from Memoir of a Black sixties teen
I was attending classes and going about my business when one day the principal called me to his office. I’m thinking, uh oh, it’s that Rap Brown thing! As I’m walking through the corridor to his office, I’m preparing in my head how I’m going to justify inviting the very militant Rap Brown to a school that was relatively integrated. All my Black militancy was aroused in me. I began to conjure up Malcolm, Stokely, Cleaver, Dick Gregory, anybody, and everybody, liberal Blacks, the conservatives, the middle of the road Negroes; every acronym I could recall: NAACP, CORE, NOI, UNIA, SNCC, and SCLC. Everybody needed to be with me and for me when I arrive at the principal’s office, whoever. If anyone had an issue they wanted presented to the United States of America, as representatives of a people, an American people, who were victims of injustice and or prejudice, then they’re coming to the principal’s office with me too, right down the corridor, to the left, right next to Mrs. Ketley’s, the guidance counselor, office. I was going to inform the principal of “like it is”and “what it is”. I was going to let him know that my afro stood for something, that it had social significance. “Afro”, very large afro!
When I reached the principal’s office, the secretary was very sweet, leading me to the principal’s door and opening it for me in a most pleasant manner. When I entered the room, the principal was sitting behind his desk in a most pleasant manner. Sitting opposite the principal was a well dressed man, bald, except for a patch of red hair near each temple. The man seemed relaxed, as if he were sitting there a while, just sitting there, legs crossed with papers, pad, and a pen on his lap. Need I say, he was looking at me in a most pleasant manner. The principal stood up, cleared his voice, and introduced us.
“_____________, this is Mr._______, recruiter from Harvard University.” Ok, now wait a minute. I went blank. What was I in here for again? My whole idea, whatever it was, became null and void. The room changed. My flesh loosened on my bones. I began to see differently than when I first entered the room, as if the room was a mirage and slowly disappearing and transforming before me. I now saw the slowed down slither of sunshine coming from the open curtained window warmly resting on papers on the principal’s desk, and the intelligent looking books in the bookcases behind his desk began to glow, and the principal’s family pictures smiled affectionately from the adorning picture frames. The Persian rug was a myriad of receptive colors. I was standing on it but it wasn’t attached to the floor. I was uplifted.
The principal addressed the recruiter. “Mr.__________________this is ________, one of our most industrious students.” I shook his hand. The principal started speaking unhurriedly and tranquilly. “Have a seat ______ . _________. Mr.________is here to see if you’d be interested in possibly attending Harvard University.” I pulled the chair under me and sat like a statue, still and upright. My afro wanted to move but I didn’t let it. The recruiter started to speak.
“Mr.____________ (he called me mister), Harvard has plenty of opportunities for students like you who are willing to work hard to achieve success in the University. There’s an opportunity for you to study for a career of your choosing. We have programs that will assist you in preparing for a future you will be proud of, what do you think? Interested?” Now the air became rock solid, encircling me, closing in on me, tightening my arms and legs in their place, not allowing me to take full breaths or simply stand up and leave the office in a most pleasant manner. The Afro was trying to revive itself, to come alive in spite of me. No I said, be still ‘fro. I felt the weight of Afro coming alive. The “Afro Sheen” was spreading to my nostrils, throughout the room, its magic will take over any neutral air and “seize the time”! Oh no, Afro tried to speak! I said No. The recruiter repeated himself, “Well, what do you think?” Oh no, Afro escaped…! It began speaking words coming from the depth of a dormant memory, mesmeric, speaking tongues, power…
“The American institutions of education”, Afro began, “are meant to indoctrinate the Blackman so he will have no knowledge of his heritage therefore becoming an enemy to his own people!” Afro was on a roll. No Afro! Afro continued, “By taking me from the cause and struggle of my people, I become a tool of the very system that’s oppressing my people. Like somebody said, “If you’re not helping to solve the problem, you are the problem”. Go Afro, Go! No, No! By this time the principal and the recruiter were as limp and pink as week old roses. Afro went on, “Why should I participate in the advancement of other people’s prosperity when my people are subjugated to segregation, injustice, disadvantaged neighborhoods run by people who don’t live in the community but economically exploit the people?!”
After Afro used every condemning word it could remember, it stopped. The long silence invited me to leave. I stood to leave. “Thanks,” the principal whispered in a most pleasant manner. “Thank you,” mumbled the recruiter. I headed to the English department where I would continue work on the school magazine “Square Biznus”. As I was walking through the crowded corridor, I felt an elusive yet compelling liberation overwhelm me. I thought of the social implication of Afro’s essence, whether Afro spoke inappropriately, defending its wearer, or hopefully, heroically, speaking a truth necessary for the development and integrity of a Black sixties teen whose world has proved to be both new and old; a history whose time has come and gone and returned to revive itself, or maybe deep inside Afro wasn’t ready to hobnob it at Harvard.
Jacques Wakefield: "I am a poet/writer/artist. Recently published in drylandlit.org, aaduna.org, Black Masks magazine, and Beatdom.com."