NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire Vol 17.2: Fall 2017 - Page 166

o Englewood High School classmates. But there was nothing humorous about my childhood. I was stilled and quieted into the role of observer, silenced by what I saw, felt, and heard around me in my family and community. In 1996, I could discuss it with my classmates, because in 1971 in the seclusion of my small studio apartment on West 81st Street, I stopped to remember, to revisit, and to relive my youth on the South Side of Chicago. I had written poetry and songs before, but the songs and monologue on my first album, The Iron Pot Cooker, were fully written, then, there at that time. It was ‘Black is Beautiful time,’ ‘I’m Black and I’m Proud time,’ ‘Nation time,’ ‘Sister Woman, Brotherman time,’ ‘We Shall Overcome’ time. While carrying centuries old pain, wounds, and memories of slavery, Black codes and Jim Crow terror on our backs, people of African ancestry were rebelling, confronting, exposing, challenging racist laws, customs and behavior to the point where positive change was unavoidable. No longer bucks, bitches, darkies, niggers, Negroes, Blacks, what-ever, we were defining, claiming and renaming ourselves Africans. Names we had to learn how to pronounce, African fabric we had to learn how to wear, what the symbols and colors on it meant, we learned; we pronounced; and we wore. And our hair? We started a whole new braiding industry in America. I remember one day, standing in front of the mirror getting ready to wash my hair. For years, I had been straightening my hair and putting it in rollers every night, so that I had the “blow hair,” straight bouffant, White hair look that was encouraged and supported in our race molded society. The look that would support my getting a job. How-some-ever, I had been remembering and writing all day, then listening to radio station wbai playing tapes of Malcolm X and Dr. King. I washed my hair, looked in the mirror at myself with my natural hair, put the hair relaxer down, walked over to my bed, and sat down. The neighborhood I was born and raised in was frequently referred to as one of the ‘bucket of blood,’ neighborhoods in America’s many Black-belted-in African American communities. Not as deadly as what is happening there today, but deadly. As I remembered, I was amazed, and I began to wonder how I survived those years, what directed me, lifted me, what prevented me from becoming a casualty or adding to the list of casualties. Memories became visions and sounds and feelings that burst from me, as if they had been waiting for their time, waiting for the ‘old