We had only been living in Saint Paul for a couple of months when my husband told me he’d found somebody else. “Someone from work,” he said. “Can I keep my stuff here until I find a new place?” I put off telling my mom for a couple of weeks, not wanting her and my dad to worry about me and my one-year-old son. When I finally did tell her, I had to repeatedly assure her that my freelance work was actually bringing in enough money to live on, even though it was far from true.
I was living on the street . . . had used up all my clean undergarments . . . and did not have any money or place to wash. One day I was taking what is called a “sponge bath” in the White Castle on University and Lexington, feeling really low . . . hours passed, 2 p.m. . . . traveled down to the Loft Teen Center and filled up on penny candy, sitting on the corner of Oxford and Carroll Avenue. A grey four-door car pulled up slowly . . . right next to me . . . my head was down, very close to the street gutter entrance . . . I could smell the stench of whatever was down there. I heard a deep, smooth, radio personality voice saying, “What’s the matter, man?” I was like, “What?” I couldn’t believe it. “I need some clean draws . . . and socks!” I answered. This voice replied, “Get in.” Wow! My angel on Earth. Steve bought me a pack of clean boxers and socks. Then he allowed me to shower at his house so I could go to school . . . clean.
During my twenty years of living I have made some really good and really bad choices. The worst choice I made was getting involved in gangs and drugs, which led to my unwilling trip to Mexico and life-changing events. Being in a gang is like playing chess: Only the king and queen survive, while the rest are and always remain pawns.
Dorothy Day and I go way back. Granted, I never met her, but I can’t help but feel a connection after volunteering every third Saturday for the past twenty years at the Dorothy Day Center in downtown Saint Paul. I first went there on a lark, something to try once because I had just moved to the Twin Cities and wanted to meet new people. I never got around to stopping.
My father and I used to go door-to-door delivering wafers in a tiny gold case. I imagined my father gave me this job to make me feel special when all of the older kids went to school. When they disappeared behind the doors of St. Mark’s School with their starched uniforms and shiny pencil cases, I felt left out. As a remedy, my father quickly got me started in the business of delivering communion to neighborhood elders...
Booker Taliaferro Washington, born in approximately 1856, was enslaved in Virginia on a plantation. The young Booker yearned to learn to read and to serve. After slavery was abolished, Washington went to school and became an educator. In 1881, as the principal of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama, he transformed the campus from a rundown building to an educational institution offering thirty-eight trades. His first book, Up From Slavery, tells his story and is highly acknowledged today. Washington also authored thirteen other books.
Growing up as young Black men in Saint Paul’s Rondo neighborhood, we learned a lot from the generation of Black men who preceded us. We, like they before us, were simply known as “the Rondo boys.” Rondo was where we learned to survive, to grow and develop—it was where we learned the value of our extended family membership, where we fell in love and got our hearts broken. It was also where we learned what’s in a name.