We have begun to raise our fists in solidarity. Black Power is loud, no longer patient or kind but boastful and proud. When I wear my hair natural that’s black power. As I face all of the evil stares of disbelief and smile, I feel the most powerful. Black Power isn’t passive or is it? I think that’s what I love most about my people. We’re so versatile in how we get our message(s) across; our collective confidence is sexy. Whether we’re taking a stand against an injustice, marching, or burning everything to hell, it’s clear that we have power too. Real power. Our strength is driven by an inner love, that we never really had, but know it exists. Our power is driven by many desires inclusive of equality. Respect on every plane of life and full acknowledgment that we are deserving of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We are a natural, passionate people who are consistently mistreated (without apology). Well, now we won’t apologize. After all, how can we apologize for adapting to this cruel world and somehow finding a chance to find self-love and a love for our brothers and sisters? How can anyone not understand or be mad at that? My pop pop always said, “even if there weren’t a black voice left in all the world our people would still have dominion; it’s something in our eyes, the way we walk and the way we’re able to change the course of history even if it’s unintentional.”
I only saw a shadow at the front door before my mom slammed it closed, but a little glimpse was all I needed to know exactly who it was. “You better stay away from that boy” my mom came storming into the kitchen with a few of my books (that were purposely left on the school bus earlier this afternoon). Literature book in hand, she pointed straight at me, “here, looks like you forgot something important on the bus today.” See, it’s not Buddy that my mom hates it’s his family, no- it’s the presence of his family in our neighborhood. I don’t think anyone in my community likes anyone with the last name ‘Black.’
I thought to myself “who is this glorious boy in front of me and why is his hair so frighteningly attractive?” Buddy, his brothers, and sisters all look the same (but you’d be able to tell Bud apart). He was confident in his walk, and he liked to use words I can’t begin to spell let alone know their meaning. Buddy Black speaks loud, he’s pretty, the type of pretty like maybe he should’ve been born a girl, but at the last minute, God changed his mind. I was staying very far away from Buddy, despite what my mom thought. I never dared to say anything to him anyway. I mean, it was even this one time I saw Buddy in the grocery store he said hello, and I fell, literally fell into the free sample counter. Tripping over my own two feet while standing still because I was stuck.
My dad said that only dirty, unkept people had dredlocks and shame on his parents for not setting a better example. Everyone in the neighborhood talked about the Blacks, and it made me uncomfortable. Ever since school started, I’ve set this goal to get closer to him. I always just watched him in admiration, Buddy Black.
Buddy was the biggest crush I’ve ever had, and he was just here, on my doorstep, returning my books. He knows me; he knows who I am! Well knew me until Nora scared him away. Anyway, who is this guy that goes by the surname Black? Doesn’t his father know that’s a color it isn’t a name at all? Then I get to thinking deep like perhaps his family descended from the motherland herself and maybe she gave them that name. I know he had another name, but of course, I’ll never find out the details because I can’t talk to him.
I have never experienced a longer weekend. I rehearsed my “thank yous” over and over. I need to see Bud but how am I getting out of this house? Nora has horse ears and hawk vision; just waiting to swoop down on me and grip me with her talons. I needed to get to Sage Avenue, and that was three blocks up and two over. Buddy wouldn’t be that hard to find all I needed was fifteen minutes 2 times. You can hear his house from here, just follow the bullhorn. It’s been that way ever since his family moved out West or so I’ve heard. I’ve only lived out here for two years ever since my dad got tired of me living with him.
Finally, I took my books upstairs to start on my essay; thinking out loud “I can’t stand the smell of pigs feet.” When I reached the top of the stairs, I could barely smell anything, but as I quickly came back to reality, I realized a note on a small green piece of paper fell out of book. It read “free your mind, expand your knowledge beyond these books, you’ll see there’s so much more to this life.” The way it was written I thought maybe it was my teacher, but at the very end it was signed “your bud.”
Cattle or nah?
The Blacks’ house is huge. I mean everyone’s house in West looks the same, but the Blacks added to the top of theirs making it look even huger. I was attracted to that house almost as much as I was to Buddy. “A person will ignore his pride when he hears what’s right; an unjust man will ignore what is right and hold onto that goddamn pride!!!”- Mr. James screamed through the blow horn every day. My mom called him uncouth. She doesn’t talk to me about the things we hear Mr. James say. I hint it’s because she thinks I’m too young to understand, but I do understand. What Nora’s explaining is sweet and sugary, Mr. James is raw uncut and unapologetic. A strong brown man is addressing his community, making people feel uncomfortable but having them think simultaneously. His words seemed harsh, but if you listened, you’d find a message filled with love. I heard small bits of encouragement while warning our people not to conform but to live their authentic, natural lives as nature entailed, adopting a healthier way of thinking. Buddy was lucky to have his dad.
“Are we a free people who can live however we want or are we cattle?” Mr. James was protesting all of the horrible things that go on in Philly and across the country. Brown people are being terrorized every day, and the only people who seemed to be upset were my neighbors and upset at the fact that someone had an open opinion about it.
I purposely tried to miss my school bus on Monday’s so I could walk to school but good ol Nora, the early bird, made sure I was up, suited and booted lunch and backpack in hand ready for me to go. She wouldn’t go back in the house until she saw me step on the bus. The bus is always packed before it gets to my block, Grand high is a straight shot from here so my ride would be quick and awkward as usual. I bravely stepped up on the bus and just like I thought the only seat available was all the way in the back. It was painful walking past every pair of eyes glued to my face, but once I realized the empty seat was next to the big-haired angel, I smiled big. That was the first time I was able to make an expression toward buddy and keep it consistent and not make a huge fool out of myself. I sat down and said thank you, then not another word the whole ride Buddy was busy writing in his journal, and I just watched. That was the last time Buddy rode the school bus.
A couple of weeks went by, and still, I haven’t seen Bud in school. Once again, despite what my parents said, I found myself in front of that house. Yeah, I had four fifteen minutes to spare before Nora was supposed to be home, so I took full advantage. When you’re on Sage ave, you may not be able to see the Blacks’ house, but you could always hear, but this time it wasn’t Mr. James on the roof it was commotion and screaming.
I’ll never forget the blood, all the blood pouring from their faces. I let out the loudest shriek and cry where was Bud? Standing there only thirteen years old, I knew hate, the definition of actual racism and I was witnessing the brutal treatment of people who looked like me. I was terrified. I’ve never seen so many police officers in one place at the same time ever in my life. There was over a dozen, and they were all running into the Blacks house and in no time returned out dragging Mr. James. I saw Buddy’s mom Angela thrown down the stairs in handcuffs and nothing to brace her fall on the concrete. I’ll never forget this day how they were treated less than human; they were the most significant people I’d never known. They never hurt anybody, that didn’t deserve it.
I stood there frozen in shock as everything around me continued to move so fast in a single moment my shocked gaze latched onto Mr. James and for the moment we locked eyes I heard him say so much without saying anything at all. I heard him loud and clear as if he wasn’t bloody face down but stand tall on his roof screaming into his blow horn for the entire neighborhood to hear.
I ran home, so fast that I felt like I was flying at one point. Every time I blinked, I saw a bloody Mr. James, and honestly, that made me run even faster. In 2 ten minutes, I was finally home. I saw Ms. Laura 2 five minutes back, and I’m sure in no time Nora will know where I was. “School is over at 3 pm young lady!” Where’s your mother? Didn’t you see all of those cops why you over here?” I heard her questions, but my feet wouldn’t allow me to stop. They had a mind of their own. The last thing I heard her say was the same thing as Nora “you better stay away from that house and that boy!”
When I got home I went straight into my room to bury my face into my pillow and cried harder then I’d ever cried before. I get it. The warnings. But at the same time, the reasons I am warned to stay away from are the very reasons I am drawn to Bud. I’m not staying away from him or his house, I want to learn from them and spend as much time as I can. That night I had a dream I was apart of their family. My name was Mystic Black, and my hair stood tall and was just as thick as Mrs. Angela. There was glitter all over my body, and Buddy who was standing right in front of me could hardly look at me because my face shined so bright. In the very next moment I looked at him, and his face was like mine, then it wasn’t; it was covered in blood.
I wish this were a grand story with a happy ending but to be honest, it’s hardly that simple to put into words what it was like to live in West Philly with the Blacks. They seemed to bother everyone but a few (including me). I’m so shy, and I hardly talk I just observe and watch people, you get to learn so much more, and I think that what sets me apart. I don’t talk about the Blacks I’ve learned to listen and observe, and in that, I was able to form my own opinion.
Am I a creep or a typical 9th grader? I guessed last week when I left my books behind, in a way I knew Bud, in all his bravery, would come to my house and face Nora. Even if he didn’t, I hated school so losing my books put me in a win/win situation. What I didn’t plan was how hard I’d fall for him and his entire family.
The incident with the Philly police and Bud’s parents grew Bud and I closer. We started hanging out after school, “drama club” I called it, and Nora went along with it for a while. We skipped the school bus almost every afternoon now just to walk together. Our time together was spent having the deepest conversations, and finally, I’ve found someone I can be myself around. Buddy talked so much about living a natural life free from the “constraints of society” and free from technology. I mean, I like tv, but I like Buddy more. Buddy talked to me about how important my body was and talked about how I should watch what I put into it. Finally mature conversations free of sugar coating. It was all new knowledge I didn’t know I fiend for until I got a small taste. Bud helped me think outside the box; I was conditioned to a life that, as Buddy would say, was “controlled by the system.” I always thought the “system” was technology or maybe even the food industries the more I hung around this guy, the more I learned.
After a couple of months of walking and talking with Bud, the guy I was utterly fascinated with, I finally mustered up enough courage to ask about his family’s name “Black.” Where did that name originate? Was he born with that name? Or was it made up as our teachers said? Buddy, with a huge smile, began to tell me all about his father’s organization “MOVE-on” and its legacy. I would always hear people whisper and call them radical; Buddy corrected that by saying they were liberal and explained the difference to me.
“Our people are hurting, my family has taken on the mission of healing.” the wind carefully carried Mr. John’s voice, and today it wasn’t the usual intense, fiery, or the usual demanding message. His words sounded different, it was kind of melancholy, and from the look on Bud’s face, I could tell that something made him uncomfortable after hearing his father’s words.
I hadn’t enough courage to ask him anything else, so we just walked silence for a minute. After a short silence, Bud picked up where he left off. “MOVE-ON is all about building up strong minds within our people who can break free from the slave mentality and step up to be the leaders, doctors, and teachers.” Buddy taught me his family’s beliefs that we are equal to all living beings.
He had a way of explaining life so that I could see it. He painted pictures without using paint or brushes. Natural law, the order of life, and power of the truth were their morals. I wanted to live by those colorful morals. Nora would say that for every action there’s a reaction. How about when the script is flipped? Does the cause and effect rule only apply to agencies or are us little people important at all?
A lot of Philly jobs moved overseas, and as a result, there are a ton of empty factories and a lot across the city, and they’re just abandoned. Buddy and I looked at a lot of them, even went in a few to plan out our joint business. All we saw was an opportunity, and for the first time, I started thinking on a broader scale, not selfishly but an advancement of my people.
First buddy and I would go to North and scope out the small buildings where we could start having our meetings, Mr. James could do him, and maybe we could throw a couple of community parties. All of the party suggestions were my ideas (I’m still working on Buddy, and his willingness to mingle and be social). What a better way to bring the community together with the Blacks? Buddy was not amused.
The Blacks just want to solve the many problems in our community by encouraging a healthy lifestyle and by not being afraid to voice their unpopular opinion and never doing any of it quietly. “You don’t always have to be loud to be heard” My teachers would make sly remarks in class, and I always knew what and who they were referring. Although that may be true, one thing I’ve learned is that you have to be willing to listen to people with other views than your own. If people are not willing to listen, then give them no choice.
Buddy was different with me, and I just wanted more people to see this side of him. I loved him and how he was able to break down the unbreakable. Buddy would follow in his father’s footsteps and begin having small teachings after school about love, life and the future of our people. His face would always start off intense and dangerous, but that didn’t last long. Eventually his furrowed brows would relax, and he would wear a big bright smile (sarcasm filled our course) I think he’s just mocking mine. I saw Mr. John in him always. I know he’ll make a great dad someday.
Angela, Jessie, Charlene & Moses
I love when Buddy and his little sister would debate over Angela Davis. One thing I had in common with his sisters was the love we had for Ms. Davis. Women’s rights and equality was my thing, the topics that I spoke most about in the teachings and debates I went to with buddy. I learned the more I talked, the more I didn’t know much, well…there’s just people with so many different views, so it’s not that I didn’t know anything at all, I just didn’t know the half.
Among these talks with Buddy and his sisters, we learned (from each other) about some of the other greats we never talk about in schools like Mandela and WEB Dubois and how being outspoken, assertive, and loud is not always a bad thing; black power is confident.
I mean we would go on and on about different people and buddy wouldn’t say a word he’d just listen, he was that type. If he didn’t know much about a particular thing he’d hear, then look up the information himself and learn as much as he can so the next time the topic came up in a conversation you’d get pummeled entirely with facts and his “well did you know.” This particular day Buddy talked about Jessie Jackson’s candidacy and about how Regan and the way some activist, including Angela Davis fought for the agenda for uplifting Jessie and how 90 percent of African Americans voted against Regan.
He was proving the point that there’s a power in numbers when we all work together even when we may not like each other there’s an underlying love between all black people. Buddy called that real black power. He taught me that the real power stems from life, self-love and how you can put aside your shit for your people and he called that true black power.
Plans for reducing the military budget and the promotion of women in politics by being the first to suggest a woman on a ticket as his running mate (black power/love). The first party to put women on a presidential ticket. At that moment I daydreamed a woman as president. If I were Shirley, Charlene, Charlotta, or Angela and I somehow got that spot…the first thing I would do is to free all my people, I’d March right to the top of the capital hill with my squad, and like Moses, I’d scream “let my people go!” Then lay down the holy book of law and remind them whose land this is.
Enemies of the state
Buddy and I shared a lot of firsts. Before I met him words were just that; only words. For example, terrorism was just a word, a foreign concept but Buddy was the first to teach me about it. I loved the classes I had with Buddy; sometimes I felt like I learned less from my teacher Mrs. Riley and more from Bud. He carried a lesson with him always. I brought all this up to tell you about a debate Buddy was having with Mrs. Riley one day. You see, Mrs. Riley, along with the other teachers at Grand High treated the Blacks like terrorists. Mr. James took the four youngest out of their elementary schools for homeschooling because of the stories the youngest would come home with.
When I looked into Bud’s face, his eyes showed no emotion. He stated his case clear, confident, not scared. He explained while addressing the classroom, that “the definition of a terrorist is an enemy of the state, a dangerous man.”
I zoned out and thought about a couple of months ago when I was frozen, standing in front of Mr. James, his bloody face, and his nonresistant wife being thrown down in front of the whole neighborhood. They were being treated less than human. How could they be the terrorist? They were confronted and brutalized by over a dozen of members of law enforcement who didn’t hesitate for a second to use excessive force despite the two six-year-olds twins standing on the top floor of the window. On that day Mr. James was beaten by terrorists.
I snapped out of my daydream just in time to hear the last of what Buddy was saying “we’ll never give into the powers that be.” Mrs. Riley just sat down in her chair with an angry pink face for the rest of our period. When the bell rang, it was a relief for her, more than us. That wasn’t the first time I saw Buddy get into a heated discussion with his father and the lies spread by people who just didn’t understand.
The presence of the Blacks offended people. The presence of the Blacks in our community disrupted some people, people were always complaining and petitioning their household, but no one understood. It’s a conditioned way of thinking. The slave mentality. Buddy called them robots, and he told me he loved me because I wasn’t one.
On our walk home the same day, Bud pointed out that his father was acquitted of all the charges brought against him by the government. I didn’t understand what charges he was talking about, I just listened. Then I thought it was all ridiculous after all where would Mr. James get a bomb from? More importantly, where are all these automatic weapons hiding? And who are they using them for? I know that they love the community it was evident that it was the Philadelphia police department they hated. Again, I couldn’t blame them..it’s the reaction. Today we walked a different way home, we wound up behind the Black’s house, and Buddy invited me in. I guess I finally get to see…
After a couple of years, Bud and I became best friends, and I fell deeper in love with him. Often I thought about what we would do after we graduated. Would we go to college together, maybe we would go to Africa and disappear… would we get married? How many children would we have? Would I have to loc my hair too? I learned so much about myself and how far I was willing to go NOT to become just another number statistic, another added to the herd.
I thought about my history, my actual history and learned about it aggressively. In turn, I learned how to love myself and my people. I appreciated my people so much more knowing what we are capable of how much power we possess. I’m important, and I’m on this earth for a more significant purpose. I was so appreciative to Mr. James for his teachings, I was in love with his son for being patient with me, and I wasn’t afraid to tell him that….not scared to talk to him anymore.
I often think about how my life would be right now if I never left my books on the bus that day…what if I never talked to Bud and followed Nora’s instructions to a “T” and stayed away? Who knew close as we grew to each other, we would continue to experience firsts. I’d never known a broken heart until now. I’d never wanted to die.
I watched myself laying sound asleep. I moved in closer to hear my breath just to check to see if I was alive. I reached my index finger out, and carefully placed it under my nose, not to wake myself but to feel the calm of my breathing. I look like I’m dreaming about Buddy because now I’m smiling. I watch as I remain sleep until something wakes me up. It’s a funny smell. A burning smell. Flesh and gunpowder. As soon as my eyes open, I am in a room filled with smoke. Black gasses pour through the closed windows and doors as if they were wide open. The place is consumed with thick black gasses. I wake up and see buddy lying next to me when I blink he’s gone. The grim reaper is forcing his way into the room to meet my love. But he isn’t here maybe he’s coming for me. I could see Buddy’s face it was right in front of me then it wasn’t. It was mine, face to face with myself once again. Now everything is dark, and I can’t move all I can see is Buddy’s burning body running, running away from me, running into the street.
My body is a temple, a sacred place where purity dwells. I learned about love and what it meant to be a friend, honestly. I miss my best friend I miss my love. I lost him only in a physical sense; he’ll live forever. I feel him every day, his spirit and love. I can hear him now “a smile is free, but it’s the best gift you can ever give me in this ugly old world.” He was the most influential person tough and stern with everyone but me; we were different.
I lost everything on my 16th birthday. The sounds of gunshots tore us out of our sleep. Before I could make a wish, we were on our feet scrambling for our clothes. I could only find my shirt and a pair of shorts, so I grabbed them as Buddy ran out of his room naked to find his family and to see what was going on, met with nothing but smoke and commotion I was right behind him. Then I was thrown over his shoulder running in the opposite direction. I couldn’t hear or see anything at this point. My ears were pinging, and my eyes were burning. I shut my eyes so tight hoping to wake up from this nightmare, but I couldn’t escape this time, this was my reality.
I clenched onto buddy’s neck so tight I don’t know how he drew any breath. We ran, finally entering the back room, I was instructed to climb out of the window but I couldn’t. How could I leave bud? What the hell is going on? With a kiss he let me know there was no time for a debate. Not this time. He told me he loved me as I climbed out of the window and onto his roof; that was the best gift I could’ve gotten that day, but the feeling of never seeing him again overpowered that feeling. I wasn’t ready to look at him for the last time. Standing on the roof three stories up high I could see everything. I saw nothing, but I saw everything.
There were smoke and chaos. Police officers were performing their executions, police running into Buddy’s house killing anyone trying to leave out. The onlookers were saying nothing just looking; the whole neighborhood was only watching. Then there it was I’ll never forget the loud roar of the helicopter as it vibrated the entire block, it made me drop to my knees when I saw it. Only later to find out that it was responsible for transporting the explosives that were then dropped on the Black’s house and burning the entire neighborhood.
As jumped onto the neighbor’s deck something else caught my eye. There he was, my father, standing in front of the police officers as their commissioner, the one calling the shots. I hated him. Before I jumped onto that back balcony, I screamed so loud, so many tears poured out of my eyes and snot covered my face I can hardly see or breathe. When I finally reached the ground in the back alley I saw how the police officers were positioned, standing by the slain bodies, I saw all of buddy’s brothers and sisters except for Buddy and the twins. As I ran fast, but the last thing I was able to catch was the looks of satisfaction from the firefighters as they stood by without any attempt to put out the wild flames from the now burning house. I hated my dad, his posse, and the entire neighborhood for looking but doing nothing.
I saw Ms. Renee, the most honest woman I knew, her house was three houses down from mine; there she was standing in front of her burning home screaming “Jesus!! Jesus!!” I ran through the streets and saw everyone watching their homes burn and how the firefighters let them burn. Everyone homeless in an instance, I desperately searched for Nora. When I found what was left of my home, I found Nora sitting on a huge rock across the street with her face dropped into her hands with one backpack full of memories “I told you to stay away from that boy.”
The One That Got Away
I dreamed of this horrific day before, but all, it was only a dream. Who knew my nightmare would result in 61 houses (including mine) burning down right before my eyes? Sometimes I wish I never made it out of that house. In some ways, I didn’t. I got away, made it back to my mother, yes, but I never saw Buddy get out and that just broke me. I saw a special report on the news a week later and saw the video of Bud running out the house naked and on fire, and I couldn’t live with that. Some people are saying seeing that is what drove me crazy. I guess it’s easier to call me than to admit the truth. Just like in my dreams. Now, it’s my reality, and there’s no more waking up.
“I mean, all that screaming was for nothing. Everything they stood for, what was the point?” Hearing people speak those words on tv just broke my heart. I refused to believe that he’s dead. I’ll always believe that he found another way out and he’s waiting for me somewhere, and maybe it’s just too soon to come back. Forever imprinted in my brain are the images of Buddy’s burning body and the discomfort of knowing that the law enforcement meant to protect us were his demise. I never saw or heard from buddy again.
Nora sent me away to this place not to long after all that. She thinks living VA and in counseling twice a week will help to “make me well again.”
“I explain this to you every day, and we talk about my dreams, but you don’t look interested.” I say to my new doctor but just like the last he just looks up and with the smile says ” I’m here to help you to release the idea of Buddy and to move on from that day.” The day I felt like I lost everything this doctor is telling me that I didn’t. I can tell Dr. Idgaf just doesn’t care. He never makes eye contact with me. Just scribbling words, flipping pages, then scratching some more. If only he were compiling evidence for a lawsuit I desperately want to file against the city of Philadelphia.
How many times can I explain how I feel? Broken. I explain over and over how the police murdered my family and burned my family’s house down AND my father, who could never be a fraction of a man Mr. James was, ordered that bomb.
If only I could have the opportunity to stand tall in a court of law and point the finger toward Philly PD and screamed out loud “Murderers!” That would be only the beginning for justice for Buddy Black. Justice for my neighborhood that was burned down. I’d put my father on the stand and slap him with all this evidence. I’d press him to admit to the courts that this vendetta against the Blacks was personal and it led to a crusade down Sage Ave. Not on battlegrounds but in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. How could any human being have that much hate in their heart to do that?
The world watched the execution and did nothing. ‘They’ say this is the first time in history a bomb was dropped on US soil by our very own government. Everyone watched Buddy run out naked, burning skin melting right off his body. I think she told me that to make me hate my dad even more but that wasn’t possible. There my father stood in front of the crowd, he didn’t have a uniform on that day, but I always recognize him; he stared at the burning house as if he was staring in the Devils face himself and defeated him. I only saw him a few times over the past few years, but I know now just like bud I’ll never see him again.
I only receive a couple of letters here, and the last one I got from Philly mentioned that Bud was sent to live in Florida, some people have been saying that he died in the hospital. I need to know for myself. If there’s a chance in this hell that he’s alive. I’ve been saving for a train ticket ever since I got the letter. If I can get out of here or break out, that’s where I’m going. I’ve written him almost 100 letters, but something’s telling me they’re not making it past this hospital’s front door. Either way, I’ll keep saving my money right now I only have enough for a one way so tomorrow on my 21st birthday I’ll never look back…maybe that’s ok. I’ll never have seen these doctors again. No one will ever tell me again that I didn’t know Buddy or that our relationship was all in my head. Hopefully, I’ll leave here and find someone that’ll really listen and believe me…one day. I’m just tired of people wanting me to just get over it. I can’t move on. Could you?