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These Roots Were Made for Walkin'
September 13, 2000



High School graduation
Sitting here listening to the unfettered southern drawl of my friend's mother truly reminds me of the diversity of the places and environments from which I come. Sometimes I tend to overlook my varied background, because I frequently think that America lacks culture. Indeed, it is hard for one to pay much attention to or appreciate the air when it's all around.

Life started a bit bumpy for me, I must say. My initial stay with my birth mother was not as it should have been, causing me to embark on a journey at five years old to live with my father for the first time. I wondered, "Who is this strange man halfway responsible for my existence?" As it turned out, his guidance and that of my stepmother (another powerfully effective addition), proved over the years to be two forces that kept me from bungee jumping, long before it was a sport. But I'll get back to that a little later.

First, I'll tell you a little about my heritage: For the most part, my family is scattered throughout the eastern and southern United States. Speaking in terms of a family tree, many of the branches have fallen off and settled into the dust, and the ones that I do see don't have many leaves on them. As my father puts it, "It's just one of the things that happens when everyone feels the need to go off and blaze their own trails." Specifically, my father is from Cincinnati Ohio, and his mother is from Stone Mountain, GA. This is where my Cherokee and Blackfoot roots start. I recently spoke to some of my relatives in Georgia, who insisted that it's the southern part of me that is my fire. I was also fortunate to meet some of the European-Americans from the other side of my family during a trip to Ohio. Though sadly it was a short stay, the visit impacted me tremendously. It showed me in living color (no pun intended), and was the first time that I was able to see how we really are all one. I know this sounds like a contradiction: how can many be one? However, the answer lies in the fact that somewhere along the way all of our histories are connected.

After moving in with my father, I found out that I had an older brother! We got along famously until he realized I had an incredible tolerance for pain, which made his job as big brother seem less significant with each passing day. He did manage to make sure that I was inducted into the little brother's hall of fame though, through various mental stunts. For example, there was the time when he was in charge of breakfast and gave himself a delicious stack of pancakes, and stiffed me with a cold uninviting bowl of Grapenuts. Thanks a lot! Though certainly nutritional, it wasn't exactly what I had in mind to accompany me as I watched the Transformers on Saturday morning! He was 11 years older than me though, so after he left I was able to experience being an only child. We then moved back to Inglewood, CA, which coincidentally was my birthplace. Even more unbelievable is the fact that I moved literally two doors down from Centinela Hospital, the very hospital in which I was born. You have just entered the Twilight Zone!

Actually, you have entered the first part of my life. This neighborhood in Inglewood is where I forged the first of my childhood friendships. I lived in a very diverse area, as just about every ethnic group was represented. I referred to my globe often to find out where the newest addition to our neighborhood group was from. It made for some very interesting games, and brought joy in learning little expressions in different languages that I am sure my parents would have loved to know I had picked up. It was a literal slice of middle America, and sometimes it seemed as though it was the only world in existence. After all, it was here where I experienced my first crush. (Her name was Tiffany and she was soooo smart and lovely.)

It was also here where my first real world experience shattered the glasshouse of my innocence. One day, during a game of baseball, a kid that visited my neighborhood from time to time made the mistake of calling me a word that many African-Americans surely wish had never become a part of the English language. I referred to it as a mistake because at such a young age, he must not have realized the potential impact of what he was saying.

So here's a lesson for kids today: When someone strikes you out in a baseball game (as I had done to this guy), never result to name-calling! Instead, just kick some butt next time! Not literally of course... for all of the mischievous ones out there, I mean that you should try harder to win. Luckily, with my father's support and wisdom, I was able to shake it off. He told me that I wasn't supposed to identify with the word, and therefore it didn't apply to me. Of course it still left a slight sting though, since it was such a new experience. Unfortunately after the incident I had to go upstairs to empty the trash, so I did not have time to bless him with a bit of my wisdom. Que lastima! (What a shame!)

I would not realize until later how both the good and the bad experiences I had in that neighborhood would shape my outlook on life, and my belief that we could all use a bit of help in understanding each other. The bad name-calling experience taught me not to believe everything I hear. One of the better experiences from that time was my development of a studious work ethic. Much to my surprise, when I arrived at that house, I was greeted by a very loving stepmother who demanded (in her special loving way) that I study two hours of math and handwriting even before I began my regular homework. This work ethic has paid for itself many times over. You do truly reap what you sow.

One of the rewards of this hard work came when I was given the opportunity to go to Seoul, Korea. I was selected for a pioneer crew of students to tour Korea and meet with various educational and government officials (including the First Lady of Korea), regarding the state of relations between Korean-Americans and African-Americans. Right away we saw that Korea was no place for the faint of heart. With the blazing summer heat, we had to shake hands with one hand and wipe sweat from our foreheads with the other! This experience meant a tremendous amount to me because I was not only representing my country, but also my race. Too often we lump each other into groups without really making the extra effort to investigate to see what lies beneath. I lost 10 pounds on the trip but gained its worth and much more in knowledge, and in the further understanding of the language (and sometimes tricky dance) of showing love for one another.

From there it was off to the University of Southern California (from where I recently graduated), where the challenge of living in a diverse community continued. From reggae blastin' classmates, to living next door to a bunch of guys that made so much noise that they surely must have moved their furniture on a daily basis, I pushed myself to try to accept everyone. In all of my travels and experiences I have always had to maintain some type of balance, because life itself is indeed about balance. It is this observation that I believe to be one of life's most valuable lessons, and many never learn it. We are given day and night, the sun and the moon, sadness... and joy! Stay tuned, same bat time same bat channel. I will try (don't hold your breath) to rock the ultimate dispatch on my ultimate trip as I bring you dispatches from beyond!


Please email me at: kevin1@ustrek.org


Links to other dispatches

Neda - Ummm, I didn't mean to start a revolution
Irene - Wait, this isn't Beverly Hills 90210!
Daphne - Just your average flame-throwing, Brazilian family
Stephanie - Some spicy, south of the border, Tex-Mex appeal
Teddy - From tear gas and lies to LOVE!
Rebecca - But Great Grandma, that's the Titanic!
Nick - All Things Connect