beauty.

A Historical Moment

Life Story Club Contributor

June 10, 2020

There were some events that were important in America’s history and people of color is history. Bloody Sunday. March, 1965 where peaceful protesters in Selma, Alabama were violently beaten by state troopers just months after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965. School desegregation that required black students to be protected by the National Guard in Boston, Massachusetts, and the hundred and first airborne in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Efforts to enact laws, practices as spoke from the moral integrity of this nation. The assassination of John F Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, the wanton killing of unarmed black men without redress. The bombing of a black residential community by Pennsylvania State troopers.

But I think that I am living through some of the most historic events right now.

Why? Because these events are important to the history of humanity. A worldwide pandemic that has killed over 400,000 people. Almost an absolute global shut down the of businesses and social institutions. Raging unemployment. Separation of families. A worldwide protest precipitated by the torture and murder of a black man right before our eyes.

Although the torture and murder of Mr. Floyd is particularly poignant for me as a person of color, it and the ensuing protests have ramifications for Humanity. Will we look fearlessly or even fearfully into the structures and actions of our laws, social intuitions, churches, schools, even our own heart?

Will we look at our presuppositions that cast as enemies those different from self? Will we acknowledge that me the image of God stamped on all humans?  Will we be shade braver and upholding the dignity of all? Will we engage in difficult conversations and uncover and address the darkness in our heart?

My heart is so very heavy. I am often overwhelmed with sadness. I resist anger. I fight despair. I pray. I write lamentations to grieve and restore my hope.

A Big Risk

Life Story Club Contributor

May 27, 2020

Let me give you a little background: My sister and I go to Hawaii annually to celebrate our birthdays, and when we were younger–which was a long time ago–we would travel. And one time, we went to this place in Pine Mountain, Georgia and went on one of the sun boats, which is a low boat with a sail in it. And were were out there and we were just rocking and rolling. Then we had to turn around and go back to shore. I was saying, “Come on girl, we got this, we got this!” And the boat flipped over. Mind you, I don’t swim, so I’m in total panic, and my sister, who is an excellent swimmer, she’s so busy laughing at me that she can’t even help me. I have this death grip on this boat and in order to get it back right so we can get back to shore, I had to let go so we could get the boat flipped. And between me and this death grip on this boat and her cracking up, we’re out in this lake. I was like, “Lord don’t let me lose my glasses because I did not bring another pair.” Now that’s the front story to this.

So we’re in Hawaii, and her goddaughter decides why don’t we do this group event called parasailing? And I’m like, “Uh, me, water, air? I really don’t think so.” But she had already paid for it, and my sister kept saying, “Well, why don’t you make your decision once you get there.” And I’m like, “Alright, I ain’t going up there, mm-mmm.”

Then they came and picked us up at the hotel and the young man that was driving was very calm, very reassuring. I’m still not convinced. We get out on the boat and I’m like, “Mmm, I don’t think so.” I swim a little bit better but that’s when I’m in water up to here. We’re talking about me flying over the ocean. Are you kidding me? I don’t think so.

First of all, the captain of the boat was a fine young man. That’s a different kind of story. Both of them, the captain and the crew member were very calm, very reassuring. They said they haven’t had an accident in ten years, no one has ever died. So I’m saying, “Alright, okay, okay.”

Of course, we’re the first ones to go up. So I just say, “Okay, I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it.”

“That’s me with a death grip on those wires. I’m saying, ‘I don’t care if you break. I’m not going to let go.'”

Eventually I did get to a place where it was very comfortable. It was very beautiful. They splashed us in the water. My heart was badoom, badoom, badoom, but eventually, and I think this was at the peak and we could see all the way up. We could see the ocean, the mountains, and it was just very, very peaceful and very beautiful, and surprisingly enough it was very calm. It was very calm. It was peaceful. But I do have to say I was very glad to get back on the boat.

What I learned from this experience was that I can’t let my preconceptions of what I can’t do stop me. I can’t let my fear of something stop me. Because, trust me, I was definitely afraid that something was going to break and I was going to drop down into that water. My sister’s a strong swimmer so her goddaughter would’ve had to be on her own because I would’ve had dibs on her: “No, I’m sorry baby, you’ve got to go. I appreciate it.”

It ended up being quite enjoyable and it’s on my list of things to consider doing again even though I still might be a little bit afraid. That ended up being a really wonderful experience.

A Special Place

Life Story Club Contributor

May 13, 2020

My sister and I are 13 months apart. Her birthday is in December and mine is in November. I’m the oldest not that you could tell her that. And so what we did, we started going to Hawaii to celebrate our birthdays in January.

Now, I mean, January, November, December, January–so basically it’s a three month kind of off and on celebration.

We always going to Hawaii even though we keep saying we’ll go someplace different we never make it there. Our favorite place is the point in Hawaii. And this the photograph this up is from a sunrise tour of the golf course.

What makes this a special place is that it’s a place where usually it’s just my sister and I. We sit and we have those long conversations by the beach and it’s a time of great bonding, even though with me being the oldest I have to put up with her being the baby sister and acting like it at times and going, “Okay, what would your mama tell you to do?” And going, “Okay, no problem.”

In all relationships there is some friction. It’s really about how you handle it. And one of the things that about the island is that it’s just very peaceful and very laid back, so we usually when we go, we usually do nothing, at least for the first week. Just sit and eat and chat and she cooks I wash dishes. I’m the sous chef. I wash dishes. She cooks.

And what I mean is it’s just the time that we can just talk to each other and share simple things like this tour, which was just absolutely beautiful to watch the sun come up over this pristine golf course.

It’s a very special place. A very special place.

We Were Allowed to be Kids

Life Story Club Contributor

May 6, 2020

I grew up in the South, in Selma, Alabama, which at the time was extremely segregated. And this was a predominantly African American neighborhood. And it was quite a dichotomy between what I read as a description of the place at my experience. The description, when I went searching for a photograph, was that it was “a project for impoverished African Americans,” which of course being me being me led me on a search for the different definitions of impoverished.

The dichotomy comes in the definition of a place and the purpose of the place that I grew up in. That it was that it was for poor people.

My experience I’ve it was, this was a village. There were maybe four or five of these buildings and the school was at the end of the block, so when you went to school, you had to basically walk through the entire neighborhood. If you got in trouble at school, everybody on the block would be telling you, “Now you know your mama didn’t raise you like that.”

All of the kids would play together. Back in the day, we’re talking about 1953-55, we played softball, we played marbles. We played jacks. We built our own little scooters, the little scooters the kids are playing on. Somebody would have a roller skate and it would break and we would put it together.

But I was really thankful for this neighborhood. It is where I learned about how you care for your neighbors. You come out the back door and you see Miss Susan. You’d say, “Oh Miss Susan, do you have this?” “Oh Miss Susan, do you have that?”

Around the porch, I remember planting beans every year and they never amount to much because of course after the excitement of planting them I was done.

As you can see, looking at the picture, there are poles that we would use for hanging laundry. It was almost as if every family had their own little laundry day. It was a great neighborhood, but it just reminds me of how labels can be put on a place, and it might not be the reality that the people who live there are living through.

I didn’t realize we were poor until I was in my teens when I realized that we did not have a lot of material things, but we had the things of substance that mattered. We had caring neighbors. We had caring teachers. We had a village. Everybody looked out for each other, so it just strikes me that I need to be careful in my use of labels.

We never really had to worry about who was going to watch us, because the neighborhood watched out for you. If you needed a cup of sugar. If you needed this. In terms of clothes, say my sister and I. My sister who is younger than me is bigger than me. She would get her clothes from somebody, then once I’m done, I’d send it off. So you’d learn to take care of your stuff.

And since all of us in the neighborhood were–we were broke, we weren’t poor but we didn’t have money. It was really a matter of sharing. What’s striking to me is there was a commonality of values. You respected your elders and that included the teenagers. It just went up the line. And there was just this cocoon and it almost had to be a cocoon because once you left the confines of this particular physical area, it was hostile territory because of the degree of segregation.

And when I tell you about the degree of segregation, we seldom went downtown because we had “for coloreds” and we had “for whites” and my mother was not going to allow us to be inundated or bombarded with that kind of feeling. In the neighborhood, we never grew up with the feeling that we were second class because basically the adults went and did what they had to do in the outside world and we were allowed to be kids.

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