Front Row

Posted by TubmanCity / on 11/17/2008 / 0 Comments


Tyrone Powers, Ph.D.  

I remember my brother and me sitting on the pitted cement front steps of our row home in the Edmonson Village area of Baltimore. We sat in the heat of that July night with nothing but love for each other; nothing but love for our family and no regrets about our lives of struggle. We were proud to be Black. We were proud to be the Powers' brothers and we were happy that some force greater than either of us or both of us had brought us to this place on this night.

I recall us talking and laughing and laughing and talking. Our eyes seemed to automatically gravitate towards the curvy brown bodies of young and healthy African queens that passed us, yet we lost none of the focus of our light-hearted conversation and our difficult yet pleasant situation. We were simply brothers being brothers. The giggles from the young girls as they watched us watching them seemed so tender and so full of promise. It took us back to the sounds of African laughter in deep dark villages that were devoid of lights and cars but was full of love and empathy.  

Even as I sit here today without my brother I can still hear the distinct sounds of that July night in urban Baltimore. I can hear vehicles moving or rolling or gliding over urban streets. I can hear radios blaring the urban and suburban and African sounds of Motown: Sounds that tried to explain why the reasons for being here or there with her - whoever she was - just wouldn't disappear. I can hear Teddy explain that it is so good loving somebody when that somebody loves you back. I can hear Earth, Wind and Fire reminding us that "Talking to Yourself is Fine." I remember B.T. Express explaining that life was short so that when you found that someone you loved be sure "to Do It Until you are Satisfied." I recall sounds that made a gentle and reasoned request as to why we should and could Get It On and gave us credit for ..."You know What I'm Talking About, Come On Baby..." No further description needed. We were intelligent enough to know then. No one had to be graphic, intelligent Black people knew. 
I recall that on that hot July night my brother and I started our Sitting Session at 10'o'clock in the evening and before we knew it was 2 o'clock in the morning. But time didn't matter. It was brother to brother and there was no other place that we wanted to be or had to be or needed to be than right there talking and walking back through time and then turning and heading towards an unpredictable future. It seemed to me that the stars and especially the North Start were sitting with us.

I remember thinking how far our race had come. You see these starts weren't overlooking two Black men being hung by Klansmen. No strange Fruit hanging from the trees in our neighborhood. We weren't worried about the Klan coming by and taking us for a god ole' fashioned lynching. We weren't worried about a group of young crackers and old cracker-backers beating us over our heads and spitting on us. We weren't even worried about being robbed by the hate that hate made in the form of brothers that had confused their African blood with Crips and Bloods and had been miseducated into seeking annihilation for the sake of a nostalgic white nation. We were just enjoying a warm summer's eve in the city. Living for the city, just enough, but on this night enough was really enough.  
Yeah, yeah I remember it, it was Friday night. We watched as Maryland Mass Transit Administration Bus #20 pulled to the bus stop across from our Sitting place. My brother smiled. "Look, brother, Black people sitting in the front of the bus. Isn't that beautiful! Thank God for Rosa Parks." I looked and watched and looked and watched and thought.  

I slowly turned towards my bronzed brother. "Nate, what if someone has played a cruel trick on us." He studied my face - looked into the Eyes To My Soul. "What trick?" I looked towards the stars, which now seemed a little less friendly. "Maybe we are too content. I mean, what if somewhere, someone or some group of people are laughing at Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? What if they're laughing at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the NAACP? What if they are laughing at the Urban League?"  
Nate seemed perplexed now. He was not totally reading my soul. There was some murkiness in my watered eyes that he just couldn't penetrate. "Laughing about what?" I turned to him and stared into his soulful eyes. "You see somebody gave us exactly what we had been asking for. We wanted to sit up front. We wanted to sit at the front of the bus and near the front of their restaurants. We got it Nate, and now we are sitting up front in all the wrong places. 
"We don't scramble to sit at the front of the classroom, but we are sitting on the front row of churches throughout this city watching Pastors standing over caskets that are sitting at the front of the churches. We get to ride up and out front in the hearse that is carrying the casket to the cemetery. We get to ride in the front limousine that is followed by a group of other slowly moving cars with lights on. We may even get to be buried at the front of the cemetery in a pine box marked - put 'head at front end.' We get to be in the front row of police line-ups and meal lines at local jails and plantation prisons. We sit at the front of prison transport busses. We get to be on the front line of every war this country fights and we are the first to confront the declared enemy - face to face - on the ground. We are the first to be put in body bags so we get go first on C-130 Transport planes and thus be put at the front of the plane - First Class. We get flown home first so that we can sit at the front of a hanger until we can be moved to the front of a Black Church." 
Nate sat quietly. His smile was gone. He ran his large hands over his smooth bald head - a sure sign that he was considering the possibility of a perverted front row Movement. I continued, "Maybe we need to start giving up some of our front row seats. Maybe we need to sit in the bleachers and look at the whole field. We need to analyze this thing from afar, my brother. We have to be a little more selective about where and when we want to be up front. We need to be on the front row of every school in this city. We need to be up front in business seminars and entrepreneurship classes. There is nothing wrong with being in the Front Row in church, but I'll timing have been a little off."  
Nate smiled and nodded. For a moment he remained silent and seemed to stare somewhere deep into that July night.  

As I stand today and look out the window into the cold November that is devoid of sounds and sights that remind me of anything remotely African, I remember my brother's smile. I remember him looking down at me as if he was proud to be sitting on the Front Row of our Edmonson Village steps having an up front conversation with me. My brother was twenty-five years old then and I was a young, very young, twenty-three. Four years later my brother was in a casket - head towards front - at the front of a funeral home - church wouldn't have him because he wasn't a member of that Black church. I thought we all were members of God's church. I was wrong. Only paying members were allowed to be up front in life and death. A Pastor stood above by brother at the front of the funeral home - trying to sincerely explain the death of and possible resurrection of a lost soul. My family was in the Front Row - We had made it. Somehow I do not believe this is what Rosa Parks was talking about. But it is the Front Row. 
...You know, I think I might sit in the back or in the bleachers and analyze and reflect a little while until I get this Front Row thing figured out.  


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