|My first memory of real work
was at 12 years old. I was attending a two-room black school
in West Texas. Several times a year school would be turned out to allow
the children to work in the cotton fields. My father taught
in one-room (grades 3-8) and my foster mother (Christine) in
the other (grades 1-4). My sister, brother and I worked in
the cotton fields too. We picked (or pulled) cotton; we chopped
cotton (really weeds) along with everyone else.
When I was fourteen my Dad took
a job in New Mexico teaching on a Native American reservation. My
foster mother moved to Amarillo. . . we moved with her.
From that time on my entire
life seemed to be consumed by worked. Every morning before
school we would walk to Christine's boarding house (we called it the hotel).
The hotel was about 2 miles away. My foster mother rented out the
rooms not only by the night but more often by the hour. Before school
every single day of my life between the age 14 to 20, we would clean the
rooms and make the beds.
Every day after school,
we would go to the hotel and repeat the routine. Every night
I would go to the bar (more like a "juice joint") and work:
selling beer, playing pool with customers, and turning away advances of
the local drunks.
I never started on my homework
before 10 o'clock at night. My foster mother who believed in education would not tolerate poor grades. She also probably realized that if
the minors that she had were not good students the local authorities might
come down on her illicit businesses. On Fridays and Saturdays, when we
weren't working at the bar, we were bootlegging alcohol at the hotel.
I can still remember Sundays, after church, when I would watch the men
put their wives in the car (the hotel was next door to a church). As soon
as the car was out of sight, they would turn and come into the hotel. Where
they played music and drunk the beer that I served. While I busily
dodged their roaming hands.
But work was an escape. Escape
from the saddness of the lost of my mother who died when I was 7 years.
Escape from the feelings of being abandoned by father. Escape from the
fear of my foster mother - Christine who inflicted severe emotional and
physicial abuse on me and my siblings.
That was my life . . . until
I left home at 20 years old.
It is no wonder that work continued
to be my life. I am a workacoholic. Frankly, I love to work. However,
for work to be truly fulfilling the work must serve an important purpose
or help you to achieve a commitment. For me, my purpose, my commitment,
my avocation, Nia . . . is working collectively with others
to build and develop the African American community in order to restore
our people to their traditional greatness. Such goal requires us
to be brave and to do whatever is necessary to effect change.