I am seeking help with finding cut more about my family tree. In particular the path my ancestors took after emancipation from slavery. I am interested in submitting a sample of my DNA to a online genealogy service such as AfricanAncestry.com which holds out the promise of connecting modern day African-Americans with their pre-slavery African ancestors, kind of like a high-tech version of Alex Haley’s journey in Roots.
Former Houston Rocket’s basketball star Hakeem Olajuwon is responsible for reigniting my interest in tracing the various branches of my family tree. Several years ago I read an article in the business section of the Houston Chronicle about a 245 acre tract of land Mr. Olajuwon purchased on one side of Clear Lake to add to his existing real-estate holdings. What caught my eye in the article was that a former slave owner named James West, who at one time was the largest slave owner in Texas once owned the property that Mr. Olajuwon was purchasing.
That stunned me. As I knew from my knowledge of slavery that following emancipation, many former slaves simply took the surnames of their former masters. Which is the reason why we have so many Jones, Johnsons, Smiths, and Williams etc in the black community –
Furthermore on my father’s side my family’s name is West. I also knew that my father’s relations are originally from Galveston, TX a small island about twenty miles from clear lake.
At that point I couldn’t help but wonder if my paternal ancestors had once been enslaved on the West Plantation in Clear Lake and had simply migrated a few miles down the road to Galveston after emancipation. But of course it was only a hypothesis, although not a far-fetched one.
Seeking to put the pieces of the puzzle together I reached out to my aunt Desira, my father’s sister and she provided me with a little more information. Namely that her mother, my grandmother, was named Vermilya Matthews, her mother my great grandmother Catherine, and my great grandmother’s father who was born in slavery was named Wiley. My aunt’s father, my grandfather was named Charles West Jr., and his father, my great granddad, was named Charles Jonathan West Sr. and was a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. While it’s not much, I am hoping it’s enough for me to begin connecting the dots.
On my mother’s side things are a little more sketchy and all I know for sure is that my maternal grandmother, whose name was Amanda Brown, has roots in Louisiana and Arkansas. That’s about it. But like a bloodhound I have a scent to chase. Now all I have to do is hop in my time machine, set the dial to the year 1600 and the hunt is on. Woof!!!
Using the gift I’ve been given, I have written an illustrated book of some 200 pages, a workbook for Africa- American youth, entitled “The Young African American Survival Guide for ages 8-18”.
The book is built around the topics of sex, drugs, hustling, education, gangbanging, and violence.
The book is certainly needed in many African-American communities:
• 67 % of all black children are born to single mothers
• African-American women and their children make up 60 percent of all new AIDS/HIV cases in the United States
• 50 % of black female teenagers have contracted a sexually transmitted disease by age 18
• At birth a black male child has a 1 in 3 chance of going to prison
• In 2002, 1,772 black youth died from gunshot wounds
• 1 out of every 21 black men will be murdered. The murder rate for black males is 10 times higher than the murder rate for white males
• 40 % of prisoners on death row are African-American
• 64 % of black students cannot read at grade level in the 4th grade, compared with 29 percent of white children
For many of us, these are only numbers, and essentially not our problem. But it’s the human beings behind these numbers that concern me and all individuals who have love and concern for their fellow human beings.
I decided to try to make a difference, even if it’s just a small one, in the life of some inner city child with my book “The Young African American Survival Guide”.
Access my book for free on Prisonsfoundations.com
Is being black an act?
Is it a walk, or talk or, better yet, an attitude?
Maybe it’s the way you dress, or the car you drive?
Does being black equate a life of stress?
Is Clarence Thomas Black? What about Republican J.C. Watts?
What does being black mean?
Does being black meaning standing on the corner smoking marijuana?
Why or Why not?
Does it mean embracing the fictional American Dream?
A dream that was only intended for a few
Does it mean getting a so called good education?
To prepare you for a good job
Or getting the Clock and ski mask to rob?
Does being black mean dying young, or being strung out on crack?
How about doing time in jail?
Does it mean black women raising kids alone,
Or leading the country in rates of HIV?
Will someone please explain this to me
Or just answer the question…
What is Black?
Reprinted from “A Windowless Room” by Kenneth West, Trafford Press
Not marching in D-C
Brought together by force,
Victims of a common fate
Residents of America’s penal
littered across the nation
No longer confined to the
Descendants of slaves
Confined to the big house
One million stolen lives
Reprinted from ”A Windowless Room” by Kenneth West, Trafford Press
Hi, I am Aiyana Jones. I like playing with my brothers, going to school, jumping rope and helping my grandmother clean around the house. Like a lot of kids, I got me some BIG DREAMS for when I grow up. I want to be a doctor, lawyer or maybe the first black female President of the United States.
Too bad I won’t get the chance because on May 16, 2010 while I was asleep on my grandmother’s couch, a bad man, who was a police officer, decided it was time for me to die and shot me in the head with a 9 mm.
Some people say the police officer was showing out for the A&E Next 48 TV crew that was tagging along with the police. I don’t know. I do know that I didn’t want to die and that I miss my family and friends very, very much, especially my granny. And that bad police man who killed me is still walking around with a gun, I hope he don’t kill another little girl.
I’m too young to know what justice is, although I hear people talking a lot about it, saying things like “Justice for Aiyana Jones”. But I hear others saying there is “NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE, NOT IF YOU’RE BLACK AND POOR”. I don’t know, maybe it’s true. But it don’t seem right. What do you think?
Every day from my Father’s lap, I look through the clouds to see if there is such a thing as justice for a poor, black little girl shot in the head by the people who were supposed to be protecting me and my family.
Oh by the way, I would’ve been 10 this year, but if you ask me what I want for my birthday, I’ll tell you, this thing ya’ll call justice.
Lend your support to the Justice for Aiyana Jones campaign at firstname.lastname@example.org
Click on http://sfbayview.com/2011/justice-for-aiyana-jones-now/ to read story originally published in VOD on JAJC aerial protest commemorating the first anniversary of cop murder of Aiyana Jones.
Following in the wake of the Trayvon Martin tragedy, a new dialogue with a 400 year old theme has been making the rounds in the African-American community, especially in the homes of black families with sons.
Similar to the sexual primer most mothers or fathers give their daughters that basically adds up to, “keep your panties up and dress down till you’re at least 40 and out my house,” the conversation these African-Americans have been having has centered around the hot button topic of “racial profiling” and more specifically the steps black families are taking to protect black boys and men from those who so often view them as inherent threats, often for something as simple an inoffensive as wearing a hoodie.
These parents are busy instructing their sons how to deal with the police and with the inevitable sting of racial profiling when it happens to them. Not if but when.
A black family having “the talk” with their sons at the dinner table
As I read these articles making the rounds in the USA Today, Wall Street Journal and Essence, I thought about the times in my life when I had been “racially profiled” and automatically treated as a criminal guilty until proven innocent by virtue of my race and gender.
The funny thing is that two of my most memorable experiences with racial profiling outside of the criminal just-us system occurred in Wal-Mart stores. One in a store right outside of Houston in Pearland, and the other at a Wal-Mart in Louisiana.
Ten minutes from my home in Pearland, there is a 24-hour Wal-Mart Supercenter, directly across the street from a 24-hour Super Kmart. The fact that these stores where both 24 hours made them two of my favorite late night shopping destinations.
One night along with two friends I went to the Wal-Mart Supercenter for a little late night shopping. A few days prior to my trip I had purchased a new Nokia electric drill from a friend of mine that needed a set of drill bits. Entering the store I made a mental note not to forget the drill bits. At the time I was in the process of installing a new Hollywood type vanity in the restroom of my home, which was the reason I had purchased the drill to begin with.
After spending an hour or better in the store buying a bunch of things the likes of which I can no longer remember me and my two friends made our way to the counter with a fully loaded basket.
What I do remember was that the everyday low prices added up to a $166 dollars worth of merchandise. I further recall that the entire time I was in the store, the only store employees or sales associates in Wal-Mart that I saw were three middle age Caucasian ladies.
Now by way of disclaimer, I’ll freely admit that looking back at me and my two friends compared with these three women an alien could’ve been forgiven for surmising that we were two sets of different species from different planets.
Steeped in urban street culture and dress, me and my two buddies were decked out in the latest urban fashions, and one of my friends had at least six gold teeth with both arms covered in tattoo ink, not to mention our strong use of slang and ebonies. The flipside to our dress and demeanor was that these three white ladies working at the store on this particular night were as plain as homemade vanilla.
After paying for my items I pushed the basket full of goods to the door. As soon as we went through the door a alarm sounded. Realizing the cashier must’ve failed to remove one of the theft proof bar codes, I calmly rolled the basket back up to the counter.
The lady at the cash register apologized, looked through my bags and realized that she had failed to take the bar code off the $6 pack of drill bits which she promptly did. To error is human. No big deal right?
Thinking that was all there was to it, which it more than likely would’ve been – had it not been for our unique make up coupled with the peculiar place black males hold in this society., peculiar in that one is always forced to prove that he isn’t a bad guy, or that he belongs. Just as Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates had to prove he wasn’t a burglar and that it was his home that he was trying to enter and not someone else’s as the 911 caller suspected.
Following the alarm incident I rolled the basket to the car and got ready to leave. That was when I noticed one of the ladies come out of the store and began to gather baskets. Perhaps this wouldn’t have been strange if it hadn’t been 3 AM in the morning. While in the process of gathering baskets I saw her slip a small yellow post-it note pad out of her pocket and discreetly write down the license plate number of our vehicle.
Knowing this could only mean one thing, an accusation of theft and that we would be even more suspect if we left the store, I got out the car, approached the lady and asked her why did she write my license plate number down. Petrified she began to protest that she didn’t write it down. So I said, ”Lady, I saw you do it. Pull that yellow pad out your right pocket.”
Still she continued to deny it, “no sir, no sir” and all at once she sprinted back toward the store as if I had suddenly morphed into Freddie Kruger, Jason, the Bogie man, and Norman Bates all in one.
Not satisfied with her denials which were really a insult to my intelligence when I had just seen her taking down the license plate number, I grabbed the three bags of everyday low priced junk and went back into the store and tossed it all on the counter, “everybody black don’t steal, I don’t gotta steal a damn thing, go through all that shit!”
The three ladies huddled together, eyes wide with fear, nearly hugging each other for protection, no doubt expecting some type of violent confrontation. “Please leave, please leave sir, we’re not accusing you of stealing anything.” Which totally ignored the fact that one of them was just out in the parking lot writing down my license plate number, so obviously they were accusing me of something.
Finally I accepted the fact that trying to talk to them was about as productive as trying to reason with a bolder in Yellowstone National park, so I grabbed my bags and calmly walked out the store.
We had made it about two blocks from the store when four police cars with emergency lights on and sirens blazing passed us by at a high rate of speed on their way to apprehend the bad guys. Seeing our car they made a hard U-Turn and pulled us over.
By now I was so upset that I completely forgot what my own parents as well as hard earned experience had taught me about dealing with the police. Without thinking I hopped out the car (I was riding in the back seat) and began walking up to the police cars ranting and raving with my arms flaying wildly over my head. I don’t think that I have to tell you that this is a very good way to get yourself shot and killed by a police officer in Houston. The officers were so startled that instead of getting out they remained in their patrol cars while one of them talked over the PA system, “Sir, please calm down and return to your car, calm down and wait for us to come to you.”
I returned to the car and watched through the side windows as the seven or eight officers took defensive positions on either side of the car with their hands resting on their gun handles. Ready to add me and my friends names to the long list of young black men who have been murdered by police officers in Harris County.
Finally, one of the officers approached the window and I tried as best as I could to explain to him what was going on. To his credit he wasn’t a asshole about the whole thing, and simply said, “I’ll tell ya’ll what, lets all go back to the store and we’ll try to get this sorted out.”
So with four police cars in tow we returned to the Walmart. Back at the store me and my friends stood around the car with three or four officers while the other two or three went into the store to talk to the ladies who had begun all this mess in the first place.
After about ten minutes, the officer doing most of the talking came out of the store and said, “Everything’s okay, it seems like it was just a big misunderstanding. You guys can go ahead and leave.”
Big misunderstanding, huh? What the officers didn’t say was that three middle age white ladies saw three young black guys shopping at 3 in the morning and automatically assumed we were engaged in some type of nefarious criminal activity. lt was as if on this particular night, these ladies’ worst fear had materialized and they had their first encounter with the proverbial “bad nigger” which was in itself a reason to call the cops and huddle in fear. When you think about it, this is the same thing that George Zimmerman did to Trayvon Martin when he saw a young black man in a hoodie and assumed he was a burglar, another bad nigger in his good neighborhood.
My second brush with racial profiling happened at another Wal-mart in Louisiana. Late one Sunday evening after attending a seasonal crawfish festival with several friends, I was in the lead car in a five car caravan headed back to Houston when I spotted a Wal-mart right next to the highway.
Being somewhat of a green-thumb, I like to keep a well groomed and landscaped yard, something I got from my mother. At the time I needed a sprinkler for my lawn and I also needed a tape cleaner for my tape deck.
Entering the store, I went straight to the electronics section, selected a tape cleaner and paid for it. Which was only seven or eight bucks. If you’ve ever been to a Wal-mart, Target, or the like, then you know that they require you to pay for anything you purchase in the electronics section right then and there in that section. They also give you a receipt for your purchase.
After leaving the electronics section I went to the lawn and gardening area and selected a lawn sprinkler, then walked to the main registers at the front of the store to pay for it.
But before I could do so, the cashier, another white lady with a puggy red face in her late fifties, demanded that I open my other Walmart bag that was stapled with a reecipt on it. I refused, not because I had stolen anything but because I had been to enough Wal-mart to know that wasn’t standard procedure. A brief stand-off ensued. The cashier called for security.
Honestly, I didn’t care if she called Sam Walton. I knew I hadn’t stolen anything. But sometimes you can win a battle and lose the war.
And due to the fact that I was in a different state than my own and that I had about 30 people in five separate cars outside waiting on me, I decided it wasn’t worth the hassle and went ahead and opened my bag. But not before shaking my head at the lady and what her request implied.
However, that was the day that I realized that from the day I was born till the day I breathe my last breath in this country, I will always and forever be considered an “inherent threat.” Guilty until proven innocent. Columbia University Professor Marc Lamount, author of “The Classroom and the Cell: Conversations on black life in America” said concerning the psychic toll racial profiling has on black boys and men: “Seeing what happened to Trayvon was traumatic. There needs to be a conversation about what it feels like to be followed in the store, chased out of the mall, or to not be welcomed on the other side of town.”
I agree. I also believe that any parent that doesn’t have “the talk” with their sons about what they can expect to encounter in this society is doing them a severe disservice, one that can potentially have fatal consequences.
I have a lot of respect for Houston defense attorney Dick DeGuerin. So much that he was one of the first attorneys I attempted to hire, but was unable to afford when I found myself facing the daunting prospect that later became a reality of being “railroaded” by Harris County.
Then I heard the “hero” defense DeGuerin successfully raised in the trial of ex-Houston police officer Andrew Blomberg, one of several Houston police officers eventually fired and charged with “official oppression” after administering a sever dose of, “street justice” to 15 year old Chad Holley back in March 2010. It just happened to get caught on tape, which was the only reason the officers were fired, or even prosecuted. Because as anyone with even a casual knowledge of Harris County will readily admit, police misconduct, judicial oppression and injustice are a way of life for the county’s black and brown population. So much so to where the average, poor African American or Hispanic is living a precarious existence not much different than a Jewish person’s in Germany during the rise of the Nazi party. I promise you, it’s that bad. They simply have no rights legal or otherwise that the powers that be, police, prosecutors, judges etc are bound to respect. None whatsoever.
So, when Dick DeGuerin proposed his “hero” defense, I couldn’t help but think about President Obama’s sudden election time support of gay marriage. And was reminded of the tenet that just like a politician the average defense lawyer, or DA will do or say anything to win a case. Even stooping to the level of calling a grown man and trained police officer caught on video stomping a 15 year old teenager a”hero”. What the !*??!!*
The not-guilty verdict came down with the resulting backlash of anger from Houston’s black community. (Note: The black masses in the United States of America have been mad so long that nobody really cares anymore. The official line is okay get mad, march, protest, wear T-Shirts, and for good measure we’ll even have a meeting with you. How about that? Would you like that? But next week, the nightstick will be right back upside your head. Why? Because you are a irrelevant population. When are you people going to learn that? No one cares about what concerns you.) But I for one wasn’t surprised that a all white jury of Blomberg’s middle class peers found him not guilty despite being caught on camera acting like the very thug his attorney tried to portray Chad Holley to be.
I mean, why should anyone be surprised? Was anyone surprised when a all white jury in Mississippi acquitted the two half-brothers of killing 14 year old Emmet Till for whistling at a white lady, after the brothers bragged about the crime?
Getting beyond the surface, let’s examine what took place from the reality of modern day America. Andrew Blomberg is a married, college-educated, white middle class man with enough disposable financial resources to hire arguably one of the best, if not the best criminal defense lawyers in the state. On top of this he has many supporters in the community and police force who packed the courtroom to add weight to the fact that he’s not the type of guy to normally do what he was caught on camera doing.
Now compare all that with the 15 year old victim who was a poor, black kid from a single parent home, burglary suspect and alleged gang member at the time of his assault by Houston Police officers. On top of that he’s dragging the weight of history with him and every stereotype and prejudice that the average white mind harbors about young black males.
Put another way in the eyes of this society Andrew Blomberg is a “somebody”, even a “hero” according to his attorney. While Chad Holley was and is viewed as a nobody. Just another unemployed, young black thug (code word for nigger) who was committing a crime and got what he deserved, a good old-fashioned butt whipping. Sure, in our political reality, never say what you really feel or think, no one in society will admit this – not the DA, defense lawyer, police officer, Blomberg, or his friends and family, but I would bet a small fortune that deep down, this is how they all really feel.
Undoubtedly, it was how the jury felt when they chose to acquit Blomberg.
Until people get real about what’s really going on with the police department and the criminal justice system – and how very little has really changed in the hearts and minds of the people of this country, despite the election of the nation’s first black president and all the post racial nonsense pundits like to sprout – men like Andrew Blomberg will continue to be “heroes” despite their actions to the contrary. While the Chad Holley’s and Trayvon Martin’s among us will remain endangered species under a official order as in Blomberg’s case, or unofficial as in Zimmerman’s to seek out and destroy where ever they may be.
No Justice. No Peace.
“WHEN NOBODY LISTENS TO A COMPLAINT THAT APPEARS TO BE LEGITIMATE, WHEN NOBODY TRIES TO RECTIFY A BAD SITUATION, A VIOLENT ACT IS PERHAPS THE ONLY WAY LEFT TO FOCUS ATTENTION ON THE WRONG, AND HELP SOMETHING GET DONE ABOUT IT” — John Langone
When 23 year old Mohamed Merah went on his bloody Jihadist rampage in the French city of Toulouse that left seven people senselessly dead, three of them children, I wondered if this was how he felt? As if his legitimate grievances and the grievances of his people were continuing to go unheard. Before dying in a hail of gun fire at the hands of French special forces soldiers the young terrorist told a negotiator, ”you kill my brothers, now I’m killing you.”
While it’s probably impossible to pinpoint the exact motives for his attacks, righteous indignation, hatred of French society, or just youthful frustration – I can tell you exactly what is driving the protest that have erupted all across the country in the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing in Sanford, Florida by 28 year old George Zimmerman the trigger happy neighborhood watch captain.
Trayvon who was 17 years old and unarmed when he was gunned down insides of a gated community was killed for being black in a nice neighborhood which in the eyes of George Zimmerman automatically made him suspect.
In America we have DWB (Driving While Black).
Which will get you stopped and possibly ticketed on GP (General Principle).
WWB (Walking while Black).
Which will get you Id’ed and frisked.
And plain old BB (Being Black).
Which in Trayvon’s case got him a bullet in the chest.
Same thing with Emmet Till, Rodney King, Sean Bell.
But as the protest that have rocked this nation from one side to the other following Trayvon’s senseless killing attest.
Black people have reached a breaking point.
We are tired of being murdered by police.
Tired of being murdered by the George Zimmerman’s and Joe Horns of the world.
And tired of being gun down senselessly by each other. Enough is enough.
Like Mohamed Merah in France, the African-American community has reached a breaking point. A point were the pain of doing nothing is far greater than the pain associated with change, meaningful change.
The abolitionist and ex-slave Fredrick Douglass said, “Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of injustice and wrong that will be imposed on them.”
For too long that’s what the black community has been guilty of quietly submitting. Quietly submitting to our sisters and brothers being railroaded by the criminal justice system on trumped up charges, the same justice system that allowed George Zimmerman to walk away after killing a unarmed defenseless black teenager. We quietly submit to the constant assault and killing of black men young and old at the hand of the police. Quietly submit to one form of injustice after another.
Until now, finally the community has reached a breaking point. A point to where all 13.5 million of our voices young and old are saying a COLLECTIVE NO MORE.
NO MORE TRAYVON’S, SEAN BELLS OR RODNEY KINGS. NO MORE ANTHONY GRAVES’.
NO MORE INJUSTICE.
Martin Luther King said, “an injustice against one is an injustice against all.”
Which makes us all Trayvon Martin.