October 15, 2004


I would like to pay respect to may family and our Journey A to MMM journey. A to MMM refers to my families journey from Africa to Mississippi, Michigan and now Minnesota (whats up with them M states?).

My parents were born in Mississippi but migrated up North to Michigan in the 50’s for a better a life. I was born in Michigan in the late 60’s one of 4 siblings. I migrated to Minnesota, for pretty much the same reasons that my parents left Mississippi, which was for better opportunity and too escape more overt forms of racism (Michigan is very segregated and racist). I moved to Minnesota and met my Empress and we produced a beautiful young empress of some 20 months old.

My parents were share croppers in the Mississippi Delta. My folks use to tell me stories about how poor they were. They said for Christmas, they would simply get an apple and an orange.. They used to decorate their home (more like a shanty) exterior with newspaper doing Christmas. They said that everyone did it and that they all would marvel at the beauty of it.

My father said that the land owner would never pay them enough money to break out of their debts. There existance is what was know as peonage. This peonage and Jim Crow Laws is justifcation enough for reparations ad there are millions of living victims from it...my folks being among them. But I guess our nation will wait till they die off before they recognize the injustice...but then say its too late to do anything because all the victims are now dead....so to bad. Anyway, my Dad said that sometimes the land owner or other whites would come and try to take some of the food that my folks were allowed grow for their sustenance. But my grand daddy didn’t take not slit. He would chase them off with his shot gun, but that only made things worse in the long run. Everyone worked out in the field too. From the youngest to the eldest. One day the land owner came buy and asked my grand daddy why his wife was not out in the field working. My grand daddy told him that he did not see his wife out there working…so why did he expect to see his. Of course…massa didn’t like that and try to punish the family by paying them even less for the work.

My grand daddy used to sell coal on the side that they would make from burning wood. He would travel through the Mississippi Delta country side on the weekends selling coal. He even had a rap to his game. He would yell out “ Charcoaaaaaaaalllllllll Mannnnn…..travelin thru da land….I’m black….charcoal black…sell my charcoal two bit’s a sack! “ I am extremly proud of the perserverance of my folks to get through what they endured.

My folks never got much education…because they needed to be out in the field to help the family survive. When my grand folks died. My Daddy moved up North and Married my mother, who was from his home county back in Mississippi. That is how I got here. We lived in Detroit and Grand Rapids Michigan, originally my folks settled in Detroit then Grand Rapids. It always seemed like we lived in tough neighborhoods. There were two people murder right in front of our home on different occasions. Other times I would see robbing, stabbings, shooting periodically. Street fighting was a weekly norm among youth and even some grown folks over the year and Police shoot outs once penetrated our home. It did not seem that bad growing up though it was kind of exciting when your young and feel invincible. The innocent rarely got victimized...not like it is today. That was just slit that happened and you just figured everyone dealt with it.

I was the youngest and had a tough older brother who sold drugs. He had a brand new ride in the 8th grade. Not too many cats messed with me because of my brother. He used to tell me about shoot outs that he was in and tell me about some cats he was with getting their heads blown clean off in robberies because they would not give up the goods. If you looked at him though…you could never tell the life he lived. He was really lucky. Never did any major time or suffered any life threatening wounds. Every time my mom heard the sirens…she would freak out because he was never home. He would be gone on two and three weeks stretches at the age of 15. He come back home and he done been in Chicago our down South somewhere hustling.

My other brother was a pure athlete. He was only about 5’10’’ but could dunk a ball 360 without taking any steps. He had a lot of talent, but his knees and Asthma really slowed his future. Plus, he faked an address and went to this suburban school and the racist coach would not play him like he deserved. When he got to college, his college coach called the school and told the coach that he did my brother an injustice because he could not understand why he did not get more playing time with his talent.

Me, I was considered the smart one. I was not really smart. I just went to class and did the work. That alone would get you labeled smart where I am from. That and talking with proper English. Cats thought you was a genius just for putting together a properly formed sentence. However, I cut that out quick as I started to get older. I did not want to draw attention to myself by standing out as someone who was into the books. That did not help your street rep none what so ever.

I played sports too...football and track and field. I was really skinny to the point that my football equipment look like it swollowed me...but I loved football and thought I would become a professional. NOT!

I actually flunked the 11th grade. I actually had no vision of a practical future other than working in some factory. My pops was a janitor and my mom working in a factory and everyone in my community who worked were doing factory work. Those with the Auto manufacturing jobs were considered the rich and elite....and those jobs did pay very well.

I remember my uncles telling me all that I needed to do to get ahead in life. I had a hard time reconciling their knowlege with their status in life. If what they were saying was true...then why did they not do it...I thought. I remeber my first year in college thinking that an Engineer major trained people to conduct trains. I could not figure out what a person needed to go to college for to conduct a train. I had NO CLUE in regards to any profession other than factory work....and the only thing I knew about that was that you come home dirty and tired.

I finished my matriculation from Wayne State University in Detroit in 1993. For a couple of years I felt it was a wasted time in my life because I was still working in factories and not getting any opportunitied in line with my education. Thats when I moved to Minnesota and found it to be the most hospitable place that I had ever been.

When I got my first real IT job....I could not believe the salary they were paying me. I was really intimidated and thought that they would be making me work like a dog for that money(in retrospect...I learned my starting salary was peanuts in the industry). After about a year on the job, I learned that the people who really worked hard were the people without college degrees...like my folks and me before I landed that job. I was sent to training all over the country. I went to California about 4 times, Florida, Colorodo, Chicago and Atlanta. I stayed in expensive hotels, had large expense budget for food.

Originally, since we were responsible for making our own travel arrangments and accomidations, I would pick the cheapest places to stay and would eat at Mcdonalds and stuff....until I saw were the white guys were staying at and that they were expensing 50$ mills (one mean mind you). I did not go as far as them, because I know a brother cannot due what white folks do. As soon as I would have done it....I am sure that the whole thing would have come under review and scrutiny.

One of the biggest things that shaped my commitment to the struggle of black people was the striking differneces between were blacks and whites lived while I was growing up and the constant arrest and detainments I had by white police and security guards for things that I never did. When I worked in resteraunts around white people, they would also acuse me of always stealing their tips. The whites that I were around were extemly ignorant and racist...not all of them. But the majority...because they lived in isolation from black people and everthing they believed was based upon stereotypes. I developed a complex so severe that when ever I was around whites and something came up missing...I felt compelled to go out of my way to prove it was not me. I can see very easily how so many black people were locked up for stuff they did not do...I actually thought that would be my fate one day too


At 7:46 AM, Blogger Faheem said...

It is a wonderful thing to know and be able to articulate your family history. I only wish my family would have passed the history of our family down the line. It does not take much to see how the racist history of this nation still affects Black men and women in America today and how that history continue to benefit white folk. Most Black folk do not want our children to witness the crime we witnessed, or grow up in a drug infested neighborhood but most of us who had the privileged of growing up around all Black folk would love to have that for our children. Your journey Noah reads like the journey many of us have undertaken and that is part of our history as it relate to being Black in America, even before mass media, our experiences all over this country were basically the same, so much that when we met in places outside of our hometown we could tell stories that were familiar to us all. Thanks for the insight into your life and history.

At 3:43 PM, Blogger Noah TA said...

When I look at my families journey through time and places, as well as my own, I do believe that our tale is the average or median tale of black people. I truth, most of the brothers and sister that I know of had it worse than us or me, in summation.

The truth is, as Faheem pointed out, we as black people generally have a very similar base experience. However, every life and experience is unique. Some people will invariable always ask why did I “make it” while other blacks did not…even those who may have had a better history than I. That can be answered with the “butterfly effect” theory, that says that outcomes can and do change exponentially from a given initial condition. That is because so many thousands of variable come into play…each one having the potential ability to radically change or alter the trajectory of life.

I look back upon my life and there were sooooo many situations that could have gone a different way, that could have radically set me back in life. I was no saint. I did thing that I got away with. Had I been caught, I know my life would have changed radically for the worse. There was even a time when I was preparing to blast this cat. I had the motive, I had the means and I had the opportunity. Come time when I was preparing to make my move…the cat had been caught up in a police raid on a drug house…and he ended up doing some hard time. I that event had not taken place….the police raid. Who knows? I could be in jail for smoking him. I could be dead from him smoking me….or whatever…or I could have punked out.

I mean it is like a squirrels life. One day I forgot something and had to go back in the house to get it. To a squirrels bad luck….the timing of the event had us crossing paths at the exact same time…to its misfortune as my car is much bigger that it was. That is how life is. We all may have very similar initial conditions as black people, but one single event can potentially and does radically change the direction and outcome of life. Too many people assume that because they achieved success , after having a similar initial conditions as many others, that others had just as much opportunity to reach the same heights as they have. But that erroneously presupposes that everyone’s life is a clone when it is not.

At 12:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lovely pictures and inspiring message. The little empress is adorable.

I truly enjoyed reading your tribute Noah. It was almost like reading my own family history and experience.

I agree that having a similar condition does not mean all of us have the same opportunity or motivation to make the right decisions that drive change. The right decisions can build momentum. Just as the wrong ones can break it quickly. I had friends and relatives who had the same opportunity to achieve success but made poor choices which cost some their lives.

In contrast, I have friends who made good decisions and faced obstacles that set them back and they never recovered. There are others who against the odds when on to become first generations to attend and finish college. Some friends and relatives didn't attend college but became entrepreneurs and are doing well.

Ultimately, I believe a person’s success depends upon his or her motivation and willingness to take advantage of opportunities. Regardless of social condition there has to be a driving force within the person to succeed against the odds. I believe family is the foundation.


At 8:14 PM, Blogger Noah TA said...

I agree with many of your points Len and thank you for your comments. However, many people talk about the root being the choices one makes. I disagree only in that choice is not the root...the root is OPTIONS. From the array of known or percieved options if what people thus choose from. No one acts in a way that is not a calculous to be in their best interest...that goes against the natue of life and the prime directive. What often happens is that people seek immediat gratification and only see life in the short term. Thus, they act in a way to maximize the short term benefits and the trade off or cost is subtracted from their long run. I could never use my own life as inspiration or a blue print for black youth. I actually simply consider myself to be lucky and fortunate. had I been the first born...I would not have had the protection and ability to conentrate on school...I would have had to EARN a rep as my older brother did...which cost him the persuit of his education.

At 7:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Choices are not the root but they are certainly the end result. I was born in late 50s and grew up in the 60s and 70s. I had a lot more options than my parents did. Admittedly, I didn’t become aware of those options until later in life. This is what happens to many of our people. We work with what we know, or what is available to us in our environment. Still the individual has the power of choice. No one can make you do anything you don’t want to do. Sometimes we make choices out of self-interest that we know are unhealthy for us in the long run. Yes, there are root causes for our choices. But the fact remains the individual is accountable for his or her choice.

And I beg to differ that your life is not an inspiration especially to the young man whose present experience is a similar. Your work experience is also an inspiration to many young men and women who face inequality in the workforce. To know that others have similar experiences and are triumphant is encouragement.

Lastly, be it luck or blessing you are here paying tribute your family. There are many young men and women because of their experience are bitter with their family. Your show of respect says a lot about your upbringing.


At 1:50 PM, Blogger Noah TA said...

Thanks so much Len for your kind words. My family is very important to me, the living as well as the deceased. They are who I draw the most inspiration from. Their spirits, challenges, perseverance, wisdom, love, guidance…I all want to give back to my children and other youth. I have a friend who I qualify as my “best”, who does not have the same feeling towards his family as I have for mine. His story is one of those many stories that were filled with far more obstacles in life than mine. He grew up half of his life in a South Side Chicago housing project…one of his brother was killed while delivering papers as a youth there. His mom and a few siblings moved to Michigan into another housing project. To this day, he still lives in this housing project. His mom took out her resentment for his father upon him, because he looked so much like him. Today, he attributes his lack of commitment and affection toward women because of his relationship with his mom. He simply does not trust women. While I was flunking the 11th grade…he was getting all A’s and B’s on his report card. When the person that he loved the most, because they loved him the most, his grandmother, died…it radically shock his foundation. Then not to long after that…his mom died. He and I were roommates in an Apartment in Atlanta at that time. He left Georgia to go back to Michigan because he had a younger brother who was born crippled, deformed and could not talk. He did not want to see his brother be put in a home, so he went back to take care of him by himself. That required nearly 24 hour care and thus he could not work and hence stayed in the projects on government assistance that paid him a little money to keep his brother. I love this brother…life dealt him lemons and he, like most, was not able to make lemonade out of it. He had a bright future if not for his reality. He now regrets his decision to take care of his brother….but knowing his heart…had he not done it would have eaten him up inside…the guilt that is. I know…because we are birds of a feather and that is why we hung together. So let me give a big ups to my boy….I love yah man.


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