Banter on Tulips and a Tribe Called Quest, Jay-Z and John Coltrane, Outkast and Othello.


For Bryce

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know. ~Keats

Got some bad news yesterday. The younger son of my mother's best friend passed away. After a basketball game two weeks ago, he had complained of chest pain. "Go to the doctor, Bryce," his mother advised. Characteristically stubborn, the sandy-haired second son delayed it. At 4 a.m., he rolled out of bed shaking, before collapsing on the floor. His girlfriend called 9-1-1. 45 minutes went by while the EMTs tried to work life into his limp body. Before 5, he had finished his time on earth at 25.

If memory begs truth, to remember Bryce is to remember a guy who I was not so fond of...okay regarded with a disdain that matched my feelings on brussels sprouts as a child. Two years younger than me, he was the kind of boy who would bait me into arguments that couldn't be won without a fight that involved him poking me or in one case I will never forget, giving me a slap across me face. As a young Mahogany, swift and sweet as I thought myself to be, I was indeed a devout fan of Old Testament law. Namely "an eye for an eye". *smile.* So seemingly justified by the Pharisees, I retaliated swiftly, pushing him and scratching a hole through his new navy sweater. At age 9, I was more prone for a spelling bee than a fist fight, but something about that boy inspired the absolute worst in me. Our mothers made us apologize to each other. I wanted him banished from my house, but agreed to say sorry as my mother's famous leather belt loomed in the distance screaming a warning. We held an unsteady truce.

It would be some years later that I saw him in a different light. Last summer, I was running the indoor track at the gym and saw a lighter-toned athletic-built guy yelling at a white middle-aged court mate whose paunch begged brewskis. "Move the f----n ball!!!" the bass voice admonished. Lol. The angry phrase stopped me mid-stride in laughter. I looked down to the court which was a level below the raised track. I know that guy. But the voice, chiseled 6-foot tall tatooed physique of the grown man seemed incongruous with my memory. Is that Bryce?

He was too far away for me to say hey, so I kept on running. It just so happened that we left the gym at the same time. "I thought that was you," I said, as I looked up and smiled. He gave me a big hug and asked how I was doing. I told him. Asked him. He talked about working long hours at a hospital to fund his college pursuits. Talked about playing basketball in a local league. Looking at him. Listening to him talk, it was like night and day from the kid I who once annoyed me so much. He was calm, peaceful almost. An alright guy after all. I headed to my car and told him I was proud of him and told him to take care of himself. Later that summer, I saw him at a family cookout at his mom's house. Same spirit. Same bear hug. He had grown up from the backyard fight sessions. We both had.

The last time I had seen Bryce before that summer day at the gym, was six years before at my own younger sister's funeral. The day was a whirl as people I barely knew made incessant small talk. "So sorry for your loss" one blabbered. "She's in heaven now." another said. The words seemed empty. They meant well, but had no idea what I was feeling. Like someone had just gutted me and took my heart as proof of purchase. Just before I got into the car to go to the burial, I saw a young guy walk over to me from my right eye's peripheral vision, arms outstretched. "Bryce!" I said, returning the hug and empathetic smile. It meant more to me than saying any of the things that bit at my ears like mosquitos.

Someday I had hoped to return the favor.


In Durham, it pours

Soundtrack: "Can You Stand the Rain?" New Edition

On a perfect day, I know that I can count on you. When I first saw the lovely Gothic campus, filled with green quads, stately buildings, the trademark chapel and scores of bright, well-intentioned students, I fell in love. I knew that the school was for me. Spring in North Carolina is a feat of warmth, beauty and aesthetic spectre unmatched by anywhere I had ever seen. So on that weekend campus visit, I was sold on Duke. Hook, line, sinker. Four years later, I had a world class education backed by my own long hours in the library, my motivation to want to use it to better my community as a writer.

When that's not possible, tell me can you weather a storm? But I would be lying to say that every minute of my experience at what was then ranked the #3 university in America was awash with bliss, the brilliant Bluegrass and the late nights watching our basketball team trounce our opponents handily (well, most of the time. Lol). There were, it seemed, obligatory racial incidents every other year. Whether it was a protest over the school's sloth in hiring black faculty my freshman year or the student newspaper printing David Hororwitz' half baked list of the "Top Ten Reasons Why Reparations are a Bad Idea" my senior year. The list included inflammatory statements like "black people already have reparations: It's called welfare." It prompted study-ins, an appearance by Columbia scholar Manning Marable, media speakouts and a series of articles by the local newspaper, the News and Observer, of which I directly or indirectly participated before realizing that the university could really give a box of week-old JuJuBees about it.

Storms will come. This we know for sure
... So, as you might imagine, it didn't strike me as much of a suprise that yet again, it was yet another spring and yet another racial incident. Except this time, it was a totally perfect storm. The conflation of race, gender and social privilege (or lack thereof). A struggling single mother/ stripper/ North Carolina Central student alleged rape by a trio from the school's pristine lacrosse team. They asked her, as we've all read by now, to dance for a few of them. When she and her partner arrived, 40 men gazed on. They were taunted and humiliated, and then one was allegedly raped. Supporting her contention was the fact that she fled the off-campus house without her money, her shoes and three red fingernails that she had apparently lost in the battle to free herself from the three attackers. The campus magnolias that drew me years ago to the school now seemed to be complicit in masking the scent of a crime. And now the university finds itself embroiled in a situation that surpasses the circumstances of the immediate. It's forced to confront many of the simmering racial tensions and questions of privilege that have existed without voice for so many years. Questions of why a virtually blue blood Northeast-bred lacrosse team could be slapped on the hand (or not even) for years of drunken wildness and crazy behavior while neighbors (largely black, largely poor) complained and their arrests mounted? Questions of why we live in an America where men who don't have any financial need could secure scholarships at a nationally-ranked university while another, attending a school more tailored for the working masses and residing in Section 8 housing had to strip for their enjoyment just to pay her tuition?

Can you stand the rain? So, I find myself now on the cusp of reuniting with my classmates for a campus celebration and I'm racked with indecision. With questions. How is it appropriate that we dance and celebrate, while on the other side of town a young woman is forever changed by the unthinkable behavior of students who celebrate the same school? And do I have faith anymore in a university that seemingly endorses illegal and wild behavior? ... Well, until someone gets hurt and the media cameras are glaring down upon the university. It strikes as ironic that all of this is happening in the middle of the admissions decision season. For the next few weeks in April, applicants will decide if they'd like to attend the school. I'm not sure how this situation will effect the outcome of the class of 2010. But I do know that it would serve to enlighten the powers that be if students en masse decided to enroll at other comparable schools. But if not, it would only be right that the administration takes a serious look in the mirror (and not just a temporary, "let's have a candlelight vigil and sing Kumbaya" moment for the cameras). But a real serious inventory of how it negotiates privilege.

Young black women everywhere are depending on it.