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Not Just Black Business, it’s Good Business: Connection of Bill Ross, Booker T Washington, & Butch Small

in Events by

Last night, Detroit Seafood Market was filled with some of Detroit’s most charismatic, intelligent, and successful civil servants, faith leaders, and entrepreneurs. I joined this mix of stars to honor the legacy of Bill Ross. Mr. Ross was retiring from the post of leading the Booker T Washington Business Association for decades.

The organization was founded by the Peck family. Their initiative built a platform for Black business people to gather, share, learn, and build together in Detroit.

From selling studio time to rappers, till now leading my marketing firm, Mr. Ross has always been a supportive voice of insight and encouragement. I’m still applying lessons he taught me years ago today.

Last night’s event is a contradiction to all negative perceptions about Black business in Detroit. Successful giants of Detroit business like Tony Stovall (Hot Sam’s Clothing – Detroit’s oldest clothing retailer), Alan Young (of Alan Young & Associates CPA), and Linda Davis (of RL Graphics Print & Design) all gathered as Chuck Stokes (Spotlight on the News WXYZ Detroit’s ABC affiliate) emceed the event.

In the shadows of stars, I look up to, were my peers who are now wielders of social influence and industry. Ken Harris (President of the National Business League – which was founded by Booker T Washington), Karinda Washington (Chief of Staff Office of Partnership & Engagement at U.S. Department of Homeland Security), and Donald Webb (of IT Guys Networking & Cyber Security) are people I’ve shared laughs, lessons, and sandwiches with, are now providing opportunities and resources in abundance. The value of the Booker T Washington Business Association connections I made in 2004, has always come to fruition.

Booker T Washington’s perspective towards achieving human rights for Black people in America can be theoretically polarizing throughout the Black community. Years ago I discussed this with my mentor and the leader of the Detroit Nation of Islam Dawud Muhammad. Minister Dawud impressed upon me to honor the work and practicality of Booker T Washington. He urged me to seek understanding in the building of Tuskegee University to gain value in Washington’s legacy.

The semantics of his more conservative and apologist attitude towards racist White Americans should not devalue the gateways to opportunity Booker T Washington developed for Black people in America and the American south.

Tuskegee University began as an agricultural gem that expanded to produce world leaders in medicine, engineering, and design. Washington’s understanding of practical problem solving, accessing needs, and knowing the value is why Tuskegee has been feeding, teaching, and building Alabama since it broke ground. Developing methods of molding bricks from Alabama clay was the foundational method the university was built.

My love for hip-hop relates to the creativity and drive behind finding value in what others won’t and don’t.

As the Regan administration cut funding for arts and music in public school, the advent of the DJ and rapper was created.

Many people look up to Sylvia Robinson (Sugar Hill Records) and Russell Simmons (Def Jam Records) as the prototype for a hip-hop business leader, I look up to Carl ‘Butch’ Small of World One Records.

Butch Small is a world-class drummer and percussionist who has toured the world with George Clinton, the Four Tops, and many more (I called him to receive his blessing to share this, and he’s actually on tour now). Small is also the father of Carlos Small who is DJ Los. In 1988 DJ Los and EZ B released the ‘Untouchable’ record which was the first vinyl I ever remember a Detroit rapper made.

Butch Small saw the interest of his son and the Detroit community in hip-hop. He also knew that Detroit recording studios rejected the art form and looked at the music as a trend and not a culture. The city Motown Records and Berry Gordy built the ‘the Sound of Young America,’ neglected the rhythms and spirit of hip-hop.

Butch Small took his experience of years working with Sylvia Moy, Don Davis, and Norman Whitfield and applied to hip-hop.

World One Records opened a studio on 6 Mile in the heart of Detroit Westside. The architects of Detroit Hip-hop built their sound within those walls. The legends I love like Kaos & Mystro, DJ Los and EZ B, DICE, and Nikki D all crafted their artistry under the guidance of Butch Small. The other Detroit hip-hop artist at the time all followed the formula World One Records built. Merciless Amir, Awesome Dre, Smiley, Black Man & Kid Rock (when he was wearing Adidas jumpsuits and not confederate flag shirts), Detroit’s Most Wanted, and AWOL all were given access to studios, stages, and radio play because of the vision of Butch Small.

Seeing opportunity in the passion, creativity, and potential of others is the link between Bill Ross, Booker T Washington, and Butch Small. We should all look to be gateways for bigger stages, larger crowds, and louder messages for the visions of others. For if Ross, Washington, and Small were afraid of ruining their reputations, not being aligned with purpose, or only gratification generations of families would be experiencing a lesser quality of life.

Skin Bar VII

in Motor City Match by

Skin Bar VII is the dream brought to life by Kim Jones. The business will be part of Detroit’s historic Avenue of Fashions business district near W Seven Mile Rd and Livernois Ave. Kim is a specialist for bringing the best out of skin care. For years Jones has worked in salons and even barbershops providing her dynamic service. Recently Kim was rewarded with a Motor City Match grant to build out her space. This is her story and vision for Skin Bar VII.

This is my hood, my hood is going to love me, the neighborhood is going to love me, a lot of people in this neighborhood has seen me grow up here, so when you see someone grow up in the younger years, you see them ride a bike down the street, and then they build a business and it’s a successful business, you are drawn to support them, so I got overwhelming support from the neighborhood already before me when I reopened.

My name is Seven and I am the owner of Skin Bar VII

Skin Bar VII is Detroit premier skin care facility. We are at 18951 Livernois between 7 mile and clear reader ,skin care is overall helping with this, I have been into skin care my entire life, I have been doing…,I have over 18 years’ experience in this industry and its one of the key to life very, very much neglected

The motor city match process was serious, it was really really serious but it made a better professional, a better business woman and it made a better leader it really captured what I did, it solidified my business and took it to the professional level because things that you dint think was important are very intricate in the success of your business, so make sure once you get up there, you stay up there.

“Alright, what would you say to somebody watching this right now and has a business and is thinking about motor city match, what advice do you have?”

What I would say to them for one is, follow directions, every single solitary thing that they ask for or application you need to provide it and don’t go scimpy on it, take your time, you need a thorough business plan, you need those financials, you need to do your research, so don’t get discouraged by all the paper work because all the paperwork is very much necessary not just to win from motor city match but overall make you a better business person and to make sure that your business is able to withstand the economy and grow.

Detroit is all good, you know am the expert, I am the guru and they come to me for advice aah I have the results driven, practice and they are happy with the results so I get a lot of love from Detroit. I preferred Motor City Match because I knew that I could win, I was determined to… I was determined to win, because I had a dream, I had a goal and I had a vision and I wanted to do whatever it took if they were to make that happen. I chose this location because this where I grew up back, I grew a couple of streets over, I went to Hamilton Elementary school, I went to Mumford High school. This is home for me , I wanted to contribute to the whole world of bringing me to my community and bringing a business like myself brings back, brings back class, it brings a healthy career for this neighborhood and I have tons of great things I want to bring to this community.

People can get in contact with me by following me on Instagram @skinbarvii, that’s skin bar VII, you can like my page on Facebook page and you can go to www.skinbarvii.com, that’s Skin Bar VII.com.

Around Detroit: Marche Du Nain Rouge Parade

in Around Detroit by

Thornetta Davis invited me to an event that captured how Detroit is Different for her “Around Detroit” feature. I attended the Marche Du Nain Rouge 2015 Parade with Thornetta Davis and her husband, James Anderson, on Sunday March 22, 2015.

The Marche Du Nain Rouge Parade is an event that launched in 2012 in recognition of a 300 year old myth. Legend has it that in 1701 French Colonist for the Detroit territory Antoine de le Cadillac met a fortune teller who warned him to beware of the Nain Rouge. Nain Rouge is French for red devil, and is thought to be representative of Cadillac’s personal faults and ambitions.

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The Marche Du Nain Rouge is a parade that takes this concept to rid the Detroit of that very same “Devil”.

Thousands of Metro-Detroiters gathered in Detroit’s Midtown district to parade down Second Ave. The parade was full of music; guitar bands, brass bands, and boom boxes played the sounds of a joyous occasion. The parade is reminiscent of the Jazz funerals generally held in New Orleans. The costumes worn by participants were unique, their make-up was colorful, and many people danced along with the parade. I felt like I was in the second-line on Bourbon Street.

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The parade was led by a float with the “Red Devil”. The float had an actor atop a car playing the role of the Nain Rouge. The car, which led the parade, looked like something from Mad Max. The parade was closed by a mix of butterflies which represent the transformation of Detroit (shout out to my friend and excellent dancer/instructor Tene from the House of Bastet who was a butterfly). All negative images, thoughts, and energy from the past year are thought to be released with the butterflies, freeing Detroiters from the devilish past and launching them into the new year, lighter than before.

What if … Paradise Valley were still in Detroit

in What if ... by

Through the 1930’s and 50’s Detroit’s most active cultural district was Black Bottom’s Paradise Valley. Detroit’s Black Bottom was a bustling district full of restaurants, businesses, mix of migrants/ immigrants, and music. Duke Ellington, Pearl Bailey, Count Basie, Dinah Washington and a host of other premiere performed in Paradise Valley.
As Urban renewal struck Detroit in the 1950’s, Paradise Valley was demolished. Freeways were built in place of Detroit’s cultural gem.

Today I share Thornetta Davis’s take on: What if … Paradise Valley were still in Detroit.
Thornetta Davis is Detroit’s Blues Diva. I met her and her husband, (percussionist James Cornelius Anderson) for lunch last month at Cass Café. Cass Café resides in Detroit’s establishing Midtown district. Midtown is anchored by Wayne State University. A mix of coffee shops, restaurants, and boutique are currently flourishing the streets of Cass, Second and Third Ave. Music is missing! “It was so good to see you out at the Hop Cat for my show. I hope that it can stay open. Detroit needs places for music,” Thornetta.

Traveling America provides Detroiters the rare opportunity to witness how tourism. All destinations where tourism is prevalent, music is essential. Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Miami, and Chicago feature musical performance, performers, and venues. The wealth of musical genius throughout Detroit is unparalleled. Detroit venues featuring Detroit music are few and far between. If Paradise Valley were still here, that would be completely different.

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Duke Ellington, Joe Louis, and Dinah Washington

 

Thornetta Davis’ Paradise Valley

“I love colors so I see a mix of it throughout Paradise Valley,” Davis. Reds, Blues, Greens, and other colors would fill window seals welcoming in guests. “Detroit is so divided. Races, ages, and most groups stay to their own. I know music could, and would bring everyone together. I see Paradise Valley being a place like that. I imagine it being like the Blues scene in Chicago,” Davis. Music as a main attraction would welcome Metro Detroit into Paradise Valley to hear what Detroit makes best … MUSIC!

Bourbon Street in New Orleans would be blown out the water by Paradise Valley’s Hastings and St. Antoine. The history is full of the storied performances from Big Mama Thornton, Joe Louis partying nights away, and Sarah Vaughn singing in clubs at dark and church in the day. Recognizing the past, while providing a stage for the present would be the role Paradise Valley would play for Detroit music.

“St Andrews Hall/ the Shelter play Alternative Rock and Hip-hop. Cliff Bells and the Dirty Dog do Jazz. Bert’s Warehouse has Blues. If Paradise Valley were here it would be a place for all music. I see Reggae clubs, next to Blues bars, next to Rock halls, and Hip-hop clubs too. All these places would feature live music. National acts would visit, but Detroit acts would be given the same billing, pay, and support,” Davis. “It’s so much talent in Detroit amongst players. I think the music industry would stay in Paradise Valley to keep a list of artists ready for tours,” Davis.

Thornetta’s role in Paradise Valley would be her owning, operating, and performing at “Thornetta’s.” “It’s always
been a dream of mine to run a Blues bar. BB King and Buddy Guy have places in Chicago. So I know I’d have one in Paradise Valley,” Davis.

Davis described ‘Thornetta’s’ as a Blues bar built on live music. A collection of acts from across Detroit, and the nation would bring their bands and shows. “I would want to have featured shows Vegas style for Blues. I’d give all acts the opportunity to create, and give a unique show. I wouldn’t give a standard set, and nobody else would either,” Davis. ‘Thornetta’s’ would feature a mix of healthy Soul food. The specialty would be turkey delicacies. All the food would be complimented by a full bar with a ‘Thornetta Davis Daiquiri’ full of color, fruit, and flavor.

That’s what would happen if Paradise Valley were still here in Detroit today!

My Detroit Story: Getting Ready for the Stage

in My Detroit Story by

As a five year old in 1987, my heroes were my father, Mr. T and Run DMC. Naturally, the coolest among them were Run, Jam Master Jay, and DMC. My big sister Dara would run to get me any time MTV and BET played one of their videos. At that age, Run DMC’s “Walk this Way” video featuring Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith was the closest I could get to a rap concert. Their performance during the “Walk this Way” video captured my imagination, mind, and heart. I felt then, as I do now, that witnessing an epic rap performance is one of the greatest loves of all.

As a hip-hop fan I’ve been fortunate enough to have experienced great shows: Jay-Z, at the height of his success from “Big Pimping”, with Joe Louis Arena rapping every lyric with him, KRS-One at the Pyramid Club in NYC–where the basement floor shook from the crowd jumping throughout “South Bronx” and “Step into the World”–and Big Daddy Kane at the Shelter, where he passed the microphone to me and Finale to rap along with him for “Warm it up Kane”. Those performances stand out amongst the commercially successful hip-hop artists I’ve seen, but my favorite performers all are artists based in Detroit. Proof (RIP) was the best performer I’ve ever seen. He selected my favorite acts to join him on his Iron Fist record label: Kaunn, Supa Emcee, and the Woof Pac (Moe Dirdee, Hostyle, and J-Kidd). Leaf Erickson, Nick Speed, Jigsaw & the SSP, Quest McCody, Phat Kat, Danny Brown, and Royce 5’9 are all great acts to see perform, and they’ve been kept on their toes by a roster of hungry young acts that are amazing: Royce Fann, Early Mac, Clear Soul Forces, Milla Boy, Steven B the Great, and Kafre.

Personally, I’ve challenged myself over time to be able to perform with any band, any music, and in any venue. It’s been a journey of highs and lows. My best performances are when I prepare myself to share my joy and creativity through hip-hop with an audience. To achieve my goal of reaching an experiential performance, I’ve developed a process. As I prepare for my performance tonight with Alex White and the Family (a jazz band led by drummer Alex White, featuring bassist Ben Rolston, pianist Michael Jellick, and saxophonist Rafael Statin),  I will share this process with you.

Tonight I’ll be performing at the Jam Handy in Detroit’s New Center District (2900 E. Grand BLVD Detroit, MI 48202 between I-75 and Woodward at 8PM).

So as I prepare for my Mind Fusion performance with Alex White and the Family, I welcome you into my process of readying myself for a rap show:

 

 


 

8:00 AM – Wake Up and Rap Along:
Rap music utilizes a variety of ways to deliver, annunciate, and slur words. I find rapping along with Notorious BIG and/or Ice Cube strengthens my abilities more than most. This morning I’ll rap along with “Victory”, “Everyday Struggle”, and “Respect”, performed by the Notorious BIG.

9:00AM – Breathe Easy Tea:
I like to drink a cup of “Breathe Easy Tea” to open my diaphragm. I’ve found this really adds to the mix of tonality I can use while performing.

10:00 AM – Man in the Mirror:
Next, I’ll freestyle to the bathroom mirror for 10 – 15 minutes non-stop (freestyle rap is the improvisational style of performing hip-hop vocals). Performing in front of a mirror is the best practice to create an awareness of the words, gestures, and demeanor I carry during my performance. I believe this is the most important step to prepare for any show!

11:00 AM – Miles to Run:
That being done, I’ll head to the Olympic track at Northwestern HS (where I graduated class of 2001), on Detroit’s Westside and run two miles. The cardio helps build my endurance to complete a show with the same spirit in which I begin.

12:00PM – Power Lifting:
Bench press, curl, push-ups, chin-ups, and pull-ups all are great exercises that keep my heart rate active and deliver better results from my two mile run.

1:00PM – Rock Em’ Sock Em’:
Along with weights, my home gym has a heavy bag and a speed bag. I find the heavy bag to be a great way to calm down my thought process and focus in physically. Resting my mind builds my confidence and spirit to perform.

2:00PM – Reading is FUNdamental:
Reading after going rounds with my heavy bag is a form of mediation for me. It’s one of the best ways I relax to be prepared for whatever I could face in life. Currently I’m reading Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel. It’s a biography about the life of Dr. Seuss, born Ted Giesel. I enjoy autobiographies and biographies most for pleasure reading. It helps me to relate to the life’s journey of people I am interested in. Dr. Seuss developed an ability to deliver poignant messages to people of all ages with only a few easily understood words. I find that to be one of the most skillful talents anyone can develop, so I am enamored with Dr. Seuss.

3:00PM – Power Nap:
A power nap of 20 – 30 minutes finally closes out the calm before my show.

4:00PM – Listen to my Love:
Having refreshed my mind, I’ll play my music and listen. I listen for the errors and improvisations. The process of recording music is an art form of many steps. During the process of creating the lyrics in mind, writing the lyrics to paper, recording the lyrics, and mixing the music, much of the original intentions change. As the author of my words, I try to rewind this process to the inception of the song and grab that spirit. As part of my process to make my performances as experiential as possible, I think of the audience, venue, and microphone as an incubator. In order to hatch something that’s great, I must be in the spirit of the creation, and not the result. For this show, I’ll listen to my songs “Old School Chevy” & “I Oh My” from my 2009 album release Notes of an Artist and Activist (both songs are available on i-Tunes and Amazon, visit the sites and add to your song catalog and give me some money).

5:00PM – Make Notes:
Now focused, I’ll jot down a series of notes to start lyrics, speak with the audience, and have fun.

6:00PM – Look Good, Feel Good, All Good:
Hall of Fame NFL Cornerback Deion Sanders was one of my childhood idols. Following his career was easy. His charismatic attitude engaged me. Years ago he stated before games he’d lay out his uniform, football gear, and accessories on the locker room floor before all big games. I loved the concept and have followed suit for my wardrobe before every big performance I have.

7:00PM – Mic Check One Two … One Two:
Arrive at the Jam Handy for a quick sound check.

8:00PM – It’s Showtime!!!

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Around Detroit: John K King Used & Rare Books

in Around Detroit by

John K. King Used & Rare Books is one of my favorite places to visit in Detroit. The book store is the result of John K. King’s passion, developed over 50 years. King’s love for used and rare books blossomed overtime to now house tens of thousands of books for readers to appreciate.

Located in Downtown Detroit, King’s book store is a gem that’s world renown. Countless book enthusiasts list John K. King’s books as one of the best used book stores in the world. Over time, King has filled two four-story buildings (a cool analogy for a book store) with classic and unusual books for all ages.

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John K. King and John K. King Used & Rare Books

I personally enjoy visiting John K. King Books because of the vast array of subject matter. I first visited the book store in 2011. I’ve been in love with the store ever since. I’ve never been to King’s book store and spent less than two hours time selecting books to read. Visiting floor to floor exploring anything I can think of is a humbling experience. It’s as if King’s book store is a real life google search.

As a hip-hop artist, I believe it’s of dire importance that I gather an understanding of all contexts in life to relay into my songs. This process is also shared by Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, and the late Tupac Shakur, who have studied authors from Mark Twain to Dale Carnegie. The value I find in literature and lessons also strengthens my development in business as well. The more I’ve read, the more empowered my communication skills have become to apply to my business.

My favorite titles I’ve purchased from John K King’s book store are: an original print of “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” by Alex Haley; “My Life, My Work” by Henry Ford; and “The Franchise:: Building a winner with the World Champion Detroit Pistons, Basketball’s Bad Boys” by Cameron Stauth. I’m sure as I continue my visits to John King’s books, my list of favorite’s will change.

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John King currently has the same passion towards his collection. I asked King what were some of the titles he was most excited to get and he said, “I see all these books like they’re my babies, how can I like one more than the other.” Also King believes the culture of Detroit has helped the book store. “I’ve heard people claim Detroit has a 45% illiteracy rate. I don’t believe it. The more I’ve committed to the book store the more Detroit has led to it expanding,” John King.

John K King Used & Rare Books also holds many collections of autographs, anthologies, and papers. An original print of “The Fedaralists Papers” are held by John K King Used & Rare Books for the cost of $150,000.00 (The Fedaralist Papers are the collection of essays by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay urging the ratification of the United States of America and the Constitution.) Rare finds like that are only part of John King’s expansive collection which is reasonably priced. I’d imagine with $30 to spend you’d walk away with a stack of books you’re eager to open and from cover to cover. There are tens of thousands of books to choose from at John King’s book store, and he’s as much of a reader as his customers. Currently King is delving into Modern American poetry.

I urge of you to visit John K King’s Rare & Used Books when you have an opportunity to spend sometime Downtown Detroit. It’s located at 901 W Lafayette Detroit MI 48226 open Monday – Saturday 9:30am – 5:30pm.

43 in 67 Campaign

in Events by

Over the past three years I’ve been inactive as a hip-hop performer. Launching the Detroit is Different website has welcomed back a lot of my support. I’m thankful for the hundreds of opportunities I’ve had to perform, speak, and host events throughout Metro-Detroit since 2002. Humbled by what I have accomplished, and eager to accomplish more, I’m ready to touch audiences again.

Summer of 2014 I’m leading an event based marketing campaign. The campaign is ’43 in 67’ – it’s an artistic venture in which I will perform, host, interview, and/or speak at a series of 43 presentations in 67 days. The title of the campaign is inspired by the Detroit uprisings of 1943 and 1967.

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The ’43 in 67’ campaign will start Wednesday, July 23, and close Saturday, September 27.The campaign starts with a video interview I will produce and distribute through youtube. The closing event will be my theatrical-style Detroit narrative ‘If Detroit were Heaven.’ This will be held at 5eLement Hip-hop Art Gallery in the First Unitarian-Universalist Church of Detroit located at 4605 Cass Ave. in Detroit’s Wayne State University district.  The gallery is an alternative multidisciplinary arts organization that presents and supports contemporary artists and their work.

My goal is to appear at a diverse collective of events to reach an expansive, intergenerational audience. Strategically, I will develop a social media campaign gathering email addresses, Facebook friendships, and Instagram connections, and Twitter connections. This social media campaign will share a collective of pictures and messages telling the story of the ’43 in 67’ campaign, including its historical framing.

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I’ve selected three songs to perform throughout the ’43 in 67’ campaign:

  1. “If Detroit were Heaven,” an imaginative take on the people, places, and things that I feel would create the setting for Detroit if it were Heaven. This song makes reference to many of Detroit’s strong Black Power political and social figures prominent throughout the 1970s to 1990s.
  2. “It’s So Fresh,” is about my relationship with my maternal grandmother, women of my family, and older cousins. The song is told from my childhood perspective.
  3. “This is it What!” is about a hip-hop, word play-based song regarding my beliefs on metaphysical philosophy.

Growing up on Clements

in My Detroit Story by

As a child I grew up on Detroit’s North Westside close to the city of Highland Park. I lived at 1642 Clements next door to my Grandmother Motherdear. My earliest memories of friendships, playing, and establishing individuality began on Clements. It was a very unique setting that I feel has had a lasting effect on many of my life’s interactions today.

Throughout the mid 1980’s through the early 1990’s when our family lived on Clements there were 22 children in my age range. Beginning of course with my sister Dara, there was also Elizabeth, Apryl, Don, Juan, Carlos, Kenita, Brian, Andre, Big Andre, Aaron, Kenny Boy, Paradise, Fransoir, Raenita, Tashiana, Taquila, Shaniya, little Andre, Mike, Shawn, little James, and Teliya. Along with all these children many of our cousins in our age range would often spend summers on our block as well.

Everyday after school, and in the summer we all couldn’t wait to go outside and play. Football, pick em’ up mess em’ up, hide and go seek, tag, that’s my car, or just talk about each other. I believe my open nature, and personable attitude relates directly to the fact that at 7 years old I dealt with so many personalities and people. Our parents and grandparents all led different walks of life as well. Through the short visits, and talks with business people, unemployed workers, factory workers, retirees, fast food workers, teachers, entrepreneurs, hustlers, mechanics, and lunch aides, I had a loving cross section of society that viewed me as a friend of their children.

I remember in 1989, 90, and 91 drive-by shootings and gangs became more prevalent which put a new perspective to living on Clements. Little James’ father was the first drug dealer I ever knew of. He (Big James) and little James’ mother (who struggled with addiction) lived 2 doors away from my home on the corner. I remember Big James being always (kind of) at odds with my father. Big James let the neighborhood FOLKS (a gang: For Our Lord King Satan) use his home for drug trafficking, and partying through most nights. My Father felt as personable, and smart as Big James was he was wasting his talent. Also he felt the drug activity Big James introduced to our block was dangerous and disrespectful to a neighborhood which supported him and his family. I remember times when Big James could not afford heat, lights, and water and my family and others would send buckets of water to their home. This was always the balance for me to know that the biggest dopeman in my neighborhood borrowed water from his neighbors. Motherdear would always tell us (me and Dara) to stay away from the corner at all costs. That made the allure of going to the corner stronger.

There was also a strong presence of elders on Clements my Great Aunt Marie (who lived across the street), Mr. Male, Ms. McAfee (our babysitter), and Ms. Deemer all would sit on the porch talk to each other and eat fruits and vegetables through summer days. At times of the day you could cruise down Clements and see house after house with seniors eating Georgia pecans, watermelons, and grapes. Motherdear’s favorite (we often shared) was apples and peanut butter which till this day I often have as I reminisce visions of yesterday.

Me and my Big Sister Dara
Me and my Big Sister Dara

For 2 years my older cousin Vicki moved her family into our home on Clements which is a 2 family flat. Vicki married James, and had a daughter Donnah, and son Devin. Vicki was my Aunt Shirley’s eldest child, and James was her husband. James was a basketball star from Alabama who had family here in Detroit. James was a couple years younger than Vicki, and to me as a child one of the coolest people on earth. “James Laster was one of the best basketball players I’ve played against,” direct quote from Charles Barkley. James moved into our home, and within months put a basketball hoop in our backyard which changed my life on Clements.

Before James got our basketball rim we (the boys in the neighborhood) would primarily play pick em’ up mess em’ up. Pick em’ up mess em’ up is a game where you pick any object like an empty pop bottle and use this as a ball and run to the end of the backyard for a touchdown while everyone else attempts to gang tackle you. Everyday we’d end up hurting one another and rarely anyone would score a touchdown. It was fun tackling each other but not fun being hurt. So when I got a basketball rim in my backyard we started playing basketball. Every kid from blocks away that dreamed of being either MJ (Michael Jordan) or Isiah (Thomas) became my friend. I’d never played basketball, and was terrible for about 2 years. After 2 years I became one of the okay basketball players in my neighborhood.

One day when we were playing basketball talking shit like usual, Big Andre was calling all of us ‘dumb kids’ for playing 21. “Why?” I asked him, “You’re too young and don’t know how to play real basketball” was how Big Andre responded. That’s when I made the decision we’d make a team. The Detroit Flames were formed after big Andre left my backyard. “We can play basketball and Andre’s just being stupid. We have a court and I bet everybody would come to see us play” is what I told Don and Juan. The next day Don and Juan showed up with Carlos, Fransoir, and Teliya who all wanted to play. I told everybody, “This is perfect we can play 3 on 3 and have a real game.” Teliya said “I’m gone have to be Jordan, so I need 23” then he and Don started arguing over that and fighting. After we broke the fight up, I realized we needed jerseys. I came in the house asked my mom how can I get jerseys for my basketball game coming up. [My mom has always been reluctant at first mention of my creativity, but she later supported it.] In 2 days, she showed up with the biggest bag of Shoppers World summer shorts and tank tops I’ve ever seen. After she came back I gathered the teams and gave out the uniforms. After that, Carlos asked about the referee. I asked Don to ask his Uncle Benny. I assumed Benny would say yes, because he always bought us ice cream every time the ice cream truck came around. Benny gladly accepted the offer to referee the game. Then I named our team the Detroit Flames (Me, Teliya, little Andre) vs Clements (Carlos, Don, Juan) it was classic.

There were about 14 different types of lawn chairs in the sun with old people and a couple of girls. This was the first time everybody was playing with girls watching so we couldn’t look bad. Ms Theresa who lived across the street made hot dogs and my mom bought Bettermades and Hawaiian Punch for everybody. The game began as I led everyone in the Black National Anthem which I learned from my time at Nataki Talibah. After that we played one of the sloppiest basketball games ever played. Travels, doubles, carries, fouls, but we had fun. The game went to 30 points with 1 and 2 point baskets. My team won the game but it was very close. I remember after the game cleaning up then playing basketball all night because I and Carlos didn’t want to stop.

It was rare that we could all play for so long without any fights or anybody quitting. As the seniors, girls, and my parents looked on it felt like we were professionals. At this time in our lives some of the most important people we all knew were watching us play a game we played for fun. My father vividly remembers the way all the guys followed my instructions to clean up the backyard, make posters, invite fans, and get support. My Dad felt it was odd for a 10 year old to manage a group of other guys his age whereas I felt it was the same as playing with my friends as I always have. It is definitely one of my fondest memories on Clements.

7-3-2014 WAE Music A

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