The Writers Voice
When my father graduated, there were no jobs for black engineers in Birmingham. Consequently, one of my father's fraternity brothers suggested he try Atlanta, Georgia. Though our stay was brief, I recall playing on an anthill with a friend where we both wound up bitten. We countered the attack by jumping into the bathtub fully clothed. Beyond that recollection, Atlanta was nothing more than a hazy interlude in our journey to somewhere else. As soon as my father earned a promotion, we relocated to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
My great aunt, who was suffering with bronchitis, came to live with us, because the weather there was perfect for her. She was 102 years old at the time of her visit (she died at the age of 105, her death never made world wide news). Within her lifetime there had been twelve presidents. She had lived through two wars, two conflicts, an energy crisis, Jim Crowe's laws, Willie Lynch theories, the Ku Klux Klan, civil rights marches, and had witnessed the transition to both cars and airplanes. She had outlived two husbands, two brothers, two sisters, all five of her children, and two grandchildren. And because of all this, she felt that when God called her, she would run to Heaven.
You would think that a woman who passed the century mark would be somewhat frail. On the contrary, she was quite the old bitty, always nagging about something, always making reference to the way things used to be done. When she returned to Alabama, I was glad. But I was also saddened by her departure. No matter how often she had nagged me about something it was always for the best, and she would always reward me on those occasions when I was good. At times having her around almost made me feel as though I was back in Alabama.
I would spend a lot of time in my room crying. Remembering how I used to walk to school with my Brother and uncle. Having hot breakfasts (grits, sausage, and eggs). Sometimes we would be late and we would have to go straight to the cafeteria to receive our beatings. You would usually have about 15 to 20 students in line just waiting to be paddled by the principle. Back then corporal punishment was still being widely used. If you talked you received a whack. No homework, fighting or anything small you would be hit. I remember even at the boys and girls club you would also receive a beating if you acted up. Heck, even the whole neighborhood would beat you if you did something wrong. Hard to believe that I would be crying in my room remembering those beatings.
The only thing that kept me going was my first kiss. My second grade class was on a field trip to the planetarium, and just as the movie presentation began this girl leaned over and kissed me. My first reaction was "yuck," mainly because she had stuck her tongue in my mouth and I ended up swallowing her spit. Of course, as the kissing continued, I actually began to enjoy it and was even somewhat upset when the movie finally ended.
Just as quick as the movie ended our stay in Albuquerque ended as well. My father, having received one of those phone calls from a frat brother about another job opportunity, uprooted our family once more. The new position would be with the National Security Agency in Washington D.C. Continuing his quest for affluence, my father seized the opportunity; this time we moved to Potomac, Maryland.
Over time some of the biggest names would move out to Potomac, Maryland. Brokaw, Leonard, Jackson, Barry, and Bonds. Our housing development, better known as Flower Hill, was surrounded by all the conveniences you would expect from a wealthy neighborhood... a grocery store, a McDonalds, an upscale restaurant, a country club/golf course, a Chinese restaurant, and a Radio Shack. If you caught a local bus from the main road of Flower Hill, the rest of Potomac and Gaithersburg was open to you. Lake Forest Mall, Shady Grove Transit stop, Amtrak, the green line metro subway (which opened D.C. and part of Virginia) and oh yeah I forgot to mention the Greyhound and Trailways bus stations.
I will not say that life there was all bad, but the good times were certainly few and far between. For the most part, though, summers were the happiest time for me. My mother would take us back to Alabama and visit with cousins. Usually after I came back from those vacations I would once again go back to my room and cry, because of all the time that I had lost with my cousins, times that I could never get back. I hated to even go back now because to them I was like a stranger. They did not remember me and I did not remember them. David was old enough to go wherever he wanted. Shalid was still too young to remember anything. But me, on the other hand, I remembered it all. The beating my uncle gave me, Ta'von being in the hospital, my father uprooting us and making us strangers on our own land.
David would sense that I was hurting and would take me to play basketball with him and his friends (Tru-mill and Lester). Just watching them three play would be like poetry in motion. After the playing basketball they would all go home and shower and prepare to go to Lake Forest Mall and do a little bit of girl watching. I did not care too much for girl watching; I just wanted to be around my older brother. A lot of the time Tru-mill would not want to bring me. The good thing about having a father who made a lot of money is that we were never broke. And Tru-mill was the most broke person I have ever known. He could not even pay attention. So he would always get out-voted.
Tru-mill had been my brother's best friend since we first moved to Maryland. They met on the playground where Lester was beating Tru-mill. Since David couldn't stand to see him beaten to a pulp, he pulled Lester off him. Lester made the mistake of hitting David. David knocked Lester out with one punch, an attribute my brother was known for. His knuckles were rugged and hard as steel. He had started punching wood blocks while he was in elementary school. He worked his way up to solid concrete blocks six thousand times a day, and if he hit them full force, they would crack.
Lester, convinced that David's punch was a lucky blow, decided to challenge David to a fight one day after school. When he refused, Lester jumped him. That was Lester's second mistake. Tru-mill and Clarence (our cousin by marriage) started to pound on Lester. David pulled the two off of Lester. They say that was the only time my brother and Clarence ever faced off. For two years everybody and their mother tried to get David and Clarence to fight each other. But what they did not understand was that in our family blood does not fight blood or the end result would be death. A fact that I can testify about. Although David was seven years older, we shared a close bond. Most people would view me as liability because of my age, but not David. He wanted to teach me how to survive in this urban jungle.
My older brother taught me how to carry a razor blade in my mouth. Naturally at first I received cuts on my tongue and gums, they were so bad that I could not even eat at times. Despite the pain, David insisted that I learn. Just prior to entering third grade I became a professional at executing the razor blade task. Ant (who would later become my best friend) was always trying to get other kids to pay him just for the privilege of watching me swallow the blade and have it reappear. Although this was amusement to them, it was a survival tactic for me. This skill may not have been a necessary skill in my community of Flower Hill, but once I stepped out of my gated community, the world for me as a black man in America became dangerous. The world for me because of my last name became a struggle against my life.
I recall on one occasion, we were walking home from the mall, and encountered a girl (Jennifer) who had ties with a gang that Clarence belonged to. Apparently, Jennifer had attempted to rob the guy or something, because he was beating her. As soon as she saw us, she started running our way, certainly not a reaction we expected since she had previously stolen from my brother. Having burned most of her bridges because of drugs, no one really cared what happened to her. David and Clarence even laughed and thought she was getting what she deserved.
Naturally, the guy doing the beating assumed we had shown up to help Jennifer. He hit me, but David let it go, thinking it was done accidentally. Then the guy lifted me up and body-slammed me to the ground, hard enough that blood was coming out of my mouth. David punched the guy, causing him to stumble backward and land on the ground. Jennifer seized the opportunity and began kicking the guy over and over again, but David grabbed her by the neck and told her that was enough. He didn't believe in kicking someone who was down.
Eventually David became one of those guys he despised the most. He became a member of the Black Disciples. His local group was called Young-N-the-Restless. My cousin, Clarence, who was already a member, was right there to support David's decision. Within the Disciples, Clarence was known as the enforcer, by definition, a bodyguard for either the drug dealer or gang leader. Clarence was a cold-blooded killer. In fact, he was White America's worst nightmare... young, black, and didn't care about his life, so why would he care about anyone else's life either.
When my brother, Clarence, and Lester were together, there was just no stopping them. My brother had the brain power and the brawn. Clarence had stamina to walk through hell and back. Lester was very motivated at whatever he did. You would need an army to stop him. I would have to say there was only one wimp in the group and that was Duare, a petty thief for the gang. He could not fight nor could he think on his own. So in business terms he would be the gopher. He would go-for whatever you needed. Being with David made Duare feel invincible.
While my brother became part of a gang, Shalid and I continued to be subjected to domestic violence. We were both young, and all we really cared about was being able to play and enjoy our youth. Unfortunately, we were bogged down with responsibility - house cleaning, trying to cook and prepare meals - and if they were not done to perfection, we were either beaten or sent to our room without dinner.
Let me give you a few examples of the items that were used to dish out love: broomstick handles, rulers, extension cords, irons, ironing boards, wire coat hangars, metal pipe, a switch, a wooden paddle, bare hands, fists, teeth, fingernails, feet, and chairs. Nowadays people call CPS (child protective services) if you spank your child with the palm of your hand.
Can someone answer me the question where were the liberals when my father was laying my sister and I out with these items. I truly believe that if God had been the head of my father's life, we would have remained, and even succeeded, in Birmingham. We would have overcome the ignorance and prejudice of those White southerners. However, despite the drawbacks, the sadness, the beatings, we were living quite well. Not wealthy, mind you, but well. My grandmother owned a large house; the Awic named owned a few rentals as well as the restaurant. Most important of all, we were a happy family.
I remember playing in the street with my friends - football, soccer, stickball, and hide and go-seek. Everyone knew one another. We would have dinner at one another's house. Back in Alabama the black culture was all about sharing and togetherness, giving and not worrying about receiving.
But here I was now in Maryland and the black culture had changed drastically. As a matter of fact, even today in Black society, you can see that we no longer share a common bond. We are far apart on so many issues that we cannot mount a common attack. Instead, we have developed a sense of individuality which says, 'I'm going to get mine at all cost, regardless of what you think or who I might step on.'
In the past, the Black Culture was not about competition, but rather collaboration. But now our culture simply stands for, 'I will tolerate you just long enough to achieve my personal goals, and then I will cut you off.' I am sure that if you look around your inner circle you will not see some of the faces that you started out with on your journey.
There used to be a saying: 'fight the good fight of faith and if there is a good fight, do not be afraid to get in it.' Because nothing in life comes easy and easy does not come without a struggle. No one wants to struggle anymore. We wait for one person and then we decide if the climate is right before we take a stand. We can not even decide on a platform for Black-America. Is it poverty, teen pregnancy, drugs, racial profiling, affirmative action, jobs, or what have you. Hell, we are so messed up we can not even decide on what we want to be called (black, African American, mix, bi-racial, or what have you).
This indecisiveness is tearing our culture apart. Blacks substitute money for happiness, power for family, competition for collaboration. Everyone in a black household works... the wife... the kids... the husband... and even the dog. Everyone is trying to earn a dollar that the government is going to take back. Instead of a family enjoying one another's company, everyone comes home tired. There is no communication within the household. Gradually, the very nature of the home environment begins to erode without the support of a loving co-existence, sex between partners becomes non-existent. And if no one is having sex, you begin to look elsewhere. Maybe an extramarital affair, an incestuous relationship or even worse you rape a minor outside of your family. Lost in the turmoil, the kids, they sneak out of the house, desperately seeking a place of comfort and rest. They could even become a victim of a gang, a victim of rape, a victim of a sexual encounter, or a victim of drugs.
Not long ago family actually meant something. I spent the first eight years of my life surrounded by an entire loving and supportive family. I walked to school with my uncles and cousins, my brother David and my sister Shalid. We never had an empty stomach. We always had a roof over our head. Our grandmothers would visit us during school. After school we went to a lake for a swim with a few friends. As kids we respected that lake because black people before us passed it down to us. You see there were no black swimming pools in those days and the whites would not dare let you swim with them. So the only place blacks could swim was at the lake.
Man, I remember one year, the city of Alabama wanted to make that a park and put up a playground and what have you. Black people all over in Birmingham called the mayor and the city council told them no. This area was given to us during slavery and you have no control of the land whatsoever. Needless to say it did not become a park. But now this lake that had stood for Black Independence from prejudice is now a haven for drugs.
All the children have grown up and have no respect for anything these days. And at the age of ten, I could not comprehend why my father took that all away from me, just to become an engineer. He said he wanted to provide us with the finer things in life. (I never saw any of the finer things in life, only hatred). He wanted teach us how to be men. (I never saw my brother become a man). It's difficult to conceive that in order to become a man, he must forfeit his family. My father left my mother and us alone many times for a job. But I now know that he was cheating on my mother and that is why he was not home all the time. You may ask how do I know that. Because, now I come home every other day as well or stay out late. Like father like son. I became like that bastard. I have hurt women, I have made women cry and with the help of God, I am trying never to make another woman cry.
Our family foundation was built on trust and honesty. My father has none and I have none. My father put wealth above the happiness of his family. My father put his own individual needs above the family. Tell me where the hell is the progress? Where is the progress when you lose your family? Where is the progress when your son wants you dead? Where is the progress when the ability to put food on the table or a roof over your family's head is the true measure of a man? Where is the progress when manhood is determined by how many times you make your wife and your children submit to physical abuse? What progress is made when your child is beaten to death?
Although my parents and I lived in the same house, I hardly knew them. The only meal we shared was breakfast and since they both worked full-time, it was not uncommon that I would not see them until late evening. There was no warmth or interaction, they were too tired or just didn't care.
I used to get so jealous of my cousins Chuck and Mickey (Uncle King's sons who just lived in the next city over - Germantown). In that household there was so much love, you would not believe it. Uncle King had found God and his family came first; no matter what, his family came first. Uncle King was nothing like my father. My father would beat my brother late at night. The funny thing about it is that my mother never stopped those beatings. Once I realize that she did not care about what was happening, she also became dead to me.
Considering what we went through and what David suffered through at night, it was no wonder that David was only seventeen when he realized he was never going to make it as a man, as a father - not if it meant that you had to intimidate your child with fear. He made up his mind that he was too weak to be a man in this society.
And he knew that he would never have the distinction of being called manly, at least not in the eyes of my father, someone who had no concept of what a real man should be.
At the time I was too young to understand all the factors that surrounded my brother's death; I was too young to know that David was hurting because he had killed someone's baby. I was too young to understand that he hated to have to kill a brown child. I was too young to understand the signs of suicide. I was too young to know about depression. I was too young to understand that David decided upon himself that he would suffer that same fate as the brown child he had murdered. I was too young to understand that everything David had believed in and everything that my grandmother taught us, he had thrown it away.
I used to listen in on my brother's conversations about how he used to rob paper machines, coke machines, pay phones and other vending machines left in the open. David, however, had crossed the line; he was guilty of murdering a twelve year old kid. David carried that burden himself, no one to comfort him, no one to guide him, he was left to carry that burden alone, that guilt to himself. I was left with nothing but wishes; I wish that David had confided in Uncle King, I wish that David's friends were not as hard as they appeared, I wish my grandmothers were there to help him out; and finally I wish that my father had been there to protect him, the way a real father should have.........
The morning of September 13, 1980 was the last time I saw my brother alive. I would never again hear his voice, I would never again hear the cries at night while my father beat him. I would never know what he could have accomplished in his life, a life that had limitless potential. David was an all-state distance runner. He had not lost a race in two years and he was going to be undefeated again in the spring. His 3200 meter relay team beat the Razorbacks at the Penn Opens. He was picked to play in the burger classic as a point guard and was ranked number three in the country.
Unfortunately my brother was also a notorious gang-banger who rolled with a gang. That September morning started out as a normal day. Lester, Tru-mill, and Duare were in our living room, waiting for David to return from D&D where he had gone to pick up doughnuts. They had no idea of what David was going to do on that morning. D&D was only 800 yards away and he walked that route three or four times a week. But on that day, for some reason, he walked in the opposite direction. My beloved brother David Andre Awic... born on June 14, 1963... walked in front of a freight train and ended his life... my brother would never see the track named in his honor. My Uncle King would never have the opportunity to tell his nephew what it means to truly be a man, that the measure of a man's character is his word and without his word he is nothing.
I was angry at my brother for leaving Shalid and me to bear the beatings of my father. My childhood was stolen. No longer would I experience the backyard barbecues, the sound of laughter, or the joy of happiness. Whatever events or experiences I encountered would no longer be shared with David and I blamed my father for it. I blamed my father for tearing our family apart.
My brother was not the first family member to die
but the pain of losing another family member was
much for me to bear. First, my uncle the drunk,
second my Uncle Tyrone, killed in Tehran on a
Uncle Demetrius in a gang shooting, and two other
cousins that I met only briefly.
Nightmares, cold sweats, and uncontrollable shaking riddled with death plagued me forever and a day. There was just no escape. I was losing a battle and no one was there to help.
When would I stop experiencing this depression? When was someone going to reach out to me? Here I was at the age of ten, living in a hell... and probably will never see a paradise.
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