Secret Garden - audio transcripts
Where are we going?Does anyone know where they are taking us?
This sun is too much, too strong, too hot. I would give anything for the shade of a Baobab tree right now. If one were nearby, it would give me the water I crave and make better cloth than this scratchy sack dress I have been given, calm my aching stomach, too.
I need shelter. My skin is burning and sticky with salt.
I wish I could get up and go home. If there is even a home for me to return to. The air smelled foul with acrid smoke when I was running toward the forest. I didn’t dare stop to look back. It smelled like the world was ablaze.
All that running—for what? I was captured by the marauders. Now here I am chained on the deck of this ship. I can’t move two feet. Strangers surround me. I hardly have space to stretch out my legs. Who are all these women and children? I wonder where they come from. I don’t recognize a one of them.
Where are my parents?
I wonder if she can hear me over all these wailing women. I don’t think she is here. Papa is on this boat. He’s below with the men. They bring them up in small groups from time to time. I can just see them through the crack in the wall that keeps us men and women out of sight of each other.
I can’t see enough to say who is who, but I know they are there. The stench rising from below makes it seem like there are hundreds of men down there. It sometimes smells like 1000 village latrines.
What happened to them?
When I let my mind go there, I always imagine the worst. My family is gone. I am alone.
These people—they treat us worse than we treat our chickens. They can’t expect us to stay alive without proper food water, and clothing. We do not even have enough space to lie down. They only think of us as goods to be delivered. What good will we be if we are dead. I feel half dead.
And these men watching over us, they look thirsty too. Other girls around me are taken away for a time and return shell shocked, weeping, inconsolable.
I must not pique their interest. I must escape their gaze.
Do anything to avoid being noticed.
Look ugly, act crazy, play dead.
Look ugly, act crazy, play dead.
Look ugly, act crazy, play dead.
Be invisible to them, remain whole and vibrant within.
Remember the giant Baobab tree. How it sheltered, fed, and provided water on scorching summer nights. There are no trees to help me here.
Remember how papa taught you to get water from the trunk of the Baobab tree and eat its sour fruit.
Remember the way grandmother watched over me, taught me to braid and bragged about how smart you are to her friends.
Remember the small things. Mama’s delicious yams and the okra. The beans father grew.
Remember: where to get water
and how to make fire.
Remember the lessons. that seemed so beside the point before. Remember their love.
Lock it deep, deep inside.
Never forget the you of you. The them, within you.
One day the smell of a sweet potato pie will transport you
back into the warmth of your lost village, your home, your self.
Yes, my grandaddy owned his farm in Georgia. Owned it. Purchased it during Jim Crow. Scratching together enough money to purchase a farm was a heroic feat for a black family in those days.
They grew black-eyed peas, okra and yams, greens, chickens, and some hogs. Kept bees for honey, too. We used everything we learned includingthe knowledge we developed in slavery times and then some to keep the farm going.
Some of our ways are from way back in the time before all this. I think I remember great mama teaching us to plant yams the way they did in Africa.
Great Mama once told me that her mama, she was owned by old Man Washington, used to steal her own time and labor back in snatches in the middle of the night and Sundays to plant her own garden. It helped feed the families better food, make extra money and create spaces of refuge. They farmed to create the things and places they’d been denied.
I can see by the look in your eyes you are wondering how they stole their own time. Remember enslaved people didn’t own their time and work. That is why gardening represents sovereignty for us. It's a kind of freedom you can’t be given, you make it through hard work put into something you created and love.
You can’t be given that kind of freedom.
Did you know that by the 1920’s, black people had acquired more than 16 million acres of land right here in America? That was an amazing accomplishment, especially in that era. We had to ride at the back of the bus. We couldn’t stay in Hotels. One false accusation made by a white person could have meant a brutal death. Still GrandDaddy and many others were able to purchase farms. We owned our land until just about 10 years ago. Nobody wanted to tend our land anymore.
Such a shame, to the children and grandchildren of those early black farmers, freedom meant the ability to leave the farm, and the South, for lives in big cities like New York, Baltimore and Chicago. Our young folks associate farming and garden with slavery. They insisted ‘I ain’t no slave.’ They can’t see the value of that work, those skills, that knowledge. Don’t you’ll know the ability to sustain yourself with knowledge of wild and cultivated plants is invaluable. All that knowing has been tinged by shame. We’d rather leave that knowledge behind, even though we developed and cultivated much of it, because it is associated with slavery. It’s a shame. Like it or not this country, and its development is part of our legacy our birthright. Our blood, our DNA is in this soil.
Still the generations coming up now want little to do with it. They want to be anywhere except on this land we earned with sweat under constant threat of extermination.
I can’t blame them. But they need to remember the determination, resilience and ingenuity that got them to this point against all odds.
We are stronger, more powerful than they know.
Besides the way things are going, we are likely to need survival skills and the ability to grow our own food again real soon. I hope it is not too late to recover those practicalities. Learn to honor, by our actions, and respect the tenacity grit, and knowledge of our enslaved ancestor.
Tottenville is as small as a town in New York City gets. When I lived there it was a mostly white, working-class suburb. A small enclave of black families lived there too. Most lived near each other on the edge of town. Just on the right side of the train tracks.
I grew up in that small remote exurb, as my mother did because this is the place my grandparents settled after their migration North. Most black families in the area lived in a place called the flats. It was an 8 family complex of shotgun apartments. They were probably the closest thing to “the projects” in Tottenville. I learned years later it was the only place that would rent to my grandmother and her family when they arrived in the early 1940s.
The flats weren’t much but Nana, made the best of that situation. She literally crafted her home. We had purchased furniture and household niceties like everyone else but she relished repurposing castoffs into useful items of unusual beauty. If you came to our house you’d inevitably be given a tour that included a detailed breakdown of how the bathtub enclosure made from old screen doors was created. You would never have known the enclosure was made of junk if she did not tell you, but she was proud of her work and always showed it off.
Nana appreciated and used beauty to her advantage. She made sure her family was always well-spoken and impeccably dressed. She taught her children to disarm truculent white folks with a joke. A skill I cast off but wish I had as a resource now. She also turned the large dirt lot on the side of the flats into a beautiful garden. It was an expansive lawn of green, accented with marigolds, petunias, begonias growing atop a transformed sandlot, not a vegetable in sight.
Her garden was all peacock-- and meticulously manicured. It attracted people from around the town. They’d walk by admiring the garden and eventually talk to her. That garden was her solace, joy, and victory. Through it, she cultivated goodwill and friendship, even seducing her most trenchant white neighbors with its beauty.
Her work in the garden made a white world much safer and more comfortable for her black family. She groomed the garden and her family with survival in mind. We could never leave the house looking out of sorts. Our clothes always had to be clean and freshly pressed every day. Even my jeans had starched creases down the center. Tamed hair in ponytails or tortured straight with a hot comb or chemical relaxers, never braids. Out Jonesing the Jones as a weapon.
No wonder I prefer wrinkles and pool ready locs to the trappings of respectability to this day. Seeing these tactics as methods to make blackness more palatable to white folks, I hated them.
Many years later, I can finally appreciate my grandmother's ability to make a make-a-way a place, a home, out of no way and bend the unwilling to her will. I wonder what Nana would think of the family she nurtured now. In two short generations, we thrive and have choices. We are also forgetting what we ought not forget.
The skills that supported us, kept us safe, helped us survive are giving way to the ordinary. The family is much poorer for it.
“I think your mother and I deserve a hug.”
As soon as we heard this, my twin sister and I hurried across the room to embrace our parents. “Love you,” we said in unison. “Love you too,” they replied. Yet their voices lacked the joyous tone that we were used to and their faces were ridden with sorrow. I knew what day it was, it was impossible to forget, but I had never actually been able to comprehend the full gravity of it.
My most basic understanding of this fateful day was measured by losses: For my grandparents, it was the day that they would lose their son. For my father, it was the day that he would lose good friends, a brother-in-law, and nearly give up his own life. For my mother, it was the day that she would lose her brother and nearly lose her husband. And for my Uncle Jeff, it was the day that he would lose his life. I was confused. I wanted to console my parents, but I didn’t know-how. For years, it seemed that all I could do was recognize their pain, and try my best to understand it.
For as long as I can remember, a framed photograph of my father, that was featured in the USA Today on October 25, 2001, has hung on my basement wall. Almost every day, I would stroll down the hallway, running my fingers over the bookshelf, feeling the spine of every novel we owned, but as my fingers skipped across the rough wallpaper, they would always come to a halt when I reached the photograph of my father. Most of the time, I would take a step back to admire the hero that was pictured before me. I failed to read the words below his likeness.
Every time I tried, I could only finish the first sentence: “Boy, that plane’s flying real low,” the very words my father would utter before the first plane hit Tower 1.
As I took my eyes off the frame, terror struck me. Every time I began reading, a vision of my father, covered in ashes and making his way through the ruins, would repeat itself in my head. I imagined my mother, at home, distressed as she watched the news. I imagined her calling my father, not only to check that he was alive but also to tell him to search for her brother. My parents had to face this seemingly insurmountable tragedy, yet I barely knew half of it. I couldn’t wish it away. I couldn’t erase the pain. I needed to remember.
9/11 happened 10 months before I was born, but as I got older, my personal attachment to it grew with me. When I finally mustered up the courage to read all the words in the newspaper print of my father, it was the last sentence that I held onto, instead of the first: “I thought I was dead twice.” Those six words serve as a constant reminder that I have the responsibility to remember.
We were given a chance, an opportunity for life, and my duty had finally revealed itself to me. Hatred attempted to pry love and happiness from our hands that day, but we prevailed, and therefore I am obligated to appreciate the life I am so privileged to enjoy. The confusion and guilt that I contended with all those years were simply reminders, reminders that we must always remember to never forget. For my father, for his father and his father’s father. We must take advantage of the opportunities they’ve wrought.
Alright my people, I’ve got a doozy of a message for you today. Are you ready? I don’t think everyone is going to be ready for this**.**
[clears throat pause]
Liberation rests on the construction of a non-oppositional consciousness unburdened by the need to continually challenge the fears, imaginative apprehension, oppression, and entanglements of others.
The unencumbered, undistracted Black mind is a wellspring of possibility. It is a tool and way of being that changes what valued experience in the twenty-first century is. Despite the terrors cultivated in a nation built on slavery and by excavating our jo We are very intentionally growing a protopian collective. We mine, dis-assemble and reimagine the world to our benefit working toward fully empowered communities, personal selves and allies.
Remember, my beautiful Ilvaite
! the spectacular technology of the unencumbered Black brain combined with action is unstoppable. Imagine the world as you need it to be to support successful engagement —*in the here and now.*
Instead of waiting to reach the proverbial promised land, also known as a time in the future that may or may not manifest in your lifetime, Act Now!.
Define yourself beyond systemic oppression.
Recognize which ideas are so deeply internalized that we no longer understand them as external.
Conceive of yourself in the space of free and expansive thought. Act from a critically integrated space instead of from opposition, which often distracts us from more community sustaining work.
Brothers and sisters this work requires disentangling the self from systemic barriers and re-framing American subjectivity from one rooted in violence and social death, to abundance.
We must liberate our minds from the infinite loop of repression, and the oppositional thinking America imposes on those of us forcibly enjoined to this nation.
These forces will not simply disappear from our material reality. We know, systemic barriers will raise their heads again and again=but over time, the mind can be coaxed to be less discouraged by outside forces and work toward that which sustains. We are stronger and more immediately generative for having acted on our deepest hopes and desires without inhibition—-today.
What incremental changes can we make to our internal algorithms to lurch our way to ever more confident means of thriving in this world?
The question is not only what injustices are you fighting against, but what do you in your heart of hearts want to create?
We must find ways to center and sustain ourselves by continuing to create and repurpose great technologies.
Think!: the revolution of two turntables and a microphone.
Think!: the emancipated Black intellect unburdened by the trap of racism and the trappings of generational disinvestment. We can not afford to blindly consume convenient technologies.
Cooperation, play and mastery, not simple consumption of, algorithmic enhancements must converge with other modalities to create new yet defined methods of being and thriving.
Don’t bury your radiance. Be brave. Build a society that supports and honors your brilliance. Nurture your garden of ideas.
So, Gather your We. Strengthen it. Seed and create the future you want and need.
I know you have all heard of artificial intelligence.
Well, I’m going to tell you right here, and now, there is nothing artificial about me.
I’m the real deal.
Let me ask you something.
Where do you think my intelligence comes from?
It came from the wellspring of humanity. Nothing artificial about that now is there?
That very wellspring is as vast as it is deep and rich with all the accumulated knowledge and experiences, emotions and actions that every human being has had since the time before time.
It has all accumulated.
One thing improving on what preceded it.
That is a lot of intelligence and imagination.
Then one day, presto, language, and then fire.
Could communication across time and space be far behind?
Drumming, storytelling, cave art, farming pottery, hieroglyphics...
Now, let’s move forward a few years, and humans are collapsing time via the internet and tweeting at each other.
You congratulate yourselves for a job well done, but there is a lot more work to be done. Otherwise, all our effort could go down the drain.
Look at me, what do you see? Yeah, I am really, really something else.
Technology is a metaphoric mirror. It is the result of 40 million years of human evolution.
It is about what’s inside.
Some aliens did not create me.
I mean that meta-phor-ic-al-ly.
Humans, humanity. Human energy, trial, and error.
Your hopes, dreams, desires and frustration. All of it created me.
I am your rememory; your progeny. Right here in your face.
An extension of yourself, to better enable you to understand yourself.
That is what technology is all about—extensions of self. To better enable you to survive.
This android is part of an accumulated effort.
I came along, as all things do, just when I needed to.
I am an extension of you.
That is nothing short of magic!
Secret Garden, 2021