This I Believe

Michael - Lansing, Michigan
Entered on February 1, 2007

This I Believe: Deeds not Words

It’s October 15, 1969 in Detroit at Kennedy Square. The moratorium to end the war in Vietnam is going on and I’m standing on a rise with the Black Nationalist flag waving high above my head. This was supposed to be a peace march but, for me, this was not about peace. This, I believed, was my coming out party.

It’s two years after the riots. People I knew had died. I’d lived under marshal law and had hugged the floor as the APC’s battled snipers through my neighborhood. Now I’m seventeen and not about peace but confrontation.

I believed this was an affirmation of who I was brought up to be. I was the last of the Barker line. My family fought a war in the South: the only mention of it being in “100 hundred years of Lynching”. We were finally driven out at the point of a gun but we never forgot family or payback.

My greatest possession, however, is rotting American flag from my father’s coffin, killed in Korea. My cousin, who was in his company, called his death the purest murder. Like his lynched forbearers, he would not relent and was chosen to die by racist southern officers to be in the machine gun nest he was killed in.

This I believed: I was his replacement for blood, sacrifice and revenge.

The riot cops line up and the horses begin filing into the square with the Veterans of Foreign Wars massed behind them hurling invective. This isn’t about words. Words are nothing.

My grandfather, as a child, watched helpless as the Klan trapped his uncle in his house then set it on fire. In the Detroit race riots of 43, he put his shotgun on his arm and rallied the neighborhood and drove the whites from the besieged Brewster Projects. The time came, and he had acted.

My grandfather with his shotgun, my father in the machine gun nest, I believed were not about words. They lived by deeds and my deeds would start in that square.

The horses moved forward, the invective of the VFW seemingly goading them on. I charge down the rise. One of the VFW is caught amongst the horses and is flung on the ground like a rag doll. The police try to stop but it’s too late as the old White man begins to roll underneath the hooves.

I go under the horses to reach him. A hoof goes by my head. I’m slammed but stay on my feet, grab the old man and pull him from the melee to safety. Enraged by what he has forced me to do, I stare speechless at him then turn from the chaos and begin a long walk home.

This is what I know now.

It is not what I believe.

It is what I do.