Have you heard of the new ABC TV Show Black-ish ? In my Twitter, Facebook and list serve worlds it’s a frequent topic. The show is loved and hated. It’s debated. And, it’s creating dialogue that challenges our pop and media cultures.
Blackish is about a upper-middle class “black” family, intent on raising his kids with some sense of cultural identity, in the face of an assault of constant contradictions and obstacles coming from various directions which insist that his children be color-blind. Blackish is a good sitcom, I’m a fan, sort of. It looks right into stereotypes not creating them – at least not to me. Blackish for the most part is superficially similar to parts of my life. I connect to the show. I understand what it’s like to be the shows wife whose name is “Rainbow” all too well; to be the butt of family jokes on my blackness, my whiteness – or lack thereof. I know what it’s like to live in a predominately “white” community and raise “black” children with a “black” man. My kids say they have a black and white mom. The standing joke is I order black but cook white.
I could give Rainbow a few tips, every now and then. Because you see there’s a lot more to my story that makes me very distinct from Rainbow, or the Huxtable’s or the Brady’s. You see, I’m West Virginian, a Mountaineer, as we say (Yes even if you went to Marshall, you‘re still a Mountaineer). That is a whole different comedy. Would Hollywood or Broadway writers ever believe or imagine a professional black “hillbilly” female as the lead of a show or play? I doubt it. But if we remove skin-color and all it’s superficiality and just imagine a middle class Appalachian family on your Thursday night sitcom, or in a Broadway play, it would seem far-fetched if not impossible.
Because of all these factors I look at the world very differently and I feel stereotypes form many angels. They come in black and white and the greatest of these experiences is often felt in my Appalachian-ness.
“There are black people in West Virginia?”
“You sure are pretty for a West Virginian.”
Most Americans impress me when they know that West Virginia is a state. There are many unknown facts about West Virginia that inform our American identities and icons. For example, did you know many of the American cultural icons are Affrilachian (African American Appalachian) from TD Jakes, to Henry Lois Gates, Bill Withers and Steve Harvey. They are not just Appalachian but with roots in West Virginia, my home state.
They left West Virginia, with all their teeth in tact. In fact, have you seen Steve Harvey’s teeth? He’s got the best choppers in the business.
Entertainment is one way for those living in to get out of Appalachia. The list is long of folks who have contributed to the cultural landscape of America and equally long is the list of cartoon, sub-plots, characters and TV shows that perpetuate a stereotype of Appalachia as backwoods, poor, toothless and racists.
Entertainment is also an escape for those of us living in Appalachia to have a have a voice that reaches a broader audience. The problem our stories rarely meet mainstream culture and if they do they don’t always foster a wider perceptive of the Appalachian identity.
We need an Appalachian-ish.
In my world as an entrepreneur, poet and perhaps a bit of a local gadfly I can’t find any examples of a strong Appalachian family in pop culture. The Clampets ??? Nah, although they reflected some of the positive aspects of West Virginia it was always as a sidebar to their ignorance and backwardness. A black Appalachian family? Never. Heck, I would just like anyone in America to name ONE black Appalachian woman. Most can’t. They don’t know that legends like Nina Simone and Nikki Giovani (and many others) represent and Appalachian identity and place, they are not embraced for their Appalachian heritages. In fact I think America would rather not embrace these cultural icons as an Appalachian heritage. It might make them too complex. It doesn’t fit the mold of the identities with which people are familiar and comfortable.
The terrain to write new Appalachian American stories is a vast and wide as a mountain top removal site (Did you know that some MTR mines like the Hobbit mine are as large at Manhattan?). It seems impossible, too far-fetched to create a dialogue about the prosperity of Appalachia, its opportunity and its needs as a ground zero for us all, about as far-fetched as seeing a professional “Black” family on TV (post Cosby). It’s as far-fetched to see Appalachian culture on display minus a Hew Haw or Deliverance theme.
Shows like Blackish are challenging what it means to black in America and as I listen to the social media debate about this show I see that many audiences are truly missing what this type of family imagery creates across cultures, how it informs underexposed white Americans that black American families are not all alike and that the American dream is for everyone. Black-ish could create aspirations and it might support the imagery of healthy families and prosperity and it might challenge excuses to create and strive for these ambitions for all families.
But its title suggests that there is something called “Black” and therefore some things that are almost “Black”, but not quite. I wonder what people would think of a show called “White-ish”?
Black affluence is equally as unsettling and even threatening to some Americans as is Appalachian affluence. I’ll speculate here but I would wager this perceived “threat” of black wealth was the real reason the thriving black suburb of Tulsa, Greenwood, was literally bombed and burned to the ground by a “white” mob.
We are at tragic crossroads in America if we are distracted with the political conflicts of race, gender, religion and sexual preferences, while ignoring the universal needs of the environment and WATER.
Who gives a fuck what race you are or where you are from if you can’t drink water.
Ebola needs clean wear to be eradicated. I can go on. Everybody needs clean water.
I don’t care what cultural identity you claim, or don’t. Raven Simone can be whatever the hell she wants to be, she’s is still a RICH American but even she can’t escape the environmental consequences of our energy extraction industries.
Fairy tales rarely come out of Appalachia but stereotypes do and the latest adaptation of the James Dickey novel “Deliverance” to a Broadway play is a perfect example of how easy it is for others to profit from an Appalachian slander.
The play presented by Godlight Theatre Company is described as an adventurous canoe trip that spirals into a nightmare of horror and murder. Men stalk and are stalked by other men and the treacherous river becomes a graveyard for those without the strength or the luck to survive.
We all know what Deliverance is about and why it appeals, then and now, to America audiences – it takes extreme, slandered generalizations about an “other“ or a “them“, so that “we“ can judge “them” and feel better about ourselves.
Will we or will we ever get out of our fear of sitcoms like Black-ish and our fear of exploring the complexities of West Virginia and our America identities as a collective whole.
Deliverance on the stage does nothing for West Virginia, or Georgia, where the movie was actually shot, at least not my West By God Virginia. In fact, I fear it may hurt our currently healthy tourism industry, as well as hinder our ability to attract young professionals and families of various backgrounds. Dickey’s novel is brilliant but it’s a shame that the film and it impressions have fueled a fear of West Virginia and other parts of the South, instead of highlighting the riches that are here too. To quote a line from Deliverance:
“I just believe,’ he said, ‘that the whole thing is going to be reduced to the human body, once and for all. I want to be ready…. I think the machines are going to fail, the political systems are going to fail, and a few men are going to take to the hills and start over….
Start over. When America is ready to start over and craves space and landscape, the mountains I see today will be more valuable than all the wealth coal has produced. But will there be any hills or clean water? That story will be left for another poet to tell – in black and white.
The song, Are My Hands Clean from Sweet Honey and the Rock, tells the story of the making of a shirt from the picking of cotton to its purchase at Sears and all stops in between. It’s a song that helps you realize the human cost of where your clothes come from and asks, are your hands clean?
To a native of the heart of Appalachia like me, the song calls to mind how easy it is to forget when you flip your light switch, where your power comes from and the generally unknown and conveniently overlooked journey of coal.
Coal’s journey often begins in impoverished communities like Mingo County, West Virginia, where the chamber of commerce is made entirely of coal. Ironically, the sign in front reads, “Home of the Billion Dollar Coal Field”.
During the “boom years” in southern West Virginia several communities of educated and affluent black folks flourished. The boom eventually busted with the advent of Mountain Top Removal (MTR) or strip mining. In MTR mining the costly undertaking of messy work of digging underground is replaced by decapitating the mountains leaving landscapes that look more like the Moon than Wild and Wonderful West Virginia.
Upon extraction the coal is hauled away to be cleaned by chemicals. These coal cleaning chemicals, like the thousands of other industrial products are stored across America are in tanks. If storage tanks are left unregulated, they could present a future threat to the communities around them.
The Elk is the main water source for 300,000 people including the Governor as well as the majority of West Virginia’s black residents.
On January 9, 2014 in Charleston, West Virginia, a tank owned by Freedom Industries leaked a chemical called MCHM into the Elk River. The Elk is the main water source for 300,000 people including the Governor as well as the majority of West Virginia’s black residents. For several days we adapted and overcame the annoyance and dangers, like our forebears did for generations. Although the water ban has lifted many of us remain skeptical and fear the most fundamental resource for life.
This industrial “accident” in West Virginia can become ground zero for America’s renewable energy conversations, debates and solutions, especially as it relates to job opportunities, education and breaking poverty cycles.
This region has been plagued by a mono or duo-economy and an equally entrenched allegiance to this perilous economic state.
This region has been plagued by a mono or duo-economy and an equally entrenched allegiance to this perilous economic state. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, entrepreneurs are seizing the opportunities in Appalachia and across America with a eye on renewable energy innovation. There is also opportunity for energy leadership diversity in these traditional industries.
My alma mater, West Virginia State University, is an HBCU neighboring a chemical plant that once produced one of the world’s deadliest chemicals – MIC, of Bhopal India fame. I often wonder if African Americans had been more involved with environmental activism would that plant have been built beside our institution? I wonder where are they now?
Our history is expressed in the coal industry tag line “COAL- It keeps the lights on!” Indeed it has, but the future belongs to diverse energy strategies that can wash our hands for more entrepreneurs, advocates and leaders whose hands are clean.
“Randy Moss ain’t shit!” That’s what my son’s father said to me when I was six months pregnant.
Actually he said, “Randy Moss, West Virginia ain’t shit.”
How Randy Moss got mixed up in my “baby daddy” drama over the last thirteen years makes about as much sense as West Virginia and Quantum Physics, but somehow Randy Moss, Quantum Physics, West Virginia, babies and various forms of daddies have all been entangled in my world and in the mental loop of this phrase, “Randy Moss ain’t shit.”
Let me explain. Or, wait…. Let’s go back to 1998.
It didn’t matter where I was in 1998 – when I told people I was from West Virginia, they would say, “West Virginia—Randy Moss!” It was a welcome respite from, “My uncle lives in Virginia.” (Nothing irks a West Virginian more than being called a Virginian) These comments gave me a sense of place while I was away from home.
These comments gave me a sense of place while I was away from home.”
I remember people would pat me on the back and tell me they saw “my boy on TV” and tell me how I didn’t sound near as “country” as he does.
Randy was ballin’ at Marshall University back in the 90’s- but, to tell you the truth, I didn’t care.
I had missed all of the high school and the college Randy Moss phenomenon. While everyone was crowding into gyms and fields to see him play, I was boarding planes and earning money modeling on national catalog photo shoots and commercials.
I started modeling at 12 years old in NYC with the IMG agency, then I became an Elite model, a Bethann model and was represented by various other power house agencies across the country.
My first job was for Calvin Klien and then Ralph Lauren and then I went back to West Virginia to twirl a baton. I took small modeling jobs in nearby Lexington (once as a underage Spuds Mckensie Girl), Charlotte or Cincinnati. I modeled during summers and holidays until I graduated high school at 17 and then I moved to Atlanta to reign as a teen catalog queen, then there was a Seventeen ad, national commercials, editorial spreads and then shazam, by 22, I had been modeling for ten years.
Thats when I became a young mother with my first child, at age 22.
I came home to take a break from the stress of a big city and welp, I got pregnant by high school sweetheart. I was a modeling agents nightmare. But somehow after the birth of my first son I still managed to book national modeling jobs – from West Virginia. When I look back, I was incredibly fortunate.
At 24 I moved to Dallas with my baby boy and discovered how hard it was to travel for model jobs with a child and no family. I saw that Supermodel Nikki Taylor was able to do the young mother- model thing… but I forgot, I wasn’t a supermodel. I was just a working catalog/commercial $1,500 a day model and I was brown or “other” as I was always cast.
I started doing a bit of a WV to Texas to WV thing, missing my family and support. Then, at the ripe old age of 25, I started gaining weight – and discovered that my weight gain was another baby.
I knew 2 ½ things.
Modeling was over
I was officially going back to WV
2 ½: My second son would be raised not by his biological father, but by my high school sweetheart, the father of my first child, Archie.
Now stop your judgments right there – there was no hanky panky, cheating on Baby Daddy one for Baby Daddy two. In fact its way more complicated than that with a cast of scorned characters to add to the drama.
Just like in any life drama — real or on the screen — there is always a hero and a villan, and I certainly had mine- a hero at least and his name was (is) Archie.
On most days, Archie is a quiet man, but he spoke loudly on the day I shared I was pregnant. He gave testimony to the character and class of men that believe in family and have set out to change the course and direction of their own fathers. He told me that if that man (my new Baby Daddy) wouldn’t raise the baby, he would, as his own – forever.
He is a man of his word.
Archie and I married later in life (and divorced), but that is not what this story is about this is about, this “Randy Moss ain’t Shit” business.
See, when I was pregnant and transitioning from a Highland Park, Dallas life to “coming back” to West Virginia regret – I was balancing one baby on my hip and another in my belly – I came face to face with the fear of having TWO baby daddies.
I didn’t want to be THAT girl – “a two Baby Daddy girl” from West Virginia.
ONE by a man I could trust. And another by a man who was an actor in every sense of the word — an actor who was living in Hollywood, a New York City boy who, when I was 18 years old, helped me navigate the city as a young model. He took me under his wing and made sure I crossed the street without getting hit by cars, and could pronounce Diane Von Furstenberg, who often booked me for QVC.
I didn’t want to be THAT girl – “a two Baby Daddy girl” from West Virginia. I was naïve and worried about labels. I worried what people would think of me if I ever went back to city – so I didn’t.
At 24, I was pregnant, again. Living in WV, again. Broke, again. And various other “failures” of my 24 year old “agains”.
(I’m getting to the “Randy Moss Ain’t shit” part, hold your horses, this ain’t easy)
I remember trying to make casual conversation with the father of my unborn second child. It was one of those awkward phone conversations before you could hide behind texting or email.
By now, I’m 25, I’m pregnant, I’m feeling completely defeated, I have swollen feet, I spent the day at the WIC office and now listening to the arrogant selfish tone of his conversation — I’m trying to comprehend the fact that this man, whom I had known since I was 18, (literally: I met him at the NYC Supper Club on my 18th birthday – he was 28 ), the man told me stories of childhood abandonment, the struggles of his mother’s life as single Mom tell me he was NOT going to do anything for me or the baby.
Then, I did the strangest thing.
I had a bright and brilliant three year old, a baby in my belly and I was safe in the womb of my mountains.
Rather than curse or cry I deflected, I shifted. I started to let myself feel the beauty of being home. I had a bright and brilliant three year old, a baby in my belly and I was safe in the womb of my mountains. Instantly I knew it wasn’t going to be so bad. I had support, I had a ready-made job with all my hometown connections, I had people to check on and my life had slowed down to a pace where I could see the trees and the forest out my window.
I was home- and that was a good thing, a very good thing, for me and my family.
Well, then it gets weird, or I do…. I did what any good West Virginia girl from Kanawha County does when she’s talking on the phone to the man who always introduced her in NYC as being “from Georgia”. I always corrected him – “I’m from WV!”
Back to the point…. I did what any good West Virginia girl from Kanawha County does when she’s talking on the phone to the man who was sitting in California, making it clear he would always be thousands of miles away – I made small talk.
I said: “Ya’ know Randy Moss — the West Virginia boy from my county, Kanawha county, is going to the NFL, and he’s going to be freaking amazing!”
The City Boy’s words came back at me LOUD and clear, a bold four words, “Randy Moss ain’t shit.”
What did he just say?
Did he just say what I thought he just said?
Did he just say, Randy Moss ain’t shit?
I was struck.
I had four cans of West Virginia whoop-ass for his “Randy Moss ain’t shit” New York City living in Hollywood ass.
Next thing I knew that city boy gave me another four words that have been burned into my skin like a stretch mark, never to fade: Your baby. Not mine.
Instantly I knew city boys couldn’t teach my kids to fish; they never had a pocket knife when you needed one; and I hadn’t met one yet who could build a fire that lasted all night long.
I counted my losses right there. RIGHT THERE. I was home in WV, and here I could start licking my wounds and piece a family together.
Is there a difference between coming and going back? I asked myself. Still do.
I went back to college. l was becoming an Affrilachian ambassador, even though I had yet to learn the word. I was falling in love with West Virginia and being a mother.
That season, with my babies on my hips, I hosted a Minnesota & Mimosa party for the season’s first 1999 Randy Moss Minnesota Vikings game.
Every touchdown, every amazing leap Randy Moss did that game, and that season, was like Tupac saying:
When the NFL commentators announced “Randy Moss from West Virginia” I knew that Hollywood/ New York City boy couldn’t ignore that West Virginia still existed, that “I” was here, that he had a son here – and that Randy Moss was indeed the shit that season, and for many more. Randy Moss was ballin’ – he was playing defense, for me. (Check out some Moss rookie highlights)
Tupac played on …
You know it makes me unhappy (what’s that)
When brothas make babies, and leave a young mother to be a pappy
And since we all came from a woman
Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman…..
In 2000 I started my poetry game with the “Last Tuesday of the Month Poetry Slam” at a small club, The Empty Glass, on the East End of Charleston. I had no idea how to do a Slam or performance poetry, but I read a book about it.
I was introduced to poetry as a young model in NYC beside that NYC boy who taught me about The Last Poets and For Colored Girls.
He gave me another four words when I decided I wanted to be a poet.
He said: You Are No Poet, followed by another four words: You Don’t Know Craft.
I opened my first poetry show with a poem that ended,
“Randy Moss is the baddest mutha fukkin’ wide receiver in the league”.
I cursed. They clapped. It was a WV audience; we all celebrated the poem- even the Cleveland Browns fans .
I know. I know “Randy Moss is the baddest muthafukkin’ wide receiver in the league” isn’t exactly poetic, but remember WV had never seen a poetry Slam and my applause wasn’t for the words, but for the spirit and cause behind them.
I started to appreciate where and who I was from on that stage. I gained a deeper sense of connection to my home and my people –and I was challenging others to do the same.
For the first time in my life I looked out into the crowd and saw my own Mom and Dad, together, applauding me.
I was creating a poetic life and it seemed that, regardless of my Love Jones, I was Passing Glory. There was plenty to celebrate.
ALL IS FAIR IN LOVE AND CHILD SUPPORT
I managed to finish my degree after a ten-year pursuit, put on some business suits, win some awards, get a book review in the Huffington Post and do a Tedx Talk. It’s not much, but I was starting to scratch the surface of my dreams. I was only riding this momentum because Archie and his Mom have helped me raise my children – day to day, hour by hour, it’s been Archie and Granny May.
My second son’s father never made life easy for me, ever.
I remember being 20 years old and visiting him after a week of being wrapped in each other. There were NYC dinners, taxi cabs and loft parties — I opened my heart to him, I wanted to be with him, forever. This was a big step for me.
He answered with four words: Moving to LA Tomorrow.
Before I had any children, I kept a relationship with my second son’s grandmother. His mother was always good to me – she never missed my birthday or an opportunity to encourage or inspire me.
After my son — her grandson — was born, she continued to be my friend, a teacher, a confidant and a genuine support system for me. I always had a place to stay in NYC. She attended my first Nuyorican Poetry reading and she always sent Christmas gifts to ALL the children.
I think she saw herself in me. I know she did. And that is why in part, I never pursued child support from her son– not really. There was and is a $127/mo. order that was established when my second son was born.
This order was established only because, in order to receive a medical card and WIC in WV, you must name the father.
The State paid for the blood test. It came back in four words: YOUR BABY AND HERS.
The $127/ mo money order came the first year of my son’s life almost every month – and then it stopped. He’s 14 today.
$127/ month is what most minimum wage workers are required to pay- and my son’s father was being delivered to me on the cover of Essence magazine wearing a tuxedo. I started to question the struggling actor character who could never afford $127/mo.
Money aside, I managed. We have Archie, and we are always going to eat in West Virginia – I’ve never paid for a haircut, I’ve never really even set foot in the Barbershop, I’ve never bought a pair of sneakers or paid a little league fee. Child support with Archie has never been a conversation. We don’t need it — we provide, together — in separate homes, yes – but we do what’s called “co-parenting” and I think we do it well. We have fine boys.
Archie is the kind of man who has worked 6 days a week for 27 years — at the same job. Five years ago he started his own side company so now he works seven days a week and does double duty most days. He takes care of his mother, sister, nieces and raises our three boys and his daughter. He does homework and helps me organize birthday parties and schedules. He’s no Baby Daddy. He is a Father, a Daddy, a Pops, a real Dad.
Some may argue my position about not pursuing child support with a vengeance– but my Baby Daddy has two other Baby Mamas. I thought that, if I just laid low about the money, if I only asked on occasion, my “not asking” might encourage him to be a part of his son’s life.
I never wanted to be the “angry black” baby momma – especially since I was the only milk chocolate in his baby mamma vanilla palate. I didn’t want to be the angry “black” woman holding the “black” man down trying to make his way in Hollywood down. Not me.
I left it alone, the child support, for the most part.
I focused on being a “cool,” don’t-rock-the-boat kind of mom, always encouraging visits and communication. I never wanted the conditions of child support to be debated in court. I never wanted to be a that kinda baby mamma. My Girlfriends told me I was crazy.
I wrote a poem…
He turned 44 after he voted Obama
44th President of the United States—
Read it on his Facebook page.
There along with 4, 044 of his other,
Facebook friends. 44 in common/
I can watch his virtual life unfold.
His interests: Getting Obama elected
About Him: I love my family deeply.
Notification: He’s been tagged “NYC Roller Skating King”
- as his son was learning to shoot the duck.
His son/ my son/ is not mentioned. He does not exist
on his Facebook profile, his routine.
His man-dated child support of $144.00
is 44 days late. 44 years the number of
knowledge—said to represent desire/insight/wisdom/reason.
The 44th President and his wife age 44—
said too many fathers are missing. Everyday
Facebook asks the question for me: What’s on your mind?
We follow each other on Instagram, me and my Baby Daddy — well we did. He deleted me from Facebook after I posted my 44 poem. I always wonder if he thinks about me when he posts his pictures – pictures that tell a very different story than a struggling actor.
I was laid off for a few months this year. No income. I was running out of Juice. I started asking my Baby Daddy, flat out, for some help. Archie had lost both his Grandparents and his Dad and had all the responsibilities associated with family deaths. His car wasn’t running, and it was painful seeing him struggle to provide for his family and the boys. He was doing the best he could. I was, too.
When I asked my Baby Daddy for some help he always said he didn’t have anything to share. He offered four words: Can’t. I am struggling.
Often, being resourceful has worked against me. When you’re resourceful, people expect you to figure it all out.
One of my big, resourceful ideas was to get my Baby Daddy to help me sell poetry books by directing a poem video for 44.
I thought: ok, you have no cash, but you have talent and “followers.” Besides, it seemed like a fair modern parent arrangement – he could share his talent to help me sell books while telling his side of the story to the poem 44. Crazy idea, but guess what? He said yes.
I took my sons to NYC to visit one of my dearest friends.
Baby Daddy didn’t bother to come see his son, didn’t call or offer any excuse. His mother let me and my son know that “his Dad” was busy – she told me I should have called and given a heads up , she said they didn’t know we were coming.
I wasn’t going to argue with this woman whom I respected – but he knew. I told him a month before, then again when we got on the road, and then again when we arrived.
I should have called “Ilyana Fix My Life” months ago when she was seeking mothers whose sons have absent fathers. I didn’t.
I stared at the application but thought what will people think of ME? My Baby Daddy will be mad at ME. His mother will be mad at ME. I will tell a family secret and a few of my own. Why national TV?
So here we are.
“Randy Moss ain’t shit!”
Those four words still echo – they reverb against the words that my sons NYC family labeled him last summer – though what they said may be different than what I heard, what I heard was, “He’s never going to be anything but a West Virginia boy.”
What the hell does that mean? I gave away my all my cans of whoop ass- otherwise, this certainly was an occasion to pop that top.
I have always been more the Greenbrier Resort kinda West Virginia girl, invite you over for Tudor’s sweet tea and let’s talk about it kinda gal – until you piss me off.
Well, I’m pissed. I’m pissed at all these years of hoping and waiting and wishing for something that was never going to be there: consistent support for my Son.
I made excuses for all the comments of others over the years. But I also let them motivate me.
Being resilient doesn’t mean you’re not scared.
Reality is crashing in on me. I know my value as a Mother and my Son’s well-being was — and always had been — pushed up against negative perceptions of who and what we were from and that we “could make it.” I was resilient to a fault, until I wasn’t… and then I was an excuse.
At 14, my son is becoming “just a West Virginia boy” and, I’m proud.
“Randy Moss ain’t shit” echoed.
Being resilient doesn’t mean you’re not scared. I was always scared to say anything too aggressive to my Baby Daddy, afraid that my son would be pushed away from his family and have no contact (I knew what that was like – I met my own father as a teenager) and I never wanted that history to repeat itself.
I held on and created a relationship with my son’s grandmother, because I needed her support and I wanted him to know his family, – and she was my friend, but then the shit hit the fan.
ONE THING I DONT NEED IS ANY MORE APOLOGIES – Ntozake Shange
In NYC, last week, I sat with this woman, this woman whom I had admired since I was 18 years old. I watched her make excuses and cast blame; I had felt the coldness from her to me since her son moved from LA to NYC. I was sincerely struck by her delusion, her accusations. She was standing by her son like a good mother should– but where was the outcry for him to take a 15 minute cab ride to see his son?
I thought of Archie and his Mom — and how Granny May would have literally whooped Archie’s grown black ass down, and with a shoe.
I was starting to see the truth– it was glistening like the gold on the WV capitol dome. She was enabling a man almost 50, a man living in her house. I had been enabling him for years too.
My own denial was over. I did a Randy Moss, “One Clap”
I had four words: Baby Daddy Aint Shit!
Randy Moss has created his own league—- the NFL, National Fathers League (Ok, I made that up). Every Father’s Day he hosts a BBQ. He gathers men of all ages to celebrate being a DAD in Rand, West Virginia.
My Baby Daddy will never be drafted into this league – he has only been to WV once in 14 years. On that occasion he stayed one day, gave a speech at West Virginia State University, and then skipped out in the middle of the night. He left a note- four Words: Had To Leave. Sorry.
But if he did choose to come out, to try for the NFL ( National Fathers League) by taking his son to school, watching his performances, meeting his friends or all the things that NFL Dads do, there is still a chance he can score a touchdown.
I needed to put on a Randy Moss I don’t give a shit what you think 84 jersey. I needed that bravado to get through some of life’s challenges. Somehow, in Randy Moss, I always heard Tupac sing…
Thank the Lord for my kids, even if nobody else nobody else wants em.
Cause I think we can make it, in fact I’m sure
And if you fall, stand tall and comeback for more
Cause ain’t nuttin worse than when your son
wants to know why his daddy don’t love him no mo’
That weekend in NYC, I sat in my hotel overlooking Ground Zero, and I cried. I called Archie and I thanked him from ground zero, literally.
I was looking at my beautiful sons, 10, 14 and 17. I thought about loss and restoration.
I heard Tupac.
While tears is rollin’ down your cheeks
Ya steady hopin’ things don’t fall down this week
Cause if it did, you couldn’t take it, and don’t blame me
I was given this world I didn’t make it
And now my son’s gettin’ older and older and cold
From havin’ the world on his shoulders
JUST A WEST VIRGINIA MAN
In West Virginia, one might say I’m forcing my Baby Daddy to eat some crow, eat some dirt, or a shoe, or a hat. We are full of country idioms.
“Tongue wagging at both ends” is one of my favorites.
I’m not wagging my tongue. I’m telling my story. In fact, I’m owning a bit of my own shit too.
For the record, “Baby Daddy” is a vulgar description — but it applies and offers a bit more credit than “sperm donor”. To me, Baby Daddy is as culturally relevant as my use of “shit” or “the shit”. And, you can take the Baby Daddy out of my story and insert Baby Mamma in a lot of Fathers’ stories.
What matters is the presence of caring parents: adults that children can depend on and trust in.
My story is not about blame – it’s not about a city dad vs. country dad. I know that a city dad can be just as great as a country dad, or just as bad. I know that location and region have nothing to do with parenting, and neither does gender.
What matters is the presence of caring parents: adults that children can depend on and trust in. And yes, it’s about the power of Dads, father figures and stability.
My boys are blessed – they are fine West Virginia boys (and if you wonder about West Virginia men, just ask Steve Harvey).
My boys are being raised by a fine a West Virginia man surrounded by a fine community of NFL Dads who take this Superbowl of life seriously. They are the shit – to me.
This is a story, its my story about a Mama who is tired of shit — my own excuses included and a Mama who is thankful for the men who keep singing these four words….
I’ve been “crowd-sourcing” this poem Facebook and invite your edits. Please feel to post your thoughts, suggestions or rejections. I welcome your perspective.
POEM IN PROGRESS
POWER TO THE PEOPLE.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE he chants.
the age of a son.
It is his prayer a tarry of sorts
for the seventeen phone call he has yet to dial,
the seventeen games he didn’t attend,
the seventeen birthday cards he never sent.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
seventeen times he chants mourning
the death of someone else’s son – 2012
dead at seventeen.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE.
He weeps his own loss, for what it costs, he chants.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
with his fist held high, he chants in the BLACK rally call.
Drawl string hoodie, he knows he is in a race.
He shouts it louder & LOUDER seventeen times to forgive himself for missing seventeen years.
How could I? He cries.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE.
Signature on the petition – his name, reminding him of his fathers name
He shouts POWER TO THE PEOPLE in outrage and change.
He stands alone among thousands of fathers remembering the most unthinkable of tragedies,
in the dead
this dad, this beat…
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
This is his prayer for protection — to his own, seventeen times he calls it out.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
He stops and pulls out his phone, he starts to follow, his own.
Reading seventeen times
It could have been me #justicefortrayvon
POWER TO THE PEOPLE he takes a step before he starts to run – he just wants to go home
I wrote my first poem around age 12, I think. I rode my first motorcycle at age 8, I’m sure. I love twists and turns, throttle and words.
I’ve always been driven with a journalist sort of mind. I have always known I would write and be in these mountains, these West Virginia mountains. Even though as a girl I dreamed of myself as a writer – a war corresponded, a fashion editor, a script writer – I wanted to be interviewed on Merv Griffith as a writer perhaps with my fellow West Virginian Olympic Gold Medalist Mary Lou Retton (in fact that was the last time I remember watching Merv was when Mary won) I imagined Merv would ask me about where I’m from and I would share all my ideas and then, he would complement me on my shoes.
The idea of being a poet came later.
I’ve learned sometimes writing can be prophetic. As an adult poet I was given the assignment to write about quantum physics and Randy Moss (the West Virginia native all-pro football player it didn’t turn into a book, not quite but the idea, or part of it is a TEDx Talk (for now) http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=u2ocBoGBWSo.
My journey to merge these two topics – Moss and Quantum Physics, in a poem is as windy as the road from Richmond, VA to Charleston WV. It’s an over the mountain through the woods kind of story about Affrailachia and following your dreams and it started — long before I knew I would write poetry – or myfirst book Valley Girl that I would dedicate to the folks who taught me how to drive.
It started in a car ride.
When I think of myself between the ages 15-16 my main priority was getting the privilege to drive — legally.
Growing up in West Virginia I knew the freedom of being on a go-cart or a four wheeler. I knew what it felt like steer a boat and gallop a horse. From mopeds to the lawn mower. I knew I liked to drive – but the real freedom I craved was in a car.
My Daddy – a man I wouldn’t meet until age 12 and then again at age 15 when I was delivered to him at gas station somewhere between Tallahassee and Richmond, VA. My Dad said I was just like my Momma – I could drive anything. I have no memory of them together but in this statement I knew he knew my Momma well.
He shared this after I hopped out of my Granddaddy’s Cadillac with more suitcase than could fit into his 4 cylinder no air-conditioning Chevrolet. That day, my Dad let me take the wheel of his Chevy. I was 15 — it was illegal but it was his way of offering me what he had – the keys. For me I knew right then we were kindred spirits– my Daddy gave me freedom and a highway. He calls me a Gypsy to this day, Gypsy Girl.
My oldest son is 15 (he’s now 18 geez, this blog post took me a long time). I let him drive – with his permit – it’s legal. My son is the same age when I first fell in love and found a connection with God and with the mountains. That love has stayed with me.
I’m teaching my son to drive now — check your rear view– on occasion. Signal, it’s polite. You’re too close to the curb. Driving is a life metaphor.
They say boys pick women like their mother. My son has a girlfriend. She’s bright, beautiful — and biracial (he has a different girlfriend since the time this was written but, still bright, beautiful and biracial). I’m afraid to ask if he is in-love so while I’m teaching him to drive I say things like keep your eyes on the road,wear your seat belt, no texting even at the stoplight. I haven’t asked him, can she drive?
I can drive.
Two months after I turned 16 after living with my father for 8 moths — I decided to go home to West Virginia. I had a burning desire to be with my mother and younger sisters. I missed the familiarity of my town – the railroad tracks, Dairy Queen Mister Misty’s (grape and cherry mixed together), and eating dinner at least three of my neighbor’s houses. I have never been shy about getting my plate and as model-skinny as I was back then my bottomless pit eating was a neighborhood joke. I would always arrive at my neighbor’s doorstep hungry and barefoot
I grew up in the suburbs of sorts in a nice quiet town – middle class. At my Mother’s house I certainly had plenty of food and shoes – in fact I had two closets – but I’ve always like to feel the earth underfoot, barefoot.
When I decided to “go home”. My mother had divorced my step-father– and I had transitioned in my town from mixed girl to a black girl. At least this was the report from my friends in St. Albans, West Virginia – I was black, now.
I had a new style and confidence. This attitude was different from what I had learned as a model in New York. I started modeling at 12 and by 15 I had already worked for major fashion designers – but returning home from Richmond, with my Dad, I had learned a new walk and I carried with me the new rhythms of hip hop and coconut hair lotions.
I finally learned to do my hair.
While living with my Dad I often took the train from Richmond to Charleston on these yearnings be back home — I was always on a mission to get back to West Virginia. In my Richmond high school (Meadowbrook) the kids talked as if West Virginia was like some other planet. I’ve learned since most of the world does too. I couldn’t wait to drive. To be able to get myself from here to there on my own time.
At my Dad’s I had one pair of tennis shoes — I needed a new coat and I knew that all the amenities for a teenage girl – especially a teenage girl that had been a professional model in New York were at my mother’s house. My father certainly provided what I needed — a roof, food and love but he struggled to provide me with Clinique lip-gloss and moisturizer and the connectivity of fashion and fun. At my mother’s I always had a spread of new clothes, shopping and girl time.
I needed train fare. So, I got a job. Not a modeling job but as a telephone sales operator job at Olin Mills. I landed the job sharing my photography vocabulary — I explained that I had worked with Ralphs Lauren and such. I imagine they thought I was lying – they just needed me to answer to call people and sell their photo packages. I sold them and I sold them well – I made the hour’s fun pass by practicing different accents and characters on the phone.
It was at Olin Mills that I met a woman who was from West Virginia, my supervisor. She and I traded West Virginia stories. Our conversation made me miss home – not just lip-gloss. We talked about the beauty of the mountains, waterfalls and the Mountaineers. I shared about the long walks I would take with friends and my baton twirling.
One day she said she was going home. Without hesitation or permission from my mother or my father I asked for a ride. She said sure and that there would be no charge. I was glad to save my money – I was ready to go shopping.
I finally asked my Dad – he agreed – and I painted a very reliable picture of the woman I had been working with for two weeks. My father dropped me off in the parking lot to meet my supervisor. I remember it well – he was wearing tube sock and dress shoes with shorts. I was teenager and embarrassed at his attire – and then I looked the car I would be riding in for the next 8 hrs.
It was an old car – big like a Delta 88 with Bondo and no bumper. It was in this car that I had a life-changing trip home.
My supervisor was sitting with Jack – her husband in the front seat. I call him Jack because the two of them reminded me of the riddle –
“Jack Sprat could eat no fat,
His wife could eat no lean,
And so betwixt the two of them
They licked the platter clean”
Jack was the skinniest man I had ever seen and she was the biggest. She must have been over 300 pounds. He was not only skinny but the mean – his meanness I discovered with ever turn of the car – he told her about her weight the way she shifted the car. There are a lot of turns between Richmond and Charleston. It’s a windy road.
I was anxious to get home and nothing was going to stop me. Not this car or the puppies I discovered I would be sharing the back seat with.
I waved good bye to my Dad and noticed the back seat floor board was rusted – there was a big hole and you could see the road. This was dangerous – certainly for me but for the puppies roaming. I discovered I would be traveling with a litter of puppies. It was my job to keep them from the hole in the floor board.
I knew this was going to be a long ride home.
Sharing a back seat with puppies was cute until they peed – or worse pooped. Luckily the car broke down – at least three times. I say luckily because during these breakdowns I was able to clean the car and me up. Jack was cruel – he chastised his wife for everything. I cringed at the cruelty and clung to those innocent puppies they offered me comfort. He was also uncomfortable that I was Black, I could feel it. My supervisor refused to let him say nigger even though I knew it was sitting there like another passenger on his tongue
I took my mind home to the dogwood tree in my mother’s front yard – wandered myself back to New York City and Central Park. In that ride I dreamed of being a scientist of exploring things that I could not see. I had plenty of places to go in my mind and I imagined one day I would be driving myself in a fine, fast and fancy car.
The closer we approached Charleston, I realized my mother would be furious at my Dad for letting me take this journey with Jack and his wife. The car by this time was smoking. As soon as I saw West Virginias gilded gold dome capitol glowing like a beaming beacon, I knew I had made it!
They dropped me at the Go-mart. I stood at the pay phone with my bag, smelling like dog, hungry.
I was home.
I had grown up in what is known as the Kanawha Valley, I knew the seasons of life. I knew you had to cross bridges daily. For me then and now those bridges represent how you get over the challenges of life. My journey with Jack, his wife and the puppies was no different. It was full of challenges – race, socio-economic, landscape – but was driven by the knowing and safety of home.
My Dad called to make sure I had made it home. He shared that he too was going to be coming home. He was a native West Virginian who had spread his wings in Richmond and had now decided he was coming home and was going to live in Rand, WV.
I had been raised Baptists, I knew how to pray. I prayed a lot on the car ride home with Jack – for him to stop his cruel verbal attacks on his wife. I felt like my prayers were answered as soon as we hit the Welcome to WV sign. He – magically stopped.
My adolescent indeed was challenging – It intersected the American standard of beauty in modeling, my body image, being bi-racial and a host of family dysfunction and abuse.
My Mother was still young when I came home from my Dads– she had me as a teenager so often family friends helped in my rearing. I understand this now – as the mother of three the value of the village.
One family friend took me to church – this wasn’t a Baptist church as I was used to but a “spiritual” church. Here I learned about affirmations and how to think about your thinking. She taught me Bible verse and that lesson stuck with me.
For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. Proverbs 23:7
It was in this church that the map of my mind would alter – I felt that we all me and Jack, my father in his tube socks, my mother – all of us have something in common.
Life started connecting for me – I could see that small town and people are all interrelated like the parallel tracks from Rand to St. Albans.
I knew if I wanted to I could walk from my Mothers to my Dads new address in the unincorporated town of Rand. I knew where Rand was because – we passed it often on the way to my Mothers Credit Union.
The West Virginia breeze blew my imagination and memory often. I learned to listen to the wind. I listened as an adult as I did as a child to the wind and often heard the familiarity of the train.
Amtrak always moved the wind fast — passing like the moment when the Oprah Winfrey show called my NYC agent to request my appearance on a special show about up and coming young models. Oprah was my hero.
My Mother refused the request because I had skipped school that day – my Mother would later discover to her horror why.
I didn’t know that Oprah was going to call the day I skipped school, I was most concerned about missing my first appointment for braces. Oprah called before my mother sent me to my Grandfathers in Tallahassee with a big Cadillac – before I would be sent to my Dad’s with the Chevrolet and the roll down windows, before anyone knew of the terror I was living in.
The day Oprah called I was on my way to school — my white step-Father naked and aroused – again – said good morning to me asking for me to look, to touch him, complimenting my developing hips . He had a way of subtly reminding me that nobody would ever want my mother –because of me, because I was Black.
I walked out the front door that day wishing I could drive – and just keep driving. Instead I walked the train tracks. I’m not sure how far I walked that day, but I paused to autograph my name with a rock into a utility box on the tracks. I was going to sign books one day. Last I checked my signature is still there.
I am a writer.
Childhood dreams, like an Amtrak train, passing. I watched fashion models and thought of model trains, model ships, model behavior. Everything had specific directions and rules.
I knew that West Virginia – The Valley was special. It was healing in so many ways. I wondered if the Valley created entanglements. Was the Valley giving us all the same “spin”? I knew as that things exist in duality until you decide.
My opportunity to go on Oprah is gone. I kept the dream and hope alive until I watched the Oprah show go off air I realized that it will never be.
I grew up.
My teeth are still crooked teeth from skipping school and that missed orthodontist appointment. They remind me of windy roads – and that our childhood dreams, losses and experiences shape us – they sharpen us, they don’t define, we define us. We have that power – the power to decide how we see things.
I remembered the hole in the car floor with Jack and his wife. How I watched it like a black hole and the road moving underneath pass– how I created a future in that hole that would get me home, again and again and as many times as needed to a place that was safe and sometimes – out.
When I arrived at the Go-mart — my mother hugged me. She didn’t ask any questions then she told me about my gift. She was proud of me – of my grades of writing for the school paper for being strong and telling the truth.
She had a car for me. A blue Subaru Legacy – stick shift. It was time for me to get my license.
I drove myself, with a cool lean and my Uncle Boy in the passenger to take my drivers teat. I passed made the decision to be an organ donor then signed my name – in my mind this was my official second autograph.
The Sheriff handed me a lamented card, it said West Virginia Wild and Wonderful.
I could go and be anything. I could drive.
Many thanks to Elizabeth Gaucher for driving this essay. I was nervous to publish because at the time it was written I was in the process of prosecuting my step-father for sex crimes against me and others. He has since been found guilty of sexual abuse and I am free to not only write what I want but free to live a richer and fuller life having accepted not only my crooked teeth but all of me.
I wrote this four years ago while working at the Covenant House. I just found it while searching for a mailing list on a thumb drive.
Here are my reflections on my childhood friend who passed away, Changa Kidd and his fathers impression on me during the inauguration in 2009. Dr. Kidd passed away in December, 2012 and I share this posting as a memorial to Dr. Kidd and Changa. – Crystal
I was there, on January 20th, 2009 watching history unfold as the first African-American President, Barack Hussein Obama, was sworn in. I shared this historical moment with the Kidd family and millions of others in Washington, DC. It was fitting that I would be with this family on that auspicious day as it was their charismatic son, brother, and father, Changa Kidd, who first challenged racism in my life.
I, like Barak Obama am bi-racial with light skin, born to a White mother and Black father. I too, was raised by my White mother, with Mom’s parents playing significant roles. Both Obama’s and my father were largely absentee, as were African American role models. Indeed, neither the President nor I had Black communities in our schools or hometowns to support us through various bouts of identity questioning.
There are notable differences in our lives however. Rather than embracing diversity and the pursuit of education as Obama’s family did, my mother’s White Appalachian culture often taught me to fear Black people, as well as other “outsiders” and that a high school diploma was sufficient preparation for adult life. With little value placed on multi-cultural understanding, I was left to form my own theories and attitudes about race, in an environment of subtle and not-so-subtle racism. As a result, I developed habits of self-doubt and insecurity, always fearful that my Blackness would be discovered. I refused to eat fried chicken in the elementary school cafeteria, for example, and refrained from drinking chocolate milk, somehow believing that the chocolate would darken my skin.
At the age of 15, during my mother’s divorce from my cruel stepfather, I was sent to live with my maternal grandfather, a native West Virginian who had relocated to Tallahassee, Florida. Among Granddaddy’s various rules was one forbidding my ever saying that I was Black or bi-racial. His excuse was that it could cause discomfort for his wife’s children, “Just tell ‘em you’re American,” he regularly admonished, perhaps with an unsaid wish that his granddaughter would simply blend in.
I was stunned by how different Tallahassee’s LeonHigh School was from St. Albans High. The drastic socio-economic differences were the first surprise. Although Granddaddy was White, drove a Cadillac, and had a swimming pool (which previously had classified him as rich in my book), he was far below the wealth levels of the typical Leon students driving BMWs, Porches, and Range Rovers. Further, my accent and blue collar manners quickly gave me away as less enlightened.
Simultaneously, I was awakened to the cultural diversity of my new community. There were different types of people — Blacks, Latinos, Asians – more than I had ever seen at St. Albans High where there had been fewer than a dozen students of color. Further, these Floridians seemed proud to identify themselves racially. It was among these students that I was told directly, for the first time, “You are NOT a White girl!”
It was during these first days that I met Changa Kidd.
Changa, his friends, and his family embraced me. Their influence changed my perception of what it meant to be Black. In them, I found none of the fearsome stereotypical images and perceptions which I’d been raised to expect.
How my life changed during my time in Florida as Changa and others taught me about American Black history! Study hall was spent discussing Martin Luther King. Passed notes not only included “What are you doing for lunch?” but contained talking points to convince my Grandfather to accept my being bi-racial. Through Changa and his friends I gained entrée to the homes of middle-class and wealthy Black families where, for the first time, I saw art and photographs capturing Black people as regal and grand. Those very images have served as permanent sources of inspiration over the years. They also helped me understand how artistic expression is powerful, educational, and provides solace to the soul. In those living room paintings and framed family photographs, I began to find a new confidence and surety, just as the image of Barak Obama is certain to inspire confidence in African American youth for generations to come.
Changa would drive up and down my street at least twice a day. I always knew it was him by the loud engine and the honk. One day I heard his car coming and waited, anticipating his honk. There was no honk. Instead I heard the door bell.
It was a bold move.
I opened the door with great anxiety to find the dashing Changa on the doorstep. “I was driving by and thought I would go for a swim with you,” he teased, then laughed at my gasp. He was aware I had been taught by White folks to never swim with Black people for fear of getting “greasy”.
“I just wanted to tell you hello,” Changa admitted, smiling as he grabbed my hand to place a copy of Malcolm X’s autobiography in it. He drove off, arm waving out the window and horn blaring.
I stood in the foyer afraid to move, sure I was going to be in serious trouble for having a Black visitor, even if my friend was not invited to cross the threshold. I hid the book in the small of my back while quickly turning to apologize to Granddaddy. He said nothing, shocked perhaps at the audacity of Changa Kidd.
I was often on punishment at my Grandfathers house. In fact, Changa’s surprise visit occurred during one of my weekend groundings – no phone, no television. The remainder of that weekend was spent writing in my journal (in a now undecodable teenage code), secretly reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X by flashlight.
Upon closing that book, I took my own leap of faith deciding to proclaim that I was Black in a school research paper, which I was determined to then share with my grandfather. The assignment was an “I-search” paper in which we were to research, write, and give an oral report on something about ourselves. “It’s simply the truth,” I kept telling myself.
Changa and others diligently edited my writing. They helped me to develop points and led me to understand that this paper was the most important of my 15-year life. They pushed me to solidify my ideas and perfect my grammar. “Good is never good enough, Crystal Good, when you deal with these issues,” they advised.
Following my well-received school presentation and A-minus grade, I felt newly confident and free. Still, it was with trepidation that I shared it with my grandfather and his wife (a former English teacher who read my work with a red pen in hand).
Looking at their stunned faces, I declared, “I am mixed race, but in this American culture that means I am Black.” Granddaddy’s wife started crying. “But you can pass!” she exclaimed – a commentary on my fair skin. They could not conceive of why I would “choose” to be Black..
My Grandfather’s teenage stepsons took a stand for me, stating that my Blackness imposed no inconveniences or hassles for them. It was only then that my grandfather agreed to “let me” be Black.
Naturally, this was not the end of family racial tension. When Granddaddy refused to allow me to attend a lecture by Rosa Parks, I skipped school and went anyway. That night, in further adolescent protest, I snuck out of the house to attend an all-Black dance on the campus of FloridaA & MUniversity — the first such event I ever attended. Changa and I danced to Digital Underground, New Edition, En Vogue and all the now “old school” jams of the 80’s and early 90’s. It was a moment of pure adolescent joy.
The next morning my grandfather, who had found my room empty, yelled that my behavior was unacceptable. I learned I was being sent to live with my father, whom I had never even met, so that I could be “Black”.
Another cultural shift awaited me. My biological father’s neighboorhood was a stark contrast to the Black world of which I’d caught a glimpse in Tallahassee. Crack and poverty abounded. Although finding money for new school clothes and supplies would always be difficult, I found a peace in being racially authentic, something that I had not experienced in life before.
With my dad, I was not forced to be or to say I was anything other than what I was. I could be friends with whomever I wished, openly read whatever I chose, and listen to hip-hop at my pleasure.
Changa had made certain I took plenty of books with me from Tallahassee. He encouraged me to consider college. He gave me books by African American poets, books on African Art, and others on how to successfully debate. Some of the most impressionable books he shared were on the Black Panther Party. I was intrigued by the Panthers for their efforts to develop their own schools and to feed the poor — even poor Appalachian Whites. I read all the books Changa gave to me, once even by flashlight. This time, the flashlight was not necessary to hide my activity, but rather due to Dad’s electricity being shut off. During my adolescence I went from White and blue collar; to “claim you’re White” and middle class; to Black and poor. I decided then that I would rather be poor and authentic, than “rich” and living a lie. Living with my father, in all the complexities of poverty, I understood there is no substitute for living the honest truth.
Sharing the Inauguration with the Kidd family and studying Barack Obama’s journey to the White House was another lesson in the value of education. Watching the Rosa Parks bus lead the Inaugural Parade took me back to myself as the defiant teenager when, like Ms. Parks, I demanded equality and acknowledgement of my equal rights and heritage.
I realized, as the parade passed by, that my actions had been inspired nearly entirely by books and dialogue. This leads me to theorize that American families can start a positive revolution, beginning in our homes, simply by educating ourselves through reading, encouraging our children to read, conversation and art.
The Inauguration was also, for me, like many others, a call to action. It encouraged me to hold fast to my passion for diversity and to continue challenging others to include and think about people of different sexes, sexual orientations, cultural, religious and socio-economic backgrounds.
Dr. Kidd, the patriarch of the Kidd family and a former college president, spoke at an intimate dinner following the Inauguration. He advised close friends and family in attendance that the ongoing challenge is to pursue not simply education—but an education for all that embraces tolerance.
Dr. Kidd’s words gave me a new perspective on the diversity work I do and have done for organizations such as Jackson Kelly PLLC , Charleston Area Alliance, Covenant House, Create West Virginia, Generation West Virginia and many others. Over the years, I had abandoned working toward the concept of “tolerance”, turned off by its connotation to merely “put up with”. That had never been sufficient for me. I was still rebelling, I suppose, at my grandfather’s willingness to tolerate “letting me” call myself Black without allowing me to fully embrace Black culture and society. I am now moving toward tolerating “tolerance”. “Tolerance is our first step,” Dr. Kidd said, assuring me that it’s tolerance that precedes acceptance.
I realize now, healed by years of time, that my Grandaddy actually took that first step in agreeing to provide a home for his biracial granddaughter in my time of need. Then, he took yet a second step by allowing her to proclaim that I was Black. Had I more patience and allowed more time, Granddaddy would have eventually taken another step, allowing me, his granddaughter to wholly explore and celebrate my full self under his watch.
I now pray that those who do not fully accept and embrace the idea of President Obama as an African-American will at least find tolerance enough to “put up with” him. That will probably buy him the time he needs convince them that they should and can support him.
My friend, Changa Kidd, died of cancer at the age of 34. His life changed my life. His constant encouragement of self-education inspired my own quiet revolutionary habit of gifting books to total strangers, friends and sometimes CEOs.
Prior to Changa’s passing I visited Tallahassee to see Granddaddy with my then husband (a Black man) and our three children. Changa was bald from chemo but looking as fit as he did at 16. Together we sat with Granddaddy in his living room, laughing together and reflecting on the joys and challenges of life.
Changa and I would never have believed the day would come that Granddaddy would embrace Black people gathering in his home.
But, on that day, he did.
Likewise at the Inauguration, millions said they never thought the day would come that America would inaugurate a bi-racial or Black President.
But, on this day, we did.
Reflecting on the Inauguration and my experiences, I am reminded of one of my Granddaddy admonishments. I am now, more than ever, willing to recite his mantra to my children: “Just tell ‘em you’re American!”
Crystal Good, 34, lives in Charleston, West Virginia. She is a proud member of the Affrilachian Poets, and works toward “justice for all” as the Assistant Director of the Covenant House.
When a homeless man called Elizabeth walks into your office and asks you to help him find his family after 30 years – what do you do?
You say a prayer, like his family did for three decades that Elizabeth will get home — and then you send that prayer with hope and expectation just before you start Googling. At least that’s what I did.
People always ask me about calling myself a “Quantum Christian” — It’s hard too explain but its in the little things, little things like prayer that make me call my self a Quantum Christian”. I believe in intercessory prayer and that prayer is everywhere and available to everyone and anytime — prayer follows some “spooky” QP logic defying the laws of reality of classic physics. Particles are connected as are we.
If you need “proof” that intercessory prayer works or maybe your faith just needs encouraged please read this story by the talented Douglas Imbrogno: Elizabeth & George
Grandma June told me once that if I can be a poet in West Virginia then NYC should be a piece of cake. She was right, kinda — NYC is so so very sweet and there is nothing like being in a community of poets and artist to help you find new poetic recipes.
Special thanks to that bass ass poet Roger Bonair-Agard @rogerbonair for the invitation and shout out to my fashionable cousin @JohnTheFame for having talented friends and my NYC shopping spree! Note: If you want to stop NYC traffic wear a white riding jacket from Zara.
I bust out with Alicia Keyes’ hook THIS GIRL IS ON FIRE in the grocery store, my car, the office, wherever.
This girl is on fire This girl is on fire She’s walking on fire This girl is on fire
It’s my theme song. Love Alicia Keyes, always have. Whenever anyone asks, “Beyonce or Alicia?” it’s always Alicia.
The “Girl On Fire” lyrics are motivation for anyone looking to accomplish something, overcome something, make a change. It’s motivational. Being a girl on fire myself, I very much relate to the song, which happens to be the theme song from the “Hunger Games” movie.
The song and the movie remind me of my vision, purpose and drive to Create West Virginia. Surely you’ve seen the movie by now, or read the book. My son told me about Katniss, the heroine of the story, and the how it is set in West Virginia long before the movie. He said, “Mama, her Daddy dies in a coal mine. I think this is West Virginia.” He was right. Katniss’ home – the rural and desperately poor District 12 – is set in in Appalachia. It’s distinctly West Virginia, my home. It’s a place filled with good people struggling to survive when it feels like everything is stacked against them.
Oh, she got both feet on the ground And she’s burning it down Oh, she got her head in the clouds And she’s not backing down
Just as District 12 has little in its favor, the odds always seem stacked against us. Yet, my head is always in the clouds, believing. Believing, specifically, that West Virginia has brighter days ahead. Katniss goes to great lengths to take care of her mother and sister. I know a little something about this. When my Mamma went to work at 4 a.m. at the chemical plant, I dressed my sisters and then took them to school. I had lots of motherly responsibilities at a young age, just like Katniss.
Let’s be honest. The odds are really not in my favor of “surviving” in West Virginia given that my ambitions are to write, produce and create businesses.
Nobody knows that she’s a lonely girl And it’s a lonely world
It is lonely. But sang, Alicia, sang … because
Everybody stands, as she goes by Cause they can see the flame that’s in her eyes Watch her when she’s lighting up the night
I know that, like Katiniss, I have perfected a few skills. She draws a bow. And me? I bring to the table creativity. It feeds my family. What’s special about Katniss is that she doesn’t want to lose the essence of who she is. This is my prayer. Don’t let me forget where and what I come from. Don’t let me forget my Mamma’s hardhat and coveralls. Don’t let me fall in love with a man with soft hands.
I wonder about this idea of “forgetting where I’m from” as I start to shape my book with editors. They want to re-style me and create a platform that will sell books. I’m told time and again that I can’t get national work if I “lead” with West Virginia. I get it. But I want to fight it, too, because this place IS me.
Katniss’ goal isn’t to win hearts but to save her own life and that of her family. She does what’s necessary, but I have to win hearts. Katniss doesn’t want you to love her and doesn’t care if you do. She just wants her family safe and fed and will do whatever it takes to make that happen. I have to make people care about West Virginia in order to feed my family. To live, here.
Looks like a girl, but she’s a flame So bright, she can burn your eyes Better look the other way You can try but you’ll never forget her name She’s on top of the world Hottest of the hottest girls say
There is a flame in me that cares about Appalachia, loves West Virginia, and believes sincerely that I can – that we can – win. She’s just a West Virginia girl … but she’s on fire. If your reading this, I bet you are too.