Living in the Black & White

When I was seven years old, I saw a movie that stripped me of my worldly innocence long before I was prepared for it.

That movie, starring Jon Voight and Ving Rhames, was Rosewood.

I have not seen the film since, but the visuals remain as clear as though I watched it yesterday.

There are two scenes from Rosewood that will haunt my life forever: when Aunt Sarah, whilst pleading for her son’s life, was shot on her front porch, and the lynching of Rhames’ character.

In the immediate moments that followed that lynching scene, a young boy—me—sat broken-heartedly frozen at the image of the limp and lifeless silhouette swinging from the tree. I saw, in that moment, a man who’d looked like my grandfather, my father, and my uncles—but that wasn’t the worst of it.

The worst of it was trying to make sense of the group of onlookers standing by, spectating; unmoved and unbothered.

This was based on a true story: the 1923 Rosewood Massacre—less than 100 years ago—and, at seven, it was my first “This is America” realization.

Black bodies aren’t swinging much from trees anymore. Yet somehow, I’m still seeing the images.

Black and white images of lifeless bodies formerly known as Henry, Mary, or Elijah swaying from oak trees have transitioned into modernized visuals. Gone are the trees, yes, but the lifeless bodies remain. Only now they lie in the streets, and on the pavement—formerly known as Eric, Mike, or George.

And the worst part?

Still trying to make sense of the spectators—Americans—standing by; unmoved and unbothered. All these years later.

I never understood how the great man who created my mother survived a war in Europe, only to come home and societally fight another from St. Louis to Detroit. He lived in the black and white. And I never thought I’d see what he saw.

I was born in progress, because of the battles fought.

I was born in the color, or so I thought.

I never thought I’d, too, be living in the black and white.

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Signed, Sirelle: “To Come Across a Hero”

Several of my group chats have spent much of the last day discussing Kobe Bryant. Business as usual, essentially. Except this is unusual. We aren’t arguing, we aren’t debating—we’re coping.

Like so many others yesterday, I sat blank and motionless in my living room, trying to process the words on my phone screen: “Kobe Bryant dies..”

There are combinations of words you never expect to see in life. And as yesterday developed and concluded, I found myself dissecting why this tragedy was so uniquely unfathomable. The death of Kobe Bryant, for an entire generation, is not registering. We thought he was infinite, in the sense that he wasn’t like us, he wasn’t human; rather, an institution that would always be here, like Disneyland or something.

For perspective, much of my generation wasn’t alive for the “Bad” or “Off the Wall” eras. Unfortunately, the Michael Jackson we knew during our childhoods was tangled in scandal and controversy. So when the news of his death broke, we were able to make some sense of it. But this, this is unbecoming. We grew up with Kobe, he was literal magic. The peak of his talent brought about the same astonishment as Batman and Superman.

It isn’t lost on me that a part of Kobe’s legend was that he was often heroic even in defeat. In 2013, when he tore his Achilles, the world watched in awe as he hobbled to the free throw line, drained two shots, and then walked off–mostly unassisted. It was unbelievable–but at its essence, it was Kobe.

In that moment, the fairytale would have ended for so many others, but not for Kobe. Adding to his legend, he worked his way back and allowed fans and admirers, all over the world, to shower him with proper praises throughout the 2015-16 NBA season—and we all remember how the story closed.

We remember exactly where we were on that late night in April 2016, leaping off the sofas in our living rooms, and slapping countertops in our kitchens. In his final game, Kobe was tapping into his infamous “Mamba Mentality” one last time. The visuals of those closing moments are forever etched into my mind. We were all Jack. We were all Snoop. We were all Kanye and Jay-Z. And for an even briefer moment, we were all.. Gianna.

Kobe scored 60 points in his final NBA game, and by all accounts, rode off into the sunset of retirement: having two more daughters, championing women’s sports, and winning an Academy Award.

It wasn’t supposed to end like this. It wasn’t supposed to end at all. Kobe Bryant was a giant, both figurative and literally. He was global. He was everything you don’t expect a human being to be, which is the entire point: he was Kobe.

Kobe Bryant made adoring your dreams, but more importantly realizing your potential (and tapping into it) feel good. And when we latched on to him, at different points of our lives, it was initially because of basketball—we never expected to come across a hero.

Signed,

Sirelle

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Signed, Sirelle: “Thirty Trips Around The Sun”

Google Calculator tells me that this weekend will mark around 10,950 days in which Antoine Sirrelle Starks has been a thing. Which to me, it feels as if there has been that many days in 2019 alone.

When it comes to my birthday, every year I put on this flagrantly horrendous acting job in which I pretend that I don’t care much about it. I’m not sure who I have ever fooled with this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was no one.

This year is different. It means something. In fact, this particular birthday gained significance about two years ago when I came across my father’s death certificate and discovered he was only 29 when he died—he had his entire life ahead of him. I’d never realized that. To be honest, I’d never really given it much thought. He was my dad, and all dads are old. At least, that’s what I thought at seven.

For me, 30 became monumental: I wanted to see and live the life my father didn’t.

As November 16th has crept closer, people have asked me am I nervous. I don’t look to 30 with a daunting, glass half-empty outlook. I not only anticipate my glass of 30’s to be half-full, but to fucking overflow.

Ahead of this weekend’s celebrations, my friends and my mom (and my mom, again—and again) have asked me about themes. Dirty 30, bar crawls, essentially stopping just shy of last hurrah! I think I’ll pass.

I’ve opted for a turn-up, yes, but nothing much out of our norm: Italian dinner for the borderline-broke bourgeoisie, followed by hidden Yelp gems we quietly think we made cool.

Like everyone, I’ve seen the 30th birthday celebrations on social media, where the theme, to me, carries a sort of “it’s all downhill from here” undertone more than anything else; and personally, I don’t want day one of year 30 to be ignited by an outlandish theme that subtly hints at the beginning of the end. Because, for me, the fun isn’t ending, it’s just getting started.

Several years ago, my childhood best friend, from Detroit, was shot in the face at point-blank range. For the rest of his life, he’ll function, at best, at half-capacity. My own father, again, never saw the age of 30. And just last week, a hometown legend, former Michigan State and NFL wide receiver Charles Rogers, died at 38.

I read in a journal article, a few years ago, that stated Black men have a “substantially lower life expectancy” than most other groups. So it isn’t lost on me, that as an African-American male, life from the beginning is living on borrowed time–playing with house money, in a sense. And because of that, I find myself, perhaps a bit more than I should, rolling the dice.

I often tell my best friend, Sam, that my biggest fear in life is one day lying there, taking my last breaths, and I think of all the things I never got to do or see in life. Whenever that time comes, I want that list to be as short as possible. And that’s how I’ve chosen to live my life.

Over the last three decades, I’ve chased a lot of things in life: dreams, liquor, and women who gave me goosebumps. These days, I can admit that I’ve become a bit more of the “runnee” than the runner, in a couple of those categories; but one thing I’ll never stop chasing at 30, nor 80, is the thrill in life. And I hope you don’t either.

Happy Birthday To Me.

Signed,

Sirelle

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Signed, Sirelle: “Did You Make It Home?”

I have this saying, most days, when I’m leaving the office: Make it home safe. It is my daily farewell ritual to whomever is left in the office to make it back to your loved ones in the condition that you left them that morning.

In a span of 13 hours, yesterday, 29 people were executed in two separate tragedies. They didn’t make it home.

It started in the afternoon, when 20 people were gunned down while shopping at an El Paso, Texas Walmart. Thirteen hours later, and roughly 1,600 miles away, nine more people were gunned down at a Dayton, Ohio bar.

Workplaces in El Paso and Dayton won’t look the same tomorrow. Someone’s favorite co-worker won’t be there because they were killed in the middle of a grocery store or bar.

The violent events of El Paso and Dayton were terrorist attacks. Not the nearly imaginable, stereotypical attacks, however, where a Muslim has a bomb strapped to their chest. No, those almost never happen in America.

These two recent terrorist attacks were more like the one at a northern California food festival last weekend. Or, remember the one at the South Carolina church, when the members were praying? Or the one at the Southern California bar last November. Or the one at a Pittsburgh synagogue last October. Or the one at a Santa Fe high school before that. And the one at a Florida high school before that! But not like that one at the elementary school, because some say that was a conspiracy theory.

Forgive my facetiousness, but the routine images of ordinary people running for their lives in terror, wounded bystanders performing CPR on strangers, and lifeless bodies lying in parking lots have driven me to the brink of insanity.

I don’t have the answers, political or otherwise, to solve this epidemic. I just want people to make it home.

I want the sons and daughters, dropped off by their parents at school, to make it home. I want the grandmother at bible study to make it home. I want a father, working to keep the lights on for his family, to make it home because that is the way it should be.

I want you to make it home.

Signed,

Sirelle

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Press Play: SUMMER 2018

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been all over the place this summer, so it’s only right that my playlist follows suit.

The heat, among other elements, can cause one to be casually moody in the summer.

As a result, I find it fitting to have a few tracks that match the spinning wheel of emotions.

Here’s what’s in my ears:

THE CARTERS “LOVEHAPPY” — The versatility of this record by Mr. and Mrs. Carter is seemingly infinite. From Bed-Stuy stoops to the beaches of Santa Monica, “LOVEHAPPY” is not only inevitably timeless, but transcendent. It could serve to be both the picture-perfect soundtrack to a summer love story in Brooklyn, and the cookout jam your parents steal the show to.

James Bay “Wasted On Each Other” — Every summer fling I’ve ever had comes to mind when this sonic sound takes over my eardrums. Nothing screams summer quite like drowning in alcohol and the presence of some equally toxic person you can’t keep your hands off of. “Wasted On Each Other” embodies the behind the scenes tongue-wrestling moments following last call at the bar.

Yellow Claw featuring Tabitha Nauser “Crash This Party” — If your feeds have been anything like mine over the last two months, that means they’re dominated by your friends living their best budgeted, but lavish, summer lives overseas. Whether in France, Spain, Greece, or Italy, “Crash This Party” is for the international turn up, buried deep in the midst of a midnight roll. Regardless of whether the setting is at a nightclub or festival, Tabitha Nauser’s vocals paint the scene as clear as the sea.

Future “HATE THE REAL ME” — It’s almost as if Future is the Rupi Kaur for retired #MCM’s. Some say the solstice marks it; but for the culture, our summer doesn’t start until we get new Future. Floating along the keys of a Zaytoven beat, “HATE THE REAL ME” is like a remixed-haiku for the hood.

LÉON “Surround Me” — I almost feel like this is the Netflix and chill anthem we didn’t know we had or needed. We all have that one occasion — or several — every summer, where your rules fly out the window and you’re like “Fuck it, come over,” and “Surround Me” has a melodic way of not making your little sleazy self feel too bad about it.

Drake “8 Out of 10” — Kiki can wait, because with the heat comes the smoke, and something about the triple degree warmth, and humidity, brings the aggression out of people. Make no mistake, “8 Out of 10” is a reaction, and the savage beauty of this track is its protagonist proclamation that you’re ready for all the smoke — and then some.

Jorja Smith “Teenage Fantasy” — Soothing and reminiscent, London’s latest sultry export ventures to the States with a track providing memory lane vibes from the days when alarm clocks just weren’t needed. “Teenage Fantasy” blends the decade-old flashbacks of adolescent love with the more recent — What was I thinking?! — ones you can’t wait to forget.

Khalid & Normani “Love Lies” — If anyone tells you “Love Lies” isn’t on their #carconcert set list, they’re lying. And if they aren’t lying, you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life. There shouldn’t be a playlist anywhere that doesn’t have at least one Khalid song on it — and if your summer can’t relate to that “Waste the day and spend the night..” line, send it back.

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October 10, 1997: The Day I Met Death

94 minutes. That’s how long he fought off death.

From the listed “Time of Injury,” to the pronounced time of death, he was as stubborn as the genetics he passed on to me.

The entry on line 33d of the death certificate instructed to describe how the injury occurred: MULTIPLE GUNSHOT WOUNDS.

It was a powerful line, 33d, in the sense that it’s the line that ultimately shattered the spirit of a seven year-old boy, when he asked his mom: “How?”

I recall so much of that third grade picture day vividly. But never, for as long as I shall live, will I grasp what it was about my mother’s answer, “He was shot,” that sprung me from a suffocating living room, to the threaded embrace of Buzz Lightyear within a matter of seconds.

“You’re too damn smart for your own good,” he used to say to me. And in hindsight, October 10, 1997 was the one day I wish I hadn’t been. Because I understood the reality all too well. He was gone.

I think about the last time I saw him. Not at the basketball game, a few nights before, but that afternoon in my dream. I’d drowned myself to sleep in a pillow of tears.

That stoic, straight-lined smile staring down at me; and his palm, the size of a baseball mitt, cupping my head. Even in my dream, his scent of vanilla and cocoa butter mixed on him in a way that it didn’t mix on anyone else. His eyes revealed his worst kept secret: that he loved his son with the strength of 10,000 hearts.

“Hey nephew.”

Twenty years later, to the day — today — I hear my aunt’s voice playing back to me via voicemail. “Was calling to see how you was doing. We all know what the day is. And I know your dad looking down on you, smilin’, and very proud of you. He’s very proud of you, and so am I.”

I could listen to her talk about him forever. They could finish each other’s sentences, those two. I need to call her back.

I unfold his death certificate far more often than I should, I know that. But I feel something every time. A cluster of emotions, really. Especially at Box 16. RACE: Black.

Not because of our race. I wouldn’t trade what I am for anything in this world; rather, the dark irony. Early on, he’d built his reputation on statistics; and in the bangs of several bullets, he became one.

It angers me.

His life was more than a tally, or, body count for the city of Detroit. He had the heart of a giant. And somehow, without transplant, he gave it to me. Because, like him, I love so incredibly deeply that it hurts — and I don’t know if it was his greatest gift, or a curse.

What I do know, is that October 10, 1997 has taught me the most invaluable lessons. Dealing with loss, dealing with death, can shape the soul of a person in the most unimaginable ways. I’m certainly no exception.

On December 26, 1992, my dad penned a letter to my great-grandmother, “Granny”, in which he closed it, “And remember the Love that is waiting always for you and you alone.”

I now have that letter. And it’s that Love that gets me through the days when I need it most.

RIP

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Seriously. What, In The All-American, Close-Minded F*ck.

Pardon my bewilderment, but, over the last several days, your thoughts — and you making them public — have caused me to be a bit lost in the small-town Facebook sauce. Although, allow me a few moments to pick up what you’re putting down, if I may.

Millions of men and women took to the pavements of every continent on this planet, in a — quite literal! — universal display of solidarity last weekend, and that disturbed you?

Oh, it was the imagery. The signs, and the costumes, all a bit too much.

But see, that’s where I’m quite the monkey’s uncle, so please assist me in my quest to elude my perplexity.

You voted, in good, unbothered conscience for a man who stated, in reference to you — and every woman you know — that, essentially, men are entitled to grab women by the pussy. Totally unbothered, at that. Yet it was a 100 percent, dancing, polyester-clitoris costume, on Pennsylvania Avenue, that triggered you to interrupt your weekly coupon-clipping session?

Now, I am not the sharpest needle in your hand-me-down sewing kit, but bear with me. Because I am really trying to bounce this ball in your court, but this is some freaky shit.

I’m trying to understand how a mother casted a presidential vote for a man who habitually made predatory comments about women — including his own daughter — and then later tucked her own daughter into bed that night. All the while, labeling millions of protestors as the bad influences for her children.

I mean, you can’t cross wires like that in a Cat’s Cradle.

Now, allow me to preface the remaining by stating that the good news, here, is that I am not talking to one, specific, Facebook mom. Yet the bad news, here, is that I am not talking to one, specific, Facebook mom.

Still, impatience aside, here lies the fundamental root of my letter to you, the T*mi L*hren admirer: It’s not that you disagree with my views. It’s, not even, that you don’t understand my views. Rather, your dismissiveness, and the audacious, disconnected, and unapologetic manner in which you elect to deviate.

Understand, I hate that I even have to pen this. I hate that I have to author this in 2017. But it matters to me. It matters for reasons that, as a parent, shouldn’t even require illustration to you. Howbeit, here we are. So allow me, please, to exhibit why this is important. Why the President of the United States’ behavior is important — and why your enabling of it is dangerous.

I was a selfish, and immature, adolescent when former President Barack Obama was first elected. Although somewhere within the maturation process, I later yearned to emulate him in every way. From the unashamed manner in which he worships his soulmate, to the undeniable compassion he exhibits for those who can do nothing for him, I strived, and still do, to be like Barack Obama in every way imaginable.

At the same time, that doesn’t mean I didn’t get that inspiration from my parents, I did — as do many other young people. However, there is something, nearly spiritual, about seeing your president, the Leader of the Free World, carry about, that just moves you in a different way.

So think of your young son. Imagine what goes through his head when he hears the President of the United States demean women, and disabled people. And then added to that, he sees his father — and mother — mocking along. Laughing it off, totally legitimizing, and normalizing Donald Trump’s behavior. It excuses the inexcusable.

You don’t understand the angst, and the reason for protests because — you think — it has nothing to do with you. You think it doesn’t affect you.

See, there’s this game that Americans live and die by. Where, as long as “it” doesn’t happen to, or affect them, they’re unbothered. As long as the war on Planned Parenthood doesn’t affect them, as long as exclusion doesn’t affect them, or as long as sexism and racism doesn’t affect them, all is well.

But history has showed us, time after time, that this is exactly how widespread oppression activates. First them, then you.

So make no mistake about it, every citizen in this country, right now, is the meme dog sitting in the blazing kitchen. Except, this is not fine. It’s anything but fine.

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