From the Beat: We want to welcome to our pages, the first in a series from Project What! There is plenty to say, and we are honored that their program and policy Director, Anna Wong has so kindly written the following intro to explain her program and work with us many Beat readers and has so kindly allowed us to reprint the young people's pieces in The Beat Within. We hope you like! Welcome Project What!!! The next peice is by De'Mel Bullock.
WHAT MADE ME FEEL I WASN'T A KID ANYMORE
What made me feel I wasn't a kid anymore? It wasn't turning 18. It
happened earlier, the year after I got kicked out of my grandma's house, when I was 15.
I was living with my dad for the first time since my early single digit years, four or five years old. It felt different, because I always got to visit him growing up, but I hadn't lived with him since I was too young to remember. I was happy to live with him again. For real --happier then a little kid riding his new bike on Christmas morning. I was happy not to have to go visit him in jail, happy not to have to feel sad anymore if my dad said he was coming to pick me up and my little brother and didn't show, happy just knowing I would be able to enjoy my dad's presence at any time of the day or night.
But as time passed, as many youngsters do, I found my way in and out of trouble - nothing big, but big enough. So after a few months went by, either Pops or myself got taller or maybe one of us shrunk - point is, we stopped seeing eye to eye. To this day, I really don't even know, like really get to know each other, or maybe we were just too much alike. But I'm assuming you know how it works: my house, my rules, you don't like it, I'm changing the locks, so do it moving, no looking back or making stops. I wasn't given the choice to like it or not. Just the simple get your %*!+ and get out.
So there it was around three in the morning and I'm my little brother flipping through phone contact, mind racing 200 mph, trying to find somewhere to go. Now a few more months passed, I'm on my own, well, living with a friend, barely sleeping, showering here, some clothes there, just trying to make the best out of a bad situation.
Then one day I get this phone call form my auntie. "Go to the house and get your little brother so them people don't take him. They takin' your dad to jail."
"What? What happened? I'm on my way." And doing a hundred on my five point toes, I felt like my world was coming to an end. That the weight on my back could get even heavier. Is this really happing? I kept thinking, until I got there, and true enough, my dad was going to jail.
Looking for my little brother, I must have looked like a suspect, "What you doing here?" "Who are you?" "How old are you?" "Is he going to live with you?" "Where?" Question after question from the police -- as if just seeing the police in my dad's house wasn't bad enough I couldn't tell them I was only 16, didn't have a home of my own. The whole thing became even scarier, my dad was going to jail and I watch Court TV - isn't lying to the police a crime in itself? But with bottom lip trembling and legs shaking, I got through it and end up convincing them I was legit. Or maybe they really didn't even care and just had to say they asked.
The world seemed to spin a little faster, as everything was now on me: school clothes, rent, food, "I wanna go here," "I wanna go there." All on me. Taking care of a kid when most older people still called me a baby. I'd rather not go into details about how I pulled it off, and yeah, there were people I could have turned to for help, but hey weren't there when we were babies and really needed them, so I figured we didn't need them now. So with my I'll-Do-It-Myself, I-Don't-Need-Anyone, We-All-Got-Attitude, and most importantly the hedge of protection that I knew God placed upon us, we got situated in an apartment and got through the next few months.
Then, as the neighbors started to get nosier than they already were, and started to run their mouth, the building manager started to investigate, and faking the grown-ups would be home shortly was getting tiresome. Have you ever had a feeling someone was watching you? It's a cold feeling. Now here that manager go with the question and answer game: "how old are you?" "Who all lives here?" Enough said, it was time to find another place to reside.
With my back against the ropes, I was still fighting my inner self, trying to avoid asking anyone for anything, for the simple fact that it always seems to get thrown back in my face at some point. I don't like to hear "I did this for you, I did that for you" down the line. And I don't like to owe anybody anything. Asking for help has always been one of the hardest things for me to do.
But with a 30-day notice on our door, and a slim chance of getting a new one when I wasn't 18 yet, what could I do now? Flipping through phone contacts once again, I finally thought to call my big sister. She had actually insisted on helping with everything from the beginning, but I had always told her we was cool, we didn't need nothing and everything was fine, even if it wasn't. My grandma had always said "a closed mouth don't get fed," but hey, we was eating. Still, looking back now, asking my sister for help seems as simple as the scripture, "Ask and you shall receive."
So, the fog started to clear, and it began looking a little better for the home team. We had a new apartment, which meant a new beginning. A couple months later, my dad got out. No hard feelings - I love him, and he'll always be my dad.
It was time to move forward with life. I went to Job Corps looking to get a trade and finish up school. But soon, I found my way back into some trouble. No wait, trouble found me. Like really knocked on my door one night, but I'm not one to pint fingers - I take responsibility for my actions.
So there I was in jail, on the other side of the glass, in the shoes my dad once wore, given nothing but time to think about my life, what I wanted to happen in it, my little brother, and who he might become if he didn't have anyone but the deceased rapper Mac Dre (RIP) to look up to.
I thought about the past year, and what I needed to do to make things better. How things that you simply take for granted can be taken from you, and then you have to fend for yourself. I learned to accept the fact that I do and will need people's help at certain points. I even produced some patience.
So yeah, if anyone was to ask me, I believe what you go through in life makes you who you are. Through it all I got to see my reflections without a mirror and tell myself, step it up and get it together 'cause the world don't see you as a kid anymore'
So here I am today, sharing my story with you all. I'm now 20 years old, going to Laney College in Oakland, California, and working with Project WHAT to build a training curriculum for teachers and social workers, in hoping to better the lives of others who have dealt with their parent/s being incarcerated.
Still dealing with some of my old ways of thinking, like, when school started I didn't have enough money to pay for the books I needed for my business and real estate classed, and I really didn't want to ask my dad for help. I was telling my brother, "I think I'm going to quit school because I don't have enough money." Then the next day, my dad gave me the money for my books and told me I didn't owe him anything and just to pay him back with success. I plan to repay that debt, plus interest. You will be hearing from me.
-De'Mel Bullock, Project WHAT!