I cried last night because of that “oh so familiar song” that I heard in my dream, but slipped away as I was awakened by my own tears. Made me think of the tremendous influence of all the beautiful, now faceless and more than likely deceased people who left an indelible mark on my heart and psyche. A beauty and grace they possessed that even poverty, pain and oppression failed to eclipse.
As a young boy so very impressionable, owning a clean slate and innocent to a fault to the worlds issues, I somehow knew at the time that this vibrant place called Harlem, New York was a special time and would be no other like it. It was the 1960’s… and I knew something different was happening here that would be spoken about for the rest of my life even by those who weren’t as privileged to be in its presence like me. There was a sense of connectedness… a sense of family even with strangers that you never saw before in the street…a camaraderie that one could sense that was a common thread throughout the whole entire community.
The Savoy Ballroom… The Nation Of Islam… Uptown (Manhattan) Saturday Night… Old cars from the fifties shiny and bright and still on the road… Old winos who drank all night and STILL had enough respect to find themselves dressed down to a “tee” at the early Sunday morning Church service…… Muhammad Ali walking down the street in our ‘hood and causing traffic jams…….. Malcolm X speaking down on 125th street… The Black Panthers… Respect for our women and absolute zero tolerance for those who didn’t…
Home cooked meals that anyone was welcomed to if they were hungry (Go on in the back and get yourself a plate baby!)… Marvin Gaye playing in every car that drove by… Muslim Bean Pies…
That ONE LOUD RINGING black telephone in the living room that woke everyone up at night and weighed almost ten pounds… Drinking that “Vanilla Malted” from “Chock Full O Nuts” that you could never seem to finish…….
Nickels taped to the turntable needle to keep the record from skippin’…Diana Ross and the Supremes…Sherman’s barbecue dinners on 151st street and Amsterdam Ave… Church ladies who prayed in church all day but played their special “number” before going home at night… Ike & Ron Smalls Lounge on 145th street…
Coat hangers in the television set……. “WWRL, 1600 On the A.M. dial!……” F.M….? What was that? Mono sounded damn good for us at the time… Conversations out of the window six stories up with the people whose name you never really knew that lived in the next building while your clothes dried on the clothesline…
Never wanting to come inside from out on the “front stoop” ’cause we were having to much fun…….8 Track Players in your car……. having a cultured mother that graduated from “Julliard School of Music” who could sing in many different languages with a voice straight from the clouds of Heaven who taught me true class and spirituality… From her I learned how to pray and seek my victory in Christ, and even though I indulged in many wild promiscuous nights (Ladies, you know who you are!) in later years, I always knew right from wrong and how to come back home to God’s HOLY WORD.
Having a strong Black Jamaican Daddy whose muscles were bigger than most and who made me PROUD to be who I am. Clean Living. Independant. Hard working. Needing no one but God! A Gentleman who took NO crap! Would give his last dollar to feed you but who I’ve seen knock out cold the disrespecter of even ANOTHER man’s wife!
REAL…! STRONG…! PROUD…! Taught me what the schools refused to reveal…REALITY! Even though not of the streets he showed me the streets with all of their games and how to survive there if I had to one day… He left me with NO curiosity for the streets so when I later faced the different crosses that I had to bear, I never turned to them out of curiosity because I knew what the end result would be.
I KNEW about drugs!…….and was taught enough about them to know to stay the hell away from them! My Daddy took me right up in the abandoned buildings that even the police were afraid enter on 119th street at night to let me watch how these addicts shot that now infamous Frank Lucas/Nicky Barnes brand of dope in their arms! The ultimate reality show! He let them explain that this is nothing that I should be doing and I should stay in school. They explained to me what made them go this way and what went wrong… why I am blessed to have had a Father like mine.
I KNEW about crime, my Daddy took me to the “spots” where the men who lived in the shadows of the law planned their next “job”, they told me of the vicious cycle one could get caught up in when you start living this way. How the gritty pitfalls and valleys almost always outnumbered the peaks and good times. They said from their mouths how I would never have to look over my shoulder if I did things the right way legally…although it was mandatory to know the underworld ’cause the legal and legit were always secret lovers with the underworld whether they admitted it or not.
I knew the numbers runners and I knew the con-men, pimps and those old toothless ladies of the evening who had a quick dose of fleeting local fame before becoming an almost insignificant relic of the flamboyant magnificent times long gone by to remind everyone of their cherished faded glory.
My Daddy was BLACK and not ashamed of it one bit but made others yearn for a dose of the potency of his being that he was very proud of…! This is what imbibed me with my essence! Straight from the womb I was fed truth and in those challenging character building times that I was raised in.
I remember the shared wisdom of the old crusty barbers as they cut my hair for what seemed like forever, delayed so that they could make their point and get in the last word on my Father… Friendly debates (“That clown Cassius Clay could NEVER whip Joe Louis young boy!”) that educated me beyond my years and made me aware of the struggle to come while I absorbed every etched line, intense gaze and focus on their distressed faces as they worked their magically skilled hands on my young baby fade.
Nuggets of truth that were given to me by all, as if they knew of the darkness that would fall down upon the Black America that I would be forced to inherit one day.
The pride they displayed as they watched (“He’s gonna be a champ one day!”) me shadow box an imaginary opponent out there on Broadway and 152nd street in front of the numbers joint……..how the hustlers would stop and encourage this little boy named Lance Scurvin Jr., not because of his physical impressiveness, but because he possessed an obvious spirit of determination at such a young age who would one day continue the struggle when fully matured. Little boys like me gave them hope even as these life battered men and women so desperately tried to escape the pain of the roaches, the rats, the racism, the subhuman living conditions and the six dollars and fifty nine cents in their pockets that HAD to last ’till next payday……..
Searching for a reason to laugh as they tried to conceal the alcohol on their breath and nicotine laced exhalations. ALL IN ALL, they never told me wrong. I can see their faces, wrinkled beyond their years from a stress they never anticipated, so clearly in my mind…those who have tasted so much from the sometimes not too pleasant buffet of life. I can feel their words so strongly in my heart…and now at almost the half century mark in my life, I am JUST beginning to understand their pain in a way that they KNEW I would.
They prophetically spoke of major future events with a frightening accuracy (“I see huge buildings coming down to the GROUND right here in the city!”) and detail that are now happening in the world today even though many naysayers at the time wrote them off as religious nuts as they tightly clutched their tattered Bibles as though their life depended on it!
They prepared me, they nurtured me, they warned me and now I grimace at the news everyday as I have now assumed THEIR position and influence in order to educate my little Queens and all the little future KING WARRIORS to the nuggets of truth that will forever live on, even if they forget my name and vaguely remember my face. That’s OKAY and quite alright. I just want to say THANK YOU to those strong battle weary soldiers who knew what awaited me further along down this mysterious road called life! To all of those special people who passed that precious batton to put this divine music in my hungry Soul………I WILL NEVER FORGET!!!!
I miss that special world…but I know it will always exist in my heart tirelessly bleeding out in the words I write and the expressions that I create. And that is why many a time after waking up in the middle of the night from dreaming about those sweet days and realizing that they have gone, I can’t help but cry……. and it feels so good.