I was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. My teen years were experienced smack dab in the middle of the 1990s. The 90s was a decade where many of America’s black youth were once again strongly trying to identify with their cultural past. Like our parents who may have been raised in the 60s and 70s, when “Black Power” or empowerment was the slogan/movement of the day. Ours was “Black Solidarity”, unity based on our shared heritage and interests.
Most of my peers were maybe one (1) or two (2) generations removed from migrants from the Southern United States. Many of which could not trace their families’ country of origin on the continent of Africa. Or in other cases were children of parents or themselves from countries that make up the African Diaspora. Countries like Brazil, Haiti and the Dominican Republic (the isle of Hispaniola), Jamaica and Puerto Rico just to name a few; all of which span the entire of the former Middle Atlanta Slave Passage routes. All were drastically changed by the unexpected inhabitation of peoples from Africa.
Personally on my father’s side we can trace back several generations. The Jefferson Clan mostly came from Edgefield County in South Carolina very close to Georgia. Further back we can trace that our family has Seminole blood (Native American) and Tanzanian (East Africa.)
On my mother’s side our family is from Virginia. My mother told me that my grandfather who served in World War II was called “Black Indian” by his fellow officers for he was coal black with, high cheekbones and long black wavy hair. My grandmother Frances, my mother’s mother was from a well to do black family in Barbados. She had married my grandfather without her parents’ approval and had been disowned. She died when my mother was only seven (7) after birthing five (5) children. All of which grew up in the foster care system including my mother after her mother’s death… that is yet another story…
As you can see from just the microcosm of my own personal history, the family dynamites of most black youth while I was growing up, was not so black or white.
I wanted to be a professor of History… of African/African American Studies and Folklore to be exact. The majors I took in college reflected this desire. From as far back as I can remember I had a strong passion to learn as much as I could about my history and history in general. I remember using my allowance to buy history books. I decorated my bedroom for Black History Month 365 days out of the year. Posters of historical facts, diagrams and bookshelves filled with titles from prominent black authors and historians lined the walls. It was so deep that when I was 15 I was blessed to go on a trip to West Africa (Senegal and Ghana) with some of my family members. I remember drilling our tour guides for more information about the sites we saw. I kept a journal of the trip that I still have to this day.
How I dressed and wore my hair during this time period also reflected my interests. I had decided when I was 12 that I would dreadlock my hair. I decided to also to do it myself. My Grandma Lela (whom I am named after) thought I had lost my mind. My older cousin who was at Morgan State (one of America’s historical black colleges), had also decided to lock her hair as well. This really did not please my Grandma Lela. She was very vocal about it, to the point where two (2) weeks after locking my hair I spent about two hours redoing it (beeswax and all.) Incidentally I kept my hair locked till I was 26. My clothing of that time period, colorful, mostly t shirts with social conscience messages imprinted on them. I would never wear a name brand / designer’s name sprawled across my body. I didn’t see the point in it.
Music has always played a very integral role in my life. Almost every pertinent memory I can recall has a soundtrack to it.
For example every time I listen to “Raining Revolution” by Arrested Development it brings back one of my favorite memories. I was 16 years old… at my Grandma Lela’s house visiting with my Dad for one of our weekends. It was raining … and I decided to bring my tape player (yes tape player remember it was the 90s), the book I was reading at the time and my poetry journal to my new private hideaway… my Dad’s dead 70s Ford Econoline van.
The van had died after my father who never claimed to have any expertise when it came to automobiles decided to use table pepper to temporarily seal his radiator. A temporary fix that lasted for more than three (3) weeks and eventually clogged his entire engine. However that was my Dad.
Anyway Dad had parked the van on the side of my Grandma’s house, in the driveway. The back of the vehicle had been emptied out, because he would use it to transport his tools back and forth from work. Till six (6) months before his death in 2001 he had worked for New York City’s Housing Authority as an Emergency Service Maintenance Technician and so he had a lot of tools that he had to keep on hand to do his job efficiently.
The back of that van being emptied was just cozy enough for me to lay out with a blanket by myself on a lazy summer afternoons. From its positioning I could see my Grandma’s sun porch to the left and the front yard with all the greenery in front of me. I had my own little slice of Eden in the confines of that van.
While the rain hit its windshield and the roof … I played the song “Raining Revolution” over and over again getting lost in the moment…
Check out the Soundtrack of my Life…
© 2009, Lela Jefferson Fagan. All rights reserved.