Saturday, August 20, 2011


Family has been the recurring theme for my week.  On Monday I had a conversation with Raymond DeFelitta about why I was so desperate to find Booker Wright in the first place.  He asked me to write a piece that would pull together how and why this journey began for me and where I am with the journey today.  The idea is to be able to use some of these pieces in voice over in the film to accurately and effectively portray my journey from beginning to end.  All week I've been mulling over what I need to write.  Yesterday I spent a couple of hours writing out my past.  I wrote about how and why I felt so lost in my family.  Much of it probably won't be relevant to the film.  It may or may not be useful for Ray to completely understand the genesis of my deep, lifelong loneliness, but it's there anyway.

Writing it all out was actually a little frightening.  In the life I have today I am somewhat together.  I rarely overreact, I can diffuse angry situations, I try to let my emotions settle before making important decisions, and I am somewhat steady. I'm very different from the little girl who grew up in the house on Tambor Road.  I love her, I would like to reach back and embrace her, but I would never, ever again want to be her.  She was so lost.  I'm not exactly sure how I was able to peel her away and grow into someone else.  It's the not knowing that frightens me.

What if I am somehow thrust back into that murky darkness?  I didn't leave a trail of breadcrumbs for myself.  There was no visible path to safety.  The only logical answer is that I made it out by the grace of God.  He lead me with chords of human kindness and he bound me with ties of love.  There were people along the trail of my past who literally saved my life without even knowing it.  They helped deliver to me the vital emotional nutrients that carried me out of the pain.  For brief moments in time, each of them were a member of the family of my heart.

On my first night in Greenwood with the film crew we did a Q&A with whites and blacks about race relations in their town.  There was a woman there who kept telling me that she knew my grandfather and that she really wanted to speak with me.  She left early so I didn't get to talk to her, but the production team got her phone number.  On my last night in Greenwood she spoke on the phone with David, the producer.  She mentioned, with inaccurate details, an extremely painful and ugly family secret that still brings great pain and humiliation to someone I dearly love.   She also went on to make some very strong accusations about Booker Wright.

The filmmakers plan to interview her on this next trip.

The producer keeps telling me that we're going on a fishing expedition.  We need to record (film) as much as we can so that when they get into the editing room they can make the movie they want to make.  They don't want to find themselves in the middle of editing a scene when they realize that they need one more soundbite to tell the story that evolved in front of them.  I have to say that I get it, but I just don't like it.  I hate that they want to interview people who, 38 years after he was murdered, are happy to tear down my grandfather.

There's another piece to this week's drama.  Someone else in my family did something terrible and criminal.  It's one of the worst things that any human being can do to another one. These acts have nothing to do with Booker Wright.  However, these acts did lead to the family member interacting in a strange and provocative way with Booker towards the end of his life.  I know this makes very little sense.  My mouth is covered with a family-made gag and my hands are tied neatly and lovingly behind my back.  Sorry, reader, I'm not allowed to let you in.

As you've probably guessed, the filmmakers want to explore and touch upon this piece of my family's history as well.  From coast to coast, my family is freaking out.

One of my family members is the sister of the man who committed the terrible criminal acts.  I get the impression that no one in her life, no one she interacts with on a daily basis, knows that she has a close blood relative who is capable of what her brother did all those years ago.  It's understandable why she wouldn't want to go on camera and talk about it today.

One of my aunts read me the riot act last night.  She no longer wants to be involved in the project.  If the film is meant to honor Booker why are we mentioning anything bad.  She believes that if the film acknowledges any of his shortcomings that those will be the only things people remember.  I could go on and on about how I tried to help her see this differently, but even remembering it exhausts me.

I honestly don't know what to do.  I'm in the middle and I feel conflicted.  Raymond and David are on one page while my family is on another.  My family actually wants creative control over what makes it into the film, but they don't understand filmmaking or how to craft a compelling story.  They can't wrap their minds around the possibility that Booker can still shine even if his shortcomings are acknowledged.  They feel out of control.  So do I.

All that I have to hold on to is my trust in Raymond and David.  Luckily, I am convinced that Booker will shine once all is said and done.  I'm quite confident that when my family sees the finished film that they'll understand the filmmakers methods and will feel proud of the product.  I just have to get them to the finish line.  


  1. Dear Yvette,
    I love the sentence in this post: My mouth is covered with a family-made gag and my hands are tied neatly and lovingly behind my back. This sums up the tension that those who write and speak face when we want to share our personal growth without dishonoring family members. With your permission, I would like to share your words in my own teaching.

  2. Teresa, it would bless me to know that my writing has been shared with your students, just let me know what you've got in mind. Please let me know if I can do anything more for you. You can contact me directly through the contact form at the top of this page.