No. 251 – On Legacy

Uncle John, Grandmama, Uncle Arlen

Protect them from all hurt, harm, and danger.

Gertrude Liverman

Coming up as a young boy, my Grandmama would end her prayers over me and my younger brother with that line. Gertrude Liverman, my Grandmama is an amazing woman. She came up on the coast of North Carolina, worked picking crops before getting jobs cleaning people’s homes. She was in her early 40s before she was able to legally vote.

I think about my Grandmama a lot. As I learn more about what has happened in this country over the time she’s been alive, I wonder what her life was like at the time. She didn’t get past middle school with her education. How did she process the changes in the 50s as her kids went through their elementary and middle school educations after the passage of Brown v. Board of Education? A single mother of eight children, what was going through her head when social workers came threatening to put her children into different homes? What was going through her mind once news got around that Lyndon Johnson had signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965?

Unfortunately, I won’t get those answers. She’s been living with Alzheimer’s for several decades. Listening to the stories my mom and her siblings share about Grandmama, I get a clear picture that her faith gave her the ability to navigate everything she encountered making her way through this country. What’s amazing is that in all the time I spent with her as a kid, I never sensed bitterness or anger about what she went through. I never heard her talk about what-ifs.

What I saw Grandmama do was visit neighbors to make sure they were alright. I heard her call folks and pray with them. I laughed with her as she flicked me on my head, joking at how hardheaded I was. It would be cool for her to see I’m just as stubborn and persistent as the kid who wouldn’t stop shooting the basketball against the imaginary hoop on the side of her apartment, until it felt like I was making shots.

I love my Grandmama very much. I’m grateful for the 95 years she’s spent on earth and for every bit of additional time she gets with us. She’s got a big legacy of faith, hard work, love, and endurance. Hopefully, I do it justice as I continue on.

No. 134: Soul City: A City for Black Folk

My head is still shaking after learning that a prison sits on the land where Floyd McKissick was trying to build a city for black people.

White Flight, Urban Crisis, New Cities

Soul City was a project McKissick began working on in the late 1960s as part of an initiative at the Department of Housing and Urban Development to deal with the urban crisis in America. White Flight was taking place and the health of urban cities was not good – crime, bad housing, few job opportunities.

The initiative was to fund the development of 13 new cities to test whether the creation of new places to live was a viable option for dealing with the urban crisis. McKissick applied for the initiative to develop his idea for Soul City.

Floyd McKissick

Floyd McKissick was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. His contemporaries included Stokely Carmichael, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Whitney Young. As the Civil Rights Movement gained steam McKissick and Carmichael pushed forward the Black Power Movement saying that the Civil Rights Movement wasn’t going far enough and things weren’t moving quickly enough for black people in the country.

The whole time I’m listening to the introduction of this podcast, I’m wondering why I don’t recall ever hearing about McKissick and well I know that there’s so much that I don’t know about the movement someone at his level I think I should have run across his name and not exactly sure why that is. The podcast puts forward a theory I’m not sure I agree with, but I hadn’t heard of Bayard Rustin for a long time either and he had kind of been written out of history for a while too.

Soul City, Silicon Valley, and Wealth

I was shocked to learn that Soul City had an incubator called Soul Tech One, which was focused on nurturing new companies. I couldn’t help but think about the early days of Silicon Valley, which had begun its evolution just 20 years prior. In the 75 years of so since the beginning of Silicon Valley, the billions of dollars of individual wealth that has been created is mind boggling.

Today, the conversation around the lack of presence of black people in the technology sector is at its peak. To think that someone was trying to set up the infrastructure that could have taken a shot at being significant in generating wealth through technology in the black community is inspiring. We can finish this. We have the creativity. We shape culture. We have the stamina to make it happen.

For some time now I’ve been having conversations with friends about getting black people in this country to a place where we’re operating from a position of power economically. My talking about this isn’t really what will get it done at this point. Someone I care about a lot really impacted how I look at wealth and positioning myself to build it for myself while working on seeing a bunch of rich black people in the US and Africa who can and do write checks for nascent businesses and who shape policy.

This shift in my thinking is a large reason why I haven’t been writing for the past few months. I’ve really been working hard and have made good progress, and have a couple more years to go. The past week though has been difficult and I have felt concerned about my ability to continue executing the plan. This podcast pissed me off and inspired me. Good oxygen for my fire to keep me going.

Soul City and a Prison

We eventually learn that the Soul City project failed after it lost oxygen due in part to an audit that Senator Jesse Helms ordered for the project. To this day I still feel bad for confusing Jesse Helms and Howard Coble as a kid. The two couldn’t have been more different legislators.

All these years later a prison sits on the land that was Soul City. There are countless studies on the all too familiar relationship the black community has with prisons in this country. The irony was overwhelming to hear that one of those structures sits on land that could have been home to a thriving black community – a project that could have potentially seeded more like it.

Let’s Go on a Road Trip

I’m curious to see what remains of Soul City plan to drive down there in the next couple months. Feel free to email me if you’d like to come along – kwamesompimpong@gmail.com.

No. 102: Mrs. Jones

The woman pictured above changed my life. Mrs. Jones was my 7th grade social studies teacher. My class was slightly rowdy, yet she always remained in control of the room. 

I started off underperforming in her class, more concerned with my pursuit of coolness. She pulled me aside one day and told me she knew I could do better. I’ll never forget the new feeling of wanting to prove her right. 

Thankfully, Mrs. Jones and her husband were home when I stopped by yesterday. It was great catching up and discussing their progress in launching a grocery co-op in the neighborhood I grew up in. The co-op has raised nearly $2million to begin operations. I’m excited about becoming a member and visiting the store whenever I’m in town. 

Since leaving middle school, I had tried to visit Mrs. Jones at least once a year, but hadn’t done so since college. To see her and her husband in such great health while leading the empowerment of my childhood community was a real treat. 

Thank you, Mrs. Jones.