Thursday, December 13, 2012

I'm Sorry Ms. Jackson, I Want to Help

It’s no secret that I was born pretty poor. From what I remember, I think my mom had a job, but she had to leave when she suddnely was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. S*** just went downhill after that. We moved from the Albany, NY area to a TINY village called Oppenheim, NY in Fulton County. I was also the only black kid in the COUNTY. When you’re 5, that’s cool, because to every white person in 1983/4, you look just like Arnold Drummond, or Webster. Either one. In a sea of white rural people, you look like every black person ever. This hypothesis was proven when a few years later, when I looked like MC Hammer. WTF. But I digress...It wasn’t all ethnic likeness attribution going on in Oppenheim. There was also a LOT of racism. Once I was bully victim age, it didn’t stop. It didn’t help that I was a whiny little cry baby, and that I liked things like Star Wars and Legos. The abuse was daily. Even adults got in on the action. One particular one did some things he really shouldn’t have, but I’m about 20 psychiatrist couches away from expounding on that, so just know it wasn’t good.

In 1991, and my mom decided we move to Baltimore. I thought this was a great idea, but after having been in Fulton County for 9 years, I went from being the only black kid in the school to the only white kid in the school. Also, I still liked Star Wars. I dropped the Legos for Star Trek. I started high school in one of the worst schools in Baltimore. It had metal detectors in it BEFORE Columbine. Bars were on the windows before bars on school windows were cool. I was eaten alive. I was only there for one month, thank goodness. I transferred to Baltimore City College, the third oldest high school in America, and one of the best public schools in the state. I thought, “Yes! Somewhere I can be me!”...NOPE! Apparently my fellow nerds had a hierarchy too, and I was still worm bait, because I was new, and I was STILL the only white kid in the school. No matter, I still managed to gain friends, get relatively good grades, and somewhat stay under the radar after the first year. I just kept reading and drawing and building my portfolio that I would eventually present to the Maryland Institute, College of Art (MICA) to study to be a graphic designer with my own gallery.

At home, we struggled. We were never too far above the poverty line my entire life. There were many isolated power outtages throughout my life, even in Baltimore. My mom had a few jobs, but got laid off a few times as well. The safety net in which we moochers lavish naked in a bed of food stamps and entitlements a la “American Beauty” was a lot holier than what people think, and we fell through the net holes a few times. Being poor in school is not a good thing, so I covered up that fact as much as I could...

...Until finally it got REALLY difficult to cover it up. One day in the beginning of my senior year, I was pulled out of my trigonometry class (my FAVOURITE class) to head to the office. My mother was there to pick me up. When we got to the car, she explained that we had been evicted from our home. I have no idea what she said after, “We’ve been evicted, and we need to...”, but I know we went to an office (Social Security? Section 8?), and we sat for a long time to talk to someone in a suit who didn’t want his job, given his attitude. Maybe that was his defence for the giant snake of somber people wrapping around the waiting area who suddenly get violently belligerent when their numbers are called. We then shuffled to another office to talk to someone else with another bi-polar snake waiting to attack. In every office, there was a somber serpent, likely in a similar situation as us, waiting to strike. The whole time, I thought, “I just want to go back to class.” And why not? It’s not like I have a home. School is my home now.

We finally got to what was our house early evening. Let me tell you, there is nothing like seeing your ENTIRE life on display on the lawn and curb getting poached by the vultures in the area. Every book, tape, magazine. I saw my achievements, my failures, my “works-in-progress”; most of my music was gone. All the hip-hop music on which I had caught up after having been in the black hole (white hole?) of Oppenheim was gone. All that was left was the music from my past that I buried under a box in my closet...lots of Def Leopard and Warrant. Don’t you f***ing judge me. All my comics were gone. All my art instruction books were gone. All my drawings were strewn about and/or destroyed. The evictors were not nearly as careful with my drafting table as I would have been. It definitely is not supposed to be in three pieces. Goodbye, MICA. I didn’t pick up a drawing utensil for nearly 10 years after that. “Why the f*** didn’t she just let me stay in school?”

We stayed on some friends’ couches following collecting what the scavengers didn’t. I had half my wardobe and some shoes. Luckily, that day was my Tupac day, my music collection consisted of his body of work up to “Thug Life, Vol 1”. Days went by, and I all I did was go to school and work. We shifted around from couch to shelter to couch, and all I did was do my work. We got swindled by some people out of what little money we had, so that exacerbated things a little, but I didn’t care. School and work. College application time. Since we were so poor, fees were waved for most. I applied to local ones, and got into all of them. I chose the one who would give me a free ride based on academics (Morgan Pride). Let me tell you, it is really hard to fill out applications when you don’t have a permanent address. When I got to college, though, I had an address: my dorm. Mom was still going from shelter to shelter. No one at school knew my situation. I was living off re-selling books and book vouchers. When summer came, I HAD to get into internships that would house me. FINALLY, after being on a waiting list for nearly 2 years, a Section 8 house was made available for us. FINALLY, I had a permanent address, though by then, Morgan State was my home. Life was still not easy. We were still dirt poor. Grades kind of suffered due to the stress of it all and having to work two or three jobs whilst going to school, but it finally paid off when I got a job immediately after college, and I found out I was getting paid more than my white colleague straight out of college. Who would have figured?

So here I am. This may explain why I’m so f***ed up in the head (well, that and my wife having a white baby), but it doesn’t explain why I would divulged this to you and anyone who fat-fingered their Google search for Chronicles of Narnia. There is a group called StoryCorps. They record people’s stories, and it goes into the Library of Congress archives. One day, they told the story of Tierra Jackson and John Horan. She is a woman in college who grew up in Chicago, and due to some bad circumstances, would up homeless in high school. She still soldiered on. She is still struggling, though she does have a roof over her head, but s*** is still not sweet. She is me 17 years ago, except I was ashamed to tell my story. I called StoryCorps to see if I could help in any way. When I didn’t hear anything, started a Fundly account to collect money and send to pay her bills and/or tuition. Finally, I did hear directly from her. StoryCorps gave her my information. We discussed the Fundly account, and then she forwarded my info to John Horan, her former dean. He got me in contact with Evan Westerfield. He told me of the inception of the Tierra Jackson Scholarship Fund. Now, I know where/how to help. Now, please help me.

No one was around to help me, except the social safety net, which needs a LOT of improvements. Ms. Jackson doesn’t deserve the troubles I had. Getting to college doesn’t mean you’ve made it. It just means you’re on a path. I want everyone to donate what they can to my Tierra Jackson Fundly Account, and all that money will go straight to the Tierra Jackson Scholarship Fund. If you thought about giving me a late Chanukah gift, do this. I don’t care if it’s $25 or $5. As of this blog, we’re at nearly $2,600, and that’s without me plugging this. Let’s go for $7,000: $6,000 for a semester tuition, and another $1,000 for those expensive-ass books. Hell, if we beat the goal, That would make me even happier.

So to recap, here’s what I want you to do:

Happy Whatever Holiday You Celebrate.

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