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Joseph Cox holds a degree in Intellectual History from Univ. of Pennsylvania and a Masters in Financial Analysis.

He is the author of a number of books on related to policy. The City on the ... more

The Tapestry of Michael Jr.

Date: Monday, June 1, 2020 3:34 AM EDT

As I told Michael that his forebears had been proud, I realized then that that was what we needed to repair. My son needed a past, a proud past. He needed not a generic black past borrowed from Roots, but a personal past. He needed it so he could be part of a personal future. As the stories continued, I realized my son, Michael Jr., had a past. It might not have been true in some scientifically demonstrable way. But I believed it like it had been dictated to me by G-d himself. And my boy, in his own way, was born again. He wasn’t born again like a Christian child, emerging fresh from the waters without the baggage of his past sins – although he was that too. No, he was born again like an African child emerging with a history and the pride of his tribe and his people.

Michael Jr. wasn’t physically strong. But he was strong. He didn’t have the wounded, short-term, bravado of black pride. That pride was born of inferiority felt in one’s bones. I know it still. No, Michael Jr. was truly strong, deep inside. And so, when he was thirteen, I threw a little party for him. He declared his name and he declared his history. He took on, in some formal sense, the stories of his past.

People came to that party. Lots of mothers and daughters and sons. And they saw something they hadn’t seen before. And before long, they came to me. They asked me to look into their son’s histories. And, one by one, we discovered a past for these boys. Their lineages just came to us. We found them a thread they could tie themselves to. We found them a source of power and a wellspring of freedom.

I had no idea if any of this was going to truly repair the ills of my people. But I saw a change in those boys, those that took to their new pasts. And I hoped things might work out a little better in my community.

My own sign that things were working out came not from my son Michael, but from Clarice. She married one of those born-again boys. As she put it, she saw real power in them – not just the shallow show of it that the tough guys in the neighborhood flashed. She saw real power in responsibility. She had her first child at 24 and I became a grandmother at 40; an unusually respectable age. Best of all, I didn’t raise my grandchild. Clarice and her husband did.

Not everybody worked out, of course. Sometimes the stories didn’t take. They connect to the boys they were meant for. And sometimes boys were just facing so much hardship than even a history couldn’t make them good.

Michael Jr. was 21, fresh from graduating college, when he came to visit me in our little neighborhood. One of the ‘here and now’ boys, as I began to call the failures, came up to him on the street. By all accounts, the boy was mad. I suspect he was more than a little jealous too. And right then and there, on the way to visit his mother, Michael Jr. was shot and killed.

He died on North 37th street, just down the block from where another killer had taken his angel of a father.

It was June, 2003.

On that very day, I locked myself into my little apartment. I remember crying for days. And then, in the depths of my despair, I was Called for the second time. I went out that day and I bought some yarn. People asked me what I was goin’ to do with it and I didn’t rightly know what to tell them. I just bought all the yarn I could afford and then some more. And I went back to my apartment and I began to weave. I took those pieces of yarn and I wove them together. When one string ran out, I tied it to another. The bonds weren’t perfect. But they were what I could manage.

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