Writers Wednesday – Chapter Twelve – The Women with Blue Eyes


Chapter 12: My Brother’s Keeper


Sweat pooled along Jason’s forehead and poured down his face, dripping from his body. Shirtless, he attacked the bag, beating it with all the anger inside of him. Word on the street was that Big Steve, Marquise, and Chris were murdered at El Che the other day. Not only was this shocking but it reminded him of how close he had come to his own death. He was supposed to meet with them that night. If it weren’t for that car accident, he would be dead too. Damn, he thought of Tina. That woman saved my life.

Their first date was approaching, and now that he understood the weight of why the accident happened, he’d have to treat her to something special. He was eternally grateful even if also sad. In one day, he had lost all his friends. He didn’t understand how no one had seen anything when it happened in broad daylight in front of a room full of people.

It was also reported that Steve’s phone was missing, which would explain why he didn’t answer his texts. Jason didn’t believe the cops and detectives and assumed they were not doing their job as usual to solve his friend’s case. Was it because they were all black men? There was no way no one knew anything. There was no way no one saw anything, and now he was organizing a fundraiser to raise the money to bury three of his friends.

“Ah!” Jason yelled out loud in frustration.

“Everything gonna be alright, man,” said Eddie, Jason’s workout buddy.

“Somebody gonna find out something.”

Jason sat down on a bench and wiped his head and chest with a towel. “It’s just not making sense. How the hell three men die in your establishment in broad damn daylight and nobody see nothing? Somebody lying.”

“I agree with that bro, for real,” said Eddie punching a bag.

“They saying it might be drug-related.”

“What?”

“Yea, man, talking about they found cocaine in their system.”

“What?” Eddie said again.

“And you know my brothers didn’t smoke. We may have hit some weed or something but not that other shit.”

“I know,” agreed Eddie. That’s not how Jason rolled. He didn’t get high, and he didn’t hang with people who got high. Jay wasn’t perfect, but he tried to be an upright man. Eddie knew that he wouldn’t hang around with no scrubs.

Jason’s cell rang, and he stared at the screen in disbelief. “What the…?”

Eddie stopped punching the bag, and Jason showed him the screen.

“Steve?”

Jason pulled the phone back. “What I say about people playing games?”

“That’s some spooky shit,” said Eddie. Silence filled the room as the phone went silent and then started vibrating again.

Eddie tilted his head, “Didn’t they say Big Steve’s phone was missing? Yo answer that.”

Jason held up a hand and answered. “Hello?”

There was no answer.

Eddie thought he’d stopped breathing as they listened, the phone on speakerphone.

“Hello?”

Jason hung up the phone and grabbed his shirt off the bench, pulling it over his head. “Eh, man, I’m out. Gotta find out what the hell is going on here.”

“Take care of your businessman,” said Eddy.

The men hugged, fist-bumped, and Jason was out the door. Eddie returned to punching the bag in front of him.

***

Jason’s head pounded as he drove to the nearest police station, thankful Amarie was still with his parents. He had not gone back to get her since the news came. They understood and offered to give him as much time as he needed. “Just remember this is your daughter,” his dad cautioned.

Jason cursed under his breath at the Chicago traffic and hoped the cops could trace the call back to the killer.

When he drove past a police station, Jason made a U-Turn and barely parked his car when he jumped out of it and ran into the building.

“I need to speak to someone,” he said to the receptionist, a white woman with brown freckles and glasses that hung off the tip of her nose. She frowned at the sweaty-faced, out-of-breath man with the wet t-shirt and grabbed a sticky note.

“About?”

“I got some information about the El Che Steakhouse murders.”

The woman removed her glasses and raised a brow. “What kind of information?”

***

Juan typed into his computer and scribbled words onto a notepad. They were still investigating the death of Byron Jones, and now three more people had died. They were being slaughtered with paperwork and follow-ups.

“Mr. Emerson? You have a visitor.”

Juan sighed and kept typing.

“Mr. Emerson?”

“One moment Kathy,” he said, finishing the last of the sentence his secretary had interrupted. “Do you think you can handle that for me? We’re swamped in here today.”

“He says he’s got information on the Steakhouse murders.”

Juan stopped typing and looked up. “We don’t know if it’s murder yet. Send him in.”

A light-complexioned black man entered, sweaty-faced and out of breath.

“Good afternoon. I’m detective Emerson. Please, have a seat.”

He watched as the man sat and looked around the room. Juan smiled. That was the usual response to his office. He was an avid reader and took great pride in his collection.

“What can I do for you? I hear you have information on the Steakhouse case?”

The man pulled out a cell phone and started scrolling.

“I need ya’ll to track this number.” He put the phone down on the desk. “That number belongs to Steve. Steve is my friend,” the man sniffed. “Was my friend. My best friend.”

“Okay,” said Juan picking up the phone. He recalled Steve being one of the names of the victims. “And by Steve, you mean Steve Richardson?”

A tear escaped the man’s eye, but he wiped it away quickly.

“Yes. Steve Richardson, Chris Washington, and Marquis Johnson. Those were my friends and I believe that whoever killed them called me from that number just now. Why? I don’t know that’s why I’m here, but I know I got a call from that number and that’s Steve’s number, and I don’t know what’s going on, but I need someone to explain to me why a dead man is calling my phone.”

Juan leaned back in his seat and held out a hand. “Did you say these were your friends?”

“Yea man, so what ya’ll gonna do? Can’t you put some tracking shit on that or something?”

Juan typed into the computer. “I’m sorry. I never got your name.”

“Jason. My name is Jason.”

Juan nodded. So, this is Jason.

“What?” asked Jason, annoyed.

Juan cleared his throat. He hadn’t meant to stare. “I’m sorry, this is just the first real lead in this case.”

Juan scratched at his chin. This could be a real opportunity for them. Tina’s suspension can prove more valuable than they had anticipated. She needed to be out of the picture for what he had in mind.

Jason’s phone vibrated, and he looked down at it and typed. “Look, man,” he said, “I gotta go. Ya’ll gonna help me solve my brother’s murder or what?”

“First, it’s not technically a murder. There’s no proof that anyone killed these men. No witnesses and no weapon. Right now, it’s looking like a freak accident.”

Jason waved his hand, “man, that’s bullshit.”

“It’s called Asphyxiam,” said Juan. “It’s what happens when your body doesn’t get enough oxygen to keep you from passing out. When you breathe normally, first you take in oxygen. Your lungs send that oxygen into your blood, which carries it to your tissues. Then your cells use it to make energy. Any interruption to the process of breathing in oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide can make you pass out or lose your life.”

“What’s your point?”

“It looks as if the men suffocated, on what we don’t know. It could be aspiration, when food goes down the wrong pipe or choking. Perhaps they choked on the food they were eating, but our only witness, the waitress, said the men hadn’t ordered any food yet. We are still waiting for her to come in to confirm it. She says they were too focused on some women at another table.”

Juan stopped talking and cocked his head.

The women. How had he missed that? Who are these women?

He picked up the phone and started dialing.


Coming Up:

We’ve been going intense week after week with The Women with Blue Eyes. Next week, we will take a break to allow some of you to catch up on the earlier episodes! This story is divided into two parts called seasons. Season 1 is Chapters 1 through 20, and it will be vital for you to have read the earlier chapters before continuing. When we come back, we will be on Chapter 13. Take advantage of this time, and get your reading on!

Click here for a list of the linked chapters.

The Inspiration of Alex Haley’s Roots

My one and only classic 1976 original version of Roots: The Saga of an American Family
 
It took Alex Haley 12 years to finish Roots: The Saga of an American Family, known widely as simply, Roots. The book shot straight to the top of the bestseller charts, and the twelve-hour mini-series (Jan. 1977) was watched by 130 million people. They translated the book into 37 languages; it won a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, and sales soared to over 5.5 million.
 
This was not without controversy. No success story is. Haley had to settle a plagiarism suit out of court—that part of his story was copied from a 1967 novel, The African (The Guardian). It was also said there was no documented evidence that the alleged elder he spoke to in the Gambia had been accurate in his account of Kinte. Critics said that if Haley had written Roots as a fiction novel, there would not have been a cause for alarm. “Most of us feel it’s highly unlikely that Alex actually found the village whence his ancestors sprang”, Henry Louis Gates Jr said in 1998, calling Roots “a work of the imagination.” (But if you listen to Haley here, his story is very detailed. It is also consistent with many of his other interviews and speeches about the story of how Roots came about. This is hard to do if you are lying). 
 
Roots is now part of history and the original 1977 TV series awakened a new generation of young Blacks to the horrors of enslavement when movies and television shows about slavery were few and far in-between (both in books and film). While it may seem an over-saturated topic now, in 1977 this was groundbreaking.
 

Enslaved persons had little knowledge of what Haley referred to as “family continuity.” They were sold so much that as adults they came to know little about their family lineage, where they came from and who they were. Roots was therefore something special because Blacks had come out of the Black Power movement of the 60s, had just seen the deaths of Medgar Evers, Martin King, and Malcolm X. Roots was not just the story of one man’s family but the family of all Black people who had been taken captive and robbed of their family tree and any connection to it. It would become a history lesson, a recommended educational film that Black parents will watch with their children with just as much seriousness as their parents forced them to watch The Ten Commandments. Some would even name their children Kunta Kinte.

After Roots, Octavia Butler used time travel to explore slavery in Kindred (1979), Alice Walker used an African subplot (Nettie’s life in Africa) in The Color Purple (1982) which also went on to win a Pulitzer and National Book Award, and Toni Morrison made a fugitive slave her protagonist in Beloved (1987). Beloved was voted the most influential African-American novel of the 20th century in a poll of PBS viewers. But as Frances Smith Foster has pointed out, “in terms of actual audience and effect on politics and policies, Roots has been the most influential such story in the modern era.”

As I listened to the entire 2hours of the clip linked above, I wondered why I was doing this when I had (seemingly) much more important stuff to do. That is until I came to the final hour and fifty something minutes. Here, Haley speaks about how the father’s name the babies at eight days old. In the villages, the people would not see much of the father for seven days because he was spending time with the baby to come up with a good meaningful and significant name. On the eighth day the people would gather at the family’s home. The mother would come out once hearing the signal and sit on the stool and hold the eight-day-old baby. The father would walk over, lift the infant, and whisper the name into the infant’s ear three times.

He would do this so that the infant would be the first one to know who he/she was. This resembles, to me, the ancient practice of circumcision of the male child, and naming of the child, in ancient Israelite culture (Gen 17:12) which I believe is also Black culture. For example, the Ashanti Empire was a powerful Akan empire and kingdom in what is now modern-day Ghana. Ashan was the name of a city in southern Israel. The word Ashan in Hebrew means “smoke” “smoke city” or “burning city” so that Ashanti means “the people of Ashan or the people of the smoke city”. This was a reference to the city of Ashan after the Israelites took it over during the conquest of Canaan (1 Ch 4:32, 1 Ch 6:59). The Ashanti people had many Hebrew customs and traditions as part of their way of life. For eight days after the birth of a child, it is only on the eighth day that the child receives his/her personal name.

It was here that I had discovered the purpose of my listening to this piece in its entirety. I believe this to be such a powerfully subtle telling of who we, so-called Blacks in America, truly are. For the customs of the Hebrews is something that can still be found among many African cultures such as the Ashan. 

Roots is a powerful example of why we shouldn’t give up on whatever we are striving toward. It inspires me as a writer and as a person of the fruits of patience and of perseverance. While Roots has had (and continues to have) much success, remember that it took Haley 12 years to complete (one whole year from Kunta’s birth to capture… which could be a book by itself). 

Think about that the next time you worry about that book taking too long to finish.

Twelve. Whole. Years.

7 Thoughts on the New Roots

Roots2016PromotionalPoster

When I first heard they were remaking Roots, I was skeptical. I thought, “Some movies do not need to be remade.” I admit, I was looking on the physical and thinking, “Maybe it won’t be as powerful as the first.” But after watching it I must say it remains one of the most powerful series on TV, followed by Underground.  But first, here’s a little History:

What is Roots?

Roots: The Saga of an American Family is a book published by Alex Haley in 1976 with a miniseries of the book that first premiered on television in 1977. During this post-civil rights era the show is about the ancestors of Alex Haley, particularly Kunta Kinte, who was kidnapped from his life in Africa and sold as a slave on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. The Show was put out in a series of eight episodes to try and get it out the way as the networks didn’t think it would do well. However, the show proved them wrong, airing over the course of eight days and helping to galvanize a nation. See, to understand why Roots the remake is important in this day and time is to understand the history behind it and what it did to America. The TV series led to a renewed interest in genealogy from blacks who, due to slavery, felt robbed of their identity and cultural heritage:

If you weren’t there—if you’ve only known television in its post-Big Three networks era—it’s hard to understand the impact of the original Roots. Based on Alex Haley’s book of “faction,” the ABC miniseries’ 12 hours (with commercials) were spread across eight consecutive nights in January 1977, an unprecedented programming move that consolidated the show’s status as an event. The subsequent audience ratings were also unprecedented: 85% of television households, or 130 to 140 million Americans (more than half the U.S. population) saw at least part of the series; an estimated 100 million viewers tuned in for the two-hour finale on Sunday, January 30. – http://www.biography.com/news/alex-haley-roots-tv-show

1. Our Culture

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In the remake, it well represented the ancient culture of the African American. For centuries they have taught us we were animals running around naked with large hoops in our ears and swinging from trees. Taught that we were just Africans. While no TV show has gone as deep as to proclaim the unadulterated truth concerning our roots (not even Roots), I enjoyed the pieces of it sprinkled in the opening village scenes in the beginning because its an accurate portrayal of some of our culture. I loved that they showed the ancient garments, the head wraps and the midwives. Even the spreading of the palms to the heavens to pray. This is what we did and how we did it.

2. Stripped

By the time Kunta was on the slave ships he’s naked. Now we’ve seen this before in other shows, but what does it mean? This is highly significant of being stripped of your entire way of life. Gone is the beautiful blue garb, gone is the honor and the esteem, gone is the culture, and gone is the name that defines who you are.

3. Names

I don’t want y’all to sleep on the name part. Kizzy told Chicken George, “Your name is who you are. My daddy took beatings to protect his name”. Very powerful. People like to take names for granted. Often we look at them and they don’t hold any real significance but names are very important. Take away a persons name and you strip their entire identity. Your name is your character, and your persona. Your name is who you are. When we were stripped of our name, we were stripped of everything.
“People say what’s in a name? There’s a whole lot in a name. The African gets respect because he has an identity and cultural roots.” – Malcolm X

4. Biblical Insight

One of my most favorite scenes is when Chicken George introduced his mother Kizzy to his future wife and father-in-law and she said to him: “Massa don’t want you teaching about Exodus. About how the children of Israel walked across the red sea to freedom. He tore that right out the book.” Very powerful scene. Why? Because it’s the whole reason we weren’t allowed to read and write. Massa just didn’t say you couldn’t read because he thought you were an animal, an inhumane being. That’s only part of it. He didn’t want you to read because he didn’t want you to read the bible. Now why is that? Because the bible is black history.

5. Whites Persecuted

Another powerful thing this show portrayed is the persecution of Europeans who help blacks. This is also something they showed in the TV series Underground and I think its something that African Americans cannot sleep on. There are, and have always been, those of other nationalities who were wiling to help blacks to their deaths. Blacks were not the only ones lynched and maimed and murdered but also those who helped them.

6. Less is More

I didn’t like that they cut the series in half. I think it was too short. I also found it funny initially that Kunta’s character wasn’t switched out like in the first one so he looked the same throughout the series. However, I noticed that instead of going verbatim to the original they filled in those parts of the story that were missing from the first part. This was smart I think of the directors because this version has its own original feel. I thought this new Roots wasn’t going to be good compared to the first one but in truth they each are separate shows. While they tell the same story, the new Roots has a modern feel to it. Lawrence Fishburne, T.I. and Mekhi Phifer make their appearance and Kunta is a beast!

7. Now or Then?

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I don’t think the new roots can compare to the original. To me, the 1977 version will always stand as a classic. I also do not think the original could speak to today’s youth like the new one can, which makes it an original of its own.

We have to consider that 2016 is not 1977. It’s a different world and the new roots is a fresh way of introducing to new generations the legacy of Roots.