When Betty Saw Malcolm: Happy 90th.

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In the poem, “And How Could I Live On,” by Nikki Giovanni, she talks about the night Malcolm’s grandson, named after his grandfather, threw gasoline on his grandmother, Betty, and lit the match. Excerpt:
—–
I felt him before I heard him::::::::Heard him before I saw him::::Called
out MALCOLM don’t do this to me
And he threw gasoline on me
MALCOLM don’t do this to yourself:::::Stop Now
and he lit the match
MALCOLM I called MALCOLM MALCOLM
and he tossed it
—–
I’ve always believed that when she called “MALCOLM,” those three times, she was not calling to her grandson to stop. She was calling for her dead husband. For however long, she saw him there.

Happy 90.

We still see you.

To The Women Who Hugged Me: Happy Mother’s Day

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(photo: me and Aunt Pam)

In a sleeping bag on a dirt patch in the middle of the desert in southern California I cried, experiencing the happiest and saddest moments of my life simultaneously. Before arriving to this place where I’d climb to a higher state, I was told I needed an intention before finding warmth in my sleeping bag. “I want to know what real love feels like,” I thought, hoping I wouldn’t have to share that with the group. I didn’t.

Every painful moment in my life, I remember wanting nothing but my mother to hug me, and maybe an aspirin (later, a Percocet). Every time I cried for something as simple as another sandwich as a kid, or every time I fell on a sidewalk in Detroit or Charlottesville and skinned my knees, I ran to her, or tried to indirectly get her attention if friends were watching, hoping she’d run over and check on me. Even now, when I get something as small as a headache, I think about calling my mother, knowing she’ll go overboard with a cure, starting with telling me to go to the doctor just in case it’s more than just a headache. For me, though, calling her and hearing her voice is a way to get a hug from thousands of miles away. In that sleeping back on the dirt patch in the middle of the desert in southern California I cried, realizing real love is like a mother’s hug. And my mother appeared (clearly my mind was on something different) and hugged me, and I broke down. The happiest.

The saddest. When my mother hugged me and I realized this the purest form of love a human could experience, I thought about my friends and the beautiful people I’ve met who no longer have a mother to hug them, to offer them solace, and affirmation.

I cried more, not knowing how to help them, wanting to hug them, but knowing my hug wouldn’t be nearly enough. Maybe my mother could hug them, too. Maybe when they’re sick, she can make them chicken noodle soup and toast and pour a glass of room temperature ginger ale, and they could lay up and watch The Flintstones like I did as a kid. I’ll hug them anyway and hope they feel the true love I have for them.

There are women in this world, though, who love me and hug me when I can’t get to Charlottesville, and when my mother can’t get to me. Women who call me to check on me, and hug me, and make sure I’m eating. Through them, I realize motherhood is more an attitude than anything. One of my most necessary friends hugged me once in Walmart and changed my life. If we realize that, and we’re fortunate enough to be surrounded by these beautiful women, we realize a mother’s hug is never more than a short walk away.


One of the most amazing things to witness as a father, at least for me, is to spend time with The Kid and see how often he talks about his mother. How often he wants to call her just to see what she’s doing, and to say goodnight, and sometimes just to say “I love you.”

Happy Mother’s Day, Doreen Wells, and all the women in my life who’ve hugged me.

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(my mother and Aunt Jackie)

Love With a Pillow Over Your Head: For Lisa Bonet (a little)

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I’ve become obsessed with Lisa Bonet and Pablo Neruda. “There’s this thought in my head: Beyonce probably loves Red Lobster, but too ashamed to be seen there now.” I’m sitting on fabric I’d love to know the name of, and the plate of olives, mozzarella, and sundried tomatoes in olive oil and herbs in now empty and licked. This is what my day has wrapped up to be.

I’ve been stressing over possibly not being a poet anymore. I can’t seem to write what I want or how I want, but I find other ways to get it out. Less poetic, yes, but still with a nice flow. I am a writer. I am a student of all writers who killed at imagery and making others feel. I love, like love, Baldwin, but I’m not sure if I saw what he wanted me to see. I’ve tried, and I’m still unable to see David as a white man. Same goes for Hella, Jacques, and Joey. I saw a glimpse at my vulnerability, sadness, despair, hope, and love of life in Giovanni, though. I won’t say Baldwin failed me because I love him too much.

I want my work to be loved, but I don’t want the applause. I’ve never been nervous before a thing, but always after because I hate the pleasant confrontations. Words of affirmation are not my thing. I want the people to love my words, but not love me unless I love them back. This is why I don’t understand celebrity. I love Baldwin’s/Giovanni’s/Neruda’s/Shire’s words, but I know too little about them to love them. They understand. At least Nikki does; I’ve asked her.

It’s night in London. The rain stopped hours ago, and sidewalks are determined to be dry by morning. There’s a band playing old Bob Marley songs not too far off, and a white boy from Holland with locs singing “Could you be loved” loudly. I can hear them. I hear the neighbor panting, moaning, and howling with pillows over her face, and him with nothing over his. The one kid whose straight-from-the-islands mother works the night shift is still in the courtyard running bases alone, counting “First. Second. Third. Home” to himself. These is never silences. Eventually 3am will come, and the music and white boy will be gone, the kid will be sleep, the neighbor will have orgasmed for the last time, but the random tick near the water heater will sound, and a car will drive by, its tires letting me know the roads have not dried completely.

I leave soon. London is nice in the springtime. Paris in April isn’t so bad. Norway was lovely, and I imagine with the right amount of heat and someone who doesn’t require constant cuddling, I’d love it there all year. Amsterdam above everything. It’s time to go home, isn’t it? There’s a fight I’m missing.

I’m Not Fighting For It All

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You’re worried about the liquor stores
I’m worried about my son
You’re worried about the gas stations
I’m worried about my son
You’re worried about the halal chicken stands
I’m worried about my son

I stopped drinking, driving, and started cooking at home
I have important things to worry about
Keep burning
Baltimore
Keep burning

Levi Pettit

I’m Not Accepting Any Apologies: For Levi Pettit

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Three chai tea latte refills, a cheese danish, and an adderall later, she and I sat alone in the KoreaTown coffee shop talking about Winnie-the-Pooh tattoos, The Wilhelm Scream live on KEXP, and forgiving black folk who aren’t yet tired of taking the high road. “The best way to describe the high road,” I told her after asking for the third time what the high road resembles, “looks like Atlanta on King’s birthday; far too many black folks there for the wrong reasons, and just a few other folk who came to see how it felt.”

The only other thing I remember about the R. Kelly sex tape aside from the look on the poor girl’s face when his Hennessy piss splashed on her lip, is a guest on BET saying, “R. Kelly will be okay. Black folks are a forgiving people. We seem mad now, but we’ll get over it like we always do.” I thought back to every time we hooped and hollered and broke things, then quickly forgave those whose face our faces were just inches from, thinking it would change who they were at their core. It never did. I was 18 or 20 when R. Kelly raped had sex with that poor girl, and for the past 15 or 13 years, I’ve been taking note of every time we forgave someone who deserved our backs, not our hands.

The high road isn’t pretty, the view, unlike most hills and mountains, is awful, and you have to walk barefoot. Here come the busses, smelling of day old, cold wings, Suave lotion, and baby powder, full of those ready to remove their shoes and run down, arms open, smiling. Well, I’m not walking it. I’m not going to stand at a podium with Levi Pettit while he apologizes for being caught on tape saying I’m good enough to decorate his family’s plantation, but not good enough to learn the same histories and traditions he’s learned (although I have absolutely no interest in doing so). I won’t shuffle my feet like the Black man I met in Beaufort, South Carolina when my car broke down for those who are racist by definition.

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Perfected oppression. They’ve been practicing racism so long, it’s perfect. Hell, we’ve been providing cleanup services for racist white folks for centuries now. Double entendre intended (shoutout to ABC on Thursdays at 9pm/8CST). We should stand behind the young woman who sat on the bus and was brave enough to release the footage of Levi and friends saying he’d rather see a black man hang from a tree than eat with him in his fraternity house’s dining hall.

And here we are, with Oklahoma State Senator, Anastasia Pittman, a Black woman, cleaning up after the man who just a few weeks ago told the world men like her daddy have absolutely no value; Black men like Jonathan Capehart, opinion writer for Washington Post, who now also stands beside Levi Pettit, calling his apology “extraordinary.” Aren’t your feet tired and broken? Aren’t your hands, the same ones Common suggested you extend, in pain? You’re not tired of fixing plates, placing them on their table, then walking off to eat in the back with the dogs?

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Perfected oppression. Pastor J.A. Reed, Jr. said, “We accept the apology of Levi, and we forgive him for the mistake he made.” What mistake is he speaking of? When Levi Pettit said “There will never be a nigger in SAE?” That can’t be it, because the words seemed to make their way from his brain to our ears with ease, and not immediately retracted. There were no mistakes. Only deeply rooted intentions. “Oh, there will be cameras at the church and we can get on national news,” is what I imagined Pastor J.A. Reed said shortly before his forgiving comments. The price of one’s integrity, manhood, dignity, soul.

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“I’m grateful for him, his parents and for the courage they showed in being here today,” said Pastor Arnelious Crenshaw Jr. of Northeast Church of Christ. Well, I’m grateful for men like Pastor Arnelious Crenshaw, Jr. for showing some of us that perhaps the oppressors are still oppressing because all it takes to be forgiven after crushing the necks of hundreds of black folks is to ask three of them to forgive you, and they’ll talk to the rest. Hell, even Justin Bieber called us “Nigger,” and we saw how fast Usher shuffled and tapped to the mic to tell everyone his friend wasn’t racist.

The coffee shop closed at 3am and we finished the conversation in my car with, “I’m not accepting any apologies.”

Close To Home: Two Charlottesvilles

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I grew up all over Charlottesville, Va. My first memory is of me in a stroller on 5th St. SW and Dice St. and someone with a blurry face getting into a cab. On Ridge St. I peed on a bookshelf when I was five-years-old because my teacher made me stand and face it for talking too much during nap time. I built club houses on Hardy Drive’s 812 section, busted my lip in Forest Hill Park, and stayed over my best friend’s house playing video games so long that when I was finally riding my bike back home to Rock Creek Road, my mom was waiting for me at the bottom of the hill in her robe, slippers, and curlers in her hair.

I led forgotten revolutions at a High School on Melbourne Rd. and talked about the lyrics to All About The Benjamins in a treehouse on Amherst St. before turning a riding lawnmower into a go-kart that would never run. If my once-deepest fear of losing my sight ever came true, I’d go home to Charlottesville, and buy a car. I can navigate the city that well. Even as a blind man, I’d point to the exact place in The Projects where the police ran to stop me as a 10-year-old with their hands on their guns to ask why I was running from them, when I was really running toward my little cousin in a game of tag. I can take you to my old barber who was accused of rape because, as history and science shows, all Black men look and sound the same. He was released when they found he was telling the truth. Downtown is where our big library is, and in the basement is the machine that will pull up all the old copies of our local paper, The Daily Progress, and if we do a search, we’ll see how almost every incident of racism and racial injustice in the town never made it to the paper. If necessary, I’ll explain how things like that get justified so often, even the victims thought what the cops were doing was right and just part of the job.

There are two Charlottesvilles and I’ve learned them both.

Before computers were in every home and because Kappa League existed, I spent my free time at the University of Virginia, talking to strangers in chat rooms, collecting age, sex, and locations, and being the “cute little brother” of some of the coolest guys on the planet. at 12-years-old, being with these cool kids on the grounds of Thomas Jefferson’s Academic Village, I felt a million miles away from my folks’ place on Henry Ave., or my grandmother’s spot in The Projects; both only two miles away. Here, Black boys aren’t being chased down by cops without reason, I thought. Hell, the cops didn’t make me nervous when they tapped me on the shoulder. All they wanted was to tell me to watch out for the biker. This was a different world. On these grounds, I learned to talk to women, build websites, and become the Black exception.

Sharing stories over the last few days with family who’ve been around the town much longer than me, and friends like Nikuyah Walker, you hear about how often the Virginia ABC Police, and of course the local police, have been throwing black men and women to the ground for decades at Foodmaster on Ridge St. and in front of Estes on Cherry Ave. If I behave like the cool kids in that part of town covered by the magical bubble, I’d be exempt from having my head bashed in, I thought.

Martese Johnson is my brother from another mother. We have the same ten men in our lives, motivating us to achieve in every field of human endeavor. As a young man, I’ve helped shape some if his thoughts, and he’s inspired me in countless was in return. We’ve laughed, chanted, partied, and discussed relevant issues. I love that man. We’re brothers. I want to tell him how important this moment is before it slips by and the world, especially Charlottesville, is no longer looking.

The world is now watching as Charlottesville officials pretend this is new. They pretend Martese isn’t the umpteenth Black man this has happened to since 2015 has begun, and they hope the other men don’t come forward. These other Black men won’t come forward because no one recorded their mistreatment, and they’re convinced that because they loudly protested their arrest, what the cops did to them was somehow proper. In Martese’s statement, he mentioned a “community of trust we’ve worked so hard to build.” I need him to push that. I need him to ask about the other men who look like him who were also bloodied and stitched; those Black men who don’t sit on Honor Committees, but are just as honorable. We’re still afraid to show our lives out of fear that these lives somehow justify mistreatment. They don’t. Understanding this is understanding why Rosa Parks made the news and Claudette Colvin didn’t. Rosa didn’t even mention her. All I want is for the question to be raised to start the conversation.

When I go home now, I’m in the same places. I sleep in Garrett Square, stop by Amherst when Whitmore’s home, go to Fellini’s and drink with Kim, and hit the streets with Nikuyah to discuss local Black politicians with their hands in the pockets of white politicians, and the state of education and welfare. The lines are blurred for me now. I haven’t stayed home long enough to know if I am the Black exception with unknown, unlimited resources that will show their face when I find myself in trouble like I once believed I could become, or if I’m just another Black man from Charlottesville who’ll get beat, harassed, followed, and have his character assassinated quietly, while media ignores my calls.

If there was a goal in place to keep the two Charlottesvilles apart, Martese was the wrong Black man to bloody. To build this community of trust, a community that’s made its way into town-gown conversations but not into reality, the exception must speak up for the rules. All it takes is the question.