Sometimes I don't blog because I feel like I can't tell the whole truth. I try lots and lots of different ways to write things that are provocative but that won't get me in trouble, but I really don't know how to write like that.
I am leaving soon to go to New York City for 11 days. Our film is premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival. I'm doing TV, radio, and more. I did a one hour interview with the NY Times a few weeks ago and another with the Amsterdam News last weekend.
But there is that pesky little problem, that theme that just won't rest. Whenever I think I have a handle on it, it snaps back and knocks me in the face. Family.
The Times reporter wanted to interview my Tornado. When I called to ask her if she was interested in helping tell the story of the first man to ever love her, the man who met her every day when she walked home from school and swooped her up and swung her around and around in the air, when I asked her if she wanted to tell his story to the Times she said no and hung up on me. Last summer she learned for the first time that I was molested. Her only response was to accuse me of using that revelation to tarnish her image. I know, she's broken.
It's always been like this. I've had years and years of counseling over this. It still hurts like hell.
So, why am I downcast tonight? Because I am going to the premiere of my movie alone. None of Booker Wright's children are coming. I tried. I cajoled. I was turned down. Dateline will be there to film me walking into the theater......alone.
This is the story, right? It's because of stuff like this that I have a story at all. My family is broken. I honestly believe that members of my family experienced horrors in Greenwood that left them almost beyond repair. By all appearances they look fine. We all do. But there is something in our family that alters us, traveling like a mark on an unsuspecting chromosome. It makes us act like enemies when really we desire nothing more than one another's company.
Over and over again I ask myself if I'd lived their lives and the lives of my ancestors, what kind of a parent would I be? If I was a man who knew that he could not protect his wife from rape or his children from being sold into slavery, could I ever give my heart to them? Would I ever look into their sweet, unknowing eyes? Would I ever even smile at them? Would they be able to give their hearts to their own children? How many generations would have to pass for this to heal?
What if I was a black woman living in Greenwood where the only way out was for the right man to get me pregnant? What if romantic love was a luxury that only white people got to indulge in? What if I couldn't look for love, I could only look for economic security? What kind of a family would I form with that man?
What if I lived in Greenwood in the 1960's as a sharecropper with too many mouths to feed? My oldest children miss school to work the fields, their younger siblings miss school to care for their even younger siblings. It's all I can do to make it through the day before falling into bed each night. Every morning I wake up in a panic, wondering how I will feed my children. I don't read books to them at night. We can't afford books and I don't have the energy. When they do go to school, I don't understand their homework. I don't think about how to create complex, deep character in them. I don't teach them to love Sinatra or fret over which piano teacher will be best. I just pray that the boys don't end up in jail and that the girls don't get pregnant. That's all I've got, because I'm black and I'm from Greenwood.
This is the mark that stains us. There's more of course. Alcoholism, incest, and the like. Children robbed of the innocence of their childhood, only to have it replaced by fear. Then they grow up and have children of their own. But no matter how far we stray one thing will always be true: We started out in Greenwood.
I left there when I was two, but I still seem to wear the mark. Will my children wear the mark? Will they read this and understand that each day that I parented them I was inventing it out of thin air? Like trying to write a symphony with only a few music lessons to call upon.
Most of us have never contemplated or meditated on what it would feel like to be a grown black man who is called "boy" by a white child. Most of us have never considered how a black waiter might feel every time he adopts an awkward high pitched voice and smiles the smile of the jolly negro so that he can keep his job. Consider this: How does one live a humiliated life and then go home and give gifts of love and character to their children?
When I first learned that my grandfather was an unacknowledged civil rights figure, the first person I called, with tears and excitement, was someone in my family. The next call was someone else in my family. So was the next one and the one after that. I felt so excited and so honored to be able to gift my family with a kind of celebration of him. I felt like I had been called to tell his story. Last year when we started making the film it felt like something bigger than me was making this whole thing possible.
For months I have imagined attending the premiere. I always, always, always imagined that my dad, my mom, my aunt, my brother, and my children would all be there with me. I imagined that we'd be high and giddy with joy - unable to contain our smiles. I imagined that we'd feel special, together. I am trying to hold onto the specialness of this vision, while letting go of everything else. It's in moments like this that I wish celebrity and media meant more to me. But they don't.
I long for my family. I am 37 years old and I am still listening like an eager child for their congratulations. But they won't be there. I will be alone to celebrate a man that I never met who loved them desperately. I guess it's fitting. Booker and I started this journey alone - no one in my family knew about his appearance in Frank's doc - so, I'll finish it with him alone. I will imagine myself holding Booker Wright's hand, while he whispers his thanks and congratulations to the little girl in me.
But this is the point, right? This is the story, right? It's entertaining, right?