From Soweto to Brooklyn


Been back from Johannesburg for a couple of days trying to ease back into things slowly, though next week's film school orientation will likely upset my natural equilibrium. I hate coming back from vacation.

This morning I took a jog around Brooklyn Tech track a block from my apartment. As long as I didn't talk to too many folks, I could pretend that I was still on the continent surrounded by South Africans.

There was an older, stocky sista walking on the track in a black, ankle-length skirt. She wore headphones and kept raising her hands in the air and clapping as she shouted some indecipherable phrase to the heavens. Must be listening to gospel music, I thought, thanking God for another day. She was not unlike any of the women I saw at my friend's wedding ceremony, shouting and waving their hands in the air, clapping and stamping their feet rhythmically. The only real differences were language and zip code.

Crossing the 300-meter mark, I noticed that someone had cut a jagged, human-sized hole through a new chain link fence they had built last month. The fence was supposed to separate the track -- property of the prestigious Brooklyn Tech High School, down the road -- from the surrounding low-income housing buildings in Fort Greene.

Every time someone succeeded in bending back the metal, to make a way inside when the fence was locked after hours, they built a taller, stronger fence to replace the damaged one. Again, some clever young'un would rip a hole through it, so they would build another new fence. It was pointless and inevitable, but it didn't stop the powers that be from building bigger fences.

I looked up and saw a sheet hanging out of one of the project windows, like off some rooftop in the Ninth Ward. Humph. It's funny how, despite all our differences, black folks from Soweto to Brooklyn are really the same -- praying and waiting for deliverance. Trying to break free from physical, emotional, and mental ghettos while the rest of the world is hellbent on building bigger fences.

Maybe I never left Brooklyn after all. When I was in Soweto, some places reminded me of my own neighborhood. People on top of people on top of people and all black. Some places in Soweto are even becoming gentrified, so expensive that well off blacks can't afford houses there, not that that means whites are moving in.

I think things will flow to a natural order as long as folks who leave the ghetto never forget that our liberation is bound up with those still living in it. To forget that is to forget our communities and lose ourselves.

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