Since I’m currently researching how to write a memoir and am prepping myself for writing my own one day, I have prepared for you a mini bio. It includes information about me I have never shared on this blog. I think this will help me to access how to go about the memoir writing process and to also see if I have what it takes to bring my story to life. Ready? Here we go:
Concrete Children – Life inside the Robert Taylor Projects
My name is Yecheilyah Ysrayl, also known as “EC” but a lot of people don’t know that I was born Stacey Hereford on May 26, 1987 at Billings Hospital on the south side. I actually changed my name back in 2008, a year after my road to self-discovery and identity had begun.
The unique thing about my birth is that I was not born alone but I have a twin sister as well, but I will not reveal her name because I did not get her permission to do so. I also have two other sisters and three brothers but my twin and I are the youngest. So total, between my mom and dad there are seven of us. We grew up in the Robert Taylor Projects on Chicago’s south side. When it opened, The Robert Taylor homes housed up to a peak of 27,000 people, although they were built to maintain only 11,000 and comprised of 28 high-rise buildings; with 16 stories each, and a total of 4,415 units, mostly arranged in U-shaped clusters of three, stretching for two miles. It was located in the Bronzeville neighborhood of the south side of Chicago, on State Street between Pershing Road (39th Street) and 54th Street alongside the Dan-Ryan expressway.
“If yo mama’s on dope and yo frigerator’s broke go to chokes! Go to chokes!”
I didn’t make that up, it was an actual song. We sang the hood hymn down the hall of the largest housing project in the country. We sang from the eighth floor to the first every chance we got to make it to the free breakfast program offered by CHA, or Chicago Housing Authority. It was nicknamed chokes because the sandwiches were so dry we were sure to die of thirst if water didn’t deliver us. Yet these raggedy choke sandwiches erupted inside of us a sense of excitement every week, surely preferable to the empty air soup available at the moment. Like most of the families who resided in the buildings, our mother’s twitching mouth and search for the white stuff on the floor proved that the 1980s crack epidemic had taken root especially well, and was a normal scene. For a while I didn’t understand why they bent so much so, wetting their finger slightly before placing it back in their mouth after its short journey to the floor. What they tasted I did not know, but became used to seeing their backs bent in anxious investigation of the corners of the house. I didn’t understand then about the invisible shards of cocaine embedded in the cracks of the floor or the disappointing realization that it is just white paper. But since many of the people who hung around were drug addicts, I became accustomed to such behaviors and could tell at an early age when someone was high. It was not splinters of judgment coming from the walking planks of my childhood perspective; it’s just that to us it was normal. Their faces contorted as their entire presence was invaded by an outside force they could not control. It was more than a decision to get high, it was a need. I imagine the ecstasy of it all took them places, sat them on the tops of clouds and let them see the room spin. They picked imaginary lint from their clothing and laughed at jokes only they were in on. I imagine worry lifted itself from their shoulders piece by piece until peace descended like nothing before and everything was right in the world. At this point nothing is more important than getting back the feeling of the first hit. Every other moment after that is a quest to repeat the trip to the moon the demons took them on. Not even food was more important than feeling that same feeling again. It’s not like they were in their right minds; it is taken out of their heads and resting somewhere in another dimension. They steal and sometimes kill to be taken to this place and they don’t see you. There is no focus on anything but the next hit until they come down from the clouds they’ve been riding. But the urge and thirst of it makes them want it again almost instantly. They are walking zombies, vampires seeking to do whatever it takes to draw blood. It is the price of being hooked, and if they could, they would sell their soul to the devil for a chance to get high. Everything is happy and forgetful all at the same time. They scratched, laughed, talked, and from my naïve perspective they even seemed to love better.
The Robert Taylor Homes faced many of the same problems that doomed other high-rise housing projects in Chicago such as Cabrini Green. Whether it was drugs, violence, murder, disease, you name it, it happened here. The dull, concrete high-rises, many blackened with the scars of fires, sat in a narrow stretch of slum. It seemed the wind carried us to the next step one 4th of July weekend where the wrong turn can be the epitome of a beat down or casual robbery. The tall narrow hallway swallowed us down pee scented stairways and rat infested incinerators. The floors loitered with crack vials, weed and potato chip bags, and walls covered in the scars of spray painted names, profanity, and other scars of wear as we zoomed throughout the building. An explosion of innocence resurrecting our footsteps; unaware of the war taking place on the exterior of where we found hobby. At a time where children had nothing important to ponder except penny candy, concrete children were rocking themselves to sleep on burnt orange sofa’s while their mother’s roamed the streets for the next hit. Fathers were non-existent since their mother’s couldn’t get welfare without them. They were around though, standing on the corners or hiding underneath the beds of women. They were the Uncle Pookie’s and Cousin Ray-Ray’s of hundreds of children who knew them as nothing more than the Big Mike’s of the block. My father wasn’t around either in those early days, at which we’ll explore more deeply later. But today, like all Holidays, was an exception. Our mother’s had sacrificed Food Stamps so that we may take part in the energy of the gods. Today we were sacrificial as a lamb, but tomorrow no one will eat.
The authority of drug dealers overtook CHA (Chicago Housing Authority) and they became the owners. As is common in any hood, dealers fought for control of the buildings. In one weekend, more than 300 separate shooting incidents were reported in the vicinity of the Robert Taylor Homes. Twenty-eight people were killed during the same weekend, with twenty-six believed to be gang-related. Running home from school to escape the presence of gun fire was common for children growing up in the buildings. I can distinctively remember Uncle Huey picking us up from school early as not to be caught in the fury of “wild bulls in a net”. The most noted case is that of little Vinyette. On June 25, 1983, an infant, Vinyette Teague, was abducted from Robert Taylor after her grandmother left her alone in the hallway for a few minutes to answer a phone call. An estimated 50 people were in the hallway at the time of the abduction, but police were unable to gather enough evidence to make any arrests. She has never been seen or heard from since, and her real name I use only because the Newspapers have long since made it public.
Vinyette’s disappearance and the people’s failure to assist in her return was due to the social system that burrowed deeper than the hoods ever infamous rule of “No Snitching”. But due to the extent of poverty, Robert Taylor housing projects developed a system of social welfare and reciprocity between the tenants and gang organizations such as the GD’s (Gangsta Disciples), and BKs, (Black Kings). The gangs protected the tenants and homeless people living in their territory. In return, the gangs were allowed to sell product (drugs) out of the Robert Taylor homes. They also negotiated with the Chicago Housing Authority (who were for the most part scared of the gang members anyway and had little desire to offer assistance to its tenants) for renters. Tenants often exchanged use of appliances for food, money, or services. A community said to have been built to counteract the Chicago slums quickly became an emblem of failure.
End of Memoir Sample
And this has been an EC Blog-Share…whose next?