If you are going to be anywhere near the San Francisco Bay Area next Wednesday night then you have to come to this event. DON’T MISS IT!
If you are going to be anywhere near the San Francisco Bay Area next Wednesday night then you have to come to this event. DON’T MISS IT!
I think about her more now that she’s dead than I did when she was alive. I think about the disoriented look on her son’s face as he walked in and out of her funeral service. I think about how goofy she was a teenager. How annoying her laugh was, how pretty her face was…I think about the word was. How hurtful the past tense is when referring to young people that you love.
I did not think about her when she was alive. I had not seen her in at least 15 years. In fact even when we attended Junior High School together we were never super close but I never thought that death would reach her before her 35th year. I never thought that I would have to use the word was when referring to her. And now I kind of want to see her. I want to tell her not to trip, that things will be ok, that she is loved. And then I’m torn because I feel really fake. If she were alive and I happened to see her I would never think to share anything beyond the exchange of basic pleasantries. I probably would have no idea that she was contemplating suicide but then again, I would never ask.
It’s shameful what death reduces us to. It’s shameful how a person has to die in order to be heard sometimes. Often times when a young man is murdered and waiting to be pronounced dead his cell phone is jumping. Everyone is calling, texting, and sending dozens of messages that all seem to say, “are you ok?” But he isn’t ok. He will never be ok again. Then they DM him and send him friend requests and favorite his tweets and finally they make a memorial on a street corner and everyone has a party in his memory—but he is dead. I could never understand why we disregard the living only to celebrate the dead. Yet here I am. Mourning the tragic death of a woman who I wasn’t even close enough to know was suffering.
I am somewhat obsessed with her now that she will be forever in the past tense.
I find myself becoming less approachable, less tolerable of other people. The memories that I have of her are ever present and I can’t stop thinking about what her future may have been. I post about her. I cherish memories of her that I didn’t even know I had when she was alive. Like that time in the 8th grade when she was my girlfriend for two days and we broke up because I had hard rumors about her “going with” another boy (which were later revealed to be untrue). Little silly things come into my head that make me acknowledge once again to myself that she is dead. Her body has been reunited with the earth. And then I slowly attempt to rise out of bed, though I never seem to get enough sleep.
“To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships.”
I find it fascinating that a tent city has popped up in a city where just last year Uber paid over $24 Billion to purchase a building that will serve as a major corporate headquarter for them. In 2013 Oakland was voted the most exciting city to move to (http://www.movoto.com/blog/top-ten/10-most-exciting-cities/). There are new restaurants opening up all over the place, billion dollar housing developments are being constructed (China Basin), there seems to be money coming in from every direction, and in the midst of this enormous economic boom there are whole families living on the streets.
This particular homeless encampment really struck me because it exists directly across the street from the very church where I was baptized. In Oakland I have seen groups of homeless people live under bridges and alongside freeways but never on International Boulevard, which is a major thoroughfare in both Oakland and San Leandro. This leads me to believe that the homeless situation is getting worse. It also leads me to believe that as long as techies are moving here from around the country and billion dollar startups are investing large sums of money in the Uptown area that no one cares about homeless black people living out of tents in Deep East Oakland. I’m not sure what exactly needs to be done but I’m not going to act like this isn’t happening in the city that shaped the man that I’ve become. So I guess the question is; what are we going to do?
Today I saw a poster-sized portrait of a stunningly gorgeous dark-skinned woman as it sat perched atop a very generic looking off white casket. I saw this while in a large church with well over 500 people in attendance (I must say I went to this same church on communion Sunday four days ago and there were more people in there today than there were then). The beautiful lady who was the subject of the ceremony was once very loveable. As an adolescent she was very loud, very goofy, very blunt—in essence she was very hood. As an adult she made a living applying make-up at the mac store in San Francisco. She was 33 years old, and she shot herself in the head.
She left behind two sons. She had the eldest with a young man who I played Pop Warner football with, went to school with, and in our early 20’s we worked as skycaps together at the Oakland International Airport. In 2012 this childhood friend was shot to death during an alleged traffic dispute in West Oakland. In 1996, however, we were all good kids trying (and some succeeding) to be bad at King Estates Junior High School. That’s where their relationship began. He wanted to be way harder than he actually was and she wanted to have way more attitude that she actually had. He was the only one that could handle her (I, like so many others, tried and failed). So it worked.
It worked up until they finished high school and had a son together. Then they split a few years later. While he and I were working at the airport I told him that I bumped into the mother of his child. He asked me how she was. I didn’t really understand the question. I responded with, “Cool I guess.” And then he began speaking to me about her mental illness. I laughed in shock because he presented the information as if it were funny. And not because he thought the mental deterioration of his childhood and high school sweetheart was actually humorous but because it was the only way that he could convey such painful information to another man without revealing that it hurt him (For no man in our town ever wants to be considered soft). After that conversation I never heard anything about her again until I got the news that she had committed suicide.
It always struck me as being extremely superficial when tragedy befalls a woman and people say, “but she was so beautiful.” As if pretty women are above pain. As if their lives are meaningful only because their faces look good. But in this case I get it simply because suicide is so ugly. And suicide via a bullet in the brain is even more hideous. It is such a brutal way for a woman to leave this earth and it leaves so much confusion. The pastor responsible for giving the eulogy struggled to find his position on the podium, but he finally gave a speech suggesting that because the deceased had the lord in her heart she would enter heaven—or something like that. At any rate it made the hundreds of people in attendance feel good. Perhaps it will offer comfort to her two boys in the years to come. I suppose that was the intent. But hers, as well as all other suicides leaves one indelible question imprinted in my mind; Why they do that?
Suicide is a selfish act. And I say this knowing that schizophrenia is more common than people may think, that deep depression often times goes undiagnosed, and that the stigma surrounding mental health is extremely pervasive in the black community. I also say this as a man who tries very hard not to pass judgment. But I am a human being and this unspoken sentiment has been growing in my brain like cancer. The very thought that has been pulsating in my consciousness is this: IT IS IMPOSSIBLE NOT TO SUFFER—especially if one was born into blackness. By this rationale I could not help but to look down upon her as a quitter. I stood there in that sanctuary as man fighting against many. For it appeared as though everyone else had made peace with her decision. I didn’t. I don’t.
It makes no sense to blame the dead for being dead. There is no way for her to wake up and assume responsibility for her actions, or to apologize to her boys for that matter. When I looked at the scowl on the face of her oldest son who walked in and out of the church trying to make sense out of the situation and attempting to understand the gravity of how this moment would change his life but not being able to comprehend—it bothered me so deeply that I found myself cursing his mother in my head. Why? Why she do that? How could a woman who spent so much time in church let the devil catch up to her?
At some point toward the end of the service the pastor told everyone in the sanctuary who had been touched in a positive way by the beautiful dark-skinned woman with the ebullient personality who now lay stiffly inside of her casket to stand up. Then whole sea of us stood up tall. Then he asked us to applaud and show the lord some praise for allowing her to touch our souls. We did just that. It was a glorious moment because we loved her. We loved our friend despite all of her flaws because we saw our own flaws in her. People cried, people shouted, and people rejoiced and as I clapped loud and steady I questioned her in the afterlife. Didn’t you know that we loved you? Don’t you know how much you’re hurting us right now? Why? Why you do that?
His name was Micah X. Johnson. He was a man who was upset at the recent murders of Philando Castile by police officers in Minnesota and of Alton Sterling by police officers in Louisiana so he himself killed five police officers in Texas. Or at least that’s how the story is being told at this moment.
Micah X. Johnson was a 25-year-old U.S army veteran who was enraged and did not wish to march, or rally, or block the freeway, or boycott. He wanted to kill. He wanted vengeance. And with this very natural—if not immoral as well as hypocritical—human reaction to feeling victimized there comes tremendous fallout and an almost unprecedented feeling of shock. The fallout because no one wants to align themselves with a murderer, at least not with a television camera and microphone in their face. And the shock because as afraid as the power structure is of black men no one ever expects black people to actually fight back. So on the rare occasion when this does happen it feels as if the moon has risen in the morning and the sun has burned brilliantly through the night. It appears to defy the laws of the universe as they were taught to American blacks.
For we have always taken the trauma that we have endure out on ourselves by ingesting various poisons that temporarily make us forget that we are treated worse than animals. And we have always taken it out on other black people by physically, mentally, and verbally assaulting those nearest to us. But almost never do we raise a hand to the police officers that have the power to kill us with impunity. Instead we break down and implode. Well Micah exploded. Just like when “wild Indians” would kill white settlers for squatting on their land in colonial America and the white man would come back and kill twice as many of them. Just like when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, which led to the United States dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Just like after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 when the U.S. waged war on Iraq. Micah X. Johnson—no matter how disillusioned, no matter how psychotic, no matter how ungodly—wanted for his people, what the white man naturally receives everywhere on the planet. He wanted to be acknowledged as a man. Not as some thing that you can beat up for fun and murder for sport. He wanted police officers to know that there will be consequences for their actions in this lifetime. Micah stood up and now he is dead. Apparently blown apart by a bomb sent to him electronically by the police via a robot.
Alas, it would be as unscrupulous to celebrate the actions of Micah Xavier Johnson, as it would be to lionize a killer like Christopher Scott Kyle. Only the totally depraved would do such a thing. However one should never be afraid to understand the motivation of another human being. For a man that may die for a cause that you do not believe in is still a man. If we truly wish to evolve as a species then we must be reasonable in times of extreme trauma and a heightened sense of pain.
All year long, like a child, I waited for summer. Now I find that June has brought only heat and very little warmth. I search for purpose amidst confusion. I constantly resist taking a natural attitude towards systematic destruction. They attempt to destroy the structure and the soul, the church and the congregation are aflame. I stand alone always isolated and barely sane. I count money that I don’t have, I check-in with the dead, I kiss perfect memories throughout the night. I get high on nostalgia like so many pills. I’m addicted to escaping traps that I have already transcended. I play games like a child. I listen to Nina Simone on vinyl like an old man. I miss her like a fool. I am poor like the uneducated. I stand all alone like the completely misunderstood.
I smile easy. I cry hard. I speak well. I die. I wake up. I sleep not. I am in constant pursuit of inconsistency. Could you tell her that I’m looking for her? The next time you see her could you tell her please? No. Nevermind. Again I am content. I just forced myself to remember the misery. It’s very foolish for a man to want what people believe that he should have. Only a coward would let someone else define what happiness should mean for him. And so I move forward corrupted by my past. I sleep with ghosts. I pray to god. And I feed on my inability achieve serenity.
If you will be anywhere near the San Francisco Bay Area on 5/28 the you need to come to this event.
The Fire THIS Time” will be a night of SUPERDOPE poetry you won’t soon forget, with dynamic performances by:
Dom Jones & Donte Clark!
You will definitely want to be in the building as two of the illest poets in the state of California tell us what it means to be young, black, and aware in these tragic yet inspiring times.
There will also be an open mic session so don’t forget to bring your own poems with you. This musical, poetic and politically conscious event will be hosted by the lyrically gifted and all around righteous brotha Davin “Do Dat” Thompson. Not to mention sets buy the ultra smooth band WVG.
In addition to the excitement onstage,
The hottest young entrepreneurs in Oakland will be selling their products in the lobby. So please support:
“Oakland’s Own” – the freshest clothing company in town &
“The Cake & Sugar Company” – the best cupcakes you will EVER taste!
This event is guaranteed to be the realist thing to happen in Oakland since Festival at the Lake.
Only $10 at the door / you can purchase your tickets early, here!
See you all at The Fire THIS Time