Monday, June 29, 2009

Memory Monday- A Death and a Birthday

Memory Monday- A Death and a Birthday

It was not my intention to write about Michael Jackson but I find myself led to say a few words. His sudden tragic death on June 25, 2009 has brought a lot of memories and no doubt dominates many blogs, columns, and essays this month.

I, like many others feel as if I grew up with Michael Jackson and his brothers. The Jackson 5 burst on the scene in 1969, the year I was 18 and in college. I remember a house party in East Oakland where several of us were partying hearty and the hit song, “The Love You Save May be Your Own.” We stomped all night singing and dancing to that tune. It occurred to me that Michael Jackson was generational. My daughter Rebecca who turned 30 on June 27 also remembers Michael Jackson. She was three years old when Thriller came out. One of the songs on that album was “Beat It.” One day she was at her babysitter, a close family friend and church member, Mary’s house. She was going around the house singing, “Beat it, beat it, nobody wants to be defeated.” Mary told Rebecca, thinking she was redirecting a three-year old’s waywardness, “Why don’t you sing a church song?" Rebecca’s quipped, “We aren’t in church.” We still laugh about that years later and I reminded Rebecca of that the other night. She remembers singing and dancing to the Thriller album.

Sunday at Rebecca’s birthday Spa Brunch, the talk seemed to always veer back to Michael Jackson, his life, the gossip, and of course, the music. Yes, Michael was tragic, there were many accusations and reportedly the abuse of prescription drugs but I won’t get into that side of it. I choose to remember the old Michael, the one who sang with his brothers and took Motown by storm; the one who could dance like a gazelle, who made such genius videos such as Smooth Criminal and Remember the Time, who could unite the world with Black or White and We are the World.

Gone but not forgotten

The Love You Save

Monday, June 22, 2009

Memory Monday- Remembering Dad

Yesterday was Father’s Day and for the first time on this particular day since he died in 1990, I really thought about how much I missed my Dad. Usually this holiday doesn’t affect me, but Sunday, I found myself a little melancholy.

Two African American women were at a college conference where several references were made to the lack of black fathers being a factor in a student’s education. These women countered by letting those expressing these opinions that this was not their reality, nor that for many blacks. Out of that momentous occasion came an anthology, Our Black Fathers: Brave, Bold and Beautiful. I was blessed to contribute my story, “A Dad’s First Born.”

My reality was my father was present and accountable, and truth be told, most of my peers, friends, and cousins had the same reality. True, this was back in the day but I do not want to forget nor take that for granted but by all means I do not think this far from the norm, even these days. There are many black fathers in their children’s lives; it is simply one-sided and provincial to assume that the majority of black fathers were MIA.

My story is particularly important to me because I had written the draft several years ago and had submitted different version to different venues requesting father stories but could not seem to get it accepted anywhere. I was pleased that editor, Anita Royston and Joslyn Gaines Vanderpool saw the value of the piece and got what I was trying to portray; showing a man that while he was bigger than life to me, was just a man; who had insecurities and flaws, because of the lack of a father in his own life. How he rose above his circumstances and became a wonderful provider and mentor.

If you want to read about positive father of African descent, you can read it in Our Black Fathers: Brave, Bold and Beautiful.

Can Dads Have Their Day?

Can the Dads Have Their Day?

Yesterday was Father’s Day and I am getting the idea that the day is being hijacked. Maybe it had something to do with the numerous messages on Face Book and even, in passing from strangers, when in reference to Father’s Day, almost in the same breath, invariably someone would comment “Happy Father’s Day to the women who are both mother and father.” I have heard that comment countless time over the years and it always rubs me the wrong way. My initial thought is always, Mother’s Day is in May; mothers had their day, can the dads have their day without being infringed upon?

Last week, I attended a graduation awards show for a community organization that mentor young people in track & field. My nephew, who just graduated from high school, was one of the ones being feted. The moderator of the event was thanking different people; she thanked the team mother and others who helped and she gave a special thanks to the Dads of the kids. A group of women sitting in the center murmured something like, “What about us who are both mother and father?” The moderator was very diplomatic and said yes, to you too, and I thought, dang, can fathers even be recognized without women’s bitterness, anger and insecurity getting in the way? I know where this is coming from; so many women and their children are in pain because the helpmate and fathers are missing from their lives. But if they could step away and realize, it’s not about you and your feelings, but about celebrating those men who stepped up to the plate and were fathers.

My reality was my father was present and truth be told, most of my peers, friends, and cousins had the same reality. True, this was back in the day but I do not want to forget nor take that for granted but by all means I do not think this far from the norm, even these days. There are many black fathers in their children’s lives; it is simply one-sided and provincial to assume that the majority of black fathers were MIA.

I wrote comments to that affect on Face Book today and got some positive comments. One friend wrote that even though her mother was a supermom, she could not replace that void of not having a father in her life. Another one said, even though her biological father wasn’t there, she had both grandparents and later, a stepfather who stepped in. Another agreed that Father’s Day is for the MEN in your life and that everything needs to be in context.

There are numerous essays and blogs from black writer to and about their fathers and fatherhood. Some are lovingly dedicated; others are bitter and sad. Some folks have not been able to move on. I found several on The Root website-

Type in Father’s Day in the search section.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Memory Monday- Hot Fun in the Summertime

I recently read Sag Harbor by MacArthur genius grant award-winning author, Colson Whitehead. Whitehead is known for his novels, The Intuitionist and John Hentry Days. Sag Harbor is an autobiographical novel in that it is fiction based on real life events. The book centers on the summer of 1985 when the protagonist, Benji, and his brother, Reggie, are at their beachfront, Sag Harbor home in New York. The boys are 15 and 14 years-old and their antics of that summer, mostly without supervision, is fodder for a coming-of-age story for young boys from affluent black families. Sag Harbor was one of the vacation enclaves where middle and upper-middle class African Americans from the East Coast owned summer homes. Some of these families had been there since the 1930s and 40s pre-integration.

There were aspects of Colson's story that hit home despite my being female and my coming-of-age being in ther 1960s, going into the 70s. My father and his best friend, Dr. Edward Wright, purchased a cabin in Morgan Hill, a rural community outside of San Jose, California. That is where we spent a lot of summer time during my teen years, along with other families from the surrounding Bay Area. My father's club, The Men of Tomorrow, a professional black businessmen's social and civic organization, held their annual 4th of July event at the Morgan Hill cabin, which was one of the biggest social events on their calendar. The members of the group were doctors, dentists, attorneys, ministers, teachers, businessmen, and government employees. They included Creoles from Louisiana, some of West Indian heritage, some from the East Coast but the majority were transplanted southerners, mostly first-generation college-educated. I made friendships among the kids, formed cliques with some of the girls, and had crushes on several of the "cute boys" ooh Mickey, and have my own coming-of-age antics from those "West Coast" summers. Bar-b-que, lemon pound cakes, watermelon, and Sly Stone's "Hot Fun in the Summertime" was the theme of the time.

What were the memorable highlights of your teen-age summers?

See my review of Sag Harbor-

Monday, June 8, 2009

Memory Monday- The Neighborhood

These days we hear the word “multicultural” scattered throughout in just about every situation. Growing up in Oakland in the 50s and 60s, I was a part of a multicultural experience long before I knew what that way or the word was coined. I spent a great part of my childhood on 24th Avenue between East 26th and East 25th Streets. Our street and the surrounding streets, East 27th, Grande Vista Avenue, 23rd Avenue, 25th and 26th Avenues had an interesting cast of characters.

My playmates in the neighborhood and schoolmates at Manzanita Elementary School were of all ethnicities and hues. My best friend, Jennifer Jones, as I, are black, or as we were called then, Negroes. I liked going over to Jennifer’s house because her parents were from New Orleans and there was always something good cooking like gumbo and seafood. I ate freshly made tortillas at Celia Flores’ house and greens, black-eyed peas and cornbread at our babysitter’s Mrs. Fefe’s house, who was from Arkansas as was my family. She cooked hot meal midday because her house, who was from Louisiana, went to work in the afternoon on the swing shift. I counted as my playmates, Steven Fong, whose father owned a grocery story down on 23rd Avenue and the Nelson Family which included four blonde girls. Their parents rode motorcycles and had a German Shepherd name Duke; they were so cool. The Millet family, friends of my parents, were also New Orleans transplants. I remember Lisa’s grandmother scolding us in her Creole accent when were trampled in and out of the house during the summer.

Basically, our neighborhood was comprised of young families who were hard working and raising their families. Our neighbors worked at the Naval and Army supply bases, the post office, factories and taught school as my mother did. Fathers and some mothers went to work everyday. On weekends, cars were washed in driveways, lawns cut and leaves raked by parents and kids (it was one of our weekly chores). We played Hide-and-Seek, Mother May I? skated, and rode bikes up and down the street on summer nights until the street lights came on. In telling someone about my childhood neighborhood, it was suggested that I am painting a Leave it to Beaver picture existence and that everyone living in Oakland at that time did not have the same experience. I had to think on that. As an adult and speaking with others who grew up in Oakland, I realize that some families struggled, had intense hardship, experienced discrimination and racism and the children were exposed to these experiences. In that respect, I am truly blessed that I had what I did. There are all kinds of stories. This is my story.


Monday, June 1, 2009

Memory Monday- 1968

I was talking to a friend Saturday and the year 1968 came up in regards to the Black Panther Party as a pivotal year. Then later on that evening, a friend of my sister and I reminisced about our high school days at Fremont High in Oakland. She graduated in 1977 and I graduated in 1968, having spent my senior year at Skyline High.

1968 was a monumental year for a lot of reasons other than my graduation year. It was outstanding for the fact that the world was changing in the Bay Area and in the world. 1968 was also the year we lost Martin Luther King, the esteemed civil rights leader. That was in April and then in June, Robert Kennedy, hoping to be the Democratic nominee for President was assassinated moments after winning the California primary. I was seventeen and going through a rebellious stage. When we went to Arkansas that summer of 1968, we were welcomed with open arms in one of the finest hotels in Dallas, unlike our 1963 trip when Jim Crow was still in effect. On the trip when we spent the night in Salt Lake City, Utah, I refused to visit the Mormon Temple because of their then stance on the salvation of black people.

When I think about those years, I get melancholy and nostalgic but I can look at the many changes and landmarks that have been made. And I can be thankful, I am still here to look back and reflect.