While entering one of my work locations I saw a staff member peeking around the corner. I asked, “What are you doing? Are you hiding from someone?” She replied, “Not sure. I was just paged to the front desk; and I want to make sure that whoever is out there requesting for me IS NOT A BILL COLLECTOR.”
Unannounced collectors of debt were a common occurrence in the housing authority where I grew-up, the New Projects of Thomasville, North Carolina. Most residents did not have a telephone so Rent-A-Center randomly showed-up on any given day seeking their weekly rental payments. If the payment was not for a television, it was for a refrigerator. For my family, payments were sought for the cheap frig that was always either too cold or too warm for our food stamp bought food.
I vividly recall one hot July day when a nasty looking obese white man who was chewing tobacco came to our tattered screen door. He rudely demanded to speak with my overly slaved, and unavailable at the time mother. She was at the presently China owned TFI trying to come up with the LATE payment (TFI: a hell of work place similar to Marsh Furniture. Just on a larger scale). Since we (Clinton Tyrone, Shirley Jean, and I) could not produce the $55 payment he and a known neighborhood crack head that had a job with this scam of a business proceeded to repossess the ‘icebox’. Repossession is not unfamiliar to project people. It happens. So what!
To this very day I believe that the removal of the refrigerator helped build my character.
Character is what I witnessed while chilling in the Daniel Brooks community last Saturday. No matter where I have been, even overseas, a ‘project atmosphere’ has a special character: friendly people, harmless drug heads, a matriarch of the community/village, running wild young people, elements of street level violence, stress free poverty, etc.
While poverty lingers pervasively, what remains is a feeling of ‘at home’ in the formally named for Jewish neighborhoods: ghettos. This is how I felt as I sipped on the shared alcohol products with men and women who just wanted to celebrate ONE young fellas high school graduation. It was amazing how the project people came together to honor and praise “one of their own”. The proud matriarch let those of us know who traveled from afar that Lil Tyrone was her Daniel Brook’s kid. He has been her ‘project’ as he matured in the projects: “Tyrone is one of me owns.”
In Mrs. Cynthia’s lengthy prayer she continued to inform me and the other initially viewed as highfalutin visitors that Lil Tyrone is from the bosom of Daniel Brooks. Not Clara Cox! As she prayed, I thought about all the project men and women who extended so much faith in me, another project kid. Then I thought about the reasons I left Thomasville. Then I thought more about who I am today as a result of the housing authority: Still a Simple Project Kid.
Lil Tyrone is who he is because of the 18 years of maturation he spent in one of High Point’s remaining low income havens (I hear HPU is trying to acquire the land – Modern day imperialism at its best). He is Tyrone Antonio Payne partly because of the LOVE I experienced June 6, 2009: free Milwaukee’s Best, free “regular” (weed), free Aristocrat Vodka, free Glenmore Gin, kindness, and most importantly: the genuine unpretentiousness demeanors. What a welcoming treat considering I live down here in Frontin’ Atlanta!
Written by Brian E. Payne. Inspired by me begging High Pointers and reminding myself not to forget where we come from!