My affection for the colors black and gold started earlier than most people think. My parents met at Grambling State University in the late 60s/early 70s. As any black child would, I have vivid memories of going to a Grambling homecoming when I was 9 or 10. There is NOTHING like seeing an HBCU marching band; I still feel like that today. Even though I didn’t make it to my first Bayou Classic unitl my early 20s, I will always have a soft spot for HBCUs. My father did a stint in the Army after college, which turned into a career working for a federal agency. His older brother, my uncle, was living up North, so Kansas City was as good a spot as any to start off in.
I was born at 10:08 P.M. at Bethany Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas. Yes I was a night baby, big surprise. Even though KCK is my hometown, my earliest memories of growing up are actually in a few other Midwestern cities. A big part of my father’s early career meant moving around alot. At a certain point, me and my mother couldn’t get up and go all the time so he would just leave for months at a time. My mother still teases me about this; she says I used to always cry when he left; as if I believed he was never coming back. They say the person you become can be all be traced to your first 5 years; I’ve had more than one ex tell me with conviction that my own well documented aversion to commitment can be traced to the constant moving and separation I went through at this stage of my life. Of course these girls are exes for a reason, so my counterargument is they’re all crazy (just kidding).
The first city I recall staying in was Oklahoma City. We had a little basement apartment; my mother stayed with me during the day while I watched Sesame Street and the Electric Company. You may question how I remember this, and the answer is easy for me: I learned how to spell Mississippi watching the Electric Company. It’s true; there was a little skit where they turned into a musical jingle I still use today: M-I-S, S-I-S, S-I-P-P-I! Thank God for Public Broadcasting.
After that we spent time in the city my sister was born in, Springfield, Missouri. I attended preschool there while my father took classes at Southwest Missouri State. Still never been to the campus, but I remember the parking permit sticker in the first car I remember my family owning, an Oldsmoblie Eighty-Eight. Eighty percent of the pictures of myself I hope never see the light of the day came from this period of my life. Cordoroy pants, jellies, cowboy hats…yeah. But there was ‘Pooh’. My first ‘security blanket’ if you will was a Winnie the Pooh plush toy that I evidently took with me nearly everywhere. I must have been over that thing by the time we made our next move, to Salina, Kansas.
Salina was similar to Springfield in that, as far as I could tell, we were the only black family in town. Actually let me correct that: at that stage of the game, I had no concept of race. My family looked one way, everyone else looked different. It never came up back then, ever. Me and my neighborhood buddies all went to the same school, we rode bikes together, we played in Little League together, we went to each other’s birthday and skating parties. When the earliest elements of my sexuality surfaced, I played house with the cutest girl from my Little League team without a second thought. If Michael Jackson could take Brooke Shields to the Grammys, why couldn’t I do what I was doing? I was a ‘special kind of guy’ too.
Ironically, the first time I became aware of any kind of difference was spending time with my extended family in Louisiana. They used to laugh at the way I talked (and in fairness, I probably did sound like an 8 year old version of Tiger Woods in those days). But hell, THEY sounded just as ridiculous to me: ‘y’all’, and ‘mein’ and those crazy Southern accents. But I loved them to death and vice versa. Myself, my younger sister, and four of my younger cousins were all born six years apart. We bonded pretty quickly and always hung out together when the opportunity came. My first forays into artistry were the product of cutting ‘albums’ singing with my cousins on our old school boom boxes.
What I remember next, I remember not as any single moment, but as flashes: My parents arguing. The cops coming to the house. One day I was at my father’s house in Kansas; the next I was living in a trailer out in the country in Louisiana with my mother and sister. You don’t understand what exactly is going on, but you understand enough. The carefree, outgoing kid who accepted whatever he was told is replaced by someone who, for better and worse, questions EVERYTHING and EVERYONE. Paradise lost.