The Dredlocks Tree
Prose and Poetry I
My first collection of poems not only reflected my earlier work with marginalized youth, but also my personal struggles as a young father in Harlem, NY during a time when materialism was taking over community and cultural awareness, making it almost impossible to raise a child with a strong sense of social responsibility.
Times were changing once again. Black ghettos that had been ignored were now being gentrified not for the betterment of the residents who had been living there for decades, but for those who benefitted from the removal of those same residents. These were folk I called my neighbors, and together we tolerated stepping over empty crack vials and deferred dreams because the presence of culture and focus on community was still apparent. But young people were choosing phone apps over their parents’ pleas to hold on to culture. Some parents were no longer around to remind them. Others forgot altogether yet wondered why their sons and daughters were becoming so materialistically dead.
Once again, Black people were being forced to move out of areas in the city that had been set aside for us. And this was a national effort by real estate developers to push the under-represented even further into marginalization. The first sign of things to come was when the Liberation Bookstore took its sign down. It was the local pan-African hub where serious and curious scholars and poets of all ages came to get their intellectual nourishment. It was where I bought my very first copy of the Autobiography of Malcolm X.
Fast forward and 125th Street’s HueMan Bookstore closed down. One by one, familiar and necessary think stations were being replaced by shopping stopovers, encouraging Black people to emotionally disconnect from their selves and from one another for the sake of pop culture. I was writing about all this and trying to make sense of where we were heading as neighbors and strangers no longer recognizable to one another, especially since nigga/bitch was beginning to feel more natural to the mouth than what my generation remembered as brotha/sista. The poetry collection had branches reaching so many topics of the times that I decided to call it The Dredlocks Tree with the book cover designed by one of my students, Rajiv Mahadeo. I divided the Collection into five parts: To Catch a Butterfly, some of my more metaphysical pieces; Contortions include reflections on the AIDS crisis and our struggle with ‘different’; Money in My Commissary speaks to my years working as a writing instructor and life coach on Rikers Island; Taking Position addresses race-ism and the resurgence of Black consciousness; and A Good Place, a celebration of life and living.