Monthly Archives: November 2012

I Know My Roots and Where I Come From: Do You?

Kuuleme T. Stephens

I often find it funny when other Black folks come at me stating “You have forgotten where you come from” or “You are racist against your own and hate yourself for being Black”. Even people I grew up with throughout Elementary School, Jr. High, and High School, often use those phrases with me! I find it funny because, I know very well where I came from and I am very proud of my heritage and who I am! Just because I don’t hang out in the club or with the gangs, do drugs, and am not dependent on a man or Welfare System doesn’t mean I’m not Black or have forgotten anything. Just because I speak proper English, disagree with the way things are going in our Black Community and in our Society is today, doesn’t mean I have forgotten where I come from or hate my own race. People who think that are only proving just how ignorant Society has become. This is just a glimpse of how I grew up!

While I was growing up as a child, I was raised by my Great Grandparents. My Great Grandmother is 95 today, so you could say I grew up a little closer to Slavery times than most! Lol!  My younger sister and I grew up thinking that our Great Grandparents were our parents until we were around the ages of 10 and 11 years of age. Everyone that knew us also thought that our Great Grandparents were our parents as well. It was a well-kept family secret for a long time! We actually found out the truth when we were snooping in places (as most children do) when we weren’t supposed too. Our actual parents were drug addicts. We didn’t know them at all. Our mother passed away from a Heroin overdose when I was around 2 years of age and we never were allowed around our father much, due to he was a drug addict and in and out of prison throughout our childhood and teenage years. He later ended up dying in 2001 with us knowing very little about his life.

While being raised by our Great Grandparents, everyone knew very little about our home life and how we were raised. People got to see what we wanted them to see. Just as in many families and circles, you tend to hide what you think are embarrassing parts of your life from your peers for fear of being ostracized. During school age years you want to be able to fit in and be cool just like everyone else. What I thought was embarrassing about my life growing up, has actually turned out to be the best thing that could have ever happened to me. Some of you may already know the history of my actual parents and know that my sister and I were raised by my Great Grandparents. Well, let me give you all a little more insight into my history, my immediate family, and how I came to be the person I am today.

My Great Grandmother ran the household and was very strict. My Great Grandfather carried little weight in our household, especially when it came to disciplinary actions. As a child in our household, you learned respect even if it had to be beaten into you. Children did not sit on the furniture they sat on the floor. Children did not speak while adults were talking, unless they were spoken too. You did not talk back (no matter how unfair something maybe) and you did as you were told. You made your bed every morning and you did not sit on your bed during the day, you kept your room spotless, and by no means did you ever shut the door to your bedroom in our household. Lights were to be out and you were to be in bed by 10pm. Boys were not allowed as school was the highest priority and the use of Ebonics in our house was not allowed at all. You spoke proper English in our house if you opened your mouth, and if you didn’t, you would be corrected real quick and sometimes a pop in the mouth would accompany the correction. We had one television growing up, and as kids, you watched what the adults were watching. These rules applied no matter how old you were as well. If you were still living at home under Granny’s roof, these rules still applied.

My Great Grandmother was born in 1918. She was raised by her father. From what I was told her father was a very mean and strict man and he was very big on discipline. During those days they had to be, because it could mean life or death in the climate our society was in at the time. My Great Grandmother has a firm belief in “Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child”. She learned that from her father. She had such a firm belief in the slogan that she even had her own Switch Bush growing right outside the back door of our house so that when we got into trouble, we didn’t have very far to go to pick our own switch to have our butts whooped. Heaven forbid you picked a small one that broke too, because then she would beat you with it till it broke, then go out and get her own to finish your whoopin’ and be mad as hell in having to do so! We learned very quickly growing up in her household that you might as well pick a good one and get it over with!

Switches weren’t the only disciplinary tool of our household either. There was always the good old fashion fly swatter, a leather belt, a yard stick (which she kept behind her seat at the dining room table) were also popular items. She was very handy with a comb and brush as well. Basically, you name it; we’ve been hit with it!  We also knew not to stand with-in arms reach of Granny too. My Great Grandmother is a big woman with some big hands and she was quick to snatch you up if you were with-in reach! One time my little sister went to school with a hand print in her face, because she made fun of our Granny chewing her food (she had false teeth that made a smacking noise) at the table. I made the mistake of laughing (out loud) at my sister when she got smacked, and got the yard stick broken across my back because I couldn’t get under the table quick enough. The only “time out” Granny believed in was the time you got sent to your room after you got your butt whooped or your head spun, and believe me, you welcomed that time out!

Growing up in Granny’s household was a lot of work! If we wanted something, we had to earn it. There were no free rides in Granny’s house. In the mornings before school, Granny would wake us up when the sun came up to do yard work for an hour. Then we would come in, shower, set the table for breakfast and help cook, eat breakfast, and then go to school. After school we would have chores to do around the house (dusting, sweeping, vacuuming and such), yard work till the sun went down, shower, and then preparations for dinner. After dinner we would wash the dishes (by hand), do our homework then get ready for bed. We truly grasped the meaning of working from sun up till sun down growing up.

During our time growing up in Granny’s household, free time was not necessarily free time to do as you please either. Granny strongly believed that if you were not busy doing something, then you had plenty of time to get into trouble and she wasn’t having any of that! We were involved in Ballet, Modern Dance, Gymnastics, Girl Scouts, Soccer, Orchestra, Bible Bowl, Choir, Summer Youth Programs, Youth to Work Programs, Church Camp, Cheerleading and Cheer Camp, Bowling League, Swimming, numerous Clubs, and almost everything that could possible keep a child busy. With all of the extra-curricular activities we were involved in, practice was a required thing too. At the same time we were expected to keep our grades up (which meant no C’s, D’s, or F’s) in school and do our chores as well. These things didn’t pay for themselves either and it didn’t matter whether or not we wanted to do these things or not.

If we wanted the latest toy, we had to pay for it ourselves. If we wanted the cool shoes or clothing (Granny made a lot of our clothes), we had to pay for it with our own money. We also had to pay for our own school supplies, school lunches, club dues, uniforms, instruments, every cost we incurred for our extra-curricular activities; we had to pay for ourselves. Our Great Grandparents had very little money, yet my Great Grandmother refused to take Welfare from the State. The State had offered to help her adopt me and my sister in order to pay her as a Foster Parent, but she refused that too. She didn’t see fit to be dependent on the Government to provide for her family. She said as long as she could work, we would get by and that was enough.

There were various ways of paying for the things we wanted (and for the things we did not want). We would get a weekly allowance for doing our chores and yard work. For the amount of chores and yard work we had, the pay was not even close to being compensation! On the weekends in the early mornings, we would go dumpster diving with my Great Grandfather scavenging for cans and bottles to take and sell. Our Great Grandparents cleaned offices in the evenings on the weekends to supplement their retirement checks (so when we were old enough to dust and clean correctly) we were allowed to go with them and help them clean in order to make extra money as well. Both my sister and I became very good salesmen too, so school and club fund-raisers help pay for a lot of the things we were involved in. We were always the top sellers of Girl Scout Cookies, Calendars, Candy, Advertisements, and anything else that came our way to help pay for things.

Growing up with my Great Grandparents seemed so rough to me when I was young. As a child in Granny’s house, you were forced to grow up, be responsible, and mature quicker than most. Not being able to go to the parties with my friends, go to a lot of the dances, and just do normal kids stuff, seemed so unfair then. Now looking back, it was the best place I could have had to grow up! I learned how to be a good, productive, self-reliant, respectable person. I learned that I alone am responsible for the good and bad decisions I make in my life and to blame no one but myself if I fail. I learned that if I fail or don’t attain the result I want; to go back to the drawing board, fix what needs fixing and try again until I succeed. I was well prepared when it came time for me to be in the real world on my own as an adult. Granny taught us that there is nothing that you can’t do if you put your mind to it and she was right!

I used to complain about being treated as if I were a Slave or House Maid growing up under my Granny’s roof. She would often tell me that I must not be one if I’m still alive and have the energy to complain. She would sometimes speak of what her days were like growing up. She didn’t get the choice to attend school. Instead she had to pick cotton, take care of her younger siblings, keep house, cook and sometimes even hunt for their dinner. Her life was a lot harder than mine, and she always said that if she could do it then I can do it!

I have come a long way from growing up a poor kid in Sugar Hill (which some refer to as the ghetto) and dumpster diving for cans and bottles, to where I am today. I didn’t get to where I am today by waiting on the Government to take care of me. I didn’t get to where I am today by riding on the backs of others and expecting them to pay my way. I got here by setting goals, not hindering myself by color, learning from my mistakes and getting up again, and a lot of hard work. I also didn’t get to be where I am today by forgetting who I am or where I come from. I got to where I am today by remembering who I am, what I was taught growing up, and where I come from.

So before you accuse anyone of forgetting their roots or of self-hatred, be sure you yourself know where they come from before you open your mouth and insert you foot. The Blacks that came here as Slaves, and that lived as Slaves, were not a lazy people. They worked their behinds off. The Blacks that came after them worked hard and didn’t expect hand outs either. There’s a difference between wanting equality and wanting everything handed to you.  It seems to me that you younger generation Blacks may have forgotten your roots and where you come from…………….

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