He got off the bus in North Oakland. At the drug store on 51st and Telegraph. I was left to think back on the conversation we just had: the racial makeup of West Virginia, the land that the United States owns under the Pacific Ocean and how plastic Black and Mild cigar tips will leave you with foul smelling breath—wooden tips don’t do that shit.
He walked onto the bus in some busted brown boots. I was staring at the center plate that connects the two portions of AC Transit’s double busses. Hypnotized– the boots caught my eye as I stared at the ground like it was staring back at me. I broke from my thoughts of graduate school projects, thesis statements on OG’s, the fact that Peter Nicks had just told Spencer Whitney and myself, “HU – YOU KNOW”, plus the footage of Marlon Brando I had just seen… (“Meeting Marlon Brando” = Great film)
Mind blowing — this reoocuring dream just manifested, yet again. Another rendition of OG TOLD ME. An OG, just a shooting the breeze about how paying your tax dollars means that you should be able to go to the mountains to escape the madness of the city. While on the back of the bus.
He said he was going home to his lady, and that means he had a good day.
we laughed. I shook his hand. He told me his real name and his nickname.
I committed his nickname to memory… But that was it.
I didn’t take a photo. Didn’t take down a (real) name. Didn’t introduce myself as a journalist– just a young homie named “Pen”.
I sat at my friend’s graduation thinking, this is reconstruction:
John just got his certification, congratulations. I am 15 units away from my degree, and graduating. His is from Mandela Cypress Center for Construction Training . My degree is from Howard University’s School of Communications. His school was started in the early 1990’s, after the Loma Prieta Earthquake shook the Bay Area and caused the Cypress Freeway to fall; the need for construction workers in the East Bay skyrocketed. My school was created in 1867 after the United States Federal Government created the Freedman’s Bureau and the need to educate the “freed slaves” skyrocketed.
He is a certified carpenter, which allows him to go out and build some of those lovely condos that are gentrifying American’s urban sprawl. In due time, I will be a professional media producer, which will allow me to produce those lovely news stories about victims of violence, and how their bodies are sprawled out across urban America.
He’s a construction worker. I’m a constructive writer. We represent Reconstruction, 2010.
At the start of the 20th century, the once enslaved Africans in America debated the quickest root to achieving “first-class citizenship”, which was defined as full economic, political, and social engagement as Americans. This is otherwise known as achieving “the American Dream”.
Washington stood firmly behind the philosophy of mastering a trade, showing your value to America through contributions and earning political, economic, and social inclusion. While DuBois challenged the status quo and stated that we should not sacrifice civil rights in order to attain first class citizenship, instead we should study liberal arts and engage in America’s social, economic, and political arenas.
My friend John chose the path that Washington spoke of, mastering a trade and contributing to America’s blue-collar labor force. I chose Dubois’ method, studying liberal arts and contributing to America’s white-collar labor force.
But the question is, who is on the right path to achieving the American dream?
An interesting article was published by News Week in early June; the article addressed the growing division between American classes and how factors such as location, race, education, and the current state of the economy are aiding that division. The author concluded that, people trying to enter the job market, such as John and myself, will have to “…cobble together part-time jobs to pay the rent or accept positions with lower salaries or fewer opportunities for growth. Long-term, as the economy rebounds, this nagging unemployment rate means the economic disparities in this country will keep growing.”
I’m currently applying for internships but to no avail as of yet, so this summer I am freelancing for 3 different outlets; I knew all three of my supervisors before going to college. John is a part of a Union, but since gaining his certification he has only done work with his grandfather; who he obviously knew before his certification program.
In essence, we are both working part-time. As the economy is rebounding, we are both “cobbling” together jobs in order to make ends meet. And as we both live check to check, we are both slowly starting to realize: this isn’t exactly the American Dream we dreamt about.
Although we’ve taken different paths, we’ve ended up on the same cobble-stone paved path; A slow-moving path made of place holding part-time jobs, that we’ve only landed due to old bridges we didn’t burn.
First Class citizenship isn’t going to come from working for someone else, cobbling those jobs together is merely throwing stones at a much bigger issue: Ownership is the key to the American Dream.
As the author mentioned in the News Week article, there is a growing divide in-between the classes in America, which side of the divide do you want to be on?
America’s division isn’t between the wrench workers and the writers, but between the owners and the hourly workers. If it’s first class citizenship we are seeking, then question is not which is a better path: vocational training versus traditional education; but the question is, which method better prepares us to leave the beaten path of part time jobs and make the trail blazing move toward ownership?
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.
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.
Hackensack, New Jersey representative and Howard University student, Tenn Stack’s celebrated his birthday January 16th, 2010 in true player fashion.
He rented out a posh French Bistro, managed to avoid “the politics” of the situation, and proceeded to have one of the most “wavy” parties he and his Swagg House Comrades have ever thrown.
For those unfamiliar with Tenn Stacks and the Swagg House (SWAGG= Survival with All God’s Grace) movement, here is is his first single “My Life at Howard”
A French Bistro played host to Swagg House event for the ages…and man, I don’t think the owners knew what they were in for…
Upon arrival…. I bumped into these scholarly goons….
But they were just as confused as i was….
This is where the “Swagg House” Party was supposed to be???
And then things slowly started clearing out…. But not before two bus loads of Howard Students arrived. As the impatient intoxicated students waited in the cold…. I figured, what the hell: make the most of it!
“girl, its a photo shoot”- Gucci Mayne
But of course…people can only be pacified by photos for so long and as the line grew… peoples temper grew too….
And then…. out of no where the man of the hour showed up!
And fittingly enough, the party was titled “Red Light District”…and all hell broke loose.
After a while… the glow sticks arrived…and the night got live…
but, when they made the move to let the glow sticks rain on the folks downstairs….some asshole photographer decided to leave his dead batteries in the pile… I know someone got hit with a double A battery last night….
Nonetheless, when they did make it rain…it was a light show….
And when the red lights came out…. the temperature rose!!!! It was so hot, my camera lens fogged up!
so, I decided to write a special shout out to my bruh Tenn Stacks on the front door….and then I got the hell of out the sweat box before I passed out!
And in the end…. Swagg House got it in. I wish best of Luck to Tenn and the Swagg House conglomerate…look for them to be making moves in the new year,including the upcoming re-shoot of “My Life at Howard”…. oh, and as for Tenn Himself…. this is photographic evidence that the young man enjoyed himself….