By Amani Jade
You Do What You Have To
Since 1936, my great-grand has been in the mix! To be exact, she’s a Leo born July 25th. She shoots straight from the hip, must be that she’s a Texan... To me she’s my Nana, who’s stories teach many lessons. Just by sharing her life, I got the gist. I understand her values and I can see why it is That she says “service your car,” “go back to college,” And sends me sweet cards every holiday with gifts. Everything I knew from watching her as I grew Has been only a fragmented point of view. Things like how she may as well be Lady Luck. Time that we spent made memories that stuck. We shopped until I dropped, went to movies just to watch, Bamboolah and The Jungle, and a little time with Tot. Knowing him as a great-great grandfather - the most special gift I got. I knew not how we were both Daddy’s girls, Hers and mine both seemed to like to spoil. She told me how one Friday hers got paid He saw a white fur coat and matching hat, so he made A purchase for a princess, his daughter Mellownee The Queen of the house cursed this in disbelief. I knew a little bit more like how we both love to dance, Both mindful of finance, have a heart and helping hand. But there’s so much more to the story of my Nan - The student, career woman, great friend and now too - a great-great grand! “The apple don’t fall too far,” she told me. When she opened up her life stories, she showed me. Great standards she has for herself and she holds... To be close to her means to be held accountable. I respect the self-reliant standard that she expects. And even more so, her own willingness to reflect. I’m partially through and haven’t summed up the theme, If her story was a book, the title would be: You do what you have to... If you care for community Nana be like “I got you, you can come to me” As a student, when other kids had problems with literacy My Nana happily lent her ability. This is a big deal in the classroom scene, When you are a whole person who doesn’t seem to be seen. Nevermind she had 3 majors in high school Math, English, History - she never been a fool! It was in history class a year before graduation And lifelong membership to California Scholarship Federation, There was a teacher - white like most of the other students - She pulled Nana aside to demonstrate ignorant rudeness. Miss O’Neal thought she taught “negro”. She showed Nana how she see her. How people think low and don’t know how She be so smart - to be so brown. Nana’s intelligence knows insults. Compliments backhanded get returned. Don’t have to raise a hand, still have the right answer. She survived ignorance like she survived cancer! She’s got brains like they come two a head. Since a young girl she’d led and been led! This is how she’d climb career and get ahead, But this a foreshadow, I’m getting too ahead. Who showed her the way to “doing what you need”? At 5 years old, dad went to California ahead of the family. On a weekly basis he sent a buck to “Dear Mellownee” Handling business and exploring became an early memory. She was one rich kid from what her daddy sent. In addition to what she possessed within. But her mom Ceola also had something to do with this. A woman of many talents who also raised 4 kids. Candy maker, curtain hanger, all around beautician. Helped ladies look their best at night, and in the day helped in a kitchen. Amidst this, packed up her two little ones. To leave the warmth of Houston, for the Warmth of Other Suns. Nana was 6 when it was time to make the switch. She recalled it customary what they carried on their trip. She said everyone traveling from Texas had the same Teacake cookies and fried chicken on the train. Clothing in a box, no luggage cases with them. And lucky for them, her grandpa’s Southern Pacific tickets. Passes one way, soon paved again and again. For many would get word and come behind, following them. Nana remembers she was excited for her first train ride. And happy about reuniting with her first special guy. The ride was one of two firsts, though she didn’t know it. The journey to San Francisco landed them first in Oakland! Oakland is the sister city to where she’d grow most, It took a train, then a ferry, to welcome her home to the West Coast. When they made it to the City, times were rough and tryin’. There were two families in an apartment on the first street she lived on “Lyon”. All doing what they needed, a family of four and of five, Sharing one bathroom and one kitchen to cook and dine. Yet when she looks back at that time, she knows they made the best of it. They went out, saw movies, and passed all the tests of it. This lasted for a bit then they relocated Back to Oakland where her great aunt was staying. They ended up moving around to many other places, Wherever there was work and they could succeed and make it. From projects in Pittsburg, then Double Rock in SF Commonly in close quarters, sharing with dignity and respect. From one to two rooms to finally a three bed! An extra room for those who came to make due and help with rent. Everyone who came from Houston who knew them got that address In and out they came to get a leg-up and take a step. No one wearing out their welcome or taking advantage, More like family and community creating advantage. Another way to title this: “You just dealt with it” Whenever I hear Nana speak now, deep truth is felt with it. It’s not so much a story of resilience, The fact of the matter is creative and quite brilliant. The projects had recreation and events organized, Movies, boxing, volleyball, etiquette and other kinds. A place for the children, back then it was fun and constructive, Not to be looked down on like those who didn’t know and push destructive Narratives they know not one thing about, Even a church that my own Nana helped to found! Meanwhile her good friend Shirley who was white Had a mother who would whoop her for joining my Nana out of fright. This same friend of Nana’s liked her so much, She worked her way through the Board of Education to get back in touch. This was years later, when she bridged a racial gap That existed in segregated housing, with projects all Black. Folks, who in fact, had a harmonious way of life. Like doing chores and trusting the safety of clothes drying on a line. They handled business, and if not, any adults could chastise. If kids were acting up alone, one adult's presence changed the tide. Nana would grow to shine between two worlds she lived in Home and then school, where demographics were different. Three Chinese, two Filipinos, and one Hispanic And her, the Black girl in the sea of white, who didn’t panic. This is huge to how she landed, wherever she went In the Bay Area, since the 40’s from child to woman. Since she had my Paw-Paw at 17 years old, guess what she did? What she had to do to be responsible and make her graduation! Then she went out to find work, “dressed to the nines” as she would say. Time and again, because of her skin, they turned her away. My Nana is not one to take rejection and just quit, And even self-determined she wasn’t alone in caring for her kid. As when she was a young one, family worked together to make it. Her gift of aptitude and intelligence helped her to claim it! The federal government needed her, reliable with talent. Nana wanted to contribute to live well and balanced. In this work, she was so helpful and astute, Well-liked and wanted for this by white gatekeepers like in school. However, some who viewed her as competition complained Once she had to come in and set someones’ privilege straight. The phrase “stand your ground” means something new coming from her. To rise the way she has when prejudicial incidents occurred. Not to be confused about exactly who she’s been, She would go on to be promoted, again and again. Sharp in aptitude, and she applied herself to details, Feedback from friends across time and nations could re-tell. Folks writing cards or searching for her years later Is a testament to a great grandmother and friend that’s even greater. I’m proud to say I belong to her legacy today As a Black woman with strong roots spanning across the Bay. Because she was willing to follow an exploratory spirit Because she saw the power of community and is still givin’ The way her heart is fierce and at the center of her livin’ Through Nana’s stories I can understand her reasoning and intentions. What an example of something more nuanced than resilience. Powerful creative love, her life’s experience
Amani Jade is a multi-faceted creator born in San Francisco, CA and half of The Oakland Mind. Although her first love was dance, she’s known as a Femcee, poet, and explorer of all things creative. As a teaching artist she blends her passion for art and supporting young people in various artistic, political, and social-emotional capacities. She’s inspired by first time freestylers, cyphers of celebration, and the power of healing through creative expression.