My Modern Black Family came to America in the late 1960’s, settling in Washington, DC. That included my maternal grandmother, grandfather and their son, Sahr – all on the strength of my grandpa’s student visa. My Grandmother had the dreams!!! She was busy getting us in Formation long before Beyonce.
My mother, the eldest of the siblings, eventually joined her parents here at the age of 12! They used to jokingly refer to her as the “female Mike Tyson” since she took the Black proverbs of “Don’t test me” and “I wish you would” to heart, beating the boys who didn’t heed her warnings.
The obstacles of navigating life as an African woman. She was constantly suspended from DC public schools in return. And to give you a clearer understanding of what was thrown her way – slurs like African Booty Scratcher and Kunta were just a few of the challenges she had to face not including the typical misogynistic insults that I’m sure we’re all familiar with. She fought through it all with perseverance and fists. To paraphrase -‘Alls her life she had to fight” I’m sure if Kendrick Lamar were around during her time, the song would have been her themes song.
My grandmother with all her Chaka Khan fierceness, worked so relentlessly to make the American dream come to fruition. She owned her own African doll business in Washington DC in the early 90’s, by the early 2000’s they were in the Smithsonian – all the while managing Project housing in the city. These Projects raised her children and grandchildren not by choice I must add, but as a way of life. In my film, my grandmother said that my Mother chose the African way, which for her meant culture, tradition and family meanwhile the boys chose the American way, as they perceived it: freedom, drugs and prison. So knowing that background; Growing up as the 1 st grandchild of 11 and the first of my parents in Washington DC and Prince Georges County, MD I was no stranger to the streets and the books as well. The Sierra Leone and West African communities were robust. As a matter of fact, I like to think my streets smarts got me further in life than academics.
I finally left the DMV environment (DC. MD, VA) and attended my first PWI and I had a complete 180 experience. Imagine someone spinning you on a merry go round then abruptly – stopping. That was the exact feelings I experienced at Bucknell University. As I sat in my bright pink and orange decorated dorm room, I remember crying about being teased because I spoke with a DC twang and some may even say Ebonics, I wasn’t black enough to be radical, I wasn’t smart enough to belong, and worst of all, my integrity was often questioned. Nonetheless I went on to graduate from Bucknell University with my Bachelors in English and Sociology (Culture & Media Studies), Lehigh University with my Masters in American Studies and Certification in Documentary Film and now Cornell University pursuing my PhD in Africana Studies.However the kicker to all of this is that while I was busy doing this, my siblings and cousins were facing the ramifications of what it means to be Black and a Black statistic in America.
You’re probably confused but what I mean is that while I get to go to class, be on a national tour, own a t-shirt company, my modern black family also requires that I raise my niece, answer collect calls from jail, and live utterly in two different realms. With all that said I am proud of my family’s legacy, the good the bad and the ugly. Although our lives are more of a dream deferred, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I want you all to remember that:
• This is no pity party
• This is also no celebration of me pulling myself up by my bootstraps
• If anything I stand in the boots/ backs of many
So if you don’t do anything else as you build upon your “Coming to America” moment, ask your self what will be your legacy?
My story is different, yours is too, but make it all worthwhile! Pay it forward.