A blog about writing and all things story…
Yesterday as I walked from my car to the doors of my
neighborhood grocery store I watched a young black man
approaching people at the entrance. He held a stack of
CD’s and offered one to passers-by. No one stopped.
An elderly Chinese woman cowered away, tugging on
her teen granddaughter’s arm. Two white teenagers
giggled, huddled together and swept into the store. He didn’t look angry. He looked hurt.
“Hello, Ma’am.” He held a CD out to me.
I accepted, and stopped. “What are you selling?”
“No Ma’am, not really selling.” He smiled. He had kind eyes. “It’s my music.”
“Okay.” I looked at the bold colors on the CD, blacks and reds. “Rap?” My body tensed. I was a bit intimidated by his two friends who were a bit more menacing looking than he. I didn’t want to be that cliché’ white woman in the nearly all white suburbs going to her nearly all white neighborhood grocery store and being startled by what looked like black gang members, but in all truth a small part of me was that trepidatious white woman. “Is it that gangster rap, because—”
“No…” His face stiffened at my judgment. He looked deep into my eyes. “Rap with an upbeat message.” He said as gently as a preacher with a point to make.
“Okay.” I studied the cover. It looked all ‘gansta’ to me, but what do I know. My grandson listens to music that scares the beggebies out of me. What do I know? “My grandson listens to stuff I don’t like at all, that Fifty-Cent person—”
“No, no.” He opened one up and read me the titles. This young man was so passionate about his message of honoring his children, his country and family, against all odds. He read the titles, explaining what the songs were about. What he was about. He explained his heart and soul to me on the sidewalk outside my grocery store.
“Did you write them?” I asked.
“Yes.” His eyes brightened with pride. His shoulders relaxed.
“So you’re a writer?”
He smiled and nodded.
“I’m a writer.” I held up his CD and the info card he gave me. “This artwork’s good.” I told him, feeling at ease talking to another writer. In that moment we connected; two writers, not a middle-aged white woman in the suburbs and a young black man with tattoos from the other side of town. But two writers.
“You’re a poet?”
“From what I’ve listened to, most good rappers are really good street poets. You may not agree, but I think Eminem is a good poet.”
His eyes bulged. He smiled.
“Do you ever go to the Hugo House or attend any of the poet functions in Capital Hill or other areas where the demographic may be more suited to your music?” I looked around and pointed to the two elderly people pushing their grocery cart, skirting as far away from us as possible. “Cause trust me, this is NOT your demographic.”
“You understand the business side.” He watched people rush by, not making eye contact.
“Well, I understand enough to know I wouldn’t be trying to sell rap CD’s to the elderly unless they were my grandparents. I know that much.”
I took some money out of my wallet and gave him a donation for his CD. “I’ll listen to it. I don’t particularly like rap music, but I like good writing and I believe in putting a good positive message out there. So I’ll listen.”
“Well…” he hesitated. “There is some language.”
“I’m sure there is. I’m not going to faint at the sound of a few four letter words. But if they add nothing to the message or are just being shouted because you can’t think of a better word, then I’m done listening. There’s no art in that. But if the message you explained to me is there, I’m listening.” I laughed, “Whether I like the music or not.”
He laughed too. “Can we have coffee sometime?”
“Yeah, we can have coffee sometime.”
When I got home, I went to his web site and read his lyrics. I was speechless. Yes, there’s language I don’t like. Yes there’s violence and sexual content I’m not crazy about. And yes, the writing needs work. But what’s there, what’s real, what’s guttural and raw are his words, his story, his life, his longing. You can’t learn that in a writing class. There’s no denying this young man is a poet living a hard life on a side of town I rarely drive through. This young man, like Shakespeare has passion for the written word. This young man has a commitment in his big wounded heart to his woman, his child, and his country. He loves God, but is torn by what he sees, experiences and lives every day. He knows poverty, violence and rejection. He loves his country but feels betrayed. He has the heart of a good man – not yet more than 20-years old – a good man in a hard place, trying to do the right thing, against all odds. God Bless him.
I don’t know that I can do much to help him, but I will meet him for coffee. And I will listen to his story. I think worlds are bridged when we shut our mouths, open our minds, close our eyes and just listen with our hearts wide open. Who knows, maybe I know something or someone who can help him get his message out there, maybe change his life experiences. I’d hate to think I held back just because our language was different or that we didn’t live in the same neighborhood. I’d hate to be that person who could, but didn’t help a young writer with a strong message, just because I didn’t relate to his life. I’d really hate to be that person. Just because I don’t understand the language doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the poetry.
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By Miri Elm
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