In the Beginning...
“Holy, though art holy.” My pastor would sing off pitch from the podium. I think I went to the only black church in all of New Jersey where if Jesus came back, he would rapture the entire congregation except my pastor because his singing was a sin.
The congregation made up no more than 70 people on a really good Sunday. The church wasn’t actually a church. It was a museum lecture hall they rented out to hold service.
Me, I used to sneak out to the gift shop to look and play with the rocks and gems and whenever I could save enough, purchase a few more to add to my collection.
I was one of those kids that was different. I knew it but didn’t know it if you get what I mean. I grew up with a single dad and two other siblings, a twin brother and a sister two years younger than me. My mom, she did the best she could for where she was in life. My dad wasn’t the easiest guy to always be around but I guess that’s where I get a lot of myself from. It’s strange how much good you don’t realize you get from your parents until life hits you flat across your face and you have no choice but to get back up. My father taught me that, but that’s further down my story.
I remember the first apartment we stayed in when we moved to the states. It was a one bedroom with a mattress on the bedroom floor and a futon in the living room. I remember Cereal for breakfast most mornings after the three of us shared the mattress on the bedroom and daddy slept on the futon. Actually, I might have made that up. I don’t think there was a futon. He might have slept on the floor.
Anyway, we finally got into a new apartment in Edison New Jersey. They had a really good school district and we upgraded to a two bedroom. My brother sister and I shared the big bedroom in the back and my dad had his own room with a water bed. Remember those? 😂
Life seemed so simple back then. We weren’t allowed to watch tv during the week so we would go outside and play. Everyday, my brother and I would run around our complex looking for old furniture and boxes to build a fort. The complex super would yell at us when he saw us, cause to him, our little magic kingdoms were just trash we dragged from the dumpster that he would have to return later. I think he actually told my dad once and the rule became put the trash back when you’re finished.
You may be wondering where my sister is in all this. She was being spoiled. 😂 How could she not, she was daddy’s little girl. She mostly stayed inside. She would join us on outings when we went to the pool or bike riding sometimes but she was daddy’s girl.
It’s funny how when you let go of all the pain from your past, you don’t remember it so much and it doesn’t even seem painful. My father had a temper at times. Honestly, I just think he was so stressed out from raising three kids that he was on one setting, yelling. 😂 “Jesum bread m’son. Anthony, Amaker and Anna...” he’d go into a rant about something we did. He used to beat my brother and I too, I remember a point when he would say, it’s like y’all
Can’t sleep unless I come in there and with the belt. We would make it through the whole day and then stay in our beds talking all night just to vex him, so he thought, but we were just being siblings. Those were some of my favorite memories, staying in bed talking all night I mean. I could have done without the belt😂. I know many people will hear this and think horrible things but my dad is a good man. When you’re from the islands, you do things differently and my dad was doing the best he could at 25 raising 3 kids on his own.
My father was hugely adamant about getting sleep. I remember being in middle school and in bed at 9 pm with the sun still out. We hated it. We could literally hear our friends outside still playing. But those are the little things you learn to appreciate as you get older. He wasn’t a perfect man but he did a lot of things right.
It was hard at times being the oldest. I unknowingly took on a lot of the responsibilities in the house to help out. Then of course there were the fun days of parent teacher conferences when my brother would disappear into the bedroom while my sister and I were sneaking to watch tv in the living room before my dad came home only to find a blanket hanging from the balcony where my brother had run away again. We both, especially had difficulty learning in school. The teachers would always complain that we were dancing and singing in the back of the classroom and kept trying to put us on some kind of drugs. Fortunately my father knew nothing was wrong with us and put us in dance classes but we haven’t gotten there yet.
The door bell rang and I could see two cops holding my brother through the peep hole of the door. We were always told not to open the door for anyone especially the cops and since my mother had a habit of calling the cops on my dad for leaving us home alone at such a young age.It made this time especially uncomfortable.
My sister and I opened the door and the cops asked us a few questions and let our brother go. I was honestly too scared to remember what they said. I just remember telling my dad when he got home and I think the cops came back either that night or another day and had a much longer conversation with him.
We were enrolled in Benjamin Franklin elementary school in Edison, NJ. My best and only friend was a girl named Heather. Most of the other kids made fun of me for having an accent and being the little gay boy who would skip down the hall with his glasses strings pulled up so they would swing like a pony tail didn’t help either. Heather didn’t care; she took gymnastics and would teach me things she learned in class during recess while the other boys played soccer. When I was with her, I wasn’t alone.
Her mom, now looking back was probably the epitome of a hippie. She ran the after school program we were apart of and allowed my father extra time to come get us from work. We were supposed to finish our homework during latchkey or we would get the belt when we got home. I remember being in the 4th grade and my teacher assigned us so much vocabulary. I had a horrible time finding vocab words. I would plead with heathers mom to let me stay and Finish my homework when the homework time was over and we had to go outside. She allowed me to stay inside by myself for a few more minutes because I had burst into tears. I ran to the library to get a dictionary so I could complete my vocabulary. Heathers mom would pop in every 10 minutes telling me I really needed to come outside now and couldn’t be by myself. I finally got to the point of such frustration that I yelled out, if I don’t finish my homework, he’s going to beat me. She stood there frozen. She said ok and went back outside.
When my father finally showed my homework was still incomplete and my crying grew even more hysterical. Heather and her mother were in the room with us and the mom kept advocating on my behalf that I had been working diligently to try and finish my homework. She didn’t say anything about the beating. I went home and my father didn’t say anything, I was allowed to continue my homework in peace.
Valerie a new girl in our class raised her hand and told Ms. Meisner that the amount of homework we were given was incredibly difficult for her to finish and many of us agreed. It was the only thing I ever appreciated about Valerie since she had somehow convinced heather to no longer be my friend. I would watch them do gymnastics over by the abandoned truck trailer as I stood in the doorway trying to figure out what activity to join.
I remember coming home one night and my father sat us down and told us someone at school was going to ask us some questions.
Apparently heathers mom called child protective services. The next day, I sat in a big tan chair in the principles office while a man in glasses and a clip board asked me questions like, does your father hit you? Do you like when your father hits you? Has he ever hit you with anything other than a belt?
It was awkward. I mean, did he expect me to say yes?
I remember blurring our the rest of the conversation and went back to my usual classes.
It’s not fair to only speak of the pain tho. Like i said before, my father is a great man.
He had a nurturing tender side to him as well. Every night before bed, he would read us stories from the Bible, about king david and his armies, Jonah and the whale,Noah and the ark. Honestly, he was a great story teller, He even taught Sunday school and he was the favorite out of all the teachers. People wanna know how I became such a great teacher, because of him. One of his greatest lessons was teaching me to never steal. It’s hilarious, honestly. I used to always pick up shiny things from stores. Ribbons for gifts, calling cards, necklaces. I just liked them, I never saw any harm in it. But being young and naive, my father knew how the world operated, especially for men of color. He told me over and over again not to steal but I didn’t listen until he took me to a police precinct and had me stand there for an hour and every cop that passed by he said they was coming to arrest me. I was terrified to the point that I never stole another thing in my life. It worked. But what’s great is I can now laugh at it. I hope one day we can all sit at a table and laugh at it.
My fathers role in my life has been complicated. He has truly made me the man I am. I have been a pretty successful person due to the amount of discipline and heart I have experienced from him. I promised myself to make this a fair and as accurate a story as I can tell because at the end of the day this is truly a story about love, forgiveness and acceptance.
Mr. Ferlicci, my 5th grade teacher was my favorite throughout my entire elementary school experience. He had a way of making class so enjoyable by playing games and turning everything into a song.
He gave us a book report project in which he told us to create a boat to be a representation of the boat from the story.
My father having been a research scientist always came to the rescue when my brother and I would wait until the last minute to tell him about our projects. Now don’t get me wrong he would yell the whole time we worked on it but would eventually send us to bed and we would awake to an A+ project.
This one was particularly my favorite because I may have exaggerated the assignment and told my father the boat had to move. So, he put his brilliant mind to work took one of the bottles he used for his job, drilled two holes in the top, attached two straws that wound their way to the bottom and brought home a large bucket of dry ice. He warned us, “don’t touch this it’ll burn your skin.” He filled the bath tub with water and then demonstrated how the dry ice worked. When he placed it in the water steam arose like a fog over a lake. “COOL!” We said. And then each of us were allowed to place a piece in ourselves. He then took the little boat and filled it with water, added the dry ice and the steam moved through the straws that were cleverly placed on the underside of the boat so when the steam hit the water, the boat would glide from one side of the tub to the other.
The next day, we presented my project for the class. Everyone else stuck a stick in a bar of soap with a flag attached and called it a boat but my project won the classes admiration. Mr. Ferlicci joking announced that my father received an A+ for my project. In that moment. He was my hero.
Sixth grade brought a new school with a host of new experiences. At this point my brother sister and I had been dancing for 3 years now. Tap for us and ballet for my sister. My father tried a host of different activities to involve us in but it wasn’t until he spoke to woman in our church who was a principle dancer with dance theater of Harlem that he settled on dance. She told him about a new summer theater program, NJPAC or New Jersey Performing arts center. At the time, the new facility wasn’t finished being built. My first tap teacher was Karen Colloway Williams. She had been on several tours with river dance and was a very skilled teacher. This summer program was the first time we’d been introduced to great black performers like, peg leg bates, Gregory Hines, Sammy Davis Junior, and my favorite, the Nicholas Brothers.
I had no idea how much dance would change my life and that this was only the beginning.
I sat in my history class completely unaware of the crush I had on my teacher. I can recall instances as far back as 1st grade of being called gay and bati boy but for some reason, it never registered. He would catch me staring at his crotch and then bend down to match my eyes and and wave his hands frantically. It clearly made him uncomfortable but again, I wasn’t really aware of what I was doing since being gay wasn’t actually a possibility. The bell rang and it was time switch classes. I gathered my things and made a b-line for the bathroom. Moments later, 4 boys from my class followed in after. They caged me in and started taunting, “faggot” “you like to dance fairy boy?” They then began beating the wall in a rhythmical pattern. My instincts took over and I started to tap. Matching their rhythms and moving in and out of the patterns making new sounds and beats. The leader of the group, Kyle was so impressed that he asked me to do it again. Paradiddle heal, paradiddle heal, paradiddle, paradiddle paradiddle heal.
He then asked me to teach him. We spent the next 10 min going over the combo. I gained their respect.
The next day I walked with a new confidence. I always thought growing up that I had a natural confidence. In many ways, I did. I didn’t understand the idea that I shouldn’t do something because other people didn’t like it. Like, the idea that I shouldn’t dance because people didn’t like it didn’t make sense. I loved doing it and I literally didn’t know what else I could do. It was who I was, am.
I learned that year that I also had a gift for writing. Poems, in particular.Poetry was special because it was one of the few things my father and I really had in common. 6th grade is when he met Miss Sherri, The Woman I would soon call Mom and he created a black book with a velvet trim and kept every poem he ever wrote to her in it. But in this class I learned the difference between free verse, a haiku and a sonnet. Perhaps, this is what sparked my love for shakespeare.