Not unlike many other black, young men I grew up poor. In my particular case, my father was unknown, my mother an addict and my family wildly dysfunctional. There were many nights when we had no clue where or when our next meal was coming from. Indeed, many of those nights, there was no “next meal.” But at that time, I had no knowledge of poverty. We thought it was natural to sometimes skip dinner and fall asleep to the sounds of our growling stomachs. My brother, younger sisters and I would play games and compete to see whose stomach could growl the loudest. When the electricity went out, we would play hide and go seek. When our parents (one of their fathers and our mother..or whoever she was dating at the time) fought, we would see who could sing the loudest and hold their notes the longest. We were unaware of what we didn’t have, and for awhile, those were the good ole’ days. Bounced around from family member to family member, we relished in the fact that we got to live in so many places, visit so much family and learn so much about the world (read: the perimeters of Kansas).
This however, stopped being fun when others began to point out our lack of resources. When it became clear that our “talent shows” were only background noises to bouts of domestic violence, that our mother wasn’t like the mother of our peers in school, that most people didn’t eat miracle whip sandwiches, that fried bologna wasn’t a normal food..and that hide and go seek was only played outside..it seemed that our worlds had been turned upside down. We quickly became outcasts, and just as quickly, I felt responsible for the safety and care of myself and my siblings. I took on part time and full time jobs to provide for us, to make sure we could keep up appearances and it proper foods. To make sure the lights were on. I also developed a drive to not be like my mother and other relatives who were stuck in poverty. This drive carried me to many successes, and now, to an elite university with quite the resume.
That said, I’ve always held onto my identity as someone who has been poor both in rural America and in the inner city. I have looked to my background as to what continues to make me different from my peers as this predominantly white institution (PWI), you know, the folks that just don’t get it. But it has been slowly occurring to me, that while I am from the hood, I’m no longer of the hood. While I can empathize with my people who are yet struggling in these positions, I can no longer speak with the authority that I once had. While I’m struggling to keep my sanity at school, they are struggling to keep their lives in the streets. While I fight for a so-called safe-space, they are longing for somewhere to simply rest. I know that my job is to forever fight and advocate to make way for those who are coming after me, I have come to realize that I’m no longer the little boy I used to be. I have opportunities that many of my friends and relatives will never have, but I’m not wealthy, I’m not white, I’m not straight and I cannot depend on intergenerational wealth or status. I’m a snap away from poverty, but I’m no long a sneeze from death. I’m now a published researcher, activist, academic, blogger and future lawyer.
In short: I’m not in Kansas anymore..but I remember me and those whose shoulders I stand. I’ve got their back. Fuck selling out.
J. Hudson said it best “I Remember Me”