What does it take to Love Ourselves and Each Other?

Seems Like a Mighty Long Time (suggested background music while reading this story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYunSNgT9pA)

By Shiama Amadedeen

My granddaughter Majeeda and I had a typical outing last week: We got our pedicures, washed the car and went to the public pool in Roxbury, the one on MLK Blvd, adjacent to Malcolm X Park. A little boy runs through the sprinkler, and then takes a few steps to me and says, “What should I do now?” This is normal in an urban African American park. He had his people with him, mostly women and children. I was one of the few white-haired Black men there, and in this condition I am a “go-to” person. Our children seek out Black male adults, the older, the more sought-after you are. And while I’m present, I can do this. It is part of the family ways we have had to adopt since being brought here. I need to say that, despite the crisis situation with the most recent form of slavery — the mass incarceration system, and the televising of the random street executions of unarmed Black men — there were more Black male adults and more white-hairs like me at this pool this day than there were twenty years ago or forty years ago.

I love this pool, and the principal reason is that it is all Black. There are not even any Latinx at this pool. I’m not advocating anything; and I don’t need to defend this sentiment, this feeling. I don’t “need” to be in all Black space all the time. I love this pool because it is all Black, African American. And in the way of Folk — African Americans — we are an inclusive people: If there is a Latinx or some Latinx, or some Folk from the Diaspora who haven’t been here long enough to experience themselves as of the specific people — progeny of enslaved Africans in the United States — or if there are any other kind of people, we are going to make everyone in our midst feel “a-part-of.” (The dominant nation in this country is the best example of an exclusive people).

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Hello, stranger
It seems so good to see you back again
How long has it been?

I see Bruce, my thirteen-year-old granddaughter’s up-to-now 100% absentee father, regularly now in the neighborhood. He works near my home at Boston Public Health Commission. He is court ordered, and his first child support has been coming the last few months directly out of his paycheck.

We used to call him “Sperm Donor,” but, first I am informed by my son Demetrius regarding Bruce: “Pops, this guy had no father himself. He was 18 when he got Cheryl [my daughter] pregnant. He has no clue. Give him a break.” And this new situation (by law he has a right to see his daughter) opens up an opportunity: He says he wants to start seeing Majeeda regularly. I’m for this — any child would like to have their blood father in their lives in this nuclear-family-centric culture (if he’s not an abuser).

We set up a date for this Saturday (sanctioned by Mom — with the explicit caveat that he is not to be left alone with her; I have to be witness the entire time). I called Majeeda’s real father after this exchange with Bruce. Bruce left the scene after sperm met egg and long before Majeeda was born. But Devon was at bedside with Cheryl, Majeeda’s mother, at birth, and has been real father since opening day. Devon was a woman who loved women, and she was Cheryl’s partner back then. Devon has since become Transgender, is no longer Cheryl’s partner, and has been real father every since Majeeda arrived. Majeeda calls Devon “Dad” or “Daddy.”

Me and Devon get along very well, and he backed my play/proposal to gently nudge Bruce to images of genuine fatherhood. Recovery informs me that I cannot change anyone; I’m clear on that. I’m going to support this Brother to learn how to be a father to my granddaughter.

I first became Cheryl’s father when she was nine-years-old. (I wasn’t a very good father then; I am a good father to her now). Her mother, then my wife, would tell me stories of Cheryl when she was three-years-old and four-years-old. Her father was “Sperm-Donor-the-first.” “Mommy, why doesn’t my father love me?” We hear this, and we must hear this.

(Shoo-bop, shoo-bop, my baby)
It seems like a mighty long time

This is our legacy with family. We have had to piece it together from the time we were brought here from dozens of distinct African nations and peoples (mostly from West Africa), and forged into one people on the anvil of slavery. From that time, we have had to invent our family ways.

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I my, my, my, my, I’m so glad
You stopped by to say “Hello” to me
Remember that’s the way it used to be

I get on a song, and study it, imbibe it, play it every day, sometimes for three months, sometimes six months, until I get it, it gets me, or I’m saturated and satisfied. Three months ago, my older sister Suzanne Lynn passed, in what was an untimely death. For three months, everyday I’ve been singing, “We Will Understand it Better, by and by.” I still don’t understand, but I’m staying with it:

By and by, when the morning comes, All the saints of God are gatherin’ home. We will tell the story of how we overcome, And we’ll understand it better, by and by

When I play this song for family and loved ones I always ask each one: “When he says, ‘All the saints,’ who does he mean? Who are ‘all the saints’ that ‘are gatherin’ home’?”

The answer I get back most is “the ancestors,” “our ancestors?” Yes, and for enslaved Africans (by the way, all Spirituals are revolutionary songs. All Spirituals are either hidden or open calls to overthrow slavery. All. When I say “Spirituals” I’m speaking specifically of an African American art form) it took a community, one without hierarchy — the community of the enslaved did not have hierarchy. “All the saints” was all of us. It was our forbearers, those before us who got us this far, it was those of us fighting for our freedom right then, and it is all of us now. That was the belief system of enslaved Africans. That was the belief system (the spiritual principle) written into the verses of this Spiritual, and the meaning of the words “All the saints of God are gatherin’ home.”

Since my sister’s passing in May, I looked into this a little more deeply on internet and found that the author of this Spiritual, Charles Albert Tindley, after the Civil War was a preacher for Bainbridge Street Methodist Church “where he was employed as a janitor between 1880–1885.”

In another article I found this quote: “African American scholars C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya clarify that ‘by and by’ was ‘not simply other-worldly. [These hymns] are also addressed to helping the oppressed survive this world’.” Thus confirming what I knew about this song from the first I heard it.

I’ve been singing this song everyday, and then, six days ago, I heard this next song,

It seems like a mighty long time
(Shoo-bop, shoo-bop, my baby)
It seems like a mighty long time

And I found myself weeping. Why? I played it again, and I remembered: Moonlight ­– Academy Awards, Best Picture 2017, and dozens of other accolades. Kevin is now an adult, close to 30-years old. It’s maybe 10 or 12 years since he’s seen his childhood friend Chiron (Little). He randomly calls Chiron who lives now in Atlanta. (Chiron is now “hard,” he’s the main drug dealer in his neighborhood.) Chiron asks Kevin, what inspired this random call? Kevin responds that he heard a song that reminded him of Chiron. A few days later Chiron leaves his post just as randomly, and drives down to Miami to visit Kevin in the restaurant where Kevin is a cook. He surprises Kevin, and Kevin demands, “What, you just decided to drive all the way down here? Why?” Chiron responds, “Why did you decide to call me after 10 years?” Kevin says that it was the song, and he proceeds to play it on the jukebox.

(Shoo-bop, shoo-bop, my baby, shoo-bop, shoo-bop)
(Shoo-bop, shoo-bop, my baby, shoo-bop, shoo-bop)
Yes I’m so glad you’re here again
It seems like a mighty long time
(Shoo-bop, shoo-bop, my baby)
It seems like a mighty long time

And I know immediately why I am weeping: The song is a woman singing to her old boyfriend. Kevin, a Brother, is playing this love song to another Black man. I have never seen this before. (I’m certain it happens all the time, but I have never seen it).

White Boxes To the reviewers, critics and promoters, the movie was about Black Gays. https://www.netflix.com/watch/80121348?trackId=13752289&tctx=0%2C0%2C3cba1988b0a43311e5793a3a8b63d5c91f6eacef%3Acdfeb2f367fb56948f7038423fe42d76fb92a5f6%2C3cba1988b0a43311e5793a3a8b63d5c91f6eacef%3Acdfeb2f367fb56948f7038423fe42d76fb92a5f6%2C%2C Inside this distortion is the claim that the film is about sex and sexual preference between Black men. In fact, in this two-hour film there were exactly two sex scenes, twenty seconds each: One outdoors scene where Little’s best friend, Kevin, is having intercourse with a girl (whose face we don’t get to see). The other, outdoors as well, is of Kevin and Chiron kissing. That’s it as far as sex.

In my first review of this film (https://medium.com/@alexandersjeunity/moonlight-a-transcendent-spiritual-experience-8ee9b44a9ee9), I contended the film was about love — our need to, our right to, and our ability to love each other as Black men. Beyond all the “hard” boxes white supremacist culture has forced on us, we can love each other.

If there is a need in some people to see the film as being about Black Gay men, I don’t have a problem with you. I see the categories of Hetero, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, as being White and hetero boxes. But, this is not ideological for me; I don’t need to be “right,” I just need to be me. My study of my ancestors and indigenous peoples generally teaches me that sexuality in a healthy society is fluid, and does not have compartments. My life experience with my people is more important than my study. Folk do not have these rigid categories in my experience. My immediate family — some of my children, and their adult relatives — do not identify as hetero or any other box. The Black women I know do not call themselves “Lesbians.” They say they are women who love women.

My father was deeply homophobic. He could not touch his male child (me) because he thought that was “Gay”. (You can see in this the origin of my personal belief that the boxes are of white supremacist and male supremacist origin.) He was once speaking to me in deprecatory terms of one of his Black Liberation Movement contemporaries — Bayard Rustin (who I now appropriate as a righteous Brother and a revolutionary). He concluded his testimony by twisting up his face and intoning, “And he is a ho — mo — sex — u — aaal.” I’m nine, and I’m a country boy, in 1961. I don’t know what “a ho — mo — sex — u — aaal” is. What I did know was: “Whatever that is, please let it not be me!” To this day, I still do not know what “a ho — mo — sex — u — aaal” is. Sounds scary though.

For decades I carried a hole inside me that represented the absence of my father’s affection. I did not carry this scar through to my sons. They have had, for their entire lives, warmth and affection from their father.

If you’re not gonna stay
Please don’t tease me like you did before
Because I still love you so, although
It seems like a mighty long time
(Shoo-bop, shoo-bop, my baby)
It seems like a mighty long time

When my father was 83 years old, and I had been a devotee of the Recovery Movement for years, sharing the NA way became attractive and then infectious for my father (as this way can be for many people). He and I decided to have regular meetings to be intimate with each other. During these sessions my father told me things he had never told about himself to anyone. One of those stories was that of him being raped at age eleven, by a Black soldier. Now I get some of the roots of his intense homophobia.

Let me be clear: raping children has nothing to do with sexual preference. In a hetero society, this was the principal choice he was given as a translation for his experience. I, too, was raped by a man, serially, as a young child. This experience never led me to homophobia.

My father and I “handled” the intimate space for two years, and then let it go — it was very new, very different from what we had done for forty+ years. We stopped when he was 85. He died two years later.

Let the Circle be Unbroken

I my, my, my, my
I’m so happy
You’re here at last

(Shoo-bop, shoo-bop, my baby, shoo-bop, shoo-bop)
Seems like a mighty long time
(Shoo-bop, shoo-bop, my baby, shoo-bop, shoo-bop)
Feel so good
To have you back again

I loved seeing this Brother playing a love song for his friend, another Black man — a love song on a record sung by a Sister to her boyfriend. I loved seeing this “hard” Brother (the biggest drug dealer in his part of Atlanta), with his head on the shoulder of his childhood friend, who is now a cook/waiter, chillin’, taking care of his little son with his paycheck, and feeling OK about himself. On Kevin’s shoulder Chiron is able to get some rest… from “the life”. It’s OK for us to love ourselves and each other. It seems like a mighty long time.

I’m still playing “We Will Understand it Better, by and by” everyday. (This version by the Davis Sisters will knock you out! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jl0r58RdLVU.) My sister Suzanne is one of the saints. It’s my cross to bear to experience her presence. I believe someday I will understand, maybe in this life.

Bruce (Majeeda’s blood father) has called her (“check-in” calls) every day since our initial “talk” last week!

At the nail salon with Majeeda, I had my toe nails painted pink/purple.