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Making The Grade PT. V: Orientation pt. I

In Imani, Making the Grade, Martell on April 9, 2012 at 9:55 pm

On the first full day of orientation Martell and Tehan are eating a quick breakfast before they head out to their first session of the day.  Martell sits with a bowl of Lucky Charms on his right and a fully loaded omelet on his left and Tehan sits across from him eating an omelet and waffles. Midway through the fast paced race to finish their food, Martell breaks the cycle of silence and eating to clear to clear his mind

 “Nigga. you may think I’m tweaking but….” he stops

“What’s good my Nigga” he says now intrigued by interruption.

“Man, I’m not sure” he continues to hesitate in his delivery “I think Brenton got it cracking with Troy last night.”

“Bullshit!” Tehan quickly retorts with his mouth muffled with waffle

“Naw no bullshit bro. Let me tell you nigga, when I got back to the room after walking back. When I got to the door I hear fuckin’ sounds.” He checks his volume and looks around then begins to whisper. “So I was like ‘ahh shit, Troy getting it crackin’”

“So where does Brenton come in all this!?

“Nigga let me finish. So, I sat outside the door for a minute and almost fell asleep but then I thought I heard the RA coming so I had to dip in the room. So I thought ‘fuck it,’ I hurried up and went into the room and jumped on my bed. I didn’t want him to think I was on some cock blockin’ shit and they stopped moving but he didn’t say shit and I ended up passed out soon as I hit the bed anyway. But I think I heard them talking in the bed and it sounded like him.

“So how did you know it was him?” Tehan inquires anxiously waiting,

“When he left out in the morning I saw a black body walking outta the door.”

“Maan, nigga you sure it was him? You sure it wasn’t Nicole, you know she like lil’ White boys” he jests. Because whole-time that don’t sound like something B would do, because he usually real low key with his. So it’s kinda hard for me to see that.

“I told you, you would think that I’m tweakin’.” he replies “I just wanted to throw that out there though.

Tehan looks at his watch, “it’s about that time” we grabbed our stuff and rushed out onto the Quad. It’s hot and humid outside with the sun beaming right above them as they enter the Quad and encounter rest of their fellow classmates who have been separated into various groups.  There are clusters of students surrounding group leaders whom are standing in the middle holding their wrists in the air color coding the students by their wristbands. Both Tehan and Martell look down at their wristbands,

“It looks like I’m over here my dude,” Tehan says,

“Aiight” say as they shake up and go separate ways.

Martell’s heads to the middle of the Quad where there are about 15 people already standing  as he and a caramel skinned girl make their way on a diagonal towards the circle. The group leader is a stocky Asian student named Ken. This is a big ass Asian. Martell thought. Ken begins formal introductions after getting everyone’s name and checking them off his Ipad. Looking around the circle Martell notices the girl whom he met when he first moved in is standing in the group. They acknowledge each other and he walks to her.

                “Hey what’s up, Megan right?”

She smiles, “Yea and your Martell right?” Her voice is is calm yet inviting “I want to apologize again for my dad, he was kinda rude.”

“It was no biggie. I’m kinda used to stuff like that from High School. Side note you look kinda familiar. What school did you go to?”

“I went to New Castle out in Winnetka,”

“Oooh that’s, where I know you from, did you do the exchange program last year or the year before. Where all the black kids go to your school and y’all come to ours?”

She giggles, “yeah that was me. I realized it was you afterwards, I didn’t see you at the Presidents reception, I wanted to catch up with you then. So how have you been?

They continue to talk throughout the session, sliding jokes back and forth pairing up when ever possible for introductions. icebreakers and other activities. To many of the others in the groups the they seem to have been friends  for months rather than minutes.

Meanwhile, about twenty yards away Imani’s group leader stands about 5’5 with red hair, hazel eyes and freckles. Her demeanor is ecstatic and full of energy as she addresses the eager freshmen

“Hey, guys and girls, my name is Rachel and I will be your group leader for the week. We will start off with a quick ice-breaker then go into a breakdown of what you can expect for the week and the rest of the day. I want a chur name, where you are from, what you plan on studying, and one interesting fact about ya self. I’m gonna start. As I said my name is Rachel, I’m a sophomore here from Canton, Ohio. I am an Education and Psychology double major and one interesting thing about meh is that I have gone sky diving ever summer since my freshmen year of high school. Ok and now you” she says at the student on her right a slim medium height kid named Bradley from Boston who has the same scholarship as the rest of the group for Chicago.

It comes to Imani’s turn, “Hi my name is Imani. I’m from Chicago, I want to do a Pre-Med major, and one interesting fact about me is that I consider myself a nerd.” As she finishes Nicole whispers,

“I thought you were gonna say that you consider yourself an Amazon.”

“You hobbit.” she whispers back.

“Nice one, your getting better at this.” replies Nicole

Nicole and Imani continue their conversation as people introduce themselves, there are  three girls with some variation of Kate and Sarah. Then a distinct voice catches their attention, it is a deep, full, native accent, either African or Caribbean.

“My name is Pierre, I hail from Kiingstun, Jamaica, I am also Pre-Med” he says acknowledging Imani with a smile “and one interesting ting, about me is that I am also fluent in french.”

His physical presence is just as exceptional as his verbal. He stands a solid 6’, equipped a solid muscular fame and royal complexion. A complexion richer than Tehan’s where you can tell that Pierre has spent significant amount of time in the sun. Another two people introduce themselves then they break into smaller groups and begin to play other introductory games.

“Ok guys!” Rachel stands in the center and gathers their attention, “Now who can name all the buildings on campus?” No students raise their hands, “Well this will be a great introduction or refresher for everyone.” She starts them on their tour as all of the other groups begin to spread to various parts of the campus, on the center quad and other areas.

While walking the micro-groups begin to form amongst the students based on the people they were standing next to and had the opportunity to talk to during the activities. Imani and Pierre stand like exotic giants amongst their fellow classmates. One the Kates is standing shoulder high next to Imani, she has dirty blond hair that hits the middle of her back, and her wide dark brown eyes are fixed on Imani’s hair which is pulled back into a large butter colored Afro.

She reaches her hand up like a child reaching for a toy at the mall, “Oh-My- Gosh, I just love your hair,” her hand touches the base of her hair and grabs a curl.

Imani does not hesitate in her response “ooh,why thank you, Katlin right?”

“No, it’s Kate. I love your hair, it’s so pretty.”

“Oh well thank you” she comments placing her hair back into place. “so, I heard you say that your from Minnesota, right?”

“Yep, St. Paul Minnesoda,” Kate has an accent that emphasizes a D instead of T.

They continue to talk as they walk in and out of the buildings describing the departments and resources available. Eventually, Nicole and Imani return to each other.

“Girl, I saw that lil’ white girl grab your hair and you didn’t even punch her in the face, you a good one for that. You know I don’t play with my hair. And it’s hot out here.”

Imani is amused, “You know I’m so used to it from back home that I don’t even get bothered by it any more. And you need to stop being so violent. Ain’t your roommate White?”

“Yeah”

“Well I’m pretty sure she is going to be asking you about all those pink lotion bottles and gel in your room and you better not kill her either.” They continue to humor themselves while the tour continues.

Making The Grade Pt.3: All Campus Meeting

In Imani, Making the Grade, Martell on March 19, 2012 at 1:03 pm

 

Tehan and Martell step onto the beautiful landscaped academic quad that stretches the length of four football fields. All of the academic buildings encase the land. Not to the point where one feels intimidated or a sense of claustrophobia, but more so as a form of convenience as none of the buildings are more than 5 minutes in walking distance away of one another. The campus resembles something from Ancient Greece. All of the buildings are three to four stories in height, leading down a pathway to two central locations on opposite ends; on one end you have a library the size of most elementary schools, built in the shape of a temple for a Greek God or the Lincoln Memorial in D.C, a place where one would expect to see a massive figure inside. And on the opposite end you have a mansion.

A white mansion straight out of the 1830s, it’s three stories high with four circular pillars out front and a balcony that allows one to survey the entire quad and majority of the campus from the top. It doesn’t belong. It’s a sharp contrast to the rest of the newly built or renovated buildings in the vicinity. However, it is a reminder of the history and heritage of the University. A history that is deep seeded in the abolitionist movement, the Underground Railroad, and the women’s suffrage movement.  As one continues to survey the campus you see an assortment of exotic flowers in full bloom and various statues and monuments sprinkled across the land. It is a calm 80 degrees, with the sun shining bright; Martell and Tehan have now reached the center of the quad.

Taking a moment to embrace the scenery, Martell sticks his nose in the air and takes a deep breath, “You smell that?” He says to Tehan. Tehan takes a moment to smell, thinks about it for a second,  then replies,

“Naw, I don’t smell anything.”

With a sense of enthusiasm Martell continues, “The air smells different. Like that country fresh air, it even feels different.” He then begins to simulate biting motions in the air. Exaggerating his mouth, “‘taste…taste the air.’”

Tehan shakes his head at him, “You look like Dae Dae,”  then pauses for a second.  “Yeah I guess you can say that.”

Surveying the quad, Martell is in awe of what he sees: the hustle and bustle of the crowd, students and families moving in and out of buildings, asking for directions, and buying books and supplies. Taking notice of the student demographic Martell comments:

“Man, it looks like the United Nations around here, there’s some of everything.”

“Well they said they are all about diversity, I guess this is what it looks like. But this most def different from tha crib. Back in the Chi, you don’t see this many people together unless it’s the Taste or one of those North side or Magnet schools and those are still mostly White or Asian.” He says as they walk past a group of Chinese students speaking Mandarin.

Although Tehan won’t admit it, he is in somewhat of a culture shock. Unlike Martell, he did not have many social or academic interactions with groups outside of Black people in high school, besides a few White teachers.

From the opposite side of the Quad Imani and La Shayla enter the student filled quad with a similar reaction.

“This campus is beautiful.” La Shayla says in marvel at combination of students and environment. “I’m thinking that I made the right choice.”

“You didn’t see the school before you decided to come here?” Imani inquires.

“Yeah I did, once in the fall for diversity weekend so it didn’t look nothing like this. I really didn’t even think I was gonna get in it, so when I did, I just took it and ran with it. I heard a bunch of great things about the school so I wasn’t too concerned. But now I’m tryna figure out where did all these White people come from.” Her speech has various moments of a east coast accent.

“What do you mean? It’s a White school.”

“See, I knew the upperclassmen were right. They said that the school bring all the Black people on campus together at the same time so it look like there’s a lot of Blacks and Latinos that go here.” She says with a sense of sarcasm “trickery.”

“Oooh, see I’ve been knew that before I got here because my mom went here, so I would come up here for her reunions and stuff like that. It used to be a lot worst, there were no black people here when I came up for a visit my junior year. ”

La Shayla “Oh ok. I feel you on that. So question.”

Imani replies in kind, “Answer.”

She askes with reservation “Hmmm… what are you exactly…If you don’t mind me asking.”

Imani blushes and chuckles a little, “Girl it’s cool and a lot of people ask me all the time because no one can tell. I’m Italian and Jamaican.”

“Oh cool, which parent is which?”

“My mom is Italian.”.

From their respective areas on the quad Martell, Tehan, Imani, and La Shayla see the front of the Student Union: a recently erected 4 story environmentally friendly building. The union contains everything from a bowling alley to a 1500 person theatre and a food court. All of these services for a campus with less than 3500 students. It has no solid concrete walls; its four walls are made of glass and metal, giving it a futuristic look. There are rows of chairs and a podium outside the Union, and a number of individuals wearing various colored shirts passing out wristbands and ushering students to seats.

The individuals are upperclassmen group leaders helping out with orientation who are just as diverse in race, shape, size and gender as the freshmen students on the Quad. An upperclassman student walks up to the boys as they stroll across the yard. He’s about 5’8 with a solid upper body frame like a wrestler, a short cut fade, and a baby face to compliment his lack of facial hair and chocolate complexion, a shade or two off of Tehan. He makes eye contact with them with the traditional nodding of the head…

“Whats going on, fellas?” He says, shaking their hands with a light embrace, his voice confident and inviting.  “Welcome to E.D.U, my name is Justin, I’m one of the group leaders for your orientation.”

“What’s good bro, I’m Tehan, nice to meet you,” he says and Martell responds in kind.

He pulls out an Ipad, scrolls through and taps their names, then provides them both red wristbands, “These are your wristbands to identify the groups that you will be grouped with for the next three days for orientation and also these will your entrance into your freshmen party, they call it the Sizzler.”

“Party!?” Martell and Tehan excitedly say in unison.

He laughs a little.  “Yeah, a party to culminate your freshman orientation, but you’ll have to go to all of the events first before you can go. So where are you young brothers from?”

“Da Chi” again they say together. Then differentiating between them “West-side.” “South-side.”

“Ok cool,” Justin says “There are a couple of people here from the Chi, do you all have the Uplift Scholarship?” They nod in agreement.  “Well then you all should have a good time here. I’m from Cincinnati and I’m a junior here. Well, you guys can have a seat, the University president is about to address your class.

As they begin to take their seats, the MC, a short, young Hispanic woman with a minor accent, calls the students to order “Students please take your seats.” As the students begin to settle down, she continues her introduction of the president who is yet unidentified. There are a number of faculty members on stage, a strong representation of the students they serve. “I would like to introduce to you the President of this University, Mrs. Maxine Cherry.” There is a warm round of applause.

“Damn we got a Black President” Martell says to Tehan.

“I see,” he adds, in somewhat disbelief.

Martell begins to rap a popular Young Jeezy song from President Obama’s first election,

“‘My President is Black, My Lambo’s Blue…’”  He stops, but is very excited about the moment.

Tehan analyzes her, “She look young, too, she got that Michelle Obama swag.”

On another end of the audience, Imani and LaShayla are seated having a similar conversation about their university president.

LaShayla leans over and whispers to Imani “Did you know that the University President is Black Women?”

President Cherry is a tall, lean, yet curvaceous, brown skinned woman. She has her hair in kinky twists that are pulled straight back into a ponytail. She is very fashionable and professional in her dress, wearing a dark blue linen pant suit, with 3 inch white heels, that is suitable for the weather and the occasion. Her voice is warm and inviting as she begins her speech.

“Welcome class of 2016” she starts “I am very pleased to stand in front of you today as it is recorded that this class is the most racially, ethnically, geographically and socio-economically diverse class that this University has ever had the opportunity to host. And for that we thank you. We thank you for the opportunity to foster and develop the minds and talents of the future movers and shakers of the world: the world’s future philanthropist, doctors, researchers, musicians, painters, philosophers, dancers, entrepreneurs, teachers, and most importantly fathers and mothers that I now stand before.”

“At this current stage in not only American history but, world history, we are coming to a place where the pursuit of higher education is not a luxury, but a necessity. A necessity that will present you access to a world of infinite possibilities and questions. Questions that you may not know the answer to but, you will be equipped with the appropriate skills and know-how to find the answers. As students here, I challenge you to be inquisitive of not only your professors, but your fellow classmates and most of all, of yourselves. To stretch your imaginations, to step outside of your comfort zones, and embrace the uncomfortable so that in your near futures, when you leave this hill, the uncomfortable will not cause you to stop or hesitate but, run at full speed and attack. You may not know it yet, but this is the moment that you all have been waiting for, so I want you to heed the words of Mahatma Gandhi ‘Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.’ Thank you.” She takes a step back from the podium and the crowd of students and facility erupts with applause.

The students leave feeling energized and ready for the school year.

Martell and Tehan get up from their seats in awe “damn” Martell comments, “I feel all inspired”

“Yeah she got that heat, that move the crowd type speaking presence. I fux with her.”

They search around looking for other members of their scholarship cohort. They see Imani, a cute lighter skinned girl with dark curly hair talking to another girl they didn’t know. Martell points it out and they begin to make their way over to them.

“Hey sis” Tehan says he hugs her; their skin contrast is similar to the one between her and her father.

“Hey Bros” she turns to she turns to the young lady standing next to her “this is La Shayla, she lives in my in my building”

“Just call me Shay” she says, La Shayla has a 90s home girl swag about her, she’s wearing a fresh pair of Jordan Concords, some big bamboo earrings, kapri’s, a tank top, and a Yankees Snapback. She greets them both.

“Where you from Shay?” Tehan asks

With an exaggeration on her accent she says, “Brooklyn.”

“Damn” Tehan and Martell say together,

“You said that like you were Lil’ Kim in ‘94, I can dig it.”

Imani jumps back in “What have you two been up to so far? Ya’ll all move in?”

Martell comments “Just came from my room straight over here”

“You met your roommate yet?”

“Naw I haven’t.”

La Shayla adds the conversation “Well, are you two going to the President’s reception later?”

“What time that joint start?” Tehan asks

“In about 30mins, in the Union” La Shayla says

“Yeah, Imma roll through, what about you Martell?”

“For sho, I just gotta run and change real quick,” as he looks down at himself wearing Jordan sandals, basketball shorts and a white t-shirt. “I’ll meet ya’ll there.”

“Aight my dude” Tehan says as they both do a hand shake that they made up, nothing complicated, but still unique. Imani, does it too. “Aight Sis, see you in a minute. Nice meeting you Shayla” he says as they part ways, the group sticks around the Quad to continue to meet other students.

As Martell returns to his dorm and makes it up to his floor, he hears the song “Niggas In Paris” by Kanye & Jay-z being blasted throughout the halls. No one else is on the floor as most of the parents and students have made their way to the Quad for the opening reception. Martell realizes that the music is coming from his room as he moves down the hallway…

 

Making The Grade Pt.2: Move in Day (Imani)

In Imani, Making the Grade, Move In on March 12, 2012 at 12:08 pm

“Baby girl!” A mans voice shouts from behind a walking mound of shoe boxes. “Where did all of these shoes come from? Do you really need this  many pairs of shoes? You don’t even have anywhere to put them!”

“Oh John, stop complaining” her mother replies. “You weren’t saying anything when you kept taking your ‘baby girl’ on shopping sprees and giving her your card to buy all of those shoes. You created the monster,” she says pointing at her daughter.

“Aye!” He shouts animating his voice as he walks into the room maneuvering through the doorway. “That’s what’s daddies are supposed to do. If anybody going to spoil my daughter, its gonna be me. So when she meet a man with a little change in his pocket and he say ‘girl, I can buy you whatever you want.” She can say, ‘psst, nicka please, my daddy buy me what I want. You better come correct.’”

“John!” she shoots under her breathe “the n-word in mixed company!?”

He corrects himself and begins to speak in a British accent “Sorry my dear…so she can say to a young Negro boy. Excuse me; my father can purchase me anything I desire. A more desirable form of courtship will be required for the Booty. Hehe.” He and his daughter chuckle together at the expense of his wife. “Baby girl where do you want these boxes?”

“Just drop them in the middle of the floor Daddy.”

He drops the boxes to the floor. “Ahh my back.”

“Are you ok daddy?” she asks in a childlike tone of concern. Their relationship is the epitome of ‘daddy’s little girl’.

She grabs his arm and back to provide support and their stark skin contrast is obvious. He has a dark chocolate, rich complexion to where many would assume that he’s from a country in Africa or an island of the Caribbean. She’s the conception of his intimate interaction with his opposite. The color of vanilla and caramel, in any decade in Black American culture, she would be a representation of beauty. Not light enough to pass, but would easily garner the affection of a white male suitor.

Long dark hair like Lisa Bonet, who she’s commonly compared with, honey colored eyes, a dimpled smile and perfect teeth from four years of braces. Her survival of the torment of high school has equipped her with unparalleled self confidence. A confidence that the materialistic possessions provided by her father, helped to create.

“Imani, what time is your all campus meeting on the quad?” her mother asks folding clothes and hanging them in the closet.

“Uhmm,” she replies and is quickly interrupted.

“What did I tell you about those ‘uhms’!?” her mother interjects. “Only people who cannot articulate themselves use ‘uhm’”

“Sorry mother.” She corrects herself in her best sarcastic British impersonation similar to her fathers. “I believe it will begin at tea time mother,” she says with her nose in the air looking down. She pauses and she and her father burst into laughter.

“So you think your funny huh?” Her mother retaliates with a sour look on her face. “We’ll see what happens when that platinum card doesn’t work.” Her tone and eyebrows express a challenge of dominance.

Retreating “Daaaaddd moms being mean again.”

Hesitant to take sides her father has a King Solomon moment and in his best Kevin Hart impersonation her father says “ya’ll keep acting up!” shooting his arm up and down to his side “I’m gonna turn all the credit cards off around here and make y’all go grocery shopping with my cuz lil’ Rae-Rae Link Card again!”

“Ewwww link card,” both mother and daughter say with slight discuss.

“Alright then” he says in victory “so Imani, what are your classes for the semester?”

“I have African American History, freshmen seminar writing, Economics, Biology, and Yoga.”

“Yoga!?” her father exclaimed. “I know I ain’t payin’ all this money for you to be taking Yoga as a class. You better add calculus or something else that will make me feel better about all this money that I’m paying per semester.”

“Daddy, I’m taking Yoga as a stress reliever, with Econ and Bio, I’m going to need some time to relax and also stay in shape. While everyone is stressed or gaining the freshmen fifteen I will still be at the top of my game. Just like my daddy.” She says with a smile.

“You think you cute huh?” he says looking down at her.

Her mother stands up after putting the last of a couple things in the closet and making a few arrangements. “Ok babe, let’s go. She can do the rest of her unpacking and everything else on her own. I think it’s time for us to go. Plus she needs time to meet the rest of her dorm-mates.” She says pushing him out of the room.

Trying to Maneuver his way around her “I wanna meet her dorm-mates, and all the lil’ boys on this floor. Let them know I packs the heat.”

“All the heat you pack is gas!” her mother retorts. “Let’s get to going. Imani we will let you know when we get back on the road good. Let me know how the quad meeting goes.”

“Ok mamma.”

John shakes loose and makes a move toward his daughter with his arms stretched out. “Come here.” He embraces her as if this is their final goodbye. He holds her out in front of him, looks deeply into her eyes and says, “I am proud of you.”

Those words “I am proud of you” echo in her mind as Imani snaps back to her reality. Everything is the same however, her father is not there. He never was. His words were never said, his positive impact was never felt. The loving father- daughter relationship was never fostered, and a daddy’s little girl was never born. The void created by his absence was attempted to be filled by her mother, aunts, cousins, and brother who provided for her every material and emotional desire.

Her mother, along with the rest of the women in her family were intelligent, beautiful, single, women. Women that have flourished in Corporate America and Higher Education, yet not all have found their “Kings” as they would call them. Growing up Imani heard the stories of the games that men and women play. Seeing various male suitors around at gatherings with only the strong surviving. But she also saw the tragedies, the heartbreaks, and the loneliness that came along with the single life.

All of Imani’s aunts, cousins, and especially her mother always emphasized the importance of becoming self-sufficient and to not rely on a man to take care of her financial needs. What they did not tell her was how to accept the affection of a man. Many questions and conversations, despite her mother’s vast knowledge and wisdom were left unanswered. The questions at a tender age about why was she slightly darker than all of the other girls in school. Why her hair became poofey when it got wet, instead of long and wavy like the other girls at the pool. These and other questions arose after knowing the truth about her father. She continued to search for answers and find an identity that blended the best of both worlds, but her country club membership and suburban lifestyle did little to aid her quest.

Imani’s older brother Isiah is her protector, her biggest fan, and as close to a father figure that she has had. By most standards however, Isiah is not the man that should be the ideal relationship role model. Neither one of them ever learned what a healthy loving relationship looked like. To him, only his mother and sister were women that were to be loved, appreciated and respected. To the others, he showed no compassion or emotion. Sure he could fake them and tell them whatever they wanted to hear, but there was no sincerity behind the words or actions.

Isiah is intelligent, stylish and successful. On paper, he is a great guy who treats the women in his life like queens, but he constantly reminded his sister of the games that men play and that no one would ever love her as he did. He missed the lessons of the father/son relationship, how to change a tire, how to drive, and that a man is not defined by his sexual conquest or his wealth. Imani loved her mother and brother and knew that they did their best to raise her, but something was still missing. Her glass was only half full.  This next chapter in Imani’s life allows her to continue her search for fulfillment, that lost love, and identity.

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