The Reality of My Surroundings

Written by on September 28, 2017

Growing up,

I learned there was split

between the 5 and the 6.

You got your Peoples or your Folks

and that’s who you deal with.


don’t false-flag it

because you might body-bag it.

When you see a cutie you like

you push up and try to tag it.

When you see your boys

you brag it.

Oh yeah,

money’s a magnet.

You need it to be attractive.

I learned that,

and a bunch of other wack shit

that contradicted with my Catholic


“It takes a village to raise a child,” is an African proverb that has become a cliché. What if the people in village rape and pillage? What if the village is filled with hatemongers who base worthiness on phenotype? I guess a child doesn’t have a chance then. We all start out as innocent babies, helpless to hold ourselves up or position our privilege. We become constructions of our environment, like products on an assembly line created from the molds of others. Some can break the mold, but many cannot. We do not look at a person as a collection of experiences, that formed a personality, that acts in accordance to its knowledge of right and wrong, which is relative. Therefore, we never address what took place within the village that raised the child to be a criminal or a scholar. We like to simplify things into right decisions and wrong decisions, but choices are dictated by one’s experience in one’s village. The village is your family, friends, block, neighborhood, city, state, and country.

The village I grew up in wasn’t like the ones in question. I grew up in the Sherman Park neighborhood and in the early 80s it was the most integrated neighborhood in Milwaukee. It was not only racially integrated (for Milwaukee that is, the majority of white people in the neighborhood lived west of Sherman Boulevard), but also religiously and socio-economically integrated. I lived on 37th and Burleigh (east of Sherman Boulevard) and went to St. John de Nepomuc, a Catholic school. Most of my neighborhood friends went to public schools and I wanted to go to a public school too, but my mom wanted me to have a Catholic education since she was (and still is) a steadfast Catholic. St. John was an old school Catholic school. The principal was a nun (rumored to have paddled kids), some teachers were nuns, we went to mass before school every day (and I was an altar boy, so I had to get there before everybody to light the candles and set everything up for the priest), and the playground was separated by an imaginary line into the girls’ side and the boys’ side. So old school, the boys and girls couldn’t even play together during recess. Public schools had a lot more resources back then and my friends were learning cools things like a foreign language, how to play an instrument, and making stuff in wood shop; they were learning things in elementary and middle school that I would have to wait until high school to have access to in Catholic school. Along with the three R’s, I was learning the dogma of the church. I wanted to learn to speak Spanish, play the piano, and build things out of wood. You know, practical things. Instead, I was learning the difference between a mortal and venial sin.

Conversely, the streets of my village had its own dogma and it was written by the mortal and venial sinners. Just like the dogma of the Catholic church, the dogma of the streets was created as a road map to save souls from the perils of life. It contained the doctrines of apathy and machismo. The Roots summed up the doctrine of apathy perfectly in the chorus of their song How I Got Over:

Out on the streets,

where I grew up,

first thing they teach us is not to give a fuck.

This apathy is only directed at those who are not of your tribe. To fight, sell drugs, exploit or take someone’s life, one must adopt an “I don’t give a fuck” attitude. There is no room for sympathy or empathy. The streets have no emotion, but the streets will always be honest with you about its lack of care for you. Stay in the streets long enough and you will begin to resemble them; hard, concrete edges cold to the touch, scarred and weathered by the storms of not giving a fuck.

The doctrine of machismo: insert rap lyric about not being a bitch. There are many, take your pick. The streets are a patriarchy (much like the greater society). What is manly is a display of hypermasculinity, driven by ego, that is comical and yet tragic. When machismo and apathy consummate their union, it gives birth to misogyny and barbarity. Machismo is fueled by honor, but it’s a perverse honor tied to male fragility. Defense of one’s honor takes priority over rational thought. Women are considered weak and delicate. Whenever a man is equated with a woman it is always in the pejorative. For example, if a man is considered spineless and soft, he is called a pussy. Ubermasculine men can never be likened to a vagina, which is possibly the most resilient and best thing the universe has ever created, being a heterosexual male. The comedy is that men become caricatures. The tragedy is that men refuse to recognize and expose the feminine within them, aka emotions. Therefore, violence becomes a release on the pressure valve of feelings.

There were seven of us, between the ages of six and eleven, who grew up together and would have the village shape us in different ways. My homeboys were Stoney, Dray, Lil Man, my older brother J Dog, my uncle Kool Aid, and my cousin Stiff. Stoney’s grandmother (we just called her Granny) lived across the alley from me and she would watch him a lot. We were the same age, but since our birthdays were two days apart, and my birthday came first, he was the youngest. Stoney grew up middle class, in a two-parent household, and went to the French Immersion school. He and his cousin would rank on me in French and all I could say was “fuck you,” because I had no idea what they were saying. His parents would dress him in Izod from head to toe; he would have the little alligator on his shirt, shorts, and socks. He was an only child and had a problem with the truth when we were young. He was always a hot head who liked to rebel and celebrated getting suspended from school, which became a regular occurrence after we hit the 6th grade.

Dray grew up across the alley from me in a household controlled by women. He was the only male in the house. He was an only child raised by a single mother, and he lived with his aunts and grandmother too. Dray was the kid who hit puberty early and looked older than he really was. He was a ladies’ man at an early age. He rocked a Jheri Curl and was always dressed in the latest gear.  He didn’t have to say much, the girls just liked him.

Lil Man and Kool Aid would come to the neighborhood to get away from the mayhem in their neighborhoods. They lived in, what some people would call, the ghetto: 13th and Cherry and 22nd and Locust respectively. Lil Man was always shorter than everybody else, but more mature than everybody else, hence the nickname Lil Man. He was a year older than me and had an older sister who was just as tough as any boy, and a little brother with autism. Lil Man was always polite and respectful, but, like a pit bull, you didn’t want to make him mad. He chased me around the block once when I was nine, because he decided we had to fight over something that happened while we were playing football. I didn’t even know what I did to offend him and didn’t want to fight at all, but given his experience we had to fight. He was the loyal, tough guy you were glad to have on your side. Eventually, Lil Man moved in across the street from me with his little brother, sister and mom.

My uncle Kool Aid was the oldest out of all of us. He was only two years older than my older brother, J Dog, (my grandmother had kids from 1945 to 1969 and Kool Aid was the youngest), so they had more of a sibling relationship than an uncle/nephew relationship. Kool Aid had the gift for gab, and knew how to spit game; he could talk people into doing things they wouldn’t normally do. He was charismatic and he knew how to throw those hands. My older brother was a fighter too, but a little awkward around girls. As a kid, I always felt safe when Kool Aid and my brother were around.

Stiff went to Catholic school like me and J Dog. He was four years older than me and just a year older than J dog. He always spoke proper English because his dad would put belt to ass if he heard him speaking any other way. Sometimes people would think that he was talking down to them because he was so well spoken and that it would sometimes lead to a fight. He moved rigidly and robotically which is how he got the nickname Stiff.

We were just impressionable kids discovering how to maneuver through our village. We all wanted to grow up fast and be men. I consciously remember my indoctrination into machismo starting when I was eight years old and Kool Aid was showing us the proper way to walk. You couldn’t walk like a lame and you better make sure you didn’t switch like a girl. A limp was ok, but you better not be loose in the hips. Your walk also signaled whether you were an easy mark; never put your head down, don’t hunch your shoulders, and every now and then grab your crotch. If you walked like prey, the predators would come out. You couldn’t just walk down the street, you had to strut down the street like a peacock. You wanted to attract the attention of girls, while projecting a “don’t fuck with me” vibe; your swagger was just as much for defense as it was for offense.

Kool Aid also pointed out this girl on his block (my grandmother would babysit me sometimes), Tameika, and told me I should go talk to her because she was fast. This girl was the same age as me, and I had no idea what he meant by fast. In my youthful naivete, I thought Prince’s song Little Red Corvette was about a fast car, so I figured he meant she could run like the wind. Not wanting to look like I was scared, which I was because I am extremely shy, I strolled over to her using my freshly practiced walk and asked her, “are you fast?” She knew what it meant, because she looked at me like I was crazy and answered, “no, boy,” with an emphasis on the o in no. I replied, “ok,” and strolled back over to Kool Aid just as cool as I strolled over to Tameika. He asked me what I said to her and when I replied, “I asked her if she was fast,” he frantically told me that you don’t ask a girl that, and that I just ruined my chance. I had no clue what chance I ruined. I figured I could beat her in a race since she wasn’t fast. In that moment, something switched in my head and I slowly began to view girls differently. My uncles would tell me, “it’s not the beauty, it’s the booty,” and I observed them around girls and listen to their, what Trump and Mayweather just call “locker room talk,” stories about their escapades. I realized girls were something to be conquered, and if you couldn’t conquer them you were not manly.

My uncle LB, Kool Aid’s older brother, was a gang member. He always told me that I should never join a gang, but his tales of battle like he was a knight defending the honor of his kingdom made gangs even more enthralling. Back then, the gangs in my neighborhood had names like Cameo and 5-Alive and they didn’t last long. Where my uncles lived, they were factions of Chicago’s gang nations Folks and Peoples. Some were named after streets like the 1-9 Deacons, 2-7, or 2-4. They fought with baseball bats like samurais with swords, and had their own literature and secret handshakes. They were like a secret society and you had to be a member to gain their esoteric knowledge to decipher their symbology. Most of all, they were tough. No one messed with the gang members because it was assumed that they knew how to fight well. Knowing how to fight was essential to being a man. My friends would slap box, but I would rarely join in because I hated to get hit in the face, let alone slapped. I didn’t want to get a bruise on my face either, I was too pretty for that. I was the softest one out of us, but I didn’t mind because I never started fights. I took a little Tae Kwon Do, but I was never any good at applying it to real life fights. When I found out that you had to take an ass kicking to join a gang I realized LB was right. Nonetheless, I relished his stories. One thing he never did, was punk out. Girls didn’t like guys who punk out. Punking out was completely unacceptable according to the doctrine of apathy and machismo.

I only punked out two times in my life. The first time was when Lil Man chased me around the block and we laugh about that to this day. The second time I have never revealed to anyone. When I was ten, I went by a friend’s house from St. John. I was a breakdancer at the time, so I had an ear cuff in my ear. I bought it at the old Shop Rite on 35th and Fond Du Lac for two or three dollars (my allowance was five dollars at the time). They used to keep them by the hip hop records and I would go there with Dray sometimes because he always bought the latest one. It was a fancy, gold ear cuff that had a few thin, gold chains that hung from it. I thought I looked like turbo from the movie Breakin’. I wanted to look good for the girls on his block. The girls always thought I was cute. My friend only lived 3 or 4 blocks from me, so it was an easy walk and it gave me time to practice my cool along the way. I chatted with a few girls on his block, one kid asked if he could kick it with us, and we didn’t see a problem with it. He was a chubbier kid with ashy knees and elbows, and a short Afro. We played the whole day, went to the corner store to get snacks, and just did what kids do. When the street lights came on, I had to go home and my friend had to go in the house. The ashy kid didn’t have to go home, and he said he would walk with me to my house because he didn’t have anything else to do. I thought nothing of it because we had been cool all day. While we were cutting across Jackie Robinson’s playground, ashy kid sucker punched me in the face. At first, I wasn’t sure if he hit me because it didn’t hurt at all. I have been hit harder sparring Tae Kwon Do. I looked at him perplexed, and he said, “oh my hand slipped,” which I thought was an odd statement, but nevertheless, I turned the other cheek like I was taught to do in Catholic doctrine. He punched that cheek too. I tried to run, but his chubby ass was fast. He caught me and tackled me to the ground. He sat on top of me and demanded, “give your ear cuff or I’m going to beat the shit out of you,” with his fist posed above me like he was going to ground and pound my face. I was good with this kid all day, and the whole time he was planning on taking my ear cuff. Didn’t he see my walk, I was cool. I don’t know what came over me. I had been in schoolyard scuffles and Stoney and I had gotten into a few fights, but for some odd reason I was frozen with fear. I could tell that he enjoyed the fear he saw in my face. Bullies thrive off the fear they instill in others. I handed over my ear cuff and he walked away and I put my head down, hunched my shoulders, and walked home. When I got home, I went straight into my bedroom, buried my face in my pillow, and cried. He didn’t hurt me. His punches didn’t hurt at all. I was crying because I punked out and allowed him to intimidate me and take my shit. Nothing hurts more than wounded pride. I felt like I let my homeboys down. I never told my friends about that incident. My friend from St. John saw the ashy kid with my ear cuff and I told him he had a knife because I was too ashamed to admit I punked out. Not fighting because someone has a knife and you don’t is acceptable. Not fighting because you were overcome with fear is not. I vowed on that day to never punk out again. I never wanted to feel the pain of cowardice. Win or lose, I was going to fight and never show a bully my fear. That was the beginning of my indoctrination in apathy. After that day, my mantra became “I don’t give a fuck.” The cynicism and pessimism of the world started to take over me.

My brother and I were latch key kids. During the summer months, we were home alone most of the day. This meant that we had plenty of time to do things we had no business doing. The summer when I was only ten or eleven, I was fully embracing the doctrine of machismo and apathy. I was trying to keep up with the older guys. Once, Kool Aid, my brother, and I had our “girlfriends” over while my parents were at work. Not just them, but our homeboys too, to act as witness to what was going down. We built a club house in my basement where we would congregate and talk shit. We took a couch off the street and put it down there, and we painted the walls. Kool Aid took his girl down there, J Dog had his girl in his room, and I had my girl in my room. The only thing my girl would let me do was kiss her and get to second base. She wouldn’t let me put my hand down her pants, and she threw me off my bed when I tried (like she was supposed to do), so I kicked her out of my house. She would have to wait for her friends in the backyard. Stoney tried to sweet talk her back into the house, but she wasn’t having it, so he cussed her out and slammed the door in her face. We were little misogynistic assholes and we didn’t care. We thought we were doing what we were supposed to do.

I joined in the boxing more, but we were using my and J Dog’s kickboxing gloves instead of slapping each other. Sometimes, Stoney and I would box in the club house for everyone else’s entertainment. If you weren’t involved, violence was entertaining and its use was endorsed for any infraction. In my village, it was common to see boys hit girls. It was justified by reasoning that the same thing would have happened to a boy if he did the same thing the girl did to get hit. One day that same summer, Dray was upset about something and a neighborhood girl, we called her Cricket, was irritating him and he told her, “Cricket, you need to shut the fuck up talking to me.” They were the same age and Cricket wasn’t a short, skinny girl, but Dray was bigger than her. Not backing down, Cricket got in Dray’s face, waving her finger, talking about how she can say whatever she wants to whomever she wants, and without hesitation or warning, Dray punched her in the mouth mid-sentence with a straight right. Her head snapped back like a crash test dummy in a car accident use by car accident and work injury lawyers, and her bottom lip split open and became a faucet of blood. As she ran into the house, leaving a trail of blood behind her, we all just laughed. We blamed Cricket because Dray told her to stop talking to him. She should have shut her mouth, let alone get up in his face waving her finger.

As I was making my transition into a teenager, my village was transitioning too but still there where many areas with poor lighting where you could slip and fall. A fall due to poor lighting can cause serious injuries, including traumatic brain injury, spinal damage, fractures and soft tissue injury such as torn knee ligaments. You should also gather and preserve as much evidence from the accident scene as possible.

White flight became a common thing and homeowners were replaced with slum lords. The factories that once employed the people in the area, and paid a livable wage, were shutting down. Reagan killed summer jobs for teenagers, and crack was rearing its ugly head. Teenage pregnancy was at an all-time high and gangs were growing in numbers. When I was 13, I went to Sherman Park to play basketball with LB, Kool Aid, Stiff, and Jim, a guy Stiff went to school with who used to live in the village, but his parents moved out. The courts at the Park were full and the wait was too long to get in the next game, so we decided to go to Jackie Robinson to see if the courts were open there. We decided to stop at Timeless, a corner store on Burleigh, because Kool Aid wanted a soda and I wanted some candy before heading to Jackie Robinson. Since I was the youngest I had to go in and buy everything because the older cats wanted to hang out front in case some girls walked by. There were a lot of people just chilling outside of the store. When I came out of the store Kool Aid and LB were arguing with some guys. Kool Aid was a part of the same gang as LB was by this time. The guys they were arguing with were Shark Boys; a gang affiliated with the gang 2-4, who were affiliated with the gang Vice Lords, who were part of the Peoples nation, which was the exact opposite of what Kool Aid and LB were. A crowd was gathering, which was never good. I made my way through to stand by Kool Aid’s side. I was about a foot shorter and 50 pounds lighter than everyone else, so I was not an intimidating figure. I had no idea what was going on because when I went into the store everything was fine. As I listened to everyone argue, I began to understand that the whole thing was a miscommunication. LB thought someone in a car parked outside of the store was talking about him, so he went up to the car to ask them if they had a problem with him. The thing was, no one in the car was talking about him. It could have just ended by acknowledging the miscommunication, but they argued about there being a miscommunication. Now, it became a matter of saving face. I heard one of the Shark Boys yell, “Well, this is how I get down,” and his fist went past my face and connected with Kool Aid’s chin. All hell broke loose. Dazed, Kool Aid stumbled back, swinging his fists like a blind man trying to reach out and touch something. The building stopped him from falling backward. People started jumping out of cars and running out of the store to join in the fight. Stiff was hit in the head with a 40-ounce bottle, knocking him and his glasses to the concrete. LB was fighting the biggest guy on the Shark Boys side, but he was jumped from the sides. The fight spilled out into the street and cars weaved around the testosterone fueled barbarism. Jim stood there in shock, until he got punched too. The whole thing lasted about a minute or two, but it seemed like time slowed down and everyone was moving in slow motion. They were all 17 and older, so they left me alone (for once being the little guy worked in my favor). They fought their way out of the chaos and we retreated to my house. Kool Aid’s eye was busted open and bloodied, and the only thing I could think of doing was hand him his soda and tell him to put it on his eye. He was too mad and just threw the soda down the street, cussing up a storm about revenge as the blood ran down his face. LB chastised Stiff and Jim for not fighting from the start, but Stiff was more worried about possibly having a concussion from getting hit with a 40-ounce bottle and what his dad was going to do to him for breaking his brand-new glasses. When we got to my house, everyone waited in the backyard and I went in to get J Dog and a towel for Kool Aid’s eye. With a sense of foreboding, I watched Kool Aid put the towel up against his eye. It was as if we all were losing sight.

The older we grew, the more serious things became. Fist fights stopped and shootings started. Crack robbed people of their souls and there were just shells of people walking around doing the unspeakable for money or a hit. There’s no romance in a dope date and exploiting a woman’s weakness became normal. There was a ski masked rapist snatching women and girls off the street and people in the village started disappearing into a dank, dark cell, or a deep, dark hole. Litter was scattered throughout the streets and building were boarded-up. Neighborhood girls wanted a baller, so being cute just wasn’t enough anymore. Some of us became drug dealers because it was the family business, or out of a fascination with gangsterism. Some of us joined the military and went to war. Some of us became hooked on drugs. We were fully versed in the dogma of the street and some of us were hypnotized and under its spell. I came home one day when I was 16 or 17, and as I parked my dad’s car in the garage, I noticed Stoney arguing with his dad. His dad looked frustrated and he just threw his hands up in the air and angrily walked off. I went to see what was going on, and that’s when I saw that Stoney’s eye was busted open and bloodied. It reminded me of Kool Aid’s eye after the fight with the shark boys. Stoney was in a gang, so I didn’t know if this was gang related. It wasn’t. Stoney was in the alley shooting dice with some guys from the village and an argument turned into a fight (much like they always do), and Stoney was on the losing end. Stoney’s cousin and Granny were out there trying to calm him down, but he wouldn’t listen to anyone. Stoney’s cousin observed Lil Man and his guy Walt, both gang members too, cutting through Cricket’s yard and she immediately told Granny. I noticed them too, but I wasn’t going to say anything. Granny commanded, “Boy, you better bring your little ass back this way!”  Despite the patriarchy, us boys always acquiesced to the village matriarchs. Granny wasn’t a fool, she knew what Lil Man and Walt were going to do. Stoney got into a fight with an older teen from the block. Lil Man never liked this guy, needed a reason to harm him, and he wasn’t fist fighting anymore. We reconvened in Dray’s basement and Lil Man admonished Stoney for getting his ass whooped so bad that his eye was busted open. It was his way of expressing that he felt bad that he wasn’t there to help. He then went on to explain a litany of reasons for killing a person and Walt concurred with each point. Walt is serving a life sentence in prison now. We rationalized our savagery, quantified our virility, monetized our worth, and depreciated the value of life. These are the lessons the village taught. Stoney’s cousin saved many lives that day because she wasn’t indoctrinated in apathy.

I graduated from high school in 1992. One of my favorite albums that year was Fishbone’s The Reality of My Surroundings. The album was about growing up and seeing the effects of crack and poverty in Los Angeles. There’s a song (more than one) on that album that spoke to me. It was titled Housework, and the (abridged) lyrics are:

I feel like I go to work every day
But where I work I don’t get paid
Work in school and learnin’ the supposed rule
But in the street, I make my own rules
Mama, she just wanted me to do my homework
But when I get home Mama left me a note
Do the housework
So when I’m done with my chores
I go outside and learn some more

Out in the street I got friends just like me
Me and my partners tryin’ things just to see what it means
A drink here and a smoke there,

what was dirty now is clean

This was my friends and me. This was our story. This album expressed exactly how I was feeling at that time. It wasn’t just me. My senior year I started hanging out with other disaffected black youth from the inner city. We all grew dreads, rode skateboards, loved Fishbone, and had enough experience in our neighborhoods to know that we didn’t want anymore. The streets are the streets and the dogma is the same everywhere. We actually got to hang out with Fishbone in ’91 when they were on tour for their album. We smoke bowls with the trumpet player Dirty Walt before the show, and they gave us their complimentary alcohol after the show, which we promptly stuffed into our backpacks. Fishbone is iconic. The Roots played their song Lying Ass Bitch when Michele Bachmann walked out on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

A friend of mine from high school moved out of her parents’ house as soon as she turned 18. She had a place on the east side off Brady Street and her spot was our spot, so we hung out there a lot. I tried to stay out of my neighborhood as much as I could back then because nothing good was happening there. This was the most violent period in Milwaukee, and some of my friends were caught up in the violence. If I hung around them, whomever they were at odds with was not trying to hear that I was not in a gang if it was during a time of retaliation. Getting shot was not on my list of priorities. I just wanted to party and enjoy my time before heading to the University of MN – Twin Cities.

One summer night in ’92, I was down at the lakefront with my friends Meech, his girlfriend Diane, Darrell, his girlfriend Beth (my friend from high school), and Jason Brooks (RIP). We were at the lake every night because it was walking distance from Beth’s place, and there were all different nooks and crannies that one could smoke a blunt in. I had the little poster from the High Times magazine with Cypress Hill that showed step-by-step how to roll a blunt. Before that magazine article, no one smoked blunts in Milwaukee. We started the night no different than any night before and had our agenda planned. Meet at Beth’s house, smoke a blunt. Go to Pizza Shuttle, the new, little (so little that they only had carry-out and delivery, and only about five people could fit in the area where you ordered) pizza place, because they have two-dollar personal pizzas. Walk to the lake, find a nook and cranny, and roll another blunt. Smoke it, walk around the lakefront, and talk about shit that you think is deep at the time, but is pothead cliché and unoriginal. Go back to Beth’s place, say our goodbyes and call it a night. However, our agenda changed on the way back to Beth’s house.

We all loved Fishbone and we loved reminiscing about the night we got to meet them. We were making our up Lafayette Place, I believe we were singing Housework, when we crossed Prospect Avenue and some guy yelled out of his apartment window, “shut up, niggers!” He was on the top floor of the red brick apartment building, and all I could make out was his silhouette in the window. I yelled up to him, daring him, “bring your ass down here and say that,” and everyone else chimed in with the same dare. His, let’s call him racist piece of shit (RPOS) for lack of a better name, response to that was to threaten, “I’ll go get my gun and shoot all of you niggers!” So, not thinking before speaking, my dumbass replied, “go get your fuckin’ gun, am I supposed to be scared?” The silhouette disappeared and the girls were telling us we should leave, but we were like “naw, fuck that!” I had my back to RPOS’s apartment building and I was watching everyone else look for something to throw at RPOS’s window. That made no sense to me if he came back with a gun. My mind was reeling, the girls were begging us to leave, and then I saw everyone scatter behind cars. I turned around and RPOS’s silhouette was now holding a rifle. Ever since ashy kid, I turned my fear into anger. I was scared to death, but I was too angry to care. UWM’s campus police pulled their guns out on us, Milwaukee police pulled their guns out on us, and now RPOS was holding a rifle like he was going nigger hunting. I was going to be quiet. It wasn’t nigger hunting season. I was sick and tired of feeling like my life was always under threat. I stood in the middle of the street alone with my arms stretched out like Jesus on the cross, and Told RPOS, “shoot me.”  I wasn’t being brave and courageous, because it was a stupid move. I refused to show RPOS any fear, because that’s what he wanted. He wanted to feel powerful and make us cower behind cars or run away with our tail between our legs. Naw, fuck that. RPOS started describing his rifle to me like I would care about the model of rifle that could take my life. Everyone else started coming out from behind cars daring RPOS to shoot them too. I felt that I proved my point and I turned to walk away. As I did that Jason Brooks threw a bottle at RPOS’s window and I could hear it smash as it hit the brick building. A split second later, I felt what seemed like a thin, linear wind whiz by ear, followed by a BANG! in the distance behind me. Darrell and Meech ran, followed by Beth and Diane who was looking at the sleeve of her sweatshirt. I turned around perplexed, asking myself, “did this motherfucker just shoot at me?” Jason Brooks was lying in the bushes and I thought, “did he just get shot?” He popped up out of the bushes and ran by me, so I knew he was all right. I didn’t want to give RPOS the glory of seeing us run, but I ran to catch up with everyone else. Diane was looking at her sleeve because the bullet ricocheted off the street and went through her sleeve. We were fashion victims back then and we wore our clothes so baggy that we had to look like we were wearing our big brother’s hand me downs. The girls wore baggy clothes too. RPOS must have grown up in the previously mentioned village filled with hatemongers who base worthiness on phenotype. The doctrine of machismo and apathy was part of his village dogma and he had a litany of reasons to kill someone as well. This was the reality of my surroundings.

A video and film I made during my undergraduate years about growing up, starring people mentioned in this post. Back In the Day and Around the Way juxtaposes reminiscings of childhood with images of how my neighborhood looked when I shot the video. Break Free is a story about identity.

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