I grew up a skinny little bookworm with all the street smarts in the world. I lived two separate lives. My time was split between my grandmother’s house in a decent neighborhood with nice older neighbors who looked out for one another. They all knew me and I knew their grandkids. I use to check their mail and take them their newspapers. I played checkers and drank Pepsi with older people on the porch as mosquitoes buzzed past. They would call me over to sing old Motown songs and hymns and they believed in my future. On Sundays and Wednesdays (in the summer), I wore stockings and slips to church and sat on the front row when I wasn’t singing in the choir. I was on every church program and I knew all the songs verbatim. I learned to cook amazingly well. I learned how important it was for a woman to keep her home neat and presentable as well as herself at all times because you never know who might stop by. My Grannie taught me lady like qualities and let me spend my afternoons around the corner at the library reading books cover to cover. The Librarian knew my name and would give me rides home with all my books. I use to check out Encyclopedia’s in the order they were written and actually read them.
But I was also an around the way girl. My mom lived in the projects and this was at the height of the crack game. I went to school in my mom’s neighborhood. I walked or sometimes rode the bus through the hood. I walked past corner boys who couldn’t wait for me to get a little older so I would be “ready to hit”. I bought hot pickles, lemon cookies and fruit punch from the corner store that also sold drugs out the back. I hated to fight but because I have younger siblings I always fought to protect them. One time in particular I got jumped by two girls from behind and fell down. My knee was bloody and my sister was crying and screaming. When I got home my mom took me back to find the girls and we fought again. That time I didn’t lose. I sat on the stoop of my building and watched the younger kids play and sat on bags of crack rocks for the dealers when the police rolled around on our block. I stayed up a few nights helping to count and recount money to make sure the numbers were good. I watched walls get plastered and hidden walls get built to hide money and drugs. I saw my first dead body before I was 12. I slept under my bed with my little brother some nights when the block was a little too hot and gun shots rang out in the night just in case a bullet pierced through our walls. I’ve spent some time homeless. All of our belongings were in a uhaul or sitting outside on the curb and we didn’t have a home on a few occasions. One of my uncles traveled a lot and shuffled girls (whores) back and forth across the south. My mom and I used to drive the girls around to buy toiletries to get cleaned up and get “pretty”. This is where I started learning about makeup and how to cover up marks.
Then Saturday would come or Spring break or summer and I’d be back to being a little girl and getting my hair pressed out singing at the piano with my grandmother. I lived in two worlds and this was all before I was 14 years old. This is my history in a nutshell but if you met me, you’d never know or guess it. Ratchet, hood, ghetto and tacky isn’t in me. I’m not a product of my past environment. I have noticed that most “women” who claim and flock to the stereotype know absolutely nothing about “that life”. They didn’t grow up like I did. They don’t know the first thing about surviving in the streets unless they learned from social media and Empire. But to the young ladies wishing to escape the hood is not a lifestyle to glorify and fake claim. It’s also not an excuse for being a horrible human being.
I use to tell myself every day, I’m better than this and I’ll be better than this. I didn’t know how I was going to do it but ….I did.