CAT Tracks for January 19, 2009

Today is the official observation of the (80th) birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the day before the inauguration of the first African American to be elected President of the United States.

It is a day of remembrance, a day of celebration, a day of looking forward...with hope.

It is also the day that a member of my family has put keyboard to cyberspace and reflected on her first black hero. When she was in her "formative years", her "role model" was closer to home...but just as inspiring.

Without further ado, let me present an article by my sister-in-law, Rachel Jones (aka Princess Rachella) in which she reflects on her oldest brother, David.

NOTE: I told Rachel that I was going to "steal her stuff". But, I feel somewhat justified...she called upon me to assist in obtaining a picture for the piece. Rachel is on the left, David (of course) is in the middle, and my beloved, Julie, is on the right.

From the Notes From a Native Daughter ...

Link to Original Story

Monday, January 19, 2009

Dreams From My Brother

It seems like the whole world is struggling to express what it means to have Barack Obama become President of the United States tomorrow. So I'm gonna take this opportunity to try and explain what it feels like to me.

It reminds me of being about 3 or 4 years old and waiting for my eldest brother David to come home from college. I have only one vivid memory of David from my early childhood, and it centers around that long-anticipated visitor from the University of Chicago to Cairo.

The main reason I remember that visit is because on the night David arrived, I was hiding beside the bed I shared with God know how many of my sisters. You see, I wasn't wearing any panties that night, just a flimsy little t-shirt, and there was no way I was going to flash my bony, nekkid little ass to this veritable demi-god that everybody had been raving about for ages.

David Lewis Jones, or "Junior" as we called him, was the first person on either side of the Jones-Blocker family to do just about everything. He was the first grandchild for my mother's parents. The first black student at Cairo High School. The first black valedictorian there. The first person on either side of the family to go to college (and not just any school...The University of Chicago on full scholarship, thank you very much!).

So to a little bare-bootyed girl cringing in the shadows, interacting with this guy was a big scary-assed deal. There was a lot of ruckus outside the bedroom when he finally showed up, and everybody gathered around him like moths to a flame. Eventually, my eldest sister Julie counted heads and noticed I was missing, and found me peeking over the side of the bed. After I explained my dilemma, she found me a pair of drawers and carried me out to meet this Hallowed Hero named Junior.

Part of what you must understand about me is that it was incredibly hard to belong to a group of siblings when there are about seven "Juniors" in front of you. I think the others won't take offense when I say that none of them quite lived up to David's level of brilliance and overall cool. By the time I came along, the bloom had worn off that particular rose. I ain't even gon' lie...I skated through most of my educational career in Cairo based solely on the strength of the "brand" that preceded me.

At this point of my life, the saddest thing for me to accept is that most of my memories of Junior consist of epic, astounding achievements, the stuff legends are made of. For example, Junior was indeed the first black valedictorian at Cairo High School....and they canceled the valedictorian ceremony that year rather than give it to him. Junior worked his butt off to sell enough "stuff" to earn his seat on the Senior class trip, and was told he couldn't go because he was black.

Junior got drafted during the Vietnam War, but decided he didn't want to kill anybody. That's when I first heard the term "conscientious objector." What it wound up meaning to me is that when you decide to become one, you start teaching yourself how to survive in jail. I can remember watching him exercise and eat really nasty packs of dried food and go off on long walks, and I would think, "Why would anybody choose to go to jail?" War was an abstract concept; my mind couldn't really wrap around killing another person. But I knew what going to jail meant, and it was really scary to think Junior might have to go there.

I remember the day when we all packed into our two station wagons and headed to East St. Louis, where Junior would have to tell a judge why he refused to go to Vietnam. I can clearly recall how tense my mother and sister Julie and second oldest brother John were, because they expected him to be taken to jail immediately. I remember being outside the courthouse with my other sisters when Mama and Winky and John and Junior came out, smiling and happy. The judge had been so impressed with Junior's reasons for why he didn't want to go to Vietnam that he dismissed all the charges.

By that point, Superman didn't have nuthin' on my big brother Junior, the cat who was so smart and smooth, he could talk his way out of going to war AND to jail! And then to top it all off, he had the nerve to walk the Appalachian Trail afterwards. I mean, as far as I knew, only white people and bears spent a lot of time wandering in the woods, and both species were not exactly friendly to us, but Junior was gonna do it anyway!

Now, when I say thinking about these things makes me sad, don't get it twisted. David Lewis Jones was one of the most articulate, sardonic, brilliant, witty, urbane, intellectual, and accomplished men I've ever known. I consider it an honor and a privilege to say this man was my brother, and literally helped pave the path I walk today. I made it to Kenya because Junior made it to the University of Chicago. Seriously.

It's just that, like I said at one of his two memorial services, all that idolatry must make for a intensely lonely existence. When Junior took his own life almost 6 years ago, I still largely related to him as a mythic symbol. I never talked to Junior as a grown woman sister talking to her grown man brother. He probably always saw me as one of the "kids," and so there's no way he would have asked me for help.

David Lewis Jones saved his younger siblings in so many, many ways, through his stellar accomplishments against incredible odds. It must have hurt like hell when they refused to acknowledge all the hard work it had taken to be first in his high school class. It was one of a hundred, a thousand such brutally hard knocks he endured to become the man he became.

I'm probably rambling here, so I'll try to get to the point. While people around the world are excited and proud and happy for Barack Obama, many African Americans know exactly, intimately, exquisitely how much it cost for him to reach this historic moment. It is a dream we dared not dream that came true anyway.

There is one thing I probably did believe could have happened back when I was cringing beside that bed 45 years ago. If I could have imagined any black man becoming President of the United States back then, it would have been my big brother Junior.

Superman, my ass.

P.S. Hawaii was one of David's favorite places in the world. He even got married on top of Haleakala volcano, on the island of Maui. Coincidence??? I think not. Hawaii just seems to help nurture amazing black men--go figure!!

Posted by Princess Rachella at 4:35 PM