When people ask me to introduce myself, it’s a little hard for me because I don’t know where I’m from. I mean, I know where I was born and I know all of the places I’ve lived but I don’t have that typical “born and raised in ___” experience. I’ve lived in 4 different states, on two different sides of the country, and attended 8 or 9 different schools from Kindergarten through my senior year.
However, through it all there’s one small town in Georgia that I always seem to end up back in, where I attended 4 of those 8 or 9 schools… I probably know this place better than any other place I’ve ever been. The issue is, I feel like a stranger here.
Have you ever gone somewhere that you’ve been time and time again but there’s that one time you go, and something is different… Someone, something, some entity or energy is missing… That’s how I feel here.
I’ve spent my entire summer in a town where everyone knows me and I have some recollection of them and yet I could not feel more out of place than I do.
People recognize me at work almost every day… old classmates, someone’s mom or sister, a random person that I’ve never met before but they’re someone’s uncle’s brother’s friend.. I legitimately had a man stand at the register and ask me who my people are, just to find out that he’s my distant cousin.
How could being surrounded by such familiarity make me feel this way? Isn’t coming back to your “roots” supposed to make people feel better?
Well, for me it hasn’t. But what it has done is made me uncomfortable enough to grow and take the necessary steps to ensure that the next time I come back here for an extended period of time, I’m coming back to make it better instead of simply noticing everything that is wrong. You don’t always realize how limited of an experience you have had or are having until you’re given the opportunity to venture out at an age and time where exploring other places and meeting people from different walks of life truly impacts you.
On the other hand, it has also made me realize that no matter how alone I feel, there is going to be someone in a small town who is wishing the absolute best for me.
A woman came in one day and I recognized her but I didn’t know her name. She told me who she was, asked me how school had went, told me to tell my mother she said hello, and before walking out stated “the hood is rooting for you”.
That was such an important moment for me for a few reasons… one because I have been saying since before I even set foot on campus that the hood loves my school (said it in class one day and the professor laughed but everybody else knew exactly what I meant). Secondly, because that means that despite me being one of the only black people out of this area doing what I’m doing, people are paying attention and taking pride in my achievements. And finally, because when I told my mom what happened she said “you being your father’s child carries a lot of weight around here. People wish you well just for being his kid”.
Anybody who knows me would know that my father meant and still means the world to me. Honoring his memory and making him proud are two things that I think about nearly on a daily basis. The work is for me, but it’s for him too. All him and my mom ever wanted was to see me where I am now and it feels good to be here and to know that I’m going even further than my wildest dreams and theirs.
To the hood within this small town, and every other hood I’ve set foot in,
Keep rooting for me, I’ll keep making you proud.