Vodka Yonic

Vodka Yonic features a rotating cast of women and nonbinary writers from around the world sharing stories that are alternately humorous, sobering, intellectual, erotic, religious or painfully personal. You never know what you’ll find in this column, but we hope this potent mix of stories encourages conversation.


 

It’s 6:05 p.m. on Thursday, April 4, 1968. I am 10 years old — a skinny little Black girl. Breaking news bursts onto the television screen in our living room. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has been shot! Major outbreaks of racial violence and unrest have begun across America. We live at 1724 17th Ave. N., Apt. B, in North Nashville. Less than a block away from our front door is the prestigious Fisk University. What’s about to happen will change my life forever.

Social injustice was sticking its neck way out in America, and 1968 became the Year That Changed America. Everything was going haywire — cultural values, race, the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement. Our motto for African American citizens was: “SAY IT LOUD! I’M BLACK AND I’M PROUD!” We had taken all we could stand. Dr. King had been assassinated. The heat was on in every Black community in America, and ours was no exception. And it seemed none of the issues would be resolved anytime soon. 

As a skinny little Black girl in the third grade, I walked a half-block to Wharton Elementary School each day. This was my community, and I was so proud to be part of it. But my school was in the path of destruction. That night, April 4, my parents barricaded themselves, my little brother and me inside our tiny two-bedroom apartment. It was as if time had stopped. Front door blocked by furniture. Back door blocked by the refrigerator. Our furnishings up against all the windows. All the lights were out — the electricity in our community has been shut off. We were prisoners in our own home, not knowing if we would survive the night.

I just lay down in my mama’s lap, not understanding any of this madness. I asked if I would go to school the next day. My mama said, “We will see, baby. Go to sleep.” 

All night and all day, all I could hear were fire trucks, ambulances, police cars. Bottles breaking windows, babies crying, horns blowing and sirens. And the chanting: “SAY IT LOUD! I’M BLACK AND I’M PROUD!” As a 10-year-old, I knew when to stay silent, to not ask questions. Besides, there were no answers.

This is what we did for two days and nights. My dad never slept. He stayed on guard. I don’t remember him saying a word. His eyes told it all — he had to protect his family, his dignity, his home.

We knew only one thing: We had each other. I knew nothing about injustice, crime or violence. I cried silently, afraid that my family would be hurt. Everybody had to remain still and quiet — even my baby brother, who was only 6 months old. We never left the apartment the entire time. When the unrest calmed down, our electricity was restored. My dad began to unbarricade our living quarters, television blaring as loud as the volume would permit. 

It looked like a bomb had gone off in our North Nashville neighborhood. For the first time, we witnessed the devastation of our community. Jefferson Street and 18th Avenue, just one block away, was unrecognizable — trash, debris and broken glass dotted the sidewalks. Businesses were closed, mostly wrecked by violence. Schools were closed until further notice. African Americans — my people — did this to their own community.

I didn’t understand the despair — the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Dr. King had made America angry. Political advisers and directors of government call ’68 a watershed year. Indeed. But we made it out, and I, the skinny little Black girl, was enlightened to the world of politics. From that day and forever, that world had mountains to be moved and hills to climb. “SAY IT LOUD! I’M BLACK AND I’M PROUD!”

Parents, teachers, grandparents and leaders should always talk with their children and loved ones about the politics of their time. If children are old enough to ask, please answer. Tell them what is happening. Tell them why it’s happening. Explain what ignited the situation and what was cooking long before someone lit the match.

My dad explained the entire civil rights movement to me. The why, the who, the what — and the change in our country. That made me less afraid of the injustice and the indifference in America. My community became safe again. And yes, I, the skinny little Black girl, was able to understand why America went through it all. These people who tore apart our community weren’t bad people. Not at all. They were angry, tired African Americans who wanted EQUAL RIGHTS! And yes, the change was here! The change was now! But it came at a high price.

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