Young, Gifted, Black, and Loved

No poems today- I've scant been writing due to all the life-changes I've been going through. But amongst my errands, an old memory found me. I'd like to share that story with you now.

As I've mentioned before, I have been interested in the arts since I was a child. At one point, acting and theater drew my attention. I auditioned for a group called "Young, Gifted, and Black" at my local theater. I remember very well that I was nervous because the minimum age for auditioning was 13 years old, and my 13th birthday was still some 6-9 months away. I practically jumped for joy when I found that I had impressed enough to warrant the small exception.

Now, my extended family was mostly back in Trinidad, and we lived in the "nice" part of town. My hometown was and still is very segregated, so naturally, I didn't really grow up around other black folk. It was unusual for me to see more than one black person apart from family on any given day- if at all. So you could imagine how surreal it felt to be around people who looked like me all afternoon twice a week.

Naturally, I was the youngest in the group. It's only upon writing it down that I remember the other kids must have been in their late teens to early twenties. They must have had their own insecurities, flaws, and issues, but to me they were wise kings and queens from a world I had never known. I was as annoying and selfish as any kid my age- and it must have been obvious to them as well that I wasn't from their world. But they took me in anyway. I remember that there was a vending machine at the theater and I begged the other cast members for quarters every day so that I could buy myself a soda or a snack. I'm sure it was annoying as hell. Again, upon looking back, I could have begged my parents to give me quarters instead- We had more than plenty. I think I was just desperate for the exchange; The 75 cents from a sister or brother meant acceptance to me. Acceptance was something I hadn't realized I desperately needed at that time; I was at that stage in every black kid's life when they truly internalize that they're black- that they're different- that there are some things you can't talk to your white friends about- some situations where white adults cannot be counted on- some places where black kids weren't safe... And there wasn't a damn thing you could do about it on your own.

It all came to a head during one exercise our director had us perform as a group...

The beautiful, talented, wonderful Sheila Rocha had us come together and told us: "Think of a person who has hurt you in your life- You are going to become that person. One by one, the rest of the cast is going to interact with you- ask you questions. You must reply as this person who hurt you- but you must pick just one verbal response and one body action in reply. No matter what someone says or asks you, you can only reply with that response." She made sure to warn and assure us that some people go through truly horrible things in life and that there would be no expectation for confessions to be made afterward.

I was bullied at my elementary school by this one kid, and I knew immediately who I needed to become. It wasn't actually Jake, who hated to be called Jacob (The one way I ever got back at him.) But it was the teacher who watched as he threw me onto the pavement during recess, and watched as he told me in the lunch line that he was going to get his grandpa's gun, bring it to school, and shoot me with it. That teacher who's eyes met mine in those moments, then looked away as though she couldn't be bothered. The line I chose was "I don't care." As I said the line, I would turn my head away from the inquisitor- just as she did to me when our eyes met. (Side note: Get bent, Willa Cather Elementary.)

I'll be honest, I don't remember exactly what was said during that exercise, but the things I do remember have been burned into my soul permanently.

I remember questions about what "I" did to me. I remember answering again and again "I don't care." I remember the real me feeling smaller and smaller, more worthless and ashamed every time I said "I don't care" in the scoffing tone I imagined would reside in her mind.

I remember wanting to stop.

Then I remember my heartache being interrupted by the lead cast member in my group. I can't remember her name, but I remember her beautiful face and voice like it was yesterday. I remember her getting angry. She kept asking questions of me as this teacher- her frustration audible as the questions came louder and faster, more accusatory at every request I denied. When I turned away, she would swing around so I couldn't break eye contact without craning my neck as far as it could. At first, I thought she was just putting on a show- either to commit to the act herself, or out of obligation to seem motherly to the smallest, least confident member of the cast.

Then she started to cry.

Never in my life has a person been more beautiful to me than she was in that moment, and never in my life have I felt more... I don't know if "loved" is even enough to describe that feeling.

I lost it right then and there. We were a bawling mess for the rest of the exercise. And for the record: The personality that she donned may as well have been Hitler and Jeff Bezos' lovechild for the way I reacted when it was her time to play the perpetrator.

I don't know why I was reminded of that story today, but I'm thankful that I was. When someone speaks of "Black excellence," The first faces that come to my mind aren't the Rosa Parks's and MLKs of history- For me, it's those men and women I was cast with. The impact they had on my heart was greater than they could ever imagine. Sadly, I doubt I'll ever see or speak to any of those kids ever again, but still, I want to say it here:

Thank you.

Thank you so much.

The Poetry of Ants

Published by The Poetry of Ants

I've been writing poetry since I was little. These poems have always been my means of resolving the world as it is against the world as it should be. Writing has been my great catharsis. I hope that you and I may be able to share in that.

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