She Spat In My Face

She spat in my face.

It was a mist. It caught everything from my left ear to the left side of my lip.

Random white woman spit.

Racism exists… 

I left the store, and hopped on my bike with a 6-pack of beer and a plan. I did upwards of 20mph in the bike lane on Grand Ave in Oakland’s Adams Point Neighborhood; 6-pack in my right hand. Focused on getting to the house party and not dropping the beer.

A college classmate, D’Auria Henry was waiting on me about a block away from the house party we were set to attend. When I got to D’Auria’s car she hopped out and noticed I had on my Howard University sweatshirt. She said she doesn’t travel without hers, reached into the car and grabbed her garment. After grabbing the threads from her car, she reached in again to grab a dish of banana a pudding that she had prepared for the potluck/ party we were set to attend.

As she reached in the car, a white lady– 5’6 with matted black hair and a backpack, came walking past. The lady said, “I’ll throw a flower at you!” As she announced her action, she stayed true to her word. She tossed a flower in D’Auria’s direction. I saw it all happen. Didn’t flinch. I laughed– or better yet: I silently chucked and smirked.

The lady continued toward me.

I stood on the street-side of the sidewalk, straddling my bike. The lady walked on the building side of the sidewalk.

There was enough room on the concrete for her, or any normal person to walk by. A sizable amount of space didn’t prove to be enough. As she crossed my path, she waited until she was completely adjacent to me. Left side. Further than my arm’s reach, but close enough for the stretch of saliva.

She spat on me. 

I don’t remember the obscenity she said as she did it. I’ll never forget the shock hitting my stomach, nor the spit hitting my face. I was frozen. She took another step. She was now on my blindside, almost completely behind me.

I turned away from her. Toward the street. Still straddling my bike and holding my beer in my right hand.

I turned 180º. Not thinking. Reacting. I reeled around and launched my 6-pack of beer like a discus towards her. She was now about two or three steps past me.

My backwards frisbee toss of a 6-pack of beer connected. It hit her left side–gently. And then the entire case crashed to the concrete. Shards of glass and beer suds scattered.

Broken beer bottles
Broken beer bottles

That wasn’t sufficient. I dropped my bike.

I started after her. Taking took two or three steps in her direction “You spat in my fucking face!!!” I was yelling. I don’t yell often. When I do: I YELL!

She looked back at me, as her body gained momentum in the opposing direction.

Going from a walk, to a light jog and then a full run– she looked back at me and said: “You’re a fucking racist!”

I stopped. Right then and there: I was guilty.

I was guilty of being a racist. Assault with a deadly weapon. Armed robbery. Attempted homicide, kidnap, rape… whatever she wanted to throw at me.

If an officer had rolled around that corner at that very moment, it is very likely that I would have been arrested. If not shot.

She spat in my face. It hit my ear, my cheek … my lip.

I didn’t see it coming . Didn’t provoke it.

I was just straddling my bike. Headed to a party on a Saturday night:

In pursuit of my happiness.

… And then she spat on me. 

But I was racist.

I went back, grabbed my bike, used my undershirt to wipe my face; but I couldn’t wipe away the thoughts.

In many ways, African American culture is a reaction to being spit on. Many aspects of Black culture, both good and bad, are a direct reaction to the predicament we have been placed in as a people.

That Howard sweatshirt. That soul food dish. They are symbolic of African Americans getting disrespected, and then reacting in a way that is beneficial to us (and the larger society).

My violent reaction and vulgar language were an example of  what it means to be disrespected, and then reacting in a way that is detrimental to myself (and the larger society, maybe).

(Maybe it benefits the larger society if I choose the detrimental route… hmmmm…)

This combined with the stories I’ve been reading and writing about all summer: Oscar Grant and Trayvon Martin. Alameda County Probation and San Quentin Prison. Homicides of old ladies and little babies. It’s like turning on the TV or looking at a movie screen and getting spit on. And then walking outside and getting spit on.

We have to choose how to react.   

Racism is only a belief. Racism is only a belief.

Racism is only a belief… until it manifests in the streets.

D’Auria lightheartedly said, “that crazy white lady wasn’t that crazy: she was smart enough to run!”

We laughed it off, purchased some replacement beer from Whole Foods and started toward the party. Passing back over the scene of the crime, I stopped to kick the shattered glass off the sidewalk and into the street. A Caucasian couple walked past. The lady of the duo thanked me for cleaning up the neighborhood. I laughed silently,told the couple to have a good evening, and then took off to my destination.

Just before D’Auria and I entered the house party, she looked down on the pavement: she found $60 folded on the ground. We split it.

My beer money was restored, and so was my understanding of racism.

God bless America.  

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Sarah Tramble’s Story

After being born in the early 1900’s, and raised in Louisiana, Sarah Tramble has both lived and documented American History.

Tramble’s education was cut short after her 7th grade year. Her 8th grade school house was too far to travel, so the young Tramble began working as a janitor at a dentist’s office. While she cleaned toilets and scrubbed floors, she took note on the office’s daily operations. One day, she was asked to step in for a dental assistant that had called in sick. Tramble, who had never been formally trained, took advantage of this opportunity and performed well in her new role. The next week she landed a job as the new assistant, which payed double what she was making as a janitor.

Education proved to be Tramble’s calling, as she then grew to teach herself how to sew. And although she is big on self-education, Tramble did attend the American college and Laney College where she became a licensed nurse.

SONY DSC

Tramble now lives in West Oakland’s Lower Bottoms neighborhood. But when she first moved out here, she bought a house on Parker in East Oakland in 1961, and stayed until ’75. She then moved to her West Oakland Victorian house, which was built in 1885 by a man named Mr. Black who worked at SP Railroad Company. She learned this fun fact from a discussion with some neighbors when she first moved in—she told me that she got word of this and took notes, similar to the way a journalist takes notes.

Tramble’s story of self-education is not a new tale at all, especially for African Americans coming up from the south. But it is Tramble’s story of self-documentation that is rare.
“I’m black- my momma look like she was white,” Tramble said as she pointed to a photo of her mother.

Her great grandmother came here as a slave- her great grand mother raised her mother, after her grandmother died as a child. At 96 years of age, Tramble has no problem recalling her family history.

As an African American woman who will not let you forget her age (96), Tramble’s personal notes show an angle of American history that not many see. She covers everything: from the history of West Oakland and the Pullman Porters, to the personal photos and notes of enslaved relatives … and even the images of the Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga.

Tramble, a strong-speaker who constantly moves until coming to a momentary pause to drive her message home with a deep stare from her blue eyes said, “I talk to all young people, whoever will listen, but young people don’t listen- they don’t want to listen.”

On a cold winter’s Saturday afternoon in West Oakland, Sarah Tramble warmly opened her doors to me, and we cracked books and jokes, as I took notes from her notes.

OG Told Me: Essay About The Photo Essay.

One time, an OG Told Me: “We’re not getting older, we’re getting better.”

It made me think…

In life, there is beauty in growing old, why would I want to die young?

In America, why are we glorifying young death and degrading becoming an elder?

In Black America, If they don’t have fathers- where are they getting guidance about manhood from?

In manhood … WAIT … how did I get here?

… answer…

The 1st Entry: "My homework ate my dog."- Dick Gregory.
The 1st Entry: "My homework ate my dog."- Dick Gregory.

At 24, I find myself in this strange world called, “manhood”, you might have heard of it… but … not all of my homies made it, some of them never even heard of it.

So, once again I ask: How did I make it to manhood?

As a young man growing up in Oakland, Ca … I followed the OG’s. Religiously.

Their way of talking, thinking, breathing, and blinking… I studied that. Vigorously.

As an 80’s baby, growing up in urban America, surprisingly enough: I wasn’t the only one without a father. Eight of my friends were fatherless too. In turn, we came together as a brotherhood; a fraternal support group. This is sometimes called a gang, a posse, or a clique… na, we were just boys becoming men.

We would pick-up small insight into manhood ( i.e. ideas on approaching women, how to make money double, or even something as essential as: how to fight); we would bring that back to the boys and share the newly acquired knowledge.

From this, I quilted together my concept of manhood.

Through this photo essay, I wanted to recreate that quilt; and show the world my version going from boyhood to manhood.

I call it: OG Told Me.

The project takes the phenomenon that I’ve encountered throughout the process of growing up, and documents it- so now babies of the millennium can find concepts about manhood where they hang out: the internet.

Detroit bus driver Barry Ray told me a story about two gas station owners beefing over gas prices … until one owner killed the other. Over pennies.
Detroit bus driver Barry Ray told me a story about two gas station owners beefing over gas prices … until one owner killed the other. Over pennies.

A basic photo essay: head shots of elder Black men, with the addition of clever-wisdom laced quotes. This photo essay is not just documenting elders, no-it’s bridging the gap between generations. It’s giving young men an idea of what they might look like at a later date, and it’s … giving me insight to the problems that plague the black community.

Unexpectedly so.

I found a number of the issues that plague Black men in society through my OG told Me project:

– Lack of accountability.

– Communication issues.

– Self destruction.

– Hate.

– Total disregard for another man’s dream…

– Lack of critical thinking.

– Stubbornness.

– Idle time.

Through this same project, I also found some of the blessings that are found in Black men in society…

– Creativity.

– Wisdom.

– Eldership.

– Sincerity.

– Love.

– Deep beliefs.

– Kinship.

– A way of life that is unobserved by others- yet seen everyday: the invisible man.

-The natural occurrence of a rights of passage in the Black community.

“Ethiopian proverb: When spider webs unite- they can tie up a lion!” - Joe Brooks, VP Policy Link & An old Black man… Been there. Done that. What’s new?
“Ethiopian proverb: When spider webs unite- they can tie up a lion!” - Joe Brooks, VP Policy Link & An old Black man… Been there. Done that. What’s new?

The biggest conundrum I found myself facing during this year-long project: Finding the purpose of life…

All around the world people are living for two things: to get older and to get smarter.

This is survival. Basic survival.

However, where I grew up, people are living for two things: to get money and … to get money.

In result, our illusionary pursuit of money results not in getting older and getting smarter- no, it results in us dying young and dumb.

This is not survival. This is basic.

The aging process should be appreciated. It’s the beauty of life.

Raymond Bellinger, War vet from New Orleans who sits at the same bus stop all day. When asked about the greatest lessons ever learned, he recited the Lord’s Prayer. word for word.
Raymond Bellinger, War vet from New Orleans who sits at the same bus stop all day. When asked about the greatest lessons ever learned, he recited the Lord’s Prayer. word for word.

I haven’t made it all the way-I’m still growing, learning, aging- or as the OG told me, “getting better.”

And I’m enjoying every step of the way.

… And that is why I created this photo essay.

Now the question remains:

what exactly were those lessons that I was taught as I was growing from a boy to a man?

Book coming soon

Getting active with Red, Bike, And Green.

Red,Bike, Green

It was the First Friday in August. The Town was festive. I stood on the corner-in awe of all of it.

I was just about to tweet about the droves of hipsters, the smell of Mediterranean food, and the mechanical bull in front of a local club…

I stopped mid-tweet.

… And then I saw this group of 25-30 young Black people… on bikes.

I grabbed my camera from my backpack, and mumbled two words to myself:

Get. Active.

video

Daghe, riding out!

MLK Way in Oakland on MLK Day.

MLK Way. MLK Day. Photo Essay in O.A.K

MLK mural. MLK Way and Grand Ave. Oakland, Ca

Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Oakland, Ca can speak … it speaks in sign language.

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s name adorns street signs all throughout this nation; it’s a common sight to see streets named after the honorable Dr. King run through the heart of a community known for violence and criminal activity. The city of Oakland’s MLK Way follows suite, however Oakland’s street named in the civil rights leader’s honor also speaks to the injustice in the community.

The first street sign baring Dr. King’s name within the city’s limits is located on the corner of 61st and MLK. I focused my camera in the midst of the mist and the low fog, I captured the image of the sign, and then I noticed something more on the light pole…

The gang injunction post introduced me to a neighborhood where I would find burned houses and memorials for homicide victims…

I was three blocks into Oakland, and the three sights that I had seen thus far caused me to wonder what lay ahead of me on this track. The silence of my placid wondering was shattered as a three car Bart train whistled past.

Senior Center

I noticed a senior center …I wonder how many of the occupants of the senior center remember Dr. King alive, marching, and speaking his word?

I continued my march down MLK Way…

I took note of the words posted on the street poles, every image tagged on private property, and every piece of art mounted on the earthquake retrofitted concrete pillars which hold the Bart tracks suspended above the traffic.

The remnants of fliers for rallies spoke loudly on the topic of the city’s issues with the local police force.

The path of artistically articulated words and antiquated advertisements lead me out of North Oakland and to the front door step of West Oakland’s Marcus Garvey Bookstore.

As I marched on through West Oakland’s Ghost town neighborhood, the California sun began to break through the Bay’s foggy skies, and Oakland’s true color began to show…

I marched into Jack London Square and took this picture of the fog, the shipping crane looming in the distance, and the last Martin Luther King Jr. Way sign in Oakland.

The end of the line made for an anticlimactic ending, but the lack of climax was the calm before the sign of all signs…

I was running late for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day screening of the documentary, “Strange Fruit” put on by Oakland’s African-American library. Upon arrival I noticed a sign on a bus bench that made my entire trip come full circle;  it spoke to the state of Oakland, it spoke about Martin Luther King Jr, it spoke about the manifestation of “Strange Fruit” in our modern world … most importantly: the sign spoke…

"Police are modern slave catchers"

“Not everybody can be famous. But everybody can be great, because greatness is
determined by service. – Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Ghana Represented.

On Saturday June 26th Ghana’s National team played against team USA, a Second Round World Cup match-up, and the world was watching… even the USA.  As I walked through the streets of Oakland, Ca, I overheard a man say something about how America will only appreciate the USA’s soccer team while the spotlight is on the World Cup, while Ghana’s National team will forever be legends in Ghana. And that was before Ghana won.

Ghana scored early. They dominated the USA team throughout. And in the end, the team sporting one Black star on their jersey’s punched an extra-time goal in the net to send the team from the USA, and all of its 50 stars packing. It was a complete game on Ghana’s part. It was a valiant effort on team USA’s part. It was a game that I’m sure the entire continent of Africa can appreciate on some level, and a game I could sincerely appreciate on all levels.

As Ghana advanced to the Semi- Final round, they represented more than just the last team from an African Nation remaining in the tournament: they represented the 1st free African Nation. They represented Ghana’s first President, Kwame Nkrumah. They represented the ancestors of African-American that had went through the door of no return in the Elmina slave dungeon. They represented… hey, they just straight –up got out there and represented.

I went to Ghana when I was 17, it was my first trip outside of the United States. And back then, for all I knew, certain streets in the capitol city of Accra could have been avenues in Atlanta, Georgia. Alright, so I’m being facetious; but the connection between the way of life I saw in Accra, and my life America ran deeper than our common skin tone.

The deep faith in Christianity, the superficial obsession with image, and evidence of rap music’s influence were all embedded in the culture! Oh, and of course the obvious cultural connection: sports!

The entire time I was in Ghana, I can recall people listening to soccer on the radio, and that wasn’t even during the World Cup. And my random eavesdropping is evidence that people in American are watching and talking about soccer.

Well, they were, before team USA lost. Now, I wonder how many World Cup related conversations will be overheard on the streets of the United States? One thing is for sure, those streets in Accra that I thought looked like Atlanta- for years to come, those streets will resonate with conversations of how Ghana’s legendary 2010 World Cup team went down to South Africa and represented.

Foolish Pride…but That’s How P-Ride.

In middle school, I hated free lunch. You know how embarrassing it was to stand in that line? I don’t… Cause, I never stood in it. I’d sit and be hungry before I ate free lunch.

In high school, I hated going to the store with the foodstamp card, you know how embarrassing it is to whip out that colorful EBT card in-front of a store full of people? I don’t -I’d wait for everyone to walk out of the store before I made my purchase.

And now that I’m in college. The stage in life where everybody is struggling. I find the hardest thing in the world is to ask for financial assistance.

This is the classic example of having so much pride that I’m not willing to compromise my morals for money.

And this boggles the mind…

Is it an extension of the same middle school and high school shame?

Is it a Black folks thing- where we only brag of wealth, and shamefully hide our short comings?

Is it a man thing- where societal gender roles say: Pendarvis, you’re a man now, and your role in society is to protect and provide; and since you can’t provide for yourself, you must protect yourself…and your self-esteem?

This is deeper than the grumbles of my stomach on the late night. This more emotional than the frustration I feel as I try to call my family back home…and my phone is cut off.

This is the battle between morals and pride when your money gets tight.

Thursday night, my hunger caused me to swallow my pride: I asked a co-worker and long time friend, Jeremy Odoffin, if I could have a micro-wave TV dinner tonight cause I couldn’t afford to buy anything to eat.

On the first floor of the college dormitory in which we work, we sat and talked over the freshly microwaved blessing brought to me by Marie Calender.

Jeremy said, “At a point, you have to sit and question- What is it about society that put you into a position where compromising your morals is the only means to survival?”

I sat. I questioned.

what is it?

Why did I not eat free lunch in middle school? Why was I ashamed to use food stamps in High School? Why am I still ashamed to ask for a TV dinner in college?

I AM A MAN

I am a man.

haven’t I seen that slogan somewhere before?

The civil rights movement! thats right!

They had so much Black Pride that they collectively decided not to compromise their morals.

Many African-American’s took to the streets baring signs that read: I AM A MAN. Simultaneously, King’s Dream and Malcolm’s speech were about holding America accountable to the freedom promised to all citizens as defined by the US Constitution.

I should be able to wake up in the morning and be able to pursue my true happiness uninhibited by the societal requirements for survival…the societal requirements that cause many men to sale dope and rob innocent citizens…the societal requirements that cause many women to strip and prostitute…the societal requirements that cause many people to throw their morals out of the door when their money gets low.

When it boils down to it, I’m not going to sale dope to my community in order to eat tonight. I’ve been there, and I’m never going back. I’m not going to drive around women so they can dance for money, and give me a small percentage in order to pay my phone bill. I’ve been there, and I’m not going back. And I’m not going to plot on the pockets of intoxicated individuals who have more money than I. I’ve been there, and I’m not going back. I’m not going to compromise my morals and I take pride in that.

Ironic, some might this piece as a man calling out for help, and truthfully there is a touch of that present in my prose. But more evident than my need for financial assistance, is my need to see my self as a self-sufficient man.

In closing: I find it funny how, when I don’t NEED something, but want to see if I can get it for free, it starts off as a game: “can I use my words to get this or that” is the concept… and if I don’t get it, it’s kind of humiliating and humbling all in one. But when I sincerely NEED something and want to see if I can get it for free, it starts from a place of slight humiliation and complete humility…but when I don’t get it …its not a game.

Yea, It’s not a game.