Lupus?! A wha dat?!

Just another emcee who gets free. Vessel of philanthropic vision fueled by theophilic purpose.

Tag: Brooklyn

Grief in the time of vaccines

Jeremiah 8 just won’t leave me alone. I use a Bible study method developed by Grant Horner where I read ten different chapters from ten different books of the Bible every morning. One of those books is Jeremiah and I keep getting pulled back into the eighth chapter. It’ll start off feeling unfamiliar, but about midway I realize that it is the same chapter I have been trapped in when I read verse 11:

“They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” (NIV)

Feels like the whole world is down bad. As a teacher I have worried about my students losing the glimmer in their eyes. My sons, though I admire their strength, have spent so much of their early years immersed in conversations about death that they have begun to worry about my mortality. I got my first vaccine dose yesterday and while it does feel like the light is at the end of the tunnel, I cannot help but think about those who are not here to celebrate. How empty our lives are without them. 

I’ve gone to Brooklyn since I’ve lost my friends. John, my barber, comes to mind whenever I’m on the Jackie Rob passing through Cypress Hills. I went by the barbershop on Malcolm X, food from Natural Blend in tow, and my chest got tight in front of the shop. It was empty, too early for everyone who carries on, and I tried to feel the happier times. The laughter, the theological arguments, the eclectic playlist John curated, all vapors that morning. I thought of Garvey’s first haircut. I thought of Coltrane’s face on the banner greeting everyone who enters Stages. I thought of all the times I thought about coordinating haircuts with Kevin since we go to the same spot anyway. I thought about our very own rendition of Steel Magnolias. A brother in the shop did not feel well and all of these Black men sprung into action. Getting water, helping him to a seat, making sure he was good, ensuring that he was taken care of. The compassion that lives in that shop, that lived in John, is why my chest was so tight that day. 

Early on, in my battle with Lupus, I experienced severe alopecia. My hair fell out without rhyme or reason. After my first flare, it grew back with the same texture of hair I had in my baby pictures. I eventually grew the courage to cut it but was so afraid to rock the Caesars that I used to. I eventually gained the courage and it was a disaster. Former barber, very much not John, exclaimed, “Yuh a lose your hair yuh know! Yuh nuh see it!” I was mortified.

I kept my hair long until I decided to shave my head. I grew tired of barbers who would embarrass me, barbers who would have me out here looking crazy, and just decided I would cut my own hair from here on out. 

After my second flare up, to make matters worse, my clippers stopped working. I got so anxious. I took the day off from work because I didn’t want anyone to see me like this. I eventually took my sons to get their haircut at a spot I’d walked past before on Malcolm X, around the corner from where we lived on Jefferson. The energy in the shop was hospitable to me. I got my sons their haircuts and asked the brother that cut their hair if he wouldn’t mind lining me up. It was the first time I’d sat in a barber chair for two years. The first time after I swore I’d received my last professional haircut. 

Going to Stages became a regular routine. Even after we moved to Long Island, I knew I would bring my boys back to Brooklyn for their haircuts. After a few months of working at my boarding school, I would eventually invite John to come to campus and give haircuts to my students. John faithfully provided haircuts for my kids on campus, bringing a bit of Bed-Stuy to Stony Brook. 

During the height of the pandemic in Brooklyn, I checked in on John to make sure he was aight. I knew a lot of businesses were being hit hard by the crisis but thankfully John and Stages were doing okay. I would eventually take that trip to Brooklyn again in the summertime and was so happy to see the precautions exercised in the shop. Mask wearing, lysol spraying, the whole nine. My last haircut from John was a reminder of who John always was; full of life, plans to continue the growth of his business, a man who took care of his family and community. He talked about wanting to make sure he was always on time for his appointments and I assured him, “Bro, it’s all good. If you were on time but the haircuts stunk, we wouldn’t be here!” We laughed. I left Stages thinking I had a good plan to get haircuts on Friday instead of Saturday, completely unaware that that would be the last haircut I would ever get from John. 

I did not know John for a long time, just a couple of years. There are wonderful people who feel his loss in ways I cannot even fathom. But I do know that I love that brother. A good brother who I cannot believe is gone. I am angry and I do not want to accept it. 

I get why there is a feeling of a light at the end of the tunnel but I hope that as we get out of this tunnel, we do not forget the people who did not get out. We do not forget their families. Let’s honor them with the way we live our lives; taking nothing for granted and living our lives fully. What I know about grief is that it never fully moves out. It may retreat to an unnoticeable room in your heart but wherever love for a lost one is tethered, grief is often found. 

With gratitude

My sons and I, November 2020.

Three years ago I was in Brooklyn Hospital Center enduring what would become a three month long stay. I would spend Thanksgiving in so much pain that the last thing on my mind was a plate.

Everyday I would rise at 6, read scripture, and worship God while singing along with Richard Smallwood’s “Total Praise.” I would hold on until 9am or so when I knew doctors made their rounds, clamoring for updates on my condition. Could I go home soon? Would I make it home in time for my youngest son’s first birthday? I wouldn’t.

So standing in front of this hospital means another opportunity for me to show gratitude. You don’t have to make it. Tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us. If we’ve learned anything from 2020, impermanence stands at the top of the list. Life is truly a vapor.

Support Youth Summer Arts Camp In Crown Heights

I feel like I am finally exhaling. I am relieved.

This is true in part because I just finished my first year as a Special Ed Teacher. Teaching is truly an exhausting and challenging calling but I feel like the relief I am experiencing right now is tied to the joy I get when I think about the past year.
This morning I sat with Brianna and talked about how this year was a faith walk. Last May, we experienced the birth of Coltrane, graduation from seminary and moving to Brooklyn all within one week! We were running before that time and we’ve been running ever since.
In preparation of our move to New York, we prayed with close friends of ours who were also having a child. (Their beautiful daughter was born a week before Coltrane). We prayed for the health of our children and that I would be able to find employment in the city of my birth.
As we prayed and conversed, my friends continuously raved about their church and how much they thought Brianna and I would love it there when we eventually moved back home. That first Sunday at Trinity Grace Church Crown Heights was surreal. I’d talked about coming home for years but being a part of this church sealed it. We worshipped in a school blocks away from where my family first lived when they came to the United States; a stone’s throw from where my grandfather ministered at Trinity Baptist Church.
I wanted to hit the ground running in terms of involvement. Youth ministry is the foundation of our church. I play basketball with young brothers from the church regularly as part of our “Youth and Family night” program and Brianna and I co-teach on Sundays. It is a joy to be in this community and a privilege to see our mentees become leaders.
Our church has an initiative to provide a Summer Arts Camp to 70 kids this summer. We need to raise $40,000 in order to make this happen. Please visit this link http://artscamp.causevox.com/ and help us serve.
Much love and God bless,
Chris

The Finals Next Time (Between the Knicks and Me)

  

Little fella you’ve been in this world for nearly five months now and of all that I teach you, I hope you will always remember that #ballislife.

You will be blessed to grow up in New York City, a town that has as many courts as Brooklyn has churches. I will do my best to teach you the fundamentals of the game and I pray that you love the game as much as I do. But there is one thing that I will find difficult to pass on to you. I cannot teach you this, I can only give you exposure. And exposure to this thing I speak of, this thing I hold so near and dear to my heart, may cause repulsion more than reverence. Your mother has already threatened me with divorce if you grow to embrace them as I do. Others have asked me why I would want you to suffer like I have. But I’ve paid them no mind. Trust me son, being a Knicks fan builds character.
I, your father, am too young to fully appreciate the glory days of the Knicks’ championship years. I will show you one day the great moment when Willis Reed came through the tunnel. You will know that Walt Frazier was once Clyde and played the game with style as great as his suits. 

My glory days were in the 90s when the Knicks often lost to an evil man named Michael Jordan. (An evil man who sells fly shoes, more on this later.) They also had a heated rivalry with an annoying man named Reggie Miller. This man, as you will discover when we watch the blessed game on TNT, is just as annoying broadcasting the game as he was playing it. When the day comes and you ask me, “Father, why is that skinny man so obnoxious?” I will shed a joyful tear. 

There will come a time when you will ask me why my hate for the Heat is so deep. (#FIHM) I will tell you that my hate for them is twofold. In my glory days we had a great coach named Pat Riley. He took the Knicks to the Finals in ’94 and when the owners wouldn’t give him more power (power that he truly deserved), he went to Miami. In Miami, Riley turned a floundering expansion team into a conference powerhouse. The Heat would challenge the Bulls, Pacers and my Knicks and adopted that mean style that the Bad Boys Detroit Pistons fathered. My Knicks brushed them pretty regularly (Allan Houston’s shot to eliminate them from the playoffs in ’99 is my favorite NBA moment) but the hatred was solidified during the ’96-97 playoffs when PJ Brown hip tossed Charlie Ward. 

The Knicks went from winning the series 3-1 to losing in a game 7. They suspended 9 Knicks in the series! 9! Now as you hear this I’m sure you are thinking, “that must have been a big fight.” And yes there was a pretty sincere brawl (My Knicks were always ready to throw hands.) but many of the players who were suspended as a result of merely stepping onto the court. Including, my favorite Knick of all time, Patrick Ewing. Ewing is the most deserving of all legends who never won a ring and #FIHM because he should have won one that year.

You may be thinking, “Wow Father, that does not seem like enough reason to hate the Miami Heat forever (not to be confused with hatred for the city of Miami. After all it is gorgeous and not Boston.)” and perhaps you are right.

 I must admit my hate for them began to subside after Allan Houston hit that glorious runner against them and as my Knicks faded from conference relevance. But that hatred roars again because of the summer of 2010. A mere five years before your existence, I know son, but it is the summer of my discontent. 

That summer I anticipated LeBron James joining my Knicks and bringing the first championship we have experienced since 1973. But that did not happen. LeBron would go to Miami and win 2 championships then return home to Cleveland. You will learn that LeBron is a good enough player to take a team to the Finals by himself and most definitely could have won us a championship. So I admit, I am bitter. I had no reason to believe LeBron was coming to my Knicks but I was hurt when he did not. I have forgiven him but my hate for the Heat rages on.

So what will we do? I am certain you will love this game and can see an attraction budding as you watch the screen intently as I play 2K. I will not pressure you, simply expose you to Knicks games and hopefully take you to the Garden, the world’s most famous arena. Your mother wants you to be a Warriors fan and I cannot blame you if you do. Children are often frontrunners and they will be good for a long time. Just please, promise me you will never cheer for the Bulls, Celtics, Heat, or Pacers. You’re a Brooklyn kid though. So if you end up cheering for the Nets I will not judge you, I will only laugh. 

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