My grandma didn’t graduate from high school. She’s a survivor of crushing racism in the deep South. She moved to California where she scrubbed bathrooms to put my father through medical school. My father represented a phenomenon in the black community called “making it.” My family lived the story of sacrifice amidst racial injustice so that the next generation could climb a little higher, could leave poverty a little further behind: the African-American dream.
My brothers and I are all in prison or on parole. We live beneath the poverty line, beneath the crushing weight of systematic racism. My family’s African-American dream died with us. Except the story isn’t over until the book closes. My book is open, and a college degree is the next chapter in revising my family’s dream. My dream. It’s my next step in building a legacy that instead of dragging my kid down, will lift her up.
How will this legacy look?
It begins with the most important thing I want to teach my daughter. No matter how bad things get, no matter how low you fall, it’s never too late and you’re never in too deep to turn toward the light.
The legacy continues with an MFA. I want to design curriculums for inner-city schools that will take advantage of art’s power to manifest positive change in communities and in individual lives. Cycles of addiction and violence in urban communities are often fueled by a sense of powerlessness, a sense that you have no power over your life except that which you can immediately seize through violence or other antisocial behavior. The youth trying to survive these cycles need a healthy way to exercise power, and while activism and sports are healthy exercises of self-determination, artistic expression is what saved me in my 20s. By then I was already serving a life sentence in prison. I want to teach children what I learned in my 20s while they’re in elementary and junior high school.
The legacy ends, well, never. We live in a divided world, and our divisions are destroying us. I’ve often witnessed the power my writing has to bridge differences between people. If I can teach generations to write with the consciousness that their work can heal our world, and they teach generations after them, the legacy continues.