My family is from Newark, NJ. Renner Ave in Newark, NJ was where my maternal grandparents lived and where I went to see them almost every day as a child. Jersey is a political state, Newark is one of the epicenters and my grandparents’ house was politics central. Newark is a city where you go to church on any given Sunday and one or two of your City Council members or the mayor could be in the pulpit speaking louder and longer than your pastor; and Monday through Saturday at most events from Pop Warner football games to evenings with Newark’s own Amiri Baraka’s (RIP) spoken word night at the main public library on Broad street, you could run into local, state and national politicians. “They walk among us”, pre and post Sen. Booker!
As a child my grandfather whom I affectionately called “PopPop” would test my skills and ask me if I recognized the politicians wherever we went the cleaners, the butcher or the park. In Jersey we use the term politician not public official, local leader, elected official etc its politician and a term of endearment. And if you have to ask why you are not up on your current “Bridge gate” events.
My grandfather was in the union (one of the few black construction guys), a mason and the neighborhood go to guy. He was respected for his political savvy and his ability to work with the community. His family was of the upmost importance to him.
Leslie Bernard Walker was born in Alabama, came to NJ when he was a young child and as fate would have it he was not given the opportunity to graduate from the 8th grade. But he read everything and like those people who don’t participate in organize religion but are more spiritual than those who practice it everyday, my grandfather was more scholarly than any PHD I know. He helped raise four siblings, put two through college; raised his own three children and put all of them through college.
The story goes, he met my grandmother when she was about 16yrs old through a family friend. He was in his 20’s and he felt he was a little too old to date her. But when she turned 18yrs old they dated, fell in love and married about two years later. (Family story) My grandmother had rheumatoid arthritis and was in a wheel chair at a very young age (before 30). I was at her house often, because she took care of me. She had little to no dexterity in her hands, which made it difficult for her to hold the newspaper or turn the pages, I would sit at the kitchen table and read it to her. If she were alive today, she would be amazed with reading her news on a tablet and would not need any help to do so (technology).
She often had local and state politicians over to the house to discuss the needs of the community. She had no fear when talking to them. She would say “They put their pants on just like all the rest of us” and “they are only there because of us.”
This was the early 70’s and Jersey politicians were typically men and Caucasian. In fact it was 1970 when Ken Gibson became the first black mayor of Newark. In 1976 Gibson became the fist black president of the US Conference of Mayors. If my grandparents were alive today, oh my how they would love to see the women and diverse politicians we have today. And they would say we still need more! They would be overwhelmed to see a black President.
My mom was more of the militant with pictures of Malcolm, Martin and Marcus on her walls, even when she lived in Spain. She marched and protested in her young life and in her later years she remained politically active through multiple organizations. My dad is a sports fanatic and always made the connection between sports and politics. He knows politics because of the sports phenomenon’s he loves like Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, John Carlos, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Billie Jean King, Althea Gibson and many others.
So with this background, it always amazed me when my mother would say, “I don’t know where she gets it from” when I got in trouble at school for standing up for my classmates rights or had them stand up for rights. She was perplexed when in my 7th and 8th grade years, I asked my fellow classmates to write letters to Congress asking them to make Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday. The nuns at my school were not too happy about this, but couldn’t do much to me that’s why I got to stay in the school. Thankfully, Pres. Reagan signed the law early in my freshman year of high school. In these situations and there were many, my father always said to my mom, “The apple did not fall from the tree.”
Growing up in my grandparents’ house I watched CBS nightly news with Mr. Walter Conkrite and in my own home my parents watched NBC news with John Chancellor and then David Brinkley and local NYC NBC Channel 4 with Chuck Scarborough and Sue Simmons. (Congratulations to both on their retirements – I am one of your fans who grew up watching you) This was back when we had only three network news stations. We rounded it off by watching ABC’s Good Morning America.
It never failed at both my grandparents’ house and my own home watching the news was a “sporting event” with cheers, sneers and yelling. “You have no idea what you are talking about!” “Where did you get that statistic?” “Come to Newark and see how the other half live? Go shopping with me and my pocketbook!” “No justice, no peace!”
They knew the reporters or interviewees could not hear them but they had to tell them what they felt. We also read the news and again there was a split in the family. My grandparents read the Newark Star Ledger (NSL) (yes there is a difference from this one and the other state publications), the Bergen record and the Sunday New York Times. My mom read NSL, the Village Voice, the Amsterdam News and the occasional Final Call (a Nation Of Islam publication). They all read Time and Newsweek magazines. AND YES – reading was just as interactive as watching the news and just as loud!
So here we are years later and I am the product of my environment. I am a news junkie and because of the genius Mr. Ted Turner, I have a smorgasbord of channels and news programs to watch. I read just about everything newspapers and periodicals as well as blogs.
But there are several differences in my “sporting event” with the media – when I YELL they CAN hear me. Blessings upon those who created the wonderful world of Social Medias! I can actually go to @…… or blog or send an email (yes I still do that) and tell them, their followers, my followers, the entire (online) world exactly what I think. I can also find out what other people are saying, those who think like me and those who don’t; for both are important to know in order to resolve issues.
Using social media has been an amazing experience. It has been fun and useful connecting with network, local, print and online news people via Twitter and blogs. I also have made new allies of grassroots activists all around the world and this has enhanced by advocacy work.
So now I join the “blogosphere” and unlike my grandparents and parents, I can tell all WIYATT and other things!
Stay Tuned! (In my next post – let the games begin)
Dara – Washington, DC