Its nine p.m. Friday night, the avenue is hot…. Stuyvesant Ave. Trenton, NJ. There are millions of avenues like this across the United States, but this one is mine. Across the street, broken glass glitters like so many diamonds. They remind me of the many broken dreams and promises made around here.
The avenue itself is a trip. It’s about two miles long and runs the gamut of economic scenarios. It goes from the lowest of the low ghetto to upper class suburbia. I live right in the center, what the police call the “hot spot”. A five-block stretch where all the action is: Prostitution, drug dealing, drug using, fighting, stabbing, shooting, burglary, rape, robbery, gambling and murder. All of it seems to happen in this five or six block area. This is where I live. I’m not one of those who are “trapped” here and feel that they can’t get out, and I’m not one of those who want to “make it” and get out. I’m here because I choose to be here. This is my home, these are my people, and this is where I belong.
Not to say that I need to be penned into some lawless jungle somewhere, but that amongst the hopelessness and despair, the broken promises and shattered dreams. There is hope, pride, faith and love. There is community. In that sense, I belong. I am the street, the sights, sounds and smells that float through the air, the heat, the passion, the anger, the past, present and the future. I am Stuyvesant Avenue. It is me. We are one. Thank God …..
I’m up on my balcony watching all the action. It’s about one hundred degrees in my little studio and I’m outside (like everyone else) above the street trying to cop a breeze. Sipping some iced tea and listening to Trane’s, “A Love Supreme”.
Next door Minnie Rose is sitting on the porch drinking beer with her neighbors. Minnie is 36 with two kids and no husband. Her oldest child, Pearl, is 20 and has a two-year old. (On this street there are children everywhere. Lots of lovin’ going on somewhere.) Minnie’s second child, Davey Boy, is in prison for selling dope. When he was home he ran things. A 17 year-old, manchild…
Now the family is just getting by and Pearl is pregnant with her third child. On the porch next to Minnie are Mr. & Mrs. White. They are the elders on this block since they have been here longer then anyone else. All of their children have grown up and moved away. I talk to Mr. Bill White often and he tells me how Stuyvesant used to be back in his day. Old folks are something else; always talking about the “good ole days”—like black folk was in heaven or something. I respect my elders but I also know the truth. I told Mr. Bill White that black people came running north from the overly racist, southern white man, and ran smack into the smile-in-your-face-stab-you-in-the-back northern white man. From the frying pan to the fire. I remember he just gave me a smile and nodded his head.
Across the street I watched Junior Simms flag a car down. When the car stopped Junior said something, pointed down the street and hopped in the car. They drove half-way down the block and stopped at the curb. Junior got out and dashed up the stairs into the house. Six years ago, Junior Simms was the state champion in the hurdles. He had gotten a scholarship to Clemson to run track but Junior couldn’t out run Stuyvesant Avenue and now he just ran sales for the crack dealers so he could smoke all the time. Tonight they were slingin’ out of Mary’s house. As I watched Junior doing his thing I could picture what was going on in there: The dealers would be in the kitchen cutting, bagging, and selling, and Mary and her two sisters would be in the basement smoking and running up and down the stairs all night while their kids would be upstairs in the back bedroom hollering. Yeah, I know about Mary’s house, a few years ago I was right up in there with the rest of them. But that was then and this is now. I’m not trying to sound better than, nor do I think I am. I’m just saying that I don’t do what I used to… Today, I’m just an observer, on the outside looking in.
On the other corner is a police mini-station. It’s supposed to keep the block quiet, but it’s only opened in the daytime and nighttime is when all the action happens. Right now it’s closed and I see my youngest brother and his crew shooting a ‘c-lo’ dice game on the steps. Across the street from them is the Deliverance Temple, a store-front church led by the charismatic Reverend Benjamin J. Moon. Rev. Benny and his followers are having a revival outside. He has a small mike-amplifier/speaker hook-up and he is preaching the Gospel. He is yelling so loud I can’t really make out what he’s saying, but his flock is following him intently. They shake tambourines and clap their hands at every phrase. I am watching all of this and suddenly struck by the paradox! The dice game and the revival are just separated by some twenty feet, both ignoring each other. Damn! Sin and salvation, good and evil just a few feet apart. All you have to do is make a choice. I wished it was that easy (maybe it is).
Things have changed since I was a kid….A plague has come upon the land. No less tragic then the Biblical plague of Pharaoh and no one has escaped untouched. Crack cocaine and the violence that follows fast money have made us all unwilling dance partners in a crazy syncopation of frustration and terror.
When I was growing up, there was my dad, a strong-willed, hard-working black man who played sports after work and always made time to take me for a ride. I don’t see that type of man much anymore. Things have changed…
I grew up in the Lincoln Homes Housing Project (Swing First we used to call it) on Old Rose St. My mother was young and managed to raise two boys with just a High School diploma and no welfare. Seems like she was always working, but still managed to cook, tell us stories, help with homework and kick butt when we got out of hand. Yeah, things have changed…
Growing up black anywhere in the US has never been easy, and Trenton is no exception. Back in the day, “Northside” was no picnic. Plenty of trouble to go around and I managed to find it. But I made it out with a new attitude. I had help: Malcolm X, MLK, Muhammad Ali, Willie Mays, Jim Brown, Angela Davis, the Blank Panthers, George Jackson, the Last Poets, the Nation of Islam and of course, my parents. I read a lot of books and danced to James Brown’s, “Say It Loud: I’m Black And I’m Proud.” I felt it, too!
Today, it’s different…The Last Poets have been replaced by the Poor Righteous Teachers. The strong black voice of discontent has been murdered or betrayed. The cooperative work ethic has been replaced by a new-jack-gangsterism. Unity is now about me and mine! The young black male is on the endangered species list and it doesn’t look good for the home team…
A little black boy walks down Oakland St. His NY Yankees baseball cap is turned around backwards on his head, his t-shirt has a picture of Nelson Mandela on it, his cut-off jeans hang low on his skinny hips and dirty Air Jordan’s are on his feet. I smile…another urban warrior. As he turns down Hoffman Ave. towards Roger Gardens (another housing project), I wonder if crack-heads haunt his hallway. I wonder if anyone takes him for a ride on the weekends or if he knows anyone who can explain why a pen is a more potent weapon than a nine-millimeter. He disappears down the block and I wonder where he’ll end up. Damn! Things have sure changed…
I am snapped out of my thoughts by a voice, a female voice…nice.
“Hey Shakur, ha you doin’? I look down to see Nikki and one of her girlfriends. They are dressed Friday night fly, gold hoops, short skirts and long legs.I can smell their perfume wafting up from the street.
“Yo Nikki, was’ up?” She’s smiling at me smiling at her.
“Nothing, we going down to the ‘Light to have a drink. Wanna come?” Damn, She looks good! We got some history and I’m thinking about the fun times we had. Her girlfriend gives her gum a pop like she’s bored, and I’m wondering why I’m holding this woman up on a Friday night? But I just can’t let her go, not yet. Why? I decide to play it smooth.
“Nah, you better go ahead, ‘cause if I come with you…It’s gonna be on and poppin’!” She laughed. Man, I remember that laugh. Soft, sexy, cool. I could always make her laugh.
“You still crazy!” she says with a sexy turn of her head. “Maybe I’ll get with you later.” They turn and walk down the street. I can smell their smell and hear their music-laughter all the way to the next block. I think about Nikki and our history. Yeah, we had some good times before it went bad. In the end, we both did the hurt thing to each other, but somehow time has managed to keep us from being enemies. Maybe I’ll give her a call, you know, try it again.
That’s Stuyvesant Ave. for you, take a pain and flip it into a joy. It’ll bring you a memory so deep that your knees will shake!
Let me take my ass back in here and start writing…