I was born February 24th of ’62 at Hillman Hospital (when blacks had to enter through a side entrance), better known as University Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama during the height of the civil rights struggle. Before I was the age of seven, four beautiful black girls were killed by a bomb, Medgar Evers was murdered, the Freedom March and Malcolm X’s famous Harlem rally took place, the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts were passed, the Los Angeles Watts riots, and the assassination of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King had occurred. So many fought and died with hopes of ensuring a brighter future for me. An inheritance created through tears, blood and pain that I foolishly squandered.
I grew up playing with childhood friends under the pavilion in Memorial Park on 6th Avenue South with a clear view of the Birmingham City Jail, often observing blacks as they stumbled and staggered after being yanked or dragged from the back of police cruisers and paddy wagons lined up like cabs dropping fares off at a busy airport. We usually found this amusing, especially towards the kids whose relative we recognized. Unaware that MLK may have been observing us from a cell window as he wrote his famous letter exposing other black preachers for their cowardice when asked to face their oppressor. I can’t recall ever hearing our pastor, nor any visiting pastor, at Truelight Missionary Baptist Church speak on racism, civil rights or the black power movement. Or maybe I couldn’t comprehend them as they fox-trotted across the pulpit sounding as if they were coughing up mucus between every third word. And my Grandmother, who was the backbone of our family while living the Black Mammy experience as a maid in white homes, was the secretary of Truelight and a very devoted Christian, thought the pastors could say or do no wrong. The black religious doctrine preached during my youth tolerated the current racial and social system and encouraged their congregation to “stay in their place” in the name of Jesus because they knew how expendable and dispensable black lives were during those times.
Also on 6th Avenue South, between the Birmingham City Jail and my church was a liquor store owned by whites that franchised shot houses run by blacks on nearly every other block in Titusville – contributing to the high rate of alcoholism that flourished in my community – which collected a larger percentage of the welfare checks and food stamps than Greenfront store and Piggly Wiggly combined. My resentment toward them grew deeper each time I had to collect my mother from one of the shot houses or off the street. I’d come to recognize the part each played in turning her from being a loving, nurturing woman for weeks into a miserable drunk the next. If the black churches had united and forced the closing of that liquor store and replaced it with a community center, a Black Panther party office or even a NRA (Negro Resistance Association), would things have been different? Unfortunately, every poverty stricken community across the US wasn’t blessed with pastors as fearless as MLK, fathers with the strength and vision of Malcolm X, nor mothers with the mind set of Angela Davis, but still found a way to work within the perimeter they were slotted to make change.
Neither schools, church, nor village were effective enough in teaching me how to be a strong, responsible black man; but instead, they unconsciously played a part in indoctrinating me into a modern-day institutional slave system. With an absent, deadbeat father and an alcoholic mother on welfare, educated by an inadequate school system and surrounded by pimps, hustlers and drug dealers, I was destined to end up in prison or dead. Where was DHR when my mother stabbed me on two different occasions for trying to prevent her from returning to a shot house? Where was a child psychologist during any of my eleven visits to the juvenile delinquent center? Where was the compassion and understanding from the black Principal of Parker High when he kicked me out for missing too many days, even after I explained how I had to care for my younger siblings when my mother was too drunk to do so? If I were a white kid in Mountain Brook or Vestavia Hills, would someone have noticed? Would anyone have cared?
I was bred to become and remain a part of an economical, political social underclass with barely a molecule of a winning chance. Unable to adequately function except on a certain level, while making asinine decisions through an angry, rebellious state of mind that was motivated by my condition, which was created and purposely designed long before I was born. I didn’t become in conflict with the law because I was black, as the media would have you believe. I developed criminal tendencies because of my environment. And during my nearly four decades of incarceration, I’ve realized that I’d become what my circumstances made me, but not what I might have dreamed of becoming. And that much of the blame for my present plight falls on me, because I always had a choice in every decision I made that led me here.