Social media can work wonders in connecting with folks from back in the day. Fairfax Village, the neighborhood where I primarily grew up in Southeast, DC, started out as a haven for middle and working-class folks in search of new housing in a developing part of the city. Mayor Marion Barry lived a few blocks up the street. The Maryland State line was on the other side of the woods. It was supposed to capture the essence of the suburbs while still being in the city. And it started out that way. The first ten years of my life were pretty nice. We had full basketball and tennis courts, a state of the game playground, and a general sense of safety. Then came crack and private buildings that got turned into public housing. And then came wars with rival complexes on all sides. We were supposed to avoid the same struggles our parents had faced deeper within Chocolate City’s borders. But it didn’t work out that way.
Last year I hooked up with my man Vince, a fellow “Village” graduate who was a few years ahead of me. Lately, when I’m in town, we’ve taken to the occasional drive or walk, chopping it up on how it used to be. On a Saturday, we decided to walk Georgetown, from an old cemetery deep in the cut, down to the infamous steep stairs where the classic scene from The Exorcist was filmed, and then across the Key Bridge into Arlington County and back. Vince is a 9-to-5 guy. I’m the self-employed wayfarer. But what we have in common is the struggle of staying sane while enduring the complexities of being Black men. While sistas have Oprah and Iyanla and Essence, Wendy Williams and RHOA, we’re got ESPN, Tavis Smiley and barber shop talks about money and women. What we also have are our own dark and complex memories as we stand as minority survivors as of cyclones that laid waste to many of our comrades.
We talk about Arnold doing another Conan movie. We talk about his marriage and kids versus my singledom. There’s admiration and envy on both sides. But the roads we chose ended up were very different from the way so many of our partners went. A little more than a year before I’d run into a crew of cats from “The Village” who had walked a different road. All had done time and some were still in the streets. The point man of that evening, my drunken dude Kerry, (a few years behind me but apparently still hustlin), died a few months later, barely 34. The others were scattered, either marginalized by felony charges or struggling to rebuild in crunch time. That morning, as Vince and I walked the bridge, I thought about how he’s the only dude from the old hood I’ve talked to in years. But I’ve also learned that you can’t keep up with everybody. The road takes you where it takes you. The constant prayer is to end up where you need to be.