So now when my father wakes up in the morning, he opens up his laptop and goes to three main sources for news: NPR, BBC and Cleveland.com (one of those doesn't belong I know). He goes to NPR for the stories, the music and the interviews, he goes to BBC because they cover stories that the US ignores and sometimes they provide different viewpoints for stories this country has covered to death. And finally, my dad goes to Cleveland.com because that's where he grew up, and he likes to connect with home sometimes. His mother, his father, and most of his friends have passed on, but reading about Cleveland fills that void..kind of. Im noticing that getting older leaves a lot of voids in one's life..but I digress.
Yesterday morning after logging on to Cleveland.com, my father stumbed on an article about the Hough riots of 1966. Hough was a rough part of East Cleveland, and my father lived there the first 10 years of his life. As with most major cities in the 60s and early 70s, there was racial tension in that part of Cleveland, which triggered destructive riots. My dad sent the article to my brother and me, because he wanted us to step into the virtual time machine and see the issues that he had to deal with back then. He sends my brother and me at least 10 articles a day, and if I'm being honest, I only read 2 to 3 of them, but I took time out to read this article, because I could tell it was important to him.
After I read the article, we started an email exchange where I was asking him about Hough, his feelings on it years later, and whether he felt like it was the hood, or if it felt like a close-knit commmunity with some extraneous issues. He told me that he visited Hough back in 1996, and he also shared his feelings about how drastically different the neigborhood looked and how sad it made him. I am going to step aside, and let you read what he wrote:
I felt some sadness that a part of the first ten years of my life was gone, including the apartment buildings where we lived, my first two schools, the junior high school field where we played ball, League Park where the [Cleveland] Indians played in the early part of the 20th century and where the Browns practiced when I lived in the area, the movie theater the kids in the neighborhood attended after church, and this little store that sold the best french fries (in a greasy brown paper bag) known to human kind! The new houses felt soulless. I guess there was no way anything new could match my childhood memories. We didn't call it the "hood" back then, they were slums. Based on where friends of my family lived, I knew our neighborhood was not as nice as theirs. That said, I didn't dwell on the differences. It was a relatively safe and nurturing environment. The worst substance abusers I was aware of were the local winos, who seemed harmless to all but themselves. We also did not have serious gang violence. While I never had a lot of stuff, we always ate well and lived under a roof. I hate to sound so basic, but I was raised to understand that money beyond the basics was not the norm for our family. Only in retrospect did I label my old neighborhood as a ghetto, but even then, that was merely a physical description. Unlike some inner city neighborhoods of today, it seemed the inhabitants of my old neighborhood had a great spirit and sense of optimism
Then I asked him how he felt when we moved the affluent city of Potomac (Maryland) and how he juxtaposed those feelings of finally "making it" with where he had come from in the Hough section of East Cleveland:
I could not have dreamed of a house like the one we had in Potomac. When growing up, I never even saw such neighborhoods. It was a consequence of segregation, both other and self imposed. I didn't think we had made it, but we were doing OK. We made a good living, but had yet to accumulate wealth, so I was not overwhelmed with our status at that time. Beginning in my freshman year in college (at Columbia University), I have had numerous moments of reflection about my past and how far I had come/was going. I still have them. It keeps me grounded and motivated. Before I left for college, I ran into some friends on Kinsman near Mount Pleasant BarBQ. They were standing around a mailbox and said they were saving a place for me whenever I failed at something. Obviously, I still remember that incident nearly 50 years later, and it still has the same impact on me: fear and motivation.
One should not overly dwell on the past, but put the memories into their proper context. The past is your foundation and can provide excellent lessons for your current and future existence. One thing I have learned is that there is a huge difference between looking at something as an adult versus as a child/youth. The first time I returned to my junior high school, I was amazed at how small everything seemed. Context, indeed
That is all. Kareem, Dwight Gooden and James Worthy (in that order) are my athletic heroes, but my dad is and will always be my "real" hero.
**Sidebar** It is also worth mentioning that my father grew up and played high school football with ESPN's Tom Jackson, who appears looks like he is on the verge of retirement.
And now, a song from the "Do The Right Thing" Soundtrack back in 1989 which seems to fit perfectly in 2016: