I love to cook! It’s a skill I learned early in life, thanks to Mom. I can’t remember a time I wasn’t her sous chef, unless one of my aunts was in the kitchen, too.
When I was about 10, old enough to stay home by myself during the summer, Mom would have me defrost the meat, usually chicken, when she left for work in the morning. Throughout the day, she’d call with instructions to season the meat, preheat the oven, start the rice or pasta and begin steaming the vegetables.
By the time she arrived home in the evening, dinner was served.
I didn’t know it then, but Mom’s daily instructions got me hooked on cooking, a passion I want to pass on to my own two boys.
I live in the Edgewood neighborhood of Washington, D.C. across the street from a school. When my wife and I bought our house, it was a public school serving a low to moderate-income population that was 95 percent African American, reflecting the neighborhood demographics.
Each morning when I headed to work I’d find a trail of discarded Little Hug juice bottles, honey bun wrappers and empty potato chip bags leading to the school. Weeds sprouted through the cracks in the asphalt on the school grounds and the play structure was tattered and rusty. The schoolyard looked more like a laboratory for tetanus rather than a playground for children. Inside, portable walls, not classrooms, separated the kids who were group two grades at a time (1st & 2nd, 3rd & 4th). When I visited the school to inquire about volunteering one morning, I heard several teachers instructing their students at the same time, and a disruption in one classroom affected the others.
The school closed a few years after we moved in and briefly became a hangout for older teens and young adults who smoked weed, drank and played dice.
Eventually, gentrification took over, the school was reopened as a charter school and the building was overhauled. The playground was upgraded. Sunflowers and a community garden replaced the weeds. Woodchips covered the fissured asphalt. A section of the sidewalk was replaced and white children soon made up about 40 percent of the new student body—although the neighborhood demographics barely changed. Former First Lady and President Obama even came to christen the new facility. Even the litter got an upgrade, with Honest Juice boxes and string-cheese wrappers in the gutter instead of the cheap, corner-store junk-food trash.
Parking is a little harder to find, hey, that’s life in the big city.
Feeling afraid is part and parcel of being a new mom. We’ve all laid awake at night pondering irrational questions like, Am I going to break this baby? How can I raise a tiny human when I still don’t have my own life really figured out? But soon after the birth of my now 16-year-old son, I became palpably aware of a different kind of fear, one that was heavy and poisonous at its core: I was now responsible for raising a black child and, in America, that means my kid is always in danger.
Any time that we can remind each other that these reactions are based in reality, that’s healing.
There were more than 100 vehicles in our convoy, which was really one large funeral procession for a fallen American fighter pilot. We were headed from Dover Air Force Base, Delaware to Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia — more than 100 miles and two hours away — and we would make it in nearly half that time.
MIRACLE 100 MILES
Although there were dozens of police cruisers and motorcycles ahead of our military convoy, the hearse transporting the remains of Maj. Troy Gilbert was the focus of our procession. Two helicopters even followed from above. Seemingly, everyone was there to honor Gilbert one last time and to finally bury his remains after taking a decade to retrieve all of him. The major had been on an extremely long journey to a final resting place long before we’d set out on our multi-state, 100-mile drive late in the fall of 2016.
I was in one of the military transport vehicles driving behind the hearse, and my mind still marveled at the sight of all the students standing outside of schools that were along the route to the highway from Dover — with each small American flag in small hands, Gilbert was being honored one last time and I couldn’t stop wondering how they all knew.
Upon learning that I would serve my six-month deployment at the military’s sole mortuary command in the United States, I couldn’t help but feel like I was not only deploying far behind friendly lines, but that I would be doing peculiar work in an environment in which every day I would be surrounded by American losses. I secretly felt like I was being assigned to the losing team. I now am deeply ashamed of that notion.