Beauty of the Hood

Once a month, I take a 90 mile drive to Los Angeles to take my mother grocery shopping or to bring her food. I typically get a chance to also see my grandmother, brothers, and cousin while I’m in the city. I love going to see them, but I hate the drive, especially when I do it alone.

Yesterday, I took the drive down with my children. It has and probably always will be important to me that my children are comfortable in South Central Los Angeles. Unlike, most people who view the city of my birth as crime, poverty, and gang infested, I see beauty on every corner. That beauty sometimes includes a weed shop, the local pimp, and maybe a crack head or two, but there is still beauty there. I want them to see that beauty. I think I also want them to know how to pick out the pimp and crack head or rather be aware of street codes. I want them to have that balance.

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The funny thing about parental wants is that it does not always go the way you want. I know that my children are comfortable in my grandmother and mother’s house. I know that they are incredibly excited when I tell them we are going to Los Angeles, but realistically, they don’t get excited for the reasons I want them to. Los Angeles, to them, is a place where they can be normal. It is almost like when they get out of the car they can breathe a sigh of relief that for just a moment they can be like every other person that they see. They don’t have to be the only brown children. They don’t have to question if this person dislikes them for the color of their skin. They can just be.

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It is a hard concept as a grown-up who grew up around a community that was so overwhelmingly pro-black. I grew up in the remnants of the Nation of Islam. We were orthodox Muslims, but some of the mentality from the Nation still held on. I lived in the hood, but not of it. I knew great black families that were not on television. The local market, restaurants, and  barber shops were black owned before the 90’s riots. I never questioned my worth in regards to race or if someone would not like me. Being black or brown, as my children say, was easy. The hard part was growing up in all my awkwardness and home drama. It kind of unnerves me that the hard part for my children is growing up as the only brown children in their neighborhood and school.

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As I pondered this reality for a moment and tried to see how I could argue my case for moving to my husband, I really looked and listened to how my children enjoyed their surroundings. What I took for granted, they cherish. The vegan spot in Inglewood, Stuff I Eat, in all its greatness is an experience that will be held. The bookstore in Leimert Park, Eso Won, is a space that they know is just for them. The art gallery across the street from the book store with images and artists that look like them is proof of what they can be. The adults on the street that smile at them warmly and offer a “you’re so beautiful, I love your hair” or a “give me a pound little brother” give them that sense of community. This, the community of my childhood, is their safe zone.

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In life, it is all about balance. I don’t live where I grew up because my husband’s job doesn’t dictate that I can and frankly I don’t want to. In all of it’s beauty, the hood also is the first time I felt the pain of losing a friend to a drive-by, was almost jacked for my shoes coming home from school, and received limited resources in my public school education. Unlike my parents who firmly believe that inner city neighborhoods need black working class and professionals to be examples, I don’t want my children to suffer in the process. It is so selfish, but it is my truth.

I guess my lesson as it always is in parenting is to give my children balance no matter what I feel the outcome should be. While I want my children to be intelligent, kind, street smart individuals, they just want to be themselves. I would like them to be these whole human beings at 5 and 8 years old, but the reality is that this is their road and their life and my job is in exposure. I can expose them to life in the suburbs and the inner city and hopefully they can grow up to see the beauty and ills of both. I can also recognize what a gift I have in the ability to expose them to both. Balance is always key.

Love and Light y’all.

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