I have always been aware of environmental issues but as I move forward in my path, I am becoming more and more conscious of the impact of my ‘footprint’. I am attempting to be more assertive in my role as conservationist. My concerns about the planet began a long time ago.
When I first began my employment with the state of Michigan, I found myself as the first black professional at my work site, in southwestern Michigan. The director of my work unit was an imposing man at six feet and over three hundred pounds from rural Kentucky. He seemed to have little or no personal experience with young black men, such as myself, from the inner city. At six-foot two and three hundred pounds, I was not in the least intimidated by him like most of the staff at the agency and he knew it! During the first few months of my employment, he would frequently call me to his office to engage me, in an effort to get to know someone he had only known anecdotally or through the eyes of the twisted media.
At one of our last conversations he revealed that, as a child, he grew up in a one room shack with a dirt floor. The revelation was intended to elicit from me my personal tale of woe about the horrors of a childhood in the ghetto. I dryly informed him that as a child, we had a housekeeper who attended to us each day as my parents toiled away at Ford Motor Company. Big John had no verbal response. His mouth fell open as a scowl of disbelief etched his face. His sociological view of the urban black male was unaltered by my middle class revelation. He adjusted himself in his chair, and asked with a stern look on his face what my greatest fear was as a child. I had to reach deep inside for an answer. I never remember being afraid as a child. I was raised by a big man who men feared and woman who others respected. I was always highly favored at home, revered on the playground and well fed.
I remembered a day when I was eight or nine years old, sitting on the toilet, pinching a loaf. As I watched the faucet of the tub shed a teardrop of water every 8-10 seconds, I remember feeling a bit of panic as I contemplated all of the faucets all over the world dropping clean water from faucet to drain! It seem to me to be a regrettable waste of a precious resource. At that moment, I feared the planet would one day run out of fresh water because of man’s inability to create a system that did not waste water drop by drop!
When I informed my boss that my greatest fear as a child was running out of fresh water, he had a pained look of disbelief on his face. I knew with some degree of satisfaction that I had disappointed him. I had no juicy story about Ray Ray and em kickin in the door of our cold water flat, as I hid in a closet, listening to them rape then murder my fifteen year old sister! I grew up in Grixdale Park, north of Conant Gardens. The worst thing that happened in our hood typically involved one or two neighbors drinking too much, during a holiday weekend, inadvertently providing us with a few entertaining moments. The only real drama we experienced was during the 1967 so-called riot. And that occurred mainly on the west side of Detroit, miles away from the north-east side.
My boss soon tired of probing into my past. My life in the hood was far less exciting than hunting for the family dinner in the woods, or trying to have sex with farm animals. As a child I was a conservationist. I did not wantonly litter or set fires on Devil’s night. I did try to take out one of my team mates-at age seventeen after he almost tore my left eye out of its socket with a ring on his finger but that’s another blog and something I would never be willing to share with an employer.
Needless to say that was one of the last discussion I had with Big John. That fall, however he did bring me vegetables from his garden but swore me to secrecy for fear that it be revealed that he liked the big Kneegrow from Detroit better than the local yokels that allowed themselves to be bullied by him. I never did find out how he managed to lose his right hand and his forearm. I did manage to get another black person hired onto the staff, during our very last closed-door discussion, but to this day, she does not believe me!
As the planet warms up, and the ice caps melt, I have gotten over my fear of running out of fresh water. My current fixation is preening the urban landscape and growing some food in the hood. The city of Detroit has a tremendous amount of vacant land and the most fertile soil in southeastern Michigan. The best tomato I’ve ever eaten was grown in the yard of a guy who lived behind City Airport.
By spring 2011, I hope to cultivate a patch of land on the east side of Detroit, where I plan to grow tomatoes, and a variety of greens. Wish me good fortune on my project or better yet lend a hand. It takes a village to till the soil.