Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I Apologize for Being Black

For all I am.
Plus all I lack.
Please sir,
Please mam.
Cut me some slack.
I do apologize.
-Oscar Brown, Jr.

I didn't really plan on going there, but my brain and fingers have a mind of their own. Hey Ya'll!

So, the title stems from a situation I encountered today while trying to handle a larger situation that's reminding me to live beyond myself and keep hold to a purpose. I won't beat around the situation. I'll describe it in depth. The ugly beauty of it all amazes me.

I don't really know where to begin. Caveat: I can tell this will be a long post. I actually tried to avoid writing it for that reason, but it won't let me. I'll start here:

Behold: These were my roommates from last year. They made it into a blog post or two for various reasons. Either way, I love all of them. Sincerely. Granted (and to be completely honest), I don't like all of them. I do love them. Living with someone and learning them inside out kind of forces you to do so or you're liable to go nuts.

Either way, take note of the one directly beside me, the one above my head to the left, and the one above my head in the center. These three ladies are my babies. Funny thing is, I learn from them more than I teach- on most days. They're only younger than me in age. Either way, we have a bond. Simply stated, but true.

Now, we aren't living in the same space anymore (granted, they all live in the same building still) so there's been a change in how often we communicate. But the feeling I get when I see them, my desire to be in their presence, etc... none of that has changed. I wish I could stress to you how much they've impacted me. My Godmom says you're sure to leave college with two things: debt and secrets. She forgot to mention friends who have made a lasting impression.

Anywho, I have yet to reach the point. I was contacted last week by two of them regarding the third one. It had been brought to my attention that she had been having a tough time and crying often, but she hadn't mentioned it to me when I had seen her (with one of them) the day before. So, since she was on my mind-I did a surprise visit last night.

Again, they all stay in the same building so I got one to sign me in, went to visit/get the other, than went to the last ones room so all 4 of us could be together. I was ecstatic to be in the same space with all of them. I'm around at least one of them, at least twice a week. But all 3 of them is a rarity. We always make plans. They seldom stick. Such is life.

Back to the story: So we're all in the room, and two of them are telling me that they've been so depressed lately. From ex-boyfriends, to living arrangements, to school work, etc. Now, me being me (meaning mushy and nostalgic), I say let's talk about "old times". But I'm told that's only more depressing since they think about "old times" often, being that they aren't too crazy about their current living situation. And I quote,

"I knew I would miss living with you guys. I just didn't know I'd miss it like this."

It's hard to explain in one post and I could never do it justice, but living with them was like living with family. I had sisters to come home to. I walked in the door and felt welcome. We crowded in one room and shared stories of our day, supported each other through tough times, listened to complaints/ranting... taught each other how to dance, how to cook, how to kiss, etc... In short, we just made memories.

Not to mention, we heard so many horror stories about roommates having conflict. Granted, there was one bad apple in our house of 6. Still, that's impressive. People were literally in awe of how well we all got along and how close we were. I can't tell you how many times we heard, "Aww, I wish our roommates were like that."

Again, back to the story: So, instead. I drop the bomb I was told to avoid until a later time, because I need to be updated on what's causing so much commotion in my roommates life (I know she's not my roommate anymore, but I still refer to her as such). And this is where the tears start to fall. In short, I'm told that one of them is being disowned by her parents because she walked out on an argument she was having with her mother, her mother ransacked her room, read through her journal, and saw a lot of things she didn't want to see.

Now let me give you some history on this here roomie: She was born in Vietnam. She moved to the states with her mother at a young age, and her mother had another child while here. From what I recall, they lived with their mothers boyfriend. And she continued to pro-create, (I think) 3 more kids outside of the initial two. When my roommate was 9, her mother packed up, moved to Florida, and left her & one of her siblings with a neighbor/friend she had met while being in the states.

She has no contact with her mother. Doesn't know (but remembers) her other siblings. Does not know who her father is/was. And the list goes on. [and yes, I've written a poem about this, but I never finished it-just in case you were wondering]

Supposedly, her mother didn't leave any documentation for the people she left them with. Just them. Remember that for later. Now, my roommate doesn't talk about this part of her life often, and considers her "new" caretaker her mother. She no longer remembers how to speak Vietnamese, is not/doesn't show bitterness regarding her childhood, and has been struggling to get proper documentation regarding her citizenship status for sometime now. For example, she's been trying to get a license for 3 yrs.

Last night, she said she didn't think she was strong enough to handle this situation. Her "mother" said she doesn't want anything to do with her, tells her she's a whore because of the sexual relations she's had with one person that her mother read about in the journal, texts/emails her friends saying the same thing, and wants an explanation from her as to why she hurt her so badly.

Now, I can only speak for myself and another one of my roommates (the other Black one, which may or may not be important but it has a lot to do with our similar opinions regarding family because we were brought up in a similar manner-granted, she's actually Haitian-and that's something else in and of itself), either way-we thought all of this was ludicrous.

You're going to shun your growing child because you read her journal and caught a glimpse of her sexual experiences? It's bad enough the girl is always scared to keep a journal because of things like this, but it's worse that she's used to this type of thing.

Sidenote: Left an old poetry book laying around once. My father snooped. My first sexual piece was in there. He made some snyde remark that I can't recall, and that was that. My father knows I'm sexually active. He isn't pleased, but he also trust (or so I hope) that I'm not sloring it up in Philadelphia. Moving forward.

If anything, I feel like her mother should be embracing her and making her feel loved. She's been through enough. Moreso, she should see this as an opportunity to speak with her-woman to woman. Instead, she's still treating her as if she is a child who does not partake in adult actions that may lead to adult consequences. And I don't just mean sex, I mean anything in general. She doesn't address "real life" issues with her, because in her head-my roomie's still in grammar school.

Even worse, she has no form of privacy. When her mother dropped her off at school, she was so pleased at how maternal I was-she said it made her feel better about leaving her here. However, she gave her all these rules to abide by (while at school)... as if she would be here to enforce them.

And some of them were just ridonkulous. I.e: We go to school in a major city, North Philadelphia. Her mother said, under no circumstances, should she use public transportation (due to safety issues). This alone is a tough one, because in the smallest capacity, you have to (at least) get on the train to get to class if you take any courses at/on our Center City campus.

Once-She rode in a cab, with 3 other people (myself, another roommate, and a male included), and got in trouble for that. It doesn't matter that we were going to see a play 4 blocks up from where we lived and got out the cab before she did, and since she didn't want to be in the cab alone, she proceeded to (literally) run home because the street lights had came on and it was technically dark out (meaning, she was scared to be alone).

Yes, it's that deep. Nor does it help that her mother wants her to come home every weekend, and my roommate seldom expresses the fact that she actually would like to say at school. And if she even shows some type of disdain, her mother will proceed to remind her that she is selfish and the least she can do is spend some time with her family since her stepdad is shelling out cash for her tuition. But what her mother fails to realize is, her stepdad is paying for the experience that she is being robbed of. Because I can promise you, people learn more about life than books in college.

Back to the topic at hand, so my roommate is supposed to have this grand conversation with her mother and all she keeps saying is she doesn't feel capable of doing it. She was crying. I was crying. She said she felt pathetic for not being as "brave and strong" as we were. Again, I've mentioned this before-I seldom feel as brave as people proclaim. She also mentioned that she can't really do more than cry and apologize when they get on the phone.

I proceeded to tell her that she needs to assert herself. Granted, that is her mother, so a certain level of respect is necessary. She needs to point out that though it is okay and rather natural for her mother to be disappointed in her actions, (cause hell, I don't even want her having sex and I'm her peer) her actions are not so heinous and direct that her mother should feel hurt by her and worthy of explanation.

Like, in what way has she done something that requires an explanation regarding you being hurt? If you wanted her to explain her decisions, that'd be something different. But, to describe why she chose to hurt you specifically... ridiculous. That's a self-incriminating tactic. (way to bring my future lawyer out, right?) To explain herself would imply that her actions were done with the intent of hurting you, which I'm sure wasn't the case. For that matter, even God knows that she didn't think once of her mother while performing sexual acts with that man. Ya'll will have to excuse me if that's blasphemous.

I'm sure I'm leaving gaps, and you don't know her mother in the details that I do, but I hope you can see where I'm coming from. My roommate is reaching a level of maturity (or just a point in life, generally speaking) where she should be responsible enough to make her decisions AND be held accountable for them. With that responsibility and accountability should come a certain level of trust. As a mother, if you did a good job raising your child, you shouldn't worry so much about what they do once they leave your place because you know you did well. And it's not like she isn't trying to be accountable. Hell, you read her journal which gives full details. There's no denying that truth.

However, her mother just refuses to let her go. And now that she realizes her hold on her isn't what it used to be, she says she doesn't want anything to do with her at all. She went so far as to say that "my roommate can hurt her like that, but she won't allow her to do the same thing to her grandparents so she needs to call them." What?! (Let me say, because I haven't said it and am probably painting a horrible picture, her mother is actually a very nice and loving woman, she just is a bit immature and extremely overbearing)

Because of all this, my roommate doesn't think she will be coming back to school next semester, will possibly be staying with friends, and is unsure of her whole situation in general. However, me and my Haitian roomate (insert smile and empowerment here) aren't having that. We are women familiar with those who make things happen, and this all just seems outlandish to us.

So, we're doing it for ourselves and trying to see to it that her seat in a Temple University classroom is secure come spring semester. We've already hit a few roadblocks, and it's only day one-but we'll work it out. The big issue today was determining whether or not she is actually a U.S. citizen (because we need to look into financial aid). As mentioned before, her mother "supposedly" dropped her off with no documentation. She only knows her social security number. She doesn't have the actual card, and as I learned today while visiting the social security office-that number doesn't imply citizenship, it's more like an ID # for people in the country. (Who knew? Not me. Cause I could've sworn that meant you belonged to us.)

The reason I've been using the term "supposedly" regarding her biological mother leaving her with no documentation is because it seems a bit silly to me that her mother would leave her children with a neighbor, not bring any of the paperwork that comes with them (certificates and such)-but supply her social security number... IDK, verbally? Like, did she just remember it in her head? Not to mention, her mother's English was less than perfect at this time. More so, her ex thinks her "new" mother actually has it and isn't giving it to her... part of her not letting go.

So, we went to about 4 offices today trying to determine her status just to figure out that we have to go downtown. It was definitely a rat race. Each building we visited referred us elsewhere. And I definitely didn't have on the proper attire. I was feeling good when I got dressed, looked accordingly, and messed up the heel of my boot while trekking through campus.

The title of this post comes from what we experienced when entering the social security office. I want to reiterate the fact that we go to school in N. Philadelphia. For people who aren't from here, it's generally referred to as "the hood". Such is life. Granted, it is a rough area. Still, our campus (though it's an open campus) is pretty secure, well guarded/infiltrated with cops and "watch stations" on every corner. In short, I feel safe. But all I have to do is walk two blocks off campus to be reminded of my location.

In saying that, the social security office nearest us is a reflection of our environment. The second we walked in, I said to my Haitian roommate that I hope the people helping us wouldn't be rude. She said, with every bit of her Brooklyn attitude, "We could be rude right back." But that wasn't really my point of concern, I just didn't want the people being completely apathetic to our situation because it wasn't their own.

I felt bad for even feeling the need to express that when I walked into the place. But some things are just obvious from a mile away. When we did speak with someone: he was sarcastic, not the slightest bit eager to help, and my roommate walked away apologizing for questioning the man in the first place. My other (Haitian) roommate sarcastically apologized to the man that that was his job. And, in response, I apologized to my roommate for his actions in general. I immediately had one of those "we have to do better" moments. Like, I felt so bad that we just wanted to help our roommate and here we are, encountering trouble from our own people.

And, I'm not trying to take it there. I'm just saying. Like, yeah we are college students, and he probably didn't take us seriously cause our questions seemed foolish to someone familiar with the material they see on a daily. You know when you're so familiar with certain material you start to think it's common knowledge or take your knowledge on the matter for granted? However, we aren't asking without reason-closed mouths don't get fed, and I'm shameless when it comes to acquiring knowledge... So, yuh.

That was that. Tomorrow we will be going to the Homeland Security office. I won't front like I'm not worried. Just from speaking with someone in our admissions office, red flags began popping up in my head. For example, the lady helping us told us that when someone indicates they're a U.S. citizen (when feeling out college applications), the school doesn't look into it any further because you sign off saying everything you indicated on the app is true.

However, if we're making inquiries about her citizenship status, than clearly she doesn't really know what her status is regardless of what she put down. What if they opted to look into that or asked for proof? As far as she knows-she has no social security card, birth certificate or valid ID. She definitely doesn't have a passport. That could just make a bad situation worse.

IDK what to expect when we go to this office tomorrow. I'm hoping for the best though. As I'm rereading what I wrote, I forgot to note that my roommate opted to email her mom last night versus explaining herself via phone call. This way, she was sure she would be able to get her point across and wouldn't be deterred by her mothers interruptions or start crying. I haven't heard the results of that email, and I know they were supposed to have an actual phone conversation today.

Oh yeah, all 4 of my roomies prayed together last night too. It's funny how things happen... how people pull together in times of desperation and look down avenues they've never considered. Two of us four don't pray. Correction, one of us prays but doesn't know who they're addressing. She's only sure that she's speaking with a higher being. The other doesn't pray, because she doesn't know how to. I pray, but not like I should. And the other prays like it's her job, the pay is terrible, and the rent is due tomorrow. Needless to say, we had her start the prayer off. I just felt like we had a better chance of getting through to the mainline if she spoke first.

I followed up (feeling like my prayer was insufficient after my first roommate made sure our call connected, so to speak). I Spoke my peace with God and asked that he give my roommate strength throughout this situation, but my true intent was just for her to hear the words from my mouth. Me asking God to let her know that she was capable was really just me telling her that she was capable. Then she prayed. She only had one thing to say, and it wasn't so much a prayer in most definitions of the term but I'm sure that God heard her. I can't wait for Him to speak back. Then our other roommate prayed back, and more than anything she just gave thanks. It was the most moving situation I've been in lately. Not to mention, the prayer seemed so complete.

Like, it was full circle. Someone asked God to do what they knew He was capable of doing in our lives, someone asked God to reveal Himself to us in this situation, someone told God that they were weak, and someone gave God thanks. Amen to that. Really. I'm looking for inspiration everywhere now-a-days. That definietly did it for me. More than anything, we're all ready for this situation to be over. Not so much because it's overwhelming, but because we just want to know the outcome. That makes sense, right? Yesterday we decided that if we got each other, than it's all good. So, either way we're getting through this one. Human interaction is everything.

But this situation lit a fuel up under me. I have been walking around really lax lately. My school work has been on back burner, I'm not really pressed to do anything, and my priorities weren't out of order because I acted as if they were non-existent. O, what a difference one night makes. No, I'm not pregnant LOL This situation has me wanting to change the world. I won't lie and say that I've made this 360 degree change since last night. I'm just saying that I feel inspired and purpose driven. And seeing to it that this gets handled efficiently, to the best of my abilities is a priority of mine. That girl's Vietnamese with a 3.9 GPA and a Biology major. If we can determine her citizenship status: she's got grants, scholarships and financial aid written all over her.

I can only imagine how long this post is, but I'm only about to lengthen it, because I want to close this post with an excerpt from Taalam Acey's poem titled "Brotherly Love". Last time I was home, one of my best friends was dealing with life's issues, and hearing this poem made me think of her. Again, this poem made me think of someone I hold close to me and reminded me that their problems are my own, so we need to get them fixed. Here's the excerpt:

...Right now he feels like everything is lost
That's why I'm glad he came to me to give me this opportunity to put a few thoughts across
You see, all day and all night we talk
And I tell em
A man is judged by what's in his soul
And what's in his heart
And not just by what's in his pockets
Me and him are friends through thick and thin
And if he's in pain
We need to put our brains, time and money together to stop it
I tell em' the fact that we don't have a lot of money is a problem
But rather than getting fed up
What we need to do is wake up
And like Moses and Jacob
Whenever we get together,
Just find new ways to prophet (profit)
Cause in my eyes our friendship is how we live
And how we die
And don't you ever believe that even for a second
That I would EVER let you slide
For what I'm about to say
I need you to listen with all your pride and sexuality aside
Cause as God as my guide
Like my own self
I love you
Thanks for Bearing With Me
(just needed to get that off my chest),



  1. You know, even though your friend is inquiring about her status, on the Admissions side of school, she should be okay. I know where I work, it's only a problem if the student is applying as an international student (like they go back and forth from their home country) but just looking at the situation, it's good to raise these questions and hit the pavement now. Everything doesn't add up, and as far as future employment, insurance, etc is concerned, it's just good to know where she's at, and if she isn't where she's at what she needs to do to be "legit".

    My heart was breaking reading this. I don't know why people have to go through so many different things but sometimes it truly helps to put things into perspective.

    Aid office (or any social service office, for that matter) are the worst. Idk what it is about government employees - that's just a general attitude. I'm generally quick to remind them that it's 10 people that would literally cause bodily harm to them to have that same job "pushing papers" smh. People need to be humbled every now and again!

    She'll be just fine with friends like you all. :)

  2. wow, this post was sad and uplifting all in one. You guys are doing a great deed by helping your friend find out her status. While it may raise a few red flags in regards to her admissions with Temple, there are ways around that. Your friend answered the question regarding citizenship to the best of her ability. There is no "unsure" box and no one told her otherwise so she answered as truthfully as she could.
    Please keep us posted on this and continue to pray.

  3. i don't know if i can do b harg. in the mornings anymore. talk about drained!

    seriously, though. i do hope everything works out for the best for your roommate. and i'm glad you have a renewed sense of inspiration.

  4. This post did a lot for me so early in the morning. Best of luck to you and especially your roomate. Communication is key and sending that email would be her best bet to avoid interruptions and her emotions taking over.

    That excerpt from Brotherly Love is so appropriate in my life right now with my bestfriend. I am greatful. Thank you again.