All posts by Crystal Good

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WHACHU KNOW ABOUT BLACK DIAMONDS…

Last month (February, 2014) West Virginia Culture and History banned Grace Pritt, a Hurricane High student from reciting my poem “Black Diamonds” at the Governors Arts Awards. The poem honors the widows of the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

Yep. Got the email to prove it.  The email said:

“I really hate to do this to you (Grace), but because your poem deals with coal and many state representatives will be there, our director wants you to choose a different poem.”

It was a coal blooded attempt at censorship.

State officials later changed their decision in what they call a “miscommunication” and allowed the young poet, to read my poem. You can watch Grace recite the poem here: Grace Pritt recites “Black Diamonds” 

Friends of Poetry used social media activism to advocate for the poem to be read by Grace. Our efforts landed on the front page of The Gazette and several national on-line publications.  It was poetry in motion.

Black Diamonds By Crystal Good
View PDF

As we approach the anniversary of the April 5th Upper Big Branch disaster, I decided to publish the poem in a broadside designed by a West Virginian from my home town somewhere on a motorcycle in the USA, Houston McIntyre of of HHM Creative.  The poem, to date, has only been shared via live audiences, including my 2013 reading of it in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

I hope you will print this broadside, read and share. I hope in some small way this will keep the memory of the miners alive.  I hope in some way it will counter recent propaganda that suggests Massey Energy is without fault in the Upper Big Branch tragedy.

*I am not anti coal-industry. I am for protecting  human lives and our environmental landscape.

Please share “Black Diamonds for Mrs. Sweet Genie Lynch”

*West Virginia disclaimer

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Are My Hands Clean?

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?

Watch video here

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”.

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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.

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Boom Boom The Poem Video

First came the Boom a video shot by Jeff Getner
and then the Boom Boom shot by Paul Corbit Brown and edited by The Web Theater.

The Web Theater

I hope you will watch these videos and be moved to share your voice in the dialogue for environmental “rights” and women’s “rights”.

One poem at a time. Small things matter….

Boom Boom,
Crystal 

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Poem In Progress

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.
crystal@crystalgood.net

POEM IN PROGRESS

POWER TO THE PEOPLE.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE he chants.
Seventeen times
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

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It Started In A Car Ride

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 my first 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 viewon 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.

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The CreativeTYPE: Valley Girl Heidi Richardson Evans

I recently started a new job  with West Virginia State University as the “Extension Service Interim Assistant Director for Development” — long title for fundraising and marketing.

It feels good to be back on campus — the place I wrote Valley Girl, A Poem For Pia inspired by the juxtaposition of a chemical plant and college.  It was here, at WVSU that I started to develop a passion for environmental issues, in fact it was a class assignment that I wrote Valley Girl, the poem.

Because of that class assignment (thanks Dr. Ford-Ahmed) the Director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) was present and published my first poem in the OVEC newsletter. Thirteen years later,  I serve on the OVEC Board.

Things  come full circle – or maybe there is a lesson here at WVSU I missed as a student and am back again.  I’m not sure where this road is going, but everyday as I pull into the parking lot I recognize (again) the sheer genius of another WVSU alum  – the artist for my book, Heidi Richardson Evans.

Institue, WV This is my parking lot view.  It’s representative of the chemical valley industry  in the Kanawha Valley which is why I claim and call myself, a “Valley Girl”.

I totally am, for sure to the max, a Valley Girl.

Heidi Richardson Evans is a Valley Girl too, she’s also a fine artist, designer, and blogger, who created both the cover art and poetry text layouts for my book.

Valley Girl by Crystal GoodHeidi says, the cover art is a  “Chemical Valley Sunset” and is a composite drawing of chemical plants in “Chemical Valley,” in Kanawha County, WV with textures of oil slicks and metal corrosion and acidic colors against natural textures. She used this technic to illustrate the tension in WV between industry and the environment.

Heidi is amazing, she “gets” me and I love working with her because it’s an intuitive process for us. And, she loves paper and text as do I.  She explored typography in the interior of Valley Girl- she is very well known for using digital fonts and hand lettering in her art to create a visual expression of the rhythmic patterns in my poetry.

The interior text was important to me because I needed her visual expression of rhythmic patterns  for people to “get” my cadence on the page. We used text and font like musical notes to clue the reader. We made music with Valley Girl.

Heidi says I am her muse, well… shes totally is mine.  Visit Heidi at daisybones.com, and like her Facebook page, Daisybones: Art + Words by Heidi Richardson Evans.

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Just Tell ‘Em You’re American

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.

 

Elizabeth & George: What Faith Can Do

elizabethANDgeorge_I130602180627When 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

A Night @ Bar13 w/ Crystal Good by Derek Sturdivant

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.

Check out this footage shot by  Derek Sturdivant for my LouderArts feature at Bar 13

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.