It was the early 1990’s and I was trying hard to become accustomed to life in South Central Los Angeles.
My house was right on Normandie, several blocks from what would become the flashpoint for the 1992 LA Riots. I was not moved by any of the people who claimed that I had no business living in the ‘hood since I was not from LA.
I had never met a hood I didn’t like.
What I mean is that no matter where I had lived or visited in Any City, USA, I had never had a problem fitting in.
But then it happened.
I was washing my car on the side of my house when I watched a young man leap over the gate and approach me swiftly, saying “Wassup Blood?” I knew I had two options, one of which included running inside my house for protection. But I already knew that once you run from someone in the hood, you spend the rest of your time running. So, I simply met his eyes and watched him as I prepared for a fight.
Instead of flashing gang signs and knuckling up for a fight, the Brother reached his hand out to shake my own. He introduced himself and told me that he and his brothers had been watching my bike sitting outside with no lock for the past two weeks. He said that they made certain that no one bothered it but that if I wanted it, I should lock it up or put it inside.
We laughed about my reaction to his approach. He said I had been watching too many movies.
He not only became a friend, but also my liaison for the gang intervention work I would go on to do.
Through the remainder of the 1990’s, I travelled all over the nation from Harlem to Houston’s infamous Fifth Ward and from my own home in the South Side of Chicago to Watts and Southeast DC, chronicling the life and times of Hip Hop heads in the hood for my magazine Rap Sheet.
What I continued to discover with each trip was that the Rap star DJ Quik was something of a prophet. He made a song called “Jus Lyk Compton,” where he compared every urban area across the nation and declared that they were all just like Compton.
And he was so right.
While many people who are either far removed from the hood and so can not see, or too deeply entrenched and so can not focus believe the hood to be the worst place in any city, it’s really just not always the truth.
I know, I know, we hear the horror stories of the young Black men who are killed by the thousands, but really, those stories are grossly exaggerated.
Out of the two million African American males aged 18-24 that the Census found in 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) listed the numbers for violent deaths amongst this population.
According to the CDC, the three major causes of death for young Black men are homicide, unintentional injury and suicide. Out of those two million young men, 2,140 died of homicide, 948 died as a result of unintentional injury and 332 died of suicide. Even if we add the HIV/AIDS deaths (67), we get a total of 2,539.
Now, of course the negative numbskulls will spout out the myth of there being more Black men in prison than college, but I’ve disproven that myth so many times, all I can say now is either do some research or shut your mouth.
And, outside of being ignored by the police and the media when it’s time to show “Good News,” the ‘hood still contains a great deal of what African Americans should look to and hold on to for survival, if we are to make it beyond the next fifty years with any resemblance of our own culture intact.
I’ll say this at the risk of catching the ire of all the stupid and the ill-informed and the myopic: In Any City, USA, the ‘hood is the last bastion of the Black community as any of us knew it or imagined it.
The ‘hood, after all is where you find real pockets of African American families, homeowners and good old hard-working, tax-paying citizens who vote and put in hard work to raise children to be productive members of society.
Funk what you heard, take a look in the ‘hood and you will be surprised to find pockets of clean homes with perfectly manicured green lawns where children can play safely and old ladies can walk slowly without fear of some young punk snatching a purse or driving by to kill some innocent baby.
And I am not talking about gentrification. I am talking about the Black families who are living in the ‘hood, watching the times change with neighbors they’ve known for tens of years.
I reference the song from DJ Quik, because Compton was the first time that I thought about what I saw when I went there-pockets of streets where a person could be dropped and would not believe they were in Compton as opposed to Baldwin Hills.
And once my eyes were open, I began to realize that most cities were truly, just like Compton.
It’s as though the media’s job is to send out the worst messages about life in Urban America, glossing over the good news and sometimes, outright lying about what can be found.
Sadly, some of us are even worse than the media, spreading bad news faster than the wind spreads the falling leaves, whether it is true or not and often becoming irate in the face of truth, insisting that the ugly lies are the truth and that the truth is trumped up to make things look better than they are.
Inside of the urban blight that graces the news and many of our own ideations of life in the ‘hood, there is something good that has not yet been destroyed.
And, it is still alive in your ‘hood, just like my own.
Just like Compton.