“Not All Black Men”: #PinningTheTailOnTheDonkeyOfTheDay

“Most men fuck women to destroy them . .  .”

~TK Kirkland

 

For nearly 39 years, I have watched black men drop the ball on me in every way imaginable. Starting with my natural father and blood brother to the man I planned to marry to the guys on the street and complete strangers and the play brothers and the guys I grew up with – -*the men I love so dearly have often left me hanging or worked overtime at disrespecting the very nature of my heart. Or at least, this is how it FEELS. I am currently searching my reserve tank for something to keep believing in them, loving them and fighting with and for them but it has thinned to the thickness of a single hair follicle. Recently, I watched a black man tear down a well-known black business woman in Indy. He trashed her restaurant, her food quality, and her prices. After legions of supporters chimed in, in her favor, he went to battle with each one (mostly women), myself included. He trolled our pages and insulted us based on what he was able to see. He referred to the sole black man (that I saw at that time) as a bitch ass nigga because he defended her. He even disrespected her mother by calling her a bitch (after she stated she was her mother). While other people get angry and go back and forth with this type of stuff, I get sad and seemingly ill. I can’t participate because I start shaking internally. My eyes cross, my heart breaks and tears sometimes form.

This has been a relatively hard blog to write.I’ve feared that my current relationship standing and my past baggage would sponsor a blog post that was too full of ‘black girl attitude’ instead of magic, and come off as whiny, full of complaints and inexperienced with more than one type of black man. What I am about to say is not without merit nor do I lack taking ownership for what I have entertained and allowed to permeate my life (in the cases where I could help it). I’m not another blogger using her platform to tear down the black man. I’m not that. I am a whole woman with validity to her claims, experience under her belt and just enough wisdom to know that some shit just ain’t right. I’m fine with being labeled as angry because….well, fuck it, I AM!

And I have EVERY right to be; to authentically feel WTF I am already feeling! I don’t hate black men and I am absolutely still full of love for them.  It’s just time for me to take the sugar spoon away and be real: our trust has been broken and our bond needs critical repairing, but no one is fine-tuning this shit except me and I’m damn near done completely.

I LOVE black men and I always have. I’ve loved them hard, relentlessly, and wildly on purpose; with intention and out loud. I could never claim to be perfect and I’ve always been on the learning curve of love, but I’ve given it as best as I had to put out.  I’m here for them. Once upon a time, I wrote for and performed to them. I loved them on stage as much as off. I got my first standing ovation from a room full of hood rich dudes who were there to stand their hip-hop grounds on a night that poetry had tried to ease in and take over. The poem, “Convicted Felon”, was written about struggles of re-entry and they ate it up. I wanted them to know that I was present for them and their struggles. In Louisville one night, I won audience favorite after doing a poem about black men being kings. That came w/a $100 and a standing ovation in a room crowded with black men. The hugs and high fives left me feeling like I had done my job: I let them know that SOMEONE (me) is rooting for them and can see them! I’ve never masked or hidden my love, support, and desire for their presence in my life, yet I find this has made me nothing more than a target with a fat ass.

“…and even if I end up spending my life without one of you/I will forever long to hold onto you like the sun longs to hold onto blue skies that are decorated by white clouds./ I will forever try to build you up/not tear you down.”

I’m not in denial about my rocky relationship with black men. I must specify “black men” because that’s who I have dealt with. I know other men of other races do the same shit; but my allegiance is to black men and gotdammit, I want my fucking reciprocity! More than that, I want this breach repaired. I don’t want to have to rely on men of other races – I WANT to love black men; but I don’t want to love for two anymore. It’s time that I just do my part; not both of ours. I have so much material where I have written them into the parts of my life that I needed or wanted them. I didn’t call them kings in a poem and treat them like peasants in real life. I’ve created fairytales with my words and I admit that was a mistake. In hindsight, I wonder did I think that I could write myself into a healthy space with black men in general? Had I been thinking that whole time that I could show them my authentic self via poetry and that might attract like-minds and good fruits of the harvest? Because if I did, I can say that it didn’t work.

It attracted more enemy-like predators. They saw my vulnerabilities and used them to their advantage while assisting in destroying my overall feelings regarding black men in general. Time and time again, I’ve been nothing more than an experimental situationship for them, and I’ve watched them ride off on white horses with other women. Literally.

PICTURE IT:

During my sophomore or junior year of high school, I was called a nigger by a white man entering a nearby Walgreen’s that I was leaving out of. We almost bumped into each other and that was his response. It was so unexpected that I don’t think I responded. I was shocked quite frankly and I was also skipping school sooooo, I didn’t tell anyone. That was the first and only time that I’ve been called that to my face, although I’m sure many have mumbled it about me under their cowardly breath. I was called a ho when I was in the seventh grade. The guyS that started spreading rumors about me at age 13, some true and plenty others embellished at that time, were all black. They lived in the same neighborhood as me and went to the same school. These guys had me thinking I was a slut before I ever lost my virginity. I was bullied, laughed and pointed at, made fun of me and alienated…all because of black boy joy, circa 1992. I took the long way home from the store, I had to transfer schools and I literally peeped around corners to see if I saw any trace of them when I was outside.  They made my life HELL. I lost my ‘friends‘. My shaky self-esteem plummeted and my reputation in my new neighborhood was trashed by the first two people I met: black boys. This continued until I left the neighborhood for good in 1998 @19 years old.

My point of that is not to rehash old memories but to show a juxtaposition of the hurt inflicted upon me by white men vs. black ones. It’s TROUBLING !!! Do I trust white men more than black men (or at all for that matter)??

I’m not stupid. I know they really don’t GAF about me. But I am an observer and what I have seen and experienced has shown me that most of the black men I come across don’t appreciate, want or love me either. It feels worse than that one time Walgreens occurrence or the subconscious thoughts other races may have because black men are who I associate and fight with and love greatly. I don’t want to feel this way about them. I WANT to feel like they look at me and see light and love, but I don’t really think so anymore. My own father and brother never saw worth in me. My brother has a bunch of children. I’m no one’s aunt. It makes me wonder what I did to deserve this shit? I’ve been stolen from, used, abused, left out of town, molested, nearly raped, killed and of course, cheated on and lied to while looking me in my eyes all by black men. Some of this I played a role in but not all of it and I’m not willing to take EVERYONE’s blame on my shoulders anymore. I’ve beat myself up for years over the choices and things I’ve done in the name of love or men. THIS BLOG IS NOT WRITTEN WITHOUT PRE-ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF MYSELF! I am responsible for what I allow. It’s just right now, I’m allowing myself to be honest.

I’m often perplexed as I listen, read and watch the seemingly effortless disrespect and mistreatment of black women by black men and boys. It bothers me to no end and maybe that is because my own personal relationships have always been met with an ICU-ending. It doesn’t matter what the context of our relationship was; just about every black man that I’ve ever had a relationship of any significant sort with has left me feeling unprotected and disposable. #NotAllBlackMen

I recently realized that I’ve been giving out labels that come with expectations to men who don’t want to or simply won’t meet those expectations. Matter a fact, I don’t know that they even wanted the labels. That’s not fair of me. These men aren’t required to protect me in any capacity (and they don’t).

What have I done to deserve their protection or respect aside from being born awesome? These the types of questions I ask myself before writing blogs like this.

Photo by ANKH Productions

But I’m not tripping: There IS a lack of protection by the black man of the black woman. I’m not the only person who feels this way. Other blogs have been written before this. VSB wrote one and received quite the backlash (from black men) because how dare they call them out on their shit? I got into a back and forth on FB with a guy about that exact blog because he wanted me to give him proof that it was valid. Instead of saying ‘fuck you and your proof’, I stopped the conversation. #IAmTheProof

I know if a man is reading this blog, his thoughts whilSt reading this might sound like “well, it’s #NotAllBlackMen.” While my personal relationships play a great deal into my perceptions, it’s not solely based on me. I sit and observe, listen and read things that further push me over the edge all the time. I envy the women who proudly profess their support and love for black men. I see stuff like this all the time:

It’s not that I don’t agree because I do. But I don’t feel it reciprocated in action towards me and never have. And so I also have mad respect for those who stand firmly in their disgruntled truth: that they are disappointed and untrusting of these beautifully created, melanted humans. When one of the young ladies from my neighborhood lab told me about two young guys, no older than 14, cat-called and heckled her and another 10-year-old little girl, I was sick. Their behavior was problematic AF and also learned. It may have even been taught to them. The young ladies asked to be left alone and were met with more advances. The ten year was a bit scared and the 14-year-old told me that she knew better than to show her fear because it would only increase their behavior more. TEN. FOURTEEN. They shouldn’t have to experience that and young boys shouldn’t be taught that girls (women) are owed to them. The inability to accept no for an answer or resorting to increased haggling/violence (resulting in fear for the girls/women) comes from a sense of entitlement.  #WhoTaughtYouToHateMe

The Common Denominator

Maybe the problem IS me. Seeing as though I am the common denominator, maybe I’m the issue. Do I hold them too high to their mistakes? Group them all together unfairly? Because it’s #NotAllBlackMen and I know that. I’ve seen ‘good’ black men; they are just a rare sighting in my personal life. Do I take how black men act towards me and other black women too damned personal? Does my disappointment stem from my inadvertent daddy/brother-search in niggas who are only good for slinging dick left to right or loving me tight for a few months or a couple of years? Do you know how many seasonal ‘brothers‘ I’ve put in my heart since poetry came into my life? #TewDahmnMany. You know how many of those brothers called/inboxed/dropped by to see if I was surviving my newest emotional apocalypse? Not even half. And honestly, I guess I haven’t done that for them either. It’s not their job to come check on me; ‘brother/bro’ is just a title – not a lifestyle they have to live. I take the blame for unnecessarily putting dudes in exalted titles and hoping no unspoken expectations are broken. I am no longer that growing teenager that needs her big bro or dad to fight these dudes for her; I fight my own battles. Kendria stands up for herdamnself against the atrocities of how she’s been treated. I’ve learned to stop giving away permanent titles to people who may be temporary. If my biological brother thought of me as trash, what chance did I stand with anyone else in that department? For these reasons, identifying the role I play in the demise of my own heart and respect for my black brothers is crucial.

Overall, I feel extremely failed by the black men I’ve loved. According to social media, it’s ALL me. It’s me suffering from low self-esteem or not loving myself enough. I attract these types of men due to my energy, says the media of socialites. My energy brings the shit to the plants huh? These damn memes and posts get on my EMM EFFIN nerves!!! It’s not that they don’t have truth (for SOME), but they do rush to put all the blame on the person who was mistreated. We love to preach to women and tell them to step to the mirror and love themselves more. There is some weird societal enjoyment in suggesting that the deficit resides solely in us as opposed to telling men to love themselves enough to realize without us, there is nothing. Where are the memes and posts and status’ that suggest to men that they stop using and abusing women? The memes that challenge their self-love based on their mistreatment of us?

In Summation . . .

I have a memory during my teen years of sneaking off into the alley with my neighborhood obsession. His name was Devon. I loved Devon for some reason although, even at such an early age, he didn’t respect me. Maybe he didn’t know how….nah, he knew how. He did it well with others but he saw the cracks in me and used them to his advantage. He was one of the first two guys I met when I moved on Cornelius. One day, while still a virgin, I met him in the alley and let jack off on a pair of checkerboard shorts I wore. The garage we stood behind belonged to a house I’d later move into at age 27. When he was done, I can’t remember what it was I wanted from him – a kiss or hug? For him to walk me back to the front? I don’t know, but it was something that he wasn’t willing to give. He zipped his pants up and started walking down the alley while I stood against the garage in tears. I will never forget him looking me dead in the eyes, walking backward and laughing. Then he took off running.

There it is folks.

That is the summation of my experience with black men. #NotAllOfEmTho

You know I gotta say that before one of them gets their boxer briefs in a bunch and hunts for me with the ‘you hate black men’ inscribed pitchforks. LOL.

Black men don’t like being talked about and called out on their shit. They don’t like being the center of attention if it ain’t what they deem good attention. They want women to stand by them, fighting, fucking & loving no matter what. My ex complained that our sex life wasn’t satisfying – but he carelessly had been telling lies the whole time. How do you have the expectations of getting your dick sucked on a regular when you have all these secrets, plus a white woman on the side? That goes back to that entitlement. It has been my experience that the men I have loved have all felt entitled to my body. They treat me like I OWE them sex. I once told a man I was not in the mood for sex and he didn’t respect it at all. When I later told him that it hurt me how he treated me that night, he called me crazy and said I was tripping. Some of them think we are deserving of their inability to take ‘no’ for an answer. That same man wrote hundreds of poems to women – calling us Queens and talking about what we deserved. But wait – I should blame myself for that. Right? You’ve read it before in my blogs. Or maybe not because when I wrote in great detail what happened, I privatized it days later. I have been protective of black men to a fault. Even my ex, who I blasted across social media. I’ve tried to rewrite how the public saw him many times because I love him. I know his good side; he loved me, although quite incorrectly. I got mad at myself for calling him out. But the reality was, once our ship sank, my body erupted like a volcano that had been FULL to the max of niggashyt that had been collected over 38 years. There was no time to make any other choice except scream at the top of my lungs. 8 months later, I am still smoldering.

Devon walking away from me in that alley was quite the significant foreshadow to my future. The black men I’ve known (#notallblackmen) would much rather piss on me and laugh in my face as they walk away and watch me cry about it. It’s as if they get a hard-on because of it. Becoming Devon’s girlfriend later in life symbolizes how I accept the bullshit and hope for greater anyway. I almost included an example of the few good men that I know to help balance the blog with black Light. But this isn’t about them. Today, I hope by purging this from my system that I will set forth a chain reaction of personal healing. Not just healing for my most recent ex, but a true repairing of my relationship with black men. I don’t want to sink into the abyss of fuck them.

But I got both heels and a spare in the quicksand.

I will pull myself out without a doubt. I always do and it’s always me and God. But who I will be when I emerge is only God’s best guess. If most men fuck women to destroy them, then consider me in repair from being fucked and fucked over and now standing on an emtpy train of my pieces, trying to reconfigure who TF I am. This is what devastation looks like on me:

Photo by ANKH Productions

 

SN: I do want to shout out a man I’ve referred to as my brother for years now. I won’t name him here, but he sent me over 70 text messages in an effort to help me stitch these breaches back together. He also reaffirmed that I don’t need to suffer in silence. That even though my feelings might not be shared by anyone but me, I have the right not to sit in silence and pretend. I’ve done enough loving out loud to be able to sit down and say “I’m tired boss.”

Thank you. I appreciate THAT push from a black man who knows my story.

~j

 

Started From Winona, With No Fear: My Golden Girls #NPM

 

Big Momma is a staple matriarchal figure in the black community. We know her as the older woman with the world in the palm of one hand and all of iitsresolutions in the fist of the other. She is larger than life. There is no question she doesn’t know the answer to or at least how to find out. There is no meal she cannot cook from scratch and her biscuits, greens and macaroni are all dishes that people fight over the last plate. She holds recipes in her head like brand new Jay-Z song lyrics. Big Momma doesn’t get sick. She nurtures her immune system with natural ingredients and special homemade remedies. She seems invincible in her existence and families know her as the glue that holds them all together. Her image has been portrayed in many movies, often which show the downfall of family relations in her absence.  Just as every daughter longs for her father and every son needs the affection of his mother, all grandchildren want that relationship that they many other enjoy with a woman often called Big Momma.

This isn’t a story of Big Momma. That would be more of her oldest sister, Anna Lee, who never left Winona.

Matter a fact, if my description of Big Momma is accurate, then the title that an old friend gave to my grandmother after being in her company a few times, is more than befitting: G-Momma. It’s perfect. My grandmother was a fucking G ! 

This is a story of my grandmother. I can’t tell everything about her, but there are some great highlights and straight dopeness that are worth sharing in a blog short. Netria Parker Marlin. I wonder why she didn’t have a middle name. Parker was her maiden. I’ve written poems about her in the recent years. I’ve had memories of happenstances with situations that seemed to foreshadow all that has come to pass. I decided, after staring at my grandmother who seemed to be worlds away in her eyes, that I would tell a story she can no longer tell. I would tell who she was to me. I would tell why it hurts to see her forget us all, but mostly her own life. I will speak of a life, lived to the fullest extent she knew how that I remember in bigger pieces each day. My grandmother has Alzheimers…or something that has altered her brain. It seems permanent. God always has the final say…but who am I to say God is not speaking now? So, what I know, I want to share. I want to immortalize a woman who was anything but Big Momma…

…but every bit my grandmother.

I never called her grandmother. Or granny.  In fact, I called her Netria. I remember it being a big deal to some and non-big deal to others. She didn’t seem to mind and when people questioned her, I don’t really remember her response but it didn’t result in much change. I vaguely remember her having a conversation with me about it and I wonder now if it ever hurt her feelings, as that was never my childish intent. I was just a spoiled child I guess, I don’t know. Eventually, I stopped calling her anything. I don’t remember if someone told me to or if it was a natural progression, but I stopped calling her by her first name and I never referred to her as anything else. I just spoke to her. I talked to her and she talked back to me and never a word was spoken about me not calling her grandmother. I knew her as my grandmother, I just didn’t reference that in speaking to her. And truthfully, it didn’t even fit her. She wasn’t Big Momma, she wasn’t grandmother, or granny…she was G-Momma. And I wish I had been introduced to that term long before my adulthood. I think she may have loved it.

While Big Momma was up in her kitchen snapping green beans, my grandmother was in the basement gambling. I don’t quite remember exactly why she chose to move to Indianapolis, but it was told to me that she always a strong-willed child who didn’t cry when got whoopings and was the second oldest of five. She was a soaring 5’9 with silky hair, smart, played basketball and was the Prophesies of her graduating class. When she came here, she worked first at the Finance Center out in Ft. Harrison and then moved on to being a postal carrier, as well as her first and only husband, Kenneth Marlin (my mother’s father). She was a talker, a mover, and a shaker. My grandmother knew or came to know everydamnbody. She would make friends at the Goodwill because we would go so often that the cashiers would recognize her and she was always good for striking conversation. We’d go to the  Goodwill, or the “GW” as she called it, and come out with bags of stuff for a few twenties that went partly in the register and partly in the cashier’s pocket. She never knew a stranger and I didn’t fully grasp that term until I realized my grandmother knew the entire city. My grandfather was long gone when I was born. I split my time between the women in my family – my mom, my grandmother and my two aunts. There were no babysitters or cousins, sisters or younger aunts. I was never around kids unless they were friends I made and brought with me. I wasn’t a grown child in my attitude, but I kicked it hard with the adults.

The day she buried my grandfather

And the adults were enjoying the primes of their lives. My grandmother was the gambler. She had a basement outfitted for sleepovers and poker playing. Her kitchens smelled of large trays of food cooked in other kitchens and brought over for dinner and snacks throughout the night. I never dreaded going over there. It was live. There was music sometimes, but mostly it was a house filled with poker plays, arguments, laughter, and television. There were people everywhere but no danger was ever present. Folks would await their turn at the table upstairs, and that’s where my grandmother would tell ghost stories and let me play in her hair. I’d brush her hair until she got tired of me brushing it and then I’d put it in a ponytail. The first one never worked right so I’d have to take it down, brush it and try again. I smile as I type this, remembering those moments my grandmother allowed me to be her stylist and her my babydoll with the pretty hair.  Her house was always popping, for lack of better word. There were cars everywhere, parked on each side of the street and in her driveway. Out of seven days a week, she had card games probably roughly five. I remember B.R. had every Thursday no matter what. I don’t know how the exchange of money went but I know my grandmother was pulling in what the young folks call ‘racks’ or whatever. She had to be!!! She was good at being a hustler and she would take me to the P Shake house with her. I was her partner in many ways and it’s baffling how long it took me to realize that. She let me work her card games – I would bring the poker players their coffee and Pepsi in exchange for them giving me tips. It was exciting to me because I could glimpse into the basement at all the money on the table, witness the cussing and the cigarette smoke and take sips out of their pop on the way down.

These beautifully sometimes haunting memories are ones that I could only get from experiencing life alongside her. She may not recall it anymore, but I do.

She was no Big Momma, but she every bit my grandmother.

She loved pictures. My grandmother had a photo of everything and everyone. She had tons of collages, frames and photo books, all full and stuffed with multiple photos in each sleeve. She kept long wallets that had lots of plastic pockets, and for every credit card and ID card, there were photos of random people she knew…and me. She always had pictures of me – they were in her books, her wallet, and her house.  For everything I think is so uniquely drawn about me, I come to realize it originated in my roots somewhere along the lines. I get my love of photos from my grandmother. She kept a camera and was always ready to pull it out and get a new picture. If I were to go to her house today, pictures would be everywhere. Her in Vegas or back in Mississippi.  My school pictures. Pictures of the man I called my grandfather, someone I think she loved more than she could bear to stand. Pictures of Candy, one of her best friends and also a transgender. I’ll put it in my book about how me and my friend Shakira discovered she was formerly a man when we were just 8 and 9 years old. That was a big deal back then and we thought we’d discovered something no one else knew, and had no idea how to sit on our ‘secret.’ It made for a laughter filled story G-Momma would later share with folks.

Her house had red and gold velvet wallpaper. I used to enjoy running my fingers up the velvet part because of how it tickled me. Her living room had red velvet like couches with a gold and red glass table that had mini chairs that fit around it. It was elegant. Beautiful. I’m sure my mom has it locked in a human size safety deposit box now. There is no way something like that is available now. It was full of gold pillars that held the glass up and I used to use them for my Barbies.

G-Momma told ghost stories that honestly used to scare the shit out of me. I still remember the story about the man with the wooden leg who she could hear walking down a hallway and how my grandfather still turned the doorknob every day at 4:30 pm, when he was coming home from work. She used to say that some spirits don’t know they are dead yet. She and her friends would trade tales of hauntings and occurrences and I would sit and listen without showing signs of fear. She always had a story for something. I never thought those stories would end. She had a stellar memory and spoke the last four digits of a phone number in blocks: “forty-seven, thirty-six.” Singling out numbers was foreign to her.

She was a night owl who slept hard in the day time and was wide awake gambling or reading the latest national enquirer and counting change in her bedroom. She varied on how she liked to keep her attention. McDonald’s breakfast was our thing. She’d wake me up at 5 in the morning after the last poker player went home and ask if I wanted to go get something to eat. There was also this spot called Fast Eddies, that used to be at 38th and Meridian where the old Subway sat. It was a diner style joint and of course, my grandmother was friends with everyone, including Fast Eddie. My love of waffles came from that spot. My love of peach cobbler came from us eating at Marbles all the time, where again there were no strangers. Either we got the peach cobbler…

…or we’d b-lined around the block to Long’s Bakery, where we would joke about needing to put the box in the trunk so we didn’t eat them all.  She loved Cadillacs and she loved her friends. My fearless G-Momma kept a personal arsenal of guns. When her friend was robbed at gunpoint at 500 Liquor store, she started going up there, me in tow and keeping watch with her gun in the armrest. I really was her buddy. The more I type, the more time I realize that we spent together and all the things we did. She taught me to play 5 & 7 Card Stud, Fifty-Three, and several other card games. We’d gamble on the floor for pennies.

My mom told me she wrote me a letter when I was born because she wasn’t going to be in the hospital to see me into the world. She was at the Mayo Clinic prepping for brain surgery that would cause her to lose her teeth, but little to nothing else. Her dentures had a gold on the side and I used to love it when she wore them. She kept long fingernails on one hand and a gold rings on her finger, or hanging from a necklace. The nursing home recently cut her nails because she’s a bit combative and they don’t want to get scratched. I get it but….yeah. I’ve never seen that one hand with those short nails before. It was like slicing off one of the lasting pieces of her. G-Momma was that woman that had a gold nugget and diamond ring on her pinky. It was a money sign to be exact and both she and my grandfather had one. When he passed, she wore them both. She didn’t have a hood mentality or talk with broken English. She just …was who she was. A lady who loved the blues and Al Green, and who may or may not have been on the run late in age.

She had throat surgery when I was a young kid. I can’t remember what her original voice sounds like as the operation did something to her vocal chords and caused her to speak in a raspy but loud whisper still to this day. It’s a distinct voice that can’t get as loud as she sometimes pushed it to be but when she was making a point, or if she were upset, best believe you knew. She didn’t cook. She wasn’t Big Momma. She had can goods in her oven and her favorite things were beans, bacon, an egg scrambled in the pan, steak and her famous hot-watered cornbread that used to look like pancakes and taste like a buttery offering from Heaven. She had a washer and dryer in her basement, but she mostly bagged her clothes up in Hefties and dropped them off at the laundromat. She didn’t mind paying for what she didn’t want to do. She was responsible. She loving. She was beautiful.

She wasn’t Big Momma, but she was my damn G-Momma and that was enough.

My grandmother never showed emotions. I watched her outlive so many of the poker players that I had come to know as family. I saw her lose love several times and not bat a tear. When my grandfather passed, I wondered how she could sit in front of the pew with such grace and class. She was dressed up the way he would have wanted to see her: in a mink coat that drug the floor. I can’t remember much else about her outfit but Crown Hill was so full of people that they were out in the hallway in bunches. She floated around to everyone, stopping for conversations and laughs. When the service started, I watched her. There was no emotion the public could see. When I spoke, which was my first time ever doing a poem or speaking in public, I could tell she was proud. I made her laugh and smile with my words and I could feel it. Thinking back, I can still feel how we connected. She had to be devastated…but didn’t wear the types of sleeves that would show it. She also never said I love you, until right before she stopped remembering me. It was jolting when she said it because I had never heard it from her. “I love you too”, I awkwardly said back to her on the phone one day back in about 2013 or 2014. I realize now, as she began to fade into a new Netria, God allowed the old Netria to give out a phrase that would come to be cherished like gold.

She was a resilient woman. I could give many stories on how she bounced back repeatedly from what would otherwise put others down for the count. But I have to stop the blog right?

My grandmother. Netria Parker Marlin. She used to smile a lot. Laugh. Talk on the phone for hours. She loved boosters (hot people as she called them) and a good deal. She loved dogs and a good spontaneous trip back to Winona. She could cuss and dress well but she preferred to be barefoot, outside on her patio drinking a Pepsi. There was once a time I thought she didn’t love me or that I wasn’t good enough for her. She used to have this saying that hurt me to hear but she let it be known every chance she got that “I could have made something of Kendria.” I didn’t understand it. Well, when I was dancing I did, but after my life began to change and I started to show myself with great purpose, I couldn’t figure out why she always said that. I get it now. She was old school, from the backwoods of Mississippi. She saw something in me and she saw me quitting everything I started. Everything I tried, I was good at. Piano, Karate (which we took together for a couple of classes), dance, cosmetology; I was good at everything I put my mind to but I quit it all. I chose a different path, consciously. I became the girl that cried “I’m Great” but had yet to stick with anything long enough to prove it.

Until poetry. My grandmother used to come watch my performances. She was one of my first fans. Once she saw I was relentless with it, she started to pay attention and when she heard me, she wanted everyone to hear me. She wanted to contact Oprah and get me on her show. She wanted the poker players to hear the “God Are You Listening” poem that I wrote early on which included some lines about her. She was one of the people at one of my first features, held at The House in Glendale before there was a Target. She rocked with me. That saying, although hurtful for me, wasn’t meant to hurt me. She just wanted me to see my greatness and follow it upward. I miss going to the Goodwill with her. And hearing her blow outside instead of parking, getting out and knocking...like normal folks would. I miss walking into her house and the door never being locked. I miss the sounds of the poker players and all the drama they brought with them.

I miss my grandmother.

She didn’t need to be Big Momma. And she never intended to be. She was simply Netria Marlin. She never remarried after my mom’s dad but she loved again and again. She had a smile that I miss seeing and she didn’t like to sit still. Neither do I. In fact, sitting still is something I still work on doing. I’m a night owl like she was and while I never fell in love with Cadillacs, I am able to drive across the country without batting an eye because of our frequent 9-hour trips back to Winona, MS. She loved her sisters. I miss our patio sessions where I would look up in the sky and watch the planes flying over while listening to conversations between her and my aunt that often times included belly aching laughter.

I miss her.

But …..

I can’t ever say I didn’t experience her.

And what an experience she was.

Her love was not traditional. It may have even been hard to detect at first. But looking back, I know she loved me. She loved us all.

She loved us like the G she was.

She was no Big Momma,

That one time we accidentally dressed alike.

But she was every bit my Netria.

 

4620W8T – #Pause: My Hood Is DOPE: #HighlighterPen #ItsRainingPens

Recently, I sat on the back patio of my home, enjoying the sunshine and watching the butterfly that kept landing on the banister. My male dog tossed and turned in a dirt pit he dug for himself and his toys while my female rested her head sleepily against my leg. It was a typically quiet and serene moment at a place I call (t)HugzMansion.

My house rests in an area that has its fair offering of boarded-up houses and vacant lots. From my backyard and because of a vacant lot, I can see straight through to the one-way street one block over. It’s a busy westbound street and I watched as traffic sped by on their way to important destinations. A collection of sounds christened the air that ranged from loud trunk music to kids playing and ultimately my personal favorite, stillness. There is no shortage of trees in the back and I took special notice to the fresh spring buds sitting on high limbs that reached for the sky’s approval. Several trees were covered in purple buds that looked like a high field of lavender from where I sat. It was (and is) quite beautiful.  As I sat, Cinematic Orchestra’s “Woman: Burnout” played us an evening soundtrack.  It was a solid warm, peaceful spring day full of the kind of sunshine that tickled the tips of the growing grass and kissed my melanin ever so gently.

I had no complaints.

According to a 2013 Fox59 report, the 46208 zip code is not only one of the most dangerous zips in Indianapolis; it is ranked as one of the most dangerous in the entire country. In this zip code, along with 46205, a person has a one in fourteen chance of becoming a victim of a homicide. While the report itself goes on to mention certain areas within these zips, or pockets, the zip code itself is used as a blanket statement for an entire area covered under those ten specific numbers. Butler-Tarkington, which is not mentioned in the 2013 article but makes up a huge portion of 46208, was featured in the news in October 2016 for making it one year without violence after a string of unsolved murders left families broken and police stumped. It’s also been listed as a high crime, dangerous areas. The MLK and Riverside areas have also been known to fall under the title of danger zones. Both areas have endured a long notoriety with locals as being oppressively unstable and full of crime. I am not writing this blog to deny the existence of the all too frequent violence. In fact, I can easily understand how one comes to label these areas as they do. Who can forget 10-year-old Deshaun Lee Swanson, who was shot and killed during a drive-by that injured several others? That happened around the corner from my mother’s house and next door to the parents of a lifelong sisterfriend. My stepfather was supposed to be in that house that day but decided to stay home. Trust me when I say I am awake, alert and aware of the violence and negativity that go on in these places.

But doesn’t the label of “most-dangerous” at least somewhat eradicate the presence of the love that I happen to know exists in these areas? Does no one else feel marked and thrown away under such a label, or is it just me and my feelings?

Consider this: the label of “most dangerous zip code in the country” (or even the city) doesn’t identify the isolated pockets where the violence is most prominent. One would have to read between the lines to get that. Instead, that lable engulfs and speaks for the entire covered area while conveniently forgetting that despite what you see from the outside looking in, there are still families here. There are still people with goals and dreams, folks who are mentoring the teens and kids that live in these very areas. There are small, grassroots collections of people trying to combat the violence AND all the other issues plaguing our communities (food, transportation, health, etc).

I grew up in the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood. I have lived all over Indianapolis but I returned to the area in 2007 and spent the last ten years in the 46208 neighborhood. I can say with certainty and experience that there is so much beautiful to be seen and experienced in the hood. Last year, I tried to apply for a job with the INRC, a community-based organization that targets urban areas with the intention of building neighborhood awareness, communication and dialogue, as well as empowering the community to teach, grow and sustain itself through their own initiatives and talents. They use what is referred to as the ABCD (Asset Based Community Development) model to achieve this success. When using the ABCD model, you assess what are considered to be “weaknesses” and work on how to utilize them as strengths. In other words, there are no weaknesses. A person may not like to speak in public, but on the flip side, they are great listeners. That person could record information for someone. There are no vacant homes: those are potential artistic canvases OR rehabilitated meeting houses or safe places. Using the talents and gifts of the people within these areas, coupled with identifying ‘troubled’ areas (regarding buildings AND the people), and then learning how to turn those into assets is how you revitalize a community from the inside out…without gentrifying it.

But in order to respect that there is talent in these so-called urban, dangerous areas, there must be belief. There must be hope. Despite what is said about us, life still exists within our numbered boundaries.

Who knew??? Life exists in “the most dangerous zip codes” of Indianapolis!!!! 

Indystar isn’t really good about reporting that though. The media is great for being first on the scene to capture people screaming and hollering in grief and disbelief when a dead body is discovered. They are Johnny on the Spot when a drug bust happens, even if they don’t have much information. But when over three hundred people draw together, along with the police (by happenstance), on a corner where folks are scared to make a complete stop at the four-way, no one is there but our own cell cameras. Then when two thousand people gather together in an event that could rival all of the summer expos and food festivals, but this one being held in a neighborhood that falls under the national label of danger, the only stories that are written are the ones we write for ourselves. Remember that person that doesn’t like to speak in public but is a good listener? He/She would fit well here to help create stories that live long after we do. OUR STORIES MUST BE TOLD. I am now part of a neighborhood organization called The Learning Tree where doing just that is a top priority.

My point of all of this not a list of suggestions of what we could do….but rather an ode to what we are doing. There is great work going on in the areas that many people are afraid of based on what they’ve heard. I spoke about my neighborhood to a coworker the other day with pride, not embarrassment or shame. As I heard myself, I couldn’t help but notice the second nature of which I bragged on the incredible initiatives in my area. The block I recently moved to is a very busy block. The street cramped with cars on both sides and the people hang out late at night with loud conversations. There are vacant homes on both sides of the street. My grandfather used to own one of them. Matter a fact, it’s the biggest one of the block – the biggest house and the biggest vacant. When I walk out of my door, I am not inundated with the negative. I see duplexes with bikes on porches and older men who frequent their stoops on a regular. There is a daycare in operation right next door to me. I hear kids crying as they get dropped off in the morning and laughing outside as I pull up in the evening.

I’ve often told people when I moved to 34th and Clifton (The Cliff), I was nervous as shit. I feared that I was making a mistake that would cost me my safety and/or peace of mind. I couldn’t have been further from reality. In the three years I stayed there, while some weird things definitely came about like the police repeatedly visiting and looking for someone who didn’t live there, or a random man knocking at my door at like 3 AM (I didn’t answer), it was a wonderful experience overall. There was a neighborhood street clean up the first year I was there. The second year led me to meet Mr. William Ryder, the artist whose home was a museum of his own incredible sculptures. He also told me how his father used to dress him up as a girl when he lived in or near Lyles Station, IN, where county officials were kidnapping black children to do radiation experiments on them. From what Mr. Ryder told me, they preferred boys hence his parents dressing him as a girl. I wouldn’t have met him, toured his home or looked into his beautiful eyes and saw all the ancestry they held with artistic pride had I been living in the safety nets of some place like Normandy Farms (traders point).

There is a gas station nearby my house that I see police presence and arrests nearly every day. Just last week, I watched a cop sit behind the Double 8 building and watch the station activities from his car using binoculars. I admit, there is a lot that goes on there and I personally try not to use it too much but I can’t be too surprised. After all, this IS one of the most dangerous places in the entire country.

 People drive through here daily. I wonder if, when driving, anyone notices the precious gems that those of us who live here see? Such as the teddy bear memorial that I believe grows by the week from where two men lost their lives after a driver jumped the curb, striking and ultimately killing both men as they awaited the bus. It’s old news but the neighborhood hasn’t forgotten them. Do people only see what they believe are bums and addicts or do they notice the mothers walking down the street holding hands with their children too? Those are real people. Have they seen the garden preparation at the Flanner House that will provide freshly grown food to area residents in addition to offering gardening classes. Do people see all the kids that wait for the after-school food program that GRoe Inc. provides? Or is that too inner in the inner city? Kheprw has a great community food program for a low monthly cost. Neighborhood and community building is happening right before our eyes…and right above the labels.

Let the news tell it, the only saving grace in these areas is the 10-Point Coalition, spearheaded by a man whose affinity for profiling, stop and frisk and disparaging remarks about black youth keep him locked out from making any real impact on the people. Photo ops and a ‘walk thru’ or two with the Mayor are dope tho.

The link I provided in regards to the Butler-Tarkington area going a year without violence starts with a video of the news crew walking up 40th street with the 10 Point guys. The media seems impressed but those of us who live over here don’t see them until we turn on the tv or see the news crew outside. We are NOT impressed. Less reported are the grassroots efforts of the RESIDENTS. The people who live here when the camera crews pack up and go back to Noblesville and Carmel. Folks like these fathers who came together to not only work the streets of Butler Tarkington at night time in attempts to curb the violence, but they are attending community meetings and letting their voices (our voices) be heard. These are fathers and husbands who, through their own finances, offer children in the neighborhood options for the summer (football little league) and someone trusted to confide in.

A couple of weeks back, on the MLK side of 46208, I along with my partner, catered a “living room concert series”, where locals gathered together in a neighborhood living room for a concert-style dinner, entertainment and conversation. This event included area neighbors as well as people from the community that have the pull, the pockets and the DESIRE to invest in our areas. No animals were harmed and no gunshots rang out in the process. Lives were not lost; in fact, they were inspired and uplifted. The living room concert featured a live band and singer with me serving as the host and poet. A bit of community dialogue followed the music where questions were asked and input from those of us who live here was shared.

All of this in one of the most dangerous zip codes of Indianapolis and the entire country.

THE POINT:

Meet Indy’s New Fountain Square

There is no question that violence, drugs, and police runs in these communities are frequent occurences. I am by no means attempting to dismiss the importance of curbing the statistics over here. But there are great things happening in the 46208 areas and it’s not coming by way of gentrification. It’s coming at the hands of the community residents that either stay here or travel over here to help rebuild the people. That’s the difference between gentrification and community rebuilding: In the gentrifying model, homes and land are bought and remodeled to look pretty. The rustic browns and tans of hood life are replaced with friendly hues from the pastel color wheel. Pink, blue and yellow siding line up the newly constructed homes or the ‘rehabbed’ places as the old neighbors are pushed out and new ones are brought in. Coffee shops pop up and white people start jogging with babies and strollers and the next thing you know, what was once a predominantly black area is now the new hipster area. *See Fall Creek Boulevard. Fountain Square didn’t become the revitalized artistic gem that it is now without pushing a shitload of people out and rewriting the story without them in it.

“30’000 feet up and you are not invited” ~Kanye West

But in the community building model, we fix the PEOPLE first and then assess what needs to be done regarding the homes, buildings, and land. The people are not pushed out; they are empowered. You can’t empower a building but you can its people. And that is happening all over urban areas with little to no coverage from local news outlets or stations. If it wasn’t for these blogs and articles that we write, we would only believe that these dangerous zip codes are places where you only drive through if necessary and you never move to on purpose.

I moved here on purpose, even with a fistful of fear I had collected by what I had heard. That fear was quickly eradicated and with the help of people like Earl & Ro Townsend, who started the GRoe Inc organization, it became easier to see how to be an asset instead of a complainer. I didn’t get the job at INRC but I’ve learned and am still learning how to apply the ABCD model to my community. Right now, if you look at my big yellow house, you may notice one of the blinds is a jumbled up mess. It is ridiculously ugly.

It’s been torn, shredded and manipulated to fit dog needs. I honestly don’t know what they did to get the blinds like they have but we have failed to replace them as of yet and it’s been a month or so.

You can see straight through on the bottom portion. I must say, it’s time to replace them. If a person was to judge my home based on my blinds, they would expect to walk into a dust-filled, grease motel with floors full of stuff you don’t want to step or stand on, the stench of dog piss and two couches that don’t match in one room. That’s far from the case. It’s typically clean in here although there are times when we get lazy. There is no shortage of furniture but it still has a very minimalist vibe as there are no televisions downstairs and nothing but the dinner table in the dining room. If you started from the inside first, you wouldn’t expect to see those blinds. In a sense, I guess I own the most dangerous blinds in the local area…and maybe even the United States.

Much like my blinds, the inner city has a stigma attached to it that comes with lowered expectations and stereotypical assumptions. Many people will stop at the stigma and never venture inward to learn otherwise. But if you dare step inside for a bit, you won’t last five minutes without learning that love lives here; daily. You will meet artists of varying mediums – string players, harpists, singers, and musicians. Painters and sketch artists, writers and photographers. There are places to learn how to garden, do yoga and work on clean eating. Yes, we live in a food desert with no standing bank. Yes, there is violence around us and an overwhelming police presence despite our lack of trust in them. But there is always laughter on our blocks. There are smiles and children with their bikes turned upside while they spin the tires with their hands. There are lavender buds on the tree limbs out back and the sun still kisses our flowers with precision. We have as much silence as a Carmel, Indiana subdivision and in the morning, the chirping birds don’t hesitate to sing to us. We are business owners. Working people. Retirees and school kids. Parents and elderly people with stories in their pockets. We are a community of people. We are more than a zip code and it’s label.

When I see or hear stuff like ‘I wish black folks would come together’, I can’t help but shake my head in immediate irritation (while wondering where the people who are quick to say this actually live). Clearly, they took the media bait and they believe there is little over here beyond the violence and heartbreak.

In reality, there is a great deal of good that goes on and I guess this is one of those instances where you just have to live it to know it. Or at least be a frequent visitor. The outside looking in often leads to a front row seat to ignorance.

From my front row seat, I get to see butterflies land right in front of me. That same butterfly landed on me before flying off again. #BeFearless

Nestled under the cold blanket of a harsh label, there are human beings trying to do and striving for the best…for themselves AND for their community.

Welcome to one of the most dangerous zip codes in America.

~j

 

Broken Jewels: Guest Blog by Tony Styxx

Alone in my room, I could hear the millions of questions my 6yr old daughter asks her grandmother… Some are of food but most are about a game show that has been modernized that her senior still enjoys the nostalgic moments from, answering as if she were a contestant.

Then the channel has a change and a news report speaks of a current movement not seen since a King had a jewel knocked loose from his crown or since a Queen was told to leave her throne. In the walls of my home my 6yr old daughter’s questioned echoed: “Grandma, what do black lives matter mean?”

And in that moment, I was a coward. How could I explain to her that as special as she thinks she is, it means nothing in the eyes of her oppressors???

…That her laugh is only accepted when it is at her expense and that if she is going to take a picture, make sure her ass is out and her head is cocked or they won’t see you. Be caked up in so much makeup you lose your childhood. Dress older than you are, shake your ass, fight your kin and maybe you will be lucky enough to hear them say your name with distaste for its pronunciation. I laid as if postmortem had me in its grasp as I tried to find the courage to tell her she can be whatever she chooses as long as it is socially accepted or can be spun into media gold and used as a conduit to spark taboo debates about her womanhood. [I wanted to say] that you will always be the blame for our heritage’s downfall and that you are fit for pleasure; not happiness. You are only as good as your degree and only as important as their needs.

How do I tell the one I hold the highest, that she is seen as the lowest no matter how tall her spirit may be? That no matter how good she is at behaving in our home and being obedient in school, one day her reward for this kind of integrity might be a beating with white pillows that resemble daddy’s hands. [And] that ebony men will hate you for not submitting to their lack of growth and that women of noir will spite you for being original as if they can’t do the same. That no matter how diplomatic you are, the rest of the world will call you a threat.

You are no equal here.

Her voice haunts my inner sanctum.

“What does black lives matter mean?”

What DOES black lives matter mean?

It means to wear your hair with pride because your bravery should not pay the balance of their inferiority. It means to be as smart as you can and make them keep up. It means to continue dreaming in purple, walking as if rainbows fall at your feet, and keep laughing like the wind whispered a joke from God for only you to enjoy out loud. It means you have the right to be you, with no consequences.

Be thankful if you are slim and smile about your A’s, be it cups or plus. [Black Lives Matter means] a big brain beats a big behind any day. That your southern draw is an extension of your mother and you are the sweetest fruit of her roots. It means you too deserved to be loved by the world for who you are and where you come from; not as a cash cow where culture is the currency for other races who live in debt.

It means to be magic baby!!!

You carry the universe in your Afro puffs, all of Africa in your skin and generations of women weak or strong will watch you take your place in the world of struggle only to emerge a citizen of greatness.

But I speak none of this.

I only come from my door to be greeted by a chestnut grin standing less than 1000 lifetimes from God’s throne. And she says “hi daddy”!

And I cooked up the will to smile back.

I hugged my 6yr old daughter.

…Hoping that even though my words never made it to her ears, my intention made it to her heart.

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King.