Wednesday, February 22, 2006

bday part one: come so far on this road...

peo-ple n, pl ... 3 pl : the members of a family or kinship ... 5 pl peoples : a body of persons that are united by a common culture, tradition, or sense of kinship, that typically have common language, institutions, and beliefs, and that often constitute a politically organized group...

a few friends offered to pay my way on a bus trip being sponsored by the local college's community development group to new york city, and i happily accepted. on saturday morning, i found myself on a chartered bus heading up the new jersey turnpike, munching on a brunch of p.opeye's red beans and rice and a biscuit. i was excited - i hadn't been to the city in about six years, and even so, i had never been to harlem. we went to the schomberg center, which i'd

soaking up real


heard of but only knew little about. i knew that it was the place where bell hooks discovered that there was a world of books by and about black people. i knew there was a library there. but that's all i knew. i was pleased by the art that merged langston hughes' poem, the negro speaks of rivers, with facts about arthur schomberg's life. the library was off limits to our tour group, because it's under renovation. however, the center currently has an exhibit about the various migrations of africans in america, past and present. south to north (twice), north to south (which is happening now), tropics to mainland, motherland to otherland - the exhibit was replete with artifacts that ranged from a pullman porter's uniform, to a stock certificate in marcus garvey's back to africa steamship corporation (signed by garvey himself), to an old school jamaican passport, iron fetters, sale papers for human chattel... i was especially pleased by the fascinated reactions of younger members of the tour group to the exhibit. i love to see young people soaking up real knowledge about our people. i hope to go back one day to actually see the library - maybe even dig around for some clues on my genealogy, which i hear is one of the benefits of the center.

after the schomberg center at 135th and lenox, our bus trucked down lenox to 116th and dropped us off at an african marketplace. we had four hours to do whatever we wanted before making our way back home. if it had been a few months later, we probably would have lingered... but unfortunately for me (i shouldn't have waited to buy that kalimba - it was packed away lat




er on and i never bought it), it felt every bit the brisk, blustery, bitterly bone-chilling february day that we all dread being outside. i and my friends/sponsors, the ebony knight (so named for his refreshingly gentlemanly ways - he should teach a class on how to make sistas feel appreciated) and the sage queen (a woman i'm proud to simultaneously admire and call a friend), decided to get out of dodge. we took the subway up lenox to 125th, where we knew there were more things to see and a better variety of things to eat. i think we made it about a block over from lenox before we realized that it didn't matter what we ate, as long as we got out of that wind. it was cutting through our clothes and exposing the extreme fragility of our humanity. then, *insert beam from heaven and an ahhhhhh here* i spotted the jamaican place. ahh yes - curry chicken, rice and peas, and my favorite! - plantains... and sage queen was even able to find vegetarian sides to accommodate her. even better - we were out of the cold long enough to warm up.

either the wind lost its edge, or the food gave us power (or maybe a little of both) - we were able


the art

to move up and down 125th a little bit better after the pit stop. we wanted to distribute sage queen's newspaper in as many places as possible - increasing readership of her urban literary arts newspaper is important for urban artists anywhere (matter of fact, why don't you check it out - maybe even subscribe - support the art). we checked out the hue-man bookstore (and cafe), the nubian heritage store (books - music - body products - spa to come), and some other spots, like the ma.gic jo.hnson starb.ucks, where people were sitting around playing chess, talking, and staying warm as best they could. we met some interesting folks... but i appreciated seeing these businesses even more.

living in america with brown skin is a curious phenomenon. we are forced to affirm ourselves constantly in a world that does not often offer affirmation. we turn on the tv, go to the mall and see mannequins, open magazines, and patronize businesses that don't shine our hair, our hue,

a healing


our humanity back at us... harlem is a little different. everywhere we went, i saw me looking back at myself and it made me high. i grew up in a predominantly black area, surrounded with images of myself, but that was different, because that all ended whenever we became consumers. every other commercial property in my old neighborhood is vacant, and the occupied places are often owned/operated by people who don't look like me. on 125th street, everyone looks like me. and what's even more amazing, the businesses weren't closed when the sign said "open," and i didn't feel like i was in a substandard place getting substandard service. i hate to reinforce a negative stereotype, but you know how "we" do. on the other hand, harlem was a healing experience - the kind that reminded me that lowered expectations have no place in the heart of a black person who truly loves black people - we can rise to the occasion if expected to do so.

the apex of this feeling happened almost by accident. we were walking towards one of the bookstores when ebony knight nonchalantly said as we passed the door, "oh, and here's carol's

inspired me to

follow my dreams

daughter." sage queen and i stopped and literally squealed with excitement before almost lunging for the doors. i can't adequately describe my excitement. i'd heard about how carol's daughter started this business at home, then grew and cultivated it from a seed to a corporation with major celebrity investors and spokespeople. it just so happened i was in dire need of a moisturizer, too - LOL! i also knew that the harlem store is home for carol's daughter. and what a store it is! warmly lit, comforting colors and scents, professionally laid out... so so classy. so so not well-she-doing-the-best-she-can-with-what-she-got. that store made me proud to be a black woman and inspired me to follow my dreams. i can't imagine the pride she feels when she walks into her store. even the bag and the tissue paper are so nice! i can't throw them out. watch out competitors! carol's daughter is coming for ya neck! and, i love my new moisturizer...

one other thing... yes, i'm a geek. so what. i remember standing at the end of the washington mall when i was thirteen on a class trip to d.c. and being just dumbfounded - transfixed - at the thought that i was standing on ground kissed by history - the site of the '63 march on washington. i turned to my teacher and said

kissed by


in awe, "martin luther king was here!" she kinda blinked, and was like, "yes, he was..." as if she was explaining the alphabet to a three year old. forget her. i reserved the right to be in awe when i step on ground that has significance to a people and a past that she just doesn't share. i felt the same way for a few moments in harlem. when i stood inside the apollo's vestibule and wondered whose footprints i was stepping on... when i stood at 125th and lenox waiting to cross the street and wondered how many times malcolm little crossed this same street on his way to small's paradise, not knowing that one day it would be the intersection of malcolm x boulevard and martin luther king boulevard... i felt like i'd finally touched my feet to ground that i should have long since visited on some pilgrimage to understand my own people and history better... should i be renamed, like el hajj malik el shabazz was? probably not yet...

but my birthday doesn't end here...