WATCHING THE GROWING
"God as my witness"
Yeah, I m Black. So what? My momma was black, my daddy was black what else was I supposed to be but black.
But the truth is, some days I wish I were anything but. But God don't give you
that choice, you know. Cause if he did, I know a lot of folks that would have
chosen a lighter color. Me too, what fool wouldn't? I would have chosen the
whitest white. You know like them albinos; with the white hair, white-eyes.
Shoot, I would have been so white my nickname would have been tablecloth. But
because God is who he is, I am who I am: and that is enough for me.
But what nigger wouldn't give to trade up for another color, to make his existence better, I mean?
Anyone tell you he wouldn't he'd be a dam liar and a fool. Now don't get me
wrong. I loves me some black folk; the chocolates, the charcoals, the deep
blues'; the purples; then you gots the browns; the tans, the caramels, the
mochas; then there’s the high yellows, the light bright and the damn near
whites. All these speak volumes about the diversity of each black man and each
black woman as individuals. And if black folks are one thing, theys
individuals: one of our greatest qualities; our greatest flaw.
But there is hope for us yet. How do I know, you ask? Simple. Two words. Howard University. Yep, Howard
University. OK, it’s not that simple, but it is. Let me try to explain it to
you. For centuries black people have struggled and fought to make the dream of
America, a dream they could believe in. This dream that is America has been
sold to countless generations of black folks, hook line and sinker. Too many to
be ashamed of: less some of the dead turn in their graves. This dream that is
America, it still exists. It exists and it can be seen in the eyes of the next
generation. It can be heard in their music. You can witness it in their images,
their words and in their struggle. This dream that is America, it exists and it
can be felt in the belly of those who have waited for it: those who have died
for it. This dream that is America it still exists because it rests within the
hearts and minds of every black man and black woman that has ever walked this
earth. It is a part of who he was, who he is and who he hopes to be.
So you see, what Howard mean to black folk goes deeper than just tradition. Howard is more than just a name.
The existence of an institution such as Howard gives black folk a certain kind
of legitimacy: a legitimacy that had only existed for white folks. What Howard
extends to black folks is a lineage, a legacy, something tangible - something
black folk can come and put their hands on and touch. Something that they can
say is more than just 'A Dream' (God bless his soul) or something that is
preached about on Sunday mornings. Howard is something obtainable; something so
necessary that it cuts to the very essence of who black folks is. Howard is,
indeed, the center of the Black Universe.
Furthermore, the University's promise to black folks is hope and freedom: the kind of freedom
that God had promised black folks long before no Plessey or no Brown or no
Affirmative Action: a freedom that white folks could envy. So you see Howard is
where I have been coming to all my life; home.
Howard's campus rests in the middle of a war zone called Gentrification Meets Poverty. The backdrop of
the Nation's Capitol with its monuments, at one point, offered a sense of
security to students, families, and intellectuals who enshrined the place, but
after September l1th it all but evaporated.
Howard is hilly, so the hike to work is more of workout than walk. The noise of constant construction is a
crescendo of an invisible band we march to, bustling from one administrative
building to another. I tough it out as I curve through the maze of cracks that
is College Street and weave through a web of freshman, a bright and
colorful bunch seemingly mindless of the oncoming traffic who,
law-abiding, grudgingly give them the right of way. The students are a law unto
themselves, their feet beating paths through and around traffic, leaving fresh
tracks like guideposts.
I peer into their black faces, into the eyes of their professors, and past the suits of the businessmen
and women who form a black sea. I hope to get a glimpse of what they see,
to soak up what they feel. I want to; I need to. They gleam success, the kind
that makes them raise their heads a little higher than the rest of us, a shade
so rare to me. Sure, I have seen crowds of black folk together before, in large
numbers too, but not till I walked onto this campus did I truly understand what
I make eyes at a pretty co-ed who smiles at me as she eases by on the narrow walkway. Her yellow skin,
hazel eyes and ruby lips reawaken my longing for an old lover. Passion was her
name. I turn to see her shimmy down the crooked path and begin to contemplate
the possibilities of my new life.
Every roadway and landscape being tinkered with adds to what seems to be a mass confusion of movement. The
cars, the students, the construction workers in yellow hats dance in and around
one another as if they are privy to some miraculous melody that everyone else
is deaf to. I marvel at the organized chaos and listen hard for the tune. To
step back and observe the spectacle would surely leave one with a sure sense of
The sidewalk is as narrow as I am black. I squeeze past the others and it puts me in mind of slaves
shepherded to the plantation, lined up and chained at the waist and ankle to
keep them from running, lest they lose a foot and be rendered worthless. I
wonder if my ancestors walked this path. Did they push to the right, like the
rest of the good nigger slaves, to let the whites ease by? Did they make their
bodies limp in protest, yanking the rest of the congregation to their knees? Or
did they bump shoulders with their captors and welcome the whip in exchange for
I imagine what my great-great-great grand daddy might have done to a white man who pushes him
aside. Whatever it was, it sure would accrue a few lashes from the master's
whip. It is in our blood I suppose.
Approaching the television station, I spot the enormous WHUT sign hung on the side of the building. The
letters, at least ten feet tall, are sprawled across the front panel of the
building and overshadow its classic architectural design. Underneath the dim
sign, the subscript reads: "The nation's first owned and operated black
owned public broadcasting station". I raise my hands to the sky and thank
God for the pilgrimage that brought me here, a jilt in my stomach for all that
I'd lost along the way.
I'd been given a ticket North, next to Harriet, and I gots to keep up cause she gots her a pistol.
Separated, in the midst of a failed marriage, and more than 400 miles away from friends and family, WHUT was my North Star, placed there by the hands of God, himself.
I dreamed of working in a place where I was free to be me, cornrows and all, yet still have a chance to
move up the so called corporate ladder; a place where a black man was given a
real shot at living Martin's dream, where color didn't matter and where the
only prejudices that existed were the ones we created in our own minds. The
building, the sign, the inscription were brick and metal imbued with meaning
and blood; both mine and my ancestors.
My steps, too, begin to have meaning as I inch closer to the gates of what I could only imagine as a shadow of Heaven or at the very least a lighter shade of hell.