- Posted September 2, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Life in the early 1980s: Style and politics
Blackwell in the 80's
- hhanks, CNN iReport producer
I grew up in a time when the country was still getting used to integrated schools/neighborhoods and spent my elementary years in an all white school. Most of the parents were blue collar workers. When my friends would ask me to come over and play, I was used to a list of questions from their parents. The one that ALWAYS came up was, "So, what do your parents do for a living?". The second I said my father worked for IBM, I could feel the sense of shock. I think they expected him to be a janitor or something.
By the time the 80's rolled around, we had moved to Wheaton, IL. I was still in an all white school, but more black kids went to school with me. I went from a 0% black school to 2%. I really thought I was going places. LOL The race make up was the same, but the kids I went to school with in Wheaton, were college bound. The majority of their parents were college graduates and held white collar jobs. I could tell a big difference in them versus the families in Lombard that I'd grown up with. They had more money, opportunities and were much nicer. The 80's is when I learned that all people are not the same and to judge people on a first come, first serve basis.
In the 80's, I was very conflicted where race and my ability to hold/build strong relationships with other people than black people, although I really didn't fit in with them either. Many black people, grow up feeling that they are outsiders; like society accepts everyone but them. Many feel as if they can never give a person of another race all of their trust because that person will betray them eventually and that betrayal will be based on race. There is always a tremendous pressure to stay "black", meaning in your choice of friends, music, interests, etc...
But, that was starting to change in the 80's. I was seeing black people accomplish things I never imagined. Martin Luther King's birthday was made a holiday. Harold Washington was the first black mayor of Chicago. Vanessa Williams was the first black Miss America and that was opening the doors for a lot of black homecoming queens. I remember my friend Kim's sister was Homecoming Queen at my high school the year before I got there in 1983 and there were two or three black girls on the pom pom squad. To me, that was a big deal.
I also began to build friendships with all sorts of people (Mexican, Puerto Rican, Philippino, etc...), who's parents/family had a different experience from my own. They were mostly second generation immigrants. It was my first experience with people who weren't caught up in Black/White politics. I felt no pressure to be anything other than who I was and I loved it.
It was the beginning of Chicago Style House Music (a mix of all styles of music to the same beat) and it made me feel free. It gave me my opportunity to get interested in as many different cultures as I could. Music really was my drive, as I was pretty good singer back then; the best in my school. I wanted to bring all that culture/experience that I was learning to the black/white people in my schools. I was getting off of race and was ready to use my experiences to convince other people to come with me. People may not like you on the outside, but they soften up when you sing them a song they can relate to. So, I learned how to sing everything I could (Rock, R&B, Rap, Classical, etc...). I can't tell you the surprise on a person's face when you, a person who isn't supposed to know anything about them, can sing their songs. It shows you can relate. I remember white kids in my neighborhood who's parents didn't like them being friends with black kids, being amazed when I found out Journey was one of my all time favorite groups and could sing all of their songs.
My father always raised me to believe that hard work out ways all other factors. He raised me not to get caught up on race, but to focus on being the best person I could be. My parents were raised during the civil rights movement, but in very different circumstances. My mother came from Kentucky and my father from Philadelphia. My mother went to all black schools and my father went to all white schools. I think from all the stories I've heard, they could have raised me with a chip on my shoulder, but I am very glad that they didn't. They raised me to always believe in the best in a person and not to look for the worst.
In the 80's crack was really hitting black communities hard too. I'd seen some of the worst drug attics in my life in during that time. I saw mothers/fathers with good jobs, loose everything and abandon their children for it. I began to make a lot of friends out in Aurora, IL and the majority of my friends there had parents addicted to crack cocaine. I thanked God everyday for my own parents who never did anything like that. It was very rare that you'd ever see a drink in their hand.
I graduated high school in 1989, thought I was going to either just get a job or try to be a singer. My grades weren't so hot, so I never thought I'd be college material. But that experience, turned me around. I knew that my parents weren't right about everything, but they were right most of the time, so I went to study at Kentucky State University a year later. The 80's prepared me for college, not just academically but socially as well. My experience then gave me the courage to say no to things that could hurt me, to feel comfortable in my own skin, and to just go for it.
The 80's marked many firsts and beginnings for me. I loved that time in my life.