Growing up, Atlanta was as far as we traveled. Point Mallard, the summer spot, was 40 minutes away, and I couldn’t swim, so most of youth was spent within the confines of 35810. I grew up on Sandia, right off Winchester. Hollow Park is down the road; Union Hill Primitive Baptist Church is over the hill. My family was there when it moved from the old church, where the trailer was the youth center, to the new building across the street. My cousins could be found in Meadow Hills. Rolling Hills, Davis Hills, and JOJ: I ran the gauntlet. Before Best Buy and later iTunes made local stores obsolete, my grandparents shop –T & L Records – waged an unending battle with James Records and Tapes for the black music market. I went to the Black Arts festival every year. I was there back when Madison Square Mall was the spot, before they made the rule that we couldn’t congregate in groups of more than three. I know what Nolan’s BBQ tastes like. I washed my delta 88, cleaned those factory rims, and drove to Big Springs Park every weekend. I am from Northwest Huntsville and I remember every moment of it.
I remember playing spades under the tree at Brandon Shealey’s house. Q do you remember this? Austin when did you move in? I remember Dre had the new J’s as soon as they dropped, but my funds were limited, so I had to make do with Shell Toe Adidas.
I remember the jokes. There was no softness allowed at Johnson High at all. There was so much black joy there. That is what the people outside Johnson never understood. They looked at us and saw misfits, but they didn’t walk those halls. We laughed and sang and loved each other because nobody else would. Yes, we were going to talk about you, but if you really needed it, we had you. We took care of our weak because we knew how real the struggle was. What did we used to say? It’s a dirty game.
But there was an undercurrent of sadness too right? Am I allowed to speak on it? We are grown now, we might as well process it all. Did you ever feel it, that future coming at us hard and unforgiving? Did you notice as more of us slid away, not just leaving JOJ, but choosing a path whose end was hard to see? That was where the rage came from right? The game seemed rigged, so fought against it with the tools available to us. Some us of had more: we could play ball, we could sing, we were smart, or our family had money. Others had less, so they did other things.
As I remember it, Johnson was both those things at once: a place of real joy and genuine despair. These experiences shaped me. It taught what it meant to love something, flaws and all. It showed me that if you wanted it bad enough, there was nothing that could stop you. They could give us old books, refuse to update our computer labs, call us animals, but they could not crush our spirit. They could not place a ceiling on our aspirations. This is what unites all who walked those halls. It is what makes us Jaguars.
I guess all trying to say is that it is glad to see us alive and free. It did not always look as if it would be so. Every picture posted is a joy to me. If I was not a help to you during those times, I am sorry. We all did the best we could. I have no room in my heart for hate for any of you. Godspeed Jaguars.