Tag Archives: man

Upton – “The Jewell of the Chesapeake”

The next city in the “Brownsville Series” is Upton in Baltimore, Maryland where I found one of the most affluent African American neighborhoods in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. As I continue my quest to resurrect the ghost of those honored segregated communities of a time long past I will examine the “Jewell of the Chesapeake”. If you’ve never been to Baltimore you’re really missing something special. Today, it’s called “Charm City” which should have been its name back in the day or at least that’s what Upton should have been called.

In Upton, Pennsylvania Avenue was the main drag connecting all African American life in the city and beyond. To the south and west of Upton was the poor and working class African American neighborhoods of “The Bottom”. To its east were the German American and Jewish American neighborhoods. Upton is about a fifteen minute walk from Downtown Baltimore but blacks of that era had no need to go downtown, for obvious reasons, they were not allowed to patronize or enter, through the front door anyway, the white establishments unless they were working.

Baltimore is best known for crabs, crab cakes, delicious seafood, and of course a good time. The neighborhood was home to the most educated African Americans, property owners, and professionals to include doctors, lawyers, retailers who served the middle class and an upscale clientele, jazz clubs, dance halls, and theaters, as well as other public and private institutions for the black community. On the Avenue, as it was called, was home to a premiere shopping strip for black Baltimorians, inspiring comparisons to Lenox Avenue in Harlem – Upton had it all.

Upton was also the staging ground for much of the local and national civil rights initiatives. It was a crossroad for many great African Americans who fought for equality and improving conditions for communities suffering from the ridged “separate but equal laws” and there cruel amoral agendas. People like the great Frederick Douglass, Justice Thurgood Marshall, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey all visited Upton and organized in its local churches. The Baltimore chapter of the NAACP was based in Upton as well as the New Negro Alliance who rallied for justice from this proud community.

In the mid-20th century, Upton’s population swelled due to the popularity of the neighborhood and the pressures of segregation that kept African Americans confined to certain areas. Single family homes were subdivided into small apartments and Pennsylvania Avenue’s sidewalks were crowded on Saturday nights, as loud music and heavy drinking became popular vices on the strip. There were several notable venues hosting great entertainment like the New Albert Hall, Savoy and the Strands that drew many performers and partygoers.

But it was the Douglass Theater, renamed The Royal Theater, at Pennsylvania and Lafayette, that became famous and a mainstay on the Chitlin Circuit on par with the legendary Apollo Theater. Cab Calloway grew up in Upton and Eubie Blake performed his debut in a club on Pennsylvania Avenue. Stars such as Ethel Water, Pearl Bailey, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, James Brown, Stevie Wonder and the Temptations all performed at the Royal. It was like the Apollo in the sense that you had to play the Royal to get your chops.

Churches were also a huge part of this community providing safe havens for its people. Since the 18th Century, African American churches have nurtured their souls, feed the hungry, clothed and housed the poor but their roll was far more important. The church community was a launch pad for activism and served as communication networks, which was the backbone of the community. The church community fought for civil rights, supported business initiatives, and job placement. From the beginning going back beyond the Underground Railroad Baltimore’s churches were a place of empowerment through worship and serve as incubators for organizing and planning regardless of domination or faith.

Baltimore has produced prominent businessmen such as Raymond Haysbert who was the owner and founder of the famed Parks Sausage Company that became the first black-owned company to go public in 1969. The Parks Sausage Company was a legend in Baltimore and you could hear its slogan “more Parks Sausages mom” everywhere. After the company experienced financial difficulties two former National Football League Hall of Famers Lydell Mitchell and Franco Harris partnered to come to the rescue maintaining the company’s black-owned legacy. James Brown, the “Godfather of Soul”, was also a prominent businessman in the city owning WEBB, a local radio station, and several other businesses.

Upton also produced its share of colorful characters known as “hustlers” that were legendary. One of the most famous was “Little Willie” Adams. Mr. Adams or “Little Willie”, as he was known, opened a shoeshine stand on the Avenue when he was 18. Sources say he was an ambitious young hustler with dreams of being his own man. One day a flamboyant numbers man got in his chair, he popped his rag like a firecracker while talking jive making him laugh. He convinced the numbers man that he too was a businessman, solid and dependable, and he wanted in on the numbers game. The hustlers slapped palms and Little Willie started at the bottom the next day as a runner.

Hustling was a family business and Little Willie was taught by his grandfather who ran an after-hours gambling house on Madison Avenue were most of Baltimore’s established hustlers and entrepreneurs enjoyed their favorite vices. Little Willie was a welcome star at grand pop’s gambling house as he was eager to learn this way of life, as early as age seven. By age 34, the young dapper Adams was already a living legend and the King of B-more. Little Willie was known to say, after he became the numbers czar, “This was our thing started by slaves”. I’m told he would say that “prayer is good but when you get up off your knees. You’ve got to hustle”.

Then there was Mr. Melvin Williams who was the inspiration for the enormously popular HBO series “The Wire.” Known as “Little Melvin”, he has also been featured on “American Gangster” where he told his story, his way. Before he was old enough to shave Little Melvin possessed a genius I.Q. of 160 but he says it’s closer to 200. Little Melvin, a legend at age 15 years old had made a few hundred grand hustling pool and shooting dice. He’s a high school dropout who can talk tax codes, inner-state commerce, calculus and physics with the best of them. No one doubts that he was a prodigy in the gambling haunts and alleyways along glittering Pennsylvania Avenue.

When heroin addiction exploded in the 1960’s, Mafia drug traffickers sought out connections in big cities that were accustomed to dealing in large sums of cash and were smart enough to keep their mouths shut. They needed to look no further than to Melvin, known in street lore today as “the man who brought heroin to Baltimore.” For three decades Melvin ruled as the uncrowned king. Frustrated with their inability to penetrate his operation, Baltimore police framed him by planting a hand full of pills in his pocket during an orchestrated bust. Five years later, Melvin emerged from prison a bitter man out for revenge. He accomplished his mission accumulating untold millions in narco-profits but ultimately paid the price by serving 26.5 years in prison.

His street legend was larger than life, when the Baltimore riots erupted after the 1968 killing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., there came a knock on Melvin’s door on the fourth morning of fire and rage. In walked National Guard Gen. George Gelston, state Sen. Clarence Mitchell III, and Police Maj. William “Box” Harris. “We think you can help stop the rioting,” they said. “We’ll give you a bullhorn and a bullet-proof vest.” Williams says he told them “I’ll take the bullhorn. Give the vest to Senator Mitchell.” That afternoon, as thousands stood at Pennsylvania Avenue and Mosher Street, Williams told the crowd that they’d expressed their rage, they’d made their point — and now it was time go home. The streets quickly emptied, and that day the riots were over.

In the 1960’s and 70’s, controversial urban renewal projects destroyed much of Upton’s historic architecture, especially in the southwestern portion of the neighborhood. However, it only replaced a portion of what was removed. Once the buildings were razed it was difficult to secure developers to build new construction. The famed Royal Theater was demolished in 1971. Further problems faced Upton during this time in the form of economic depression, housing abandonment, crime, and racial rioting.

Pennsylvania Avenue is now lined with sneaker shops, dollar stores, other low-rent commercial uses, and many abandoned storefronts. The Avenue Market sells produce and holds occasional events such as jazz shows. According to the city, 60% of Upton families with children under 5 are living in poverty. The median home sale price in Upton in 2004 (not including Marble Hill) was $28,054. Many of the row houses in the neighborhood are vacant, either abandoned by their property owners or owned by the city.

Yes, the ghost of what was our creation has been stained and the Jewell of the Chesapeake has lost its luster. Unfortunately, the city of Baltimore, known as Charm City, forgot that Upton was responsible for a large part of its charm but African Americans know it lure looms large and its legacy will never die.

Visit: www.justaseason.comJust a Season is a must read novel…


Just a Season – a must read novel…

It’s been said, there are no words that have not been spoken and there are no stories that have never been told but there are some that you will never forget. Just a Season is a luminous story into the life of a man who, in the midst of pain and loss, journeys back in time to reexamine all the important people, circumstances, and intellectual fervor that contributed to the richness of his life.

This fictional narrative begins with a grief-stricken father visiting the grave site of his beloved son who was killed in a tragic accident; a moment that he and no other loving parent should ever have to face. As he sadly gazes at his son’s headstone and reads what is inscribed there, the dates 1981 – 2001 bring about an illuminating discovery.

The tiny dash that separates the years of one’s birth and death represents the whole of a person’s life. So if this tiny dash were to tell his life’s story, what would it say? In Just a Season, the dash of this man’s life is revealed and what emerges from the pages of this book is a legacy of true benevolence and grace.

Praise for Just a Season . . .

“Just a Season is a thought provoking novel by author, John T. Wills. …focusing on various topics such as pain, suffering, love and life. The characters and the plot are captured very well. It is very well written from beginning to end. This is one of those books, where you cannot judge the book based on its title and cover.” Congratulations well done! — Afrika Asha Abney

“. . . Thank you for your example of tenderness and discipline in what I know is a story of love, delicately shared with readers in a way that says, this life, though brief, is significant. So hold it in highest regard for “the dash” is our legacy to love ones, indeed to the world, which we are blessed to share, albeit, for Just a Season.” Excellent! –Sistah Joy, Poet, Cable TV Host

“Wills pulls you in from the very first page… Just a Season is a heart-wrenching story about growing up and believing in yourself. I highly recommend this book to young men in high school, trying to find themselves and feeling like they have nowhere to turn.” — Cheryl Hayes, APOOO Book Club

“This is the stuff movies are made of… not since Roots have I read anything that so succinctly chronicles an African American story.” One Word Phenomenal!!!
Cheryl Vauls, Library Services

“Not since The Color Purple have I read a book that evoked such emotions. John T. Wills possesses the ability to transport the reader directly into the life and struggles of his main characters story. This book actually touched my heart and inspired me to increase the equity in my “dash”! Excellent — Tonja Covington

“John T. Wills captures male bonding between generations and lets the reader passively watch as family love and closeness unfold on the pages . . .” Outstanding — A great read — Cheryl Robinson, Host and Executive Producer of JustAboutBooksTalkShow.com

“JUST A SEASON is laced with thought-provoking commentary on the Vietnam War, the assassinations of the 1960s, the migration of crack cocaine into inner-city neighborhoods, and a myriad of other ills that have rocked America. This is a very good piece intertwined with several history lessons spanning many decades.” — Dawn Reeves, RAWSISTAZ Book Club

“John T. Wills particulars each notion so eloquently that you feel that you’re actually right there with him… this is an inflicting history lesson that I believe all African American males should experience.” JUST A SEASON is a pivotal read — Carmen, OOSA ONLINE BOOK CLUB

“From the first page you are transported into John’s world as if you are there and are experiencing it with him. I am amazed at how John is able to use the events of the time to let you know where you are in time. I felt as if I was teleported… his ability to describe what was going on during that time makes me extremely proud of my heritage. You will come away with a feeling of, now I know why that is. I thoroughly enjoyed “Just a Season”. – Mia L. Haynes

“Just a Season is a work of love, respect and honor… A book filled with the wonder of life, and the pain and growth encountered in living it.” Outstanding! — Ron Watson, Editor, New Book Reviews.Org

“in the final analysis the tiny little dash represents the whole of a person’s life. If someone, for whatever reason, were to tell the story concealed within my dash. What might they say? “. A thought provoking and powerful read that will forever resonate within my soul . . . Speechless. Carron

This novel is 9 X 6 inches in size, 370 pages embracing the wonders of a life.
Visit: www.justaseason.com to read a chapter, reviews, and more information.

I humbly thank you for your support and help.


Granddaddy’s Lessons

A few months ago I posted this excerpt from my novel “Just a Season”. I received a very special heartfelt request from a devoted follower asking me to repost “Granddaddy’s Lessons”. Although she calls herself “a fan of my thoughts,” I call her my friend. Therefore, I am honored to repost this message that I feel delivers a powerful message and I hope it will enlighten, empower, motivate, and touch your heart as well.

Today we live in a world where there is no more Granddaddy to share that precious wisdom necessary to guide our young men and women into adulthood. I was very fortunate or maybe blessed, to have had a loving grandfather who shared many valuable lessons with me. These lessons formed the foundation of my very being…

“Granddaddy would say if you really hear me, not just listen to me, you will inherit life’s goodness. I would hear him talk about things like “God bless the child that’s got his own.” He constantly reminded me that everything that ever existed came from a just-single thought, and if you can think it, you can figure out how to do it just put your mind to it. I would also constantly hear that a man must be able to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done regardless of the circumstances. “I raised you to be a man and as a man, you don’t know what you will have to do, but when the time comes, do it.” Granddaddy drove home the point, the difference between a man and a boy is the lessons he’s learned.

Granddaddy would also say you will always have an enemy. Your enemy is anyone who attempts to sabotage the assignment God has for your life. Your enemy is anybody who may resent you doing positive things and will be unhappy because of your success. These people will attempt to kill the faith that God has breathed within you. They would rather discuss your past than your future because they don’t want you to have one. Your enemy should not be feared. He would say it is important to understand that this person usually will be close to you. He would tell me to use them as bridges, not barricades. Therefore, it is wise to make peace with your enemy.

“Just remember these things I say to you.” I certainly could not count all of these things, as it seemed like a million or more that I was supposed to remember. However, he asked me to remember above all else that there is no such thing as luck. The harder you work at something the luckier you get. I would tell him that I was lucky, maybe because I had won a ballgame or something. He would smile and tell me luck is only preparation meeting opportunity. Life is all about survival and if you are to survive – never bring a knife to a gunfight. This would be just as foolish as using a shotgun to kill a mosquito. Then he asked me to remember that it is not the size of the dog in the fight; it is the size of the fight in the dog.

Granddaddy’s words had so much power, although it would often require some thinking on my part to figure out what he was talking about, or what the moral of the story was supposed to be. It may have taken awhile but I usually figured it out. For example, always take the road less traveled, make your own path, but be sure to leave a trail for others to follow. Life’s road is often hard; just make sure you travel it wisely. If you have a thousand miles to go, you must start the journey with the first step. During many of these lessons, he would remind me not to let your worries get the best of you.

Sometimes he would use humor. For example, he would say something like “Moses started out as a basket case.” Although most often he assured me that hard times will come and when they come, do not drown in your tears; always swim in your blessings. He would tell me he had seen so much and heard even more, in particular those stories from his early life when dreadful atrocities were done to Negroes. Some of the stories included acts of violence such as lynchings, burnings, and beatings. He would make a point to explain that the people who did these things believed they were acting in the best interest of society.

He would tell me about things he witnessed over time, that many of these atrocities were erased from the memory of society regardless how horrible the event was. Society’s reasoning would make you think their action was right, fair, and justified. Granddaddy would add, if history could erase that which he had witnessed and known to be true, how can you trust anything history told as truth? He would emphasize that I should never, never believe it, because nothing is as it seems.

I would marvel at his wisdom. He would tell me to always set my aim higher than the ground. Shoot for the stars because if you miss you will only land on the ground and that will be where everybody else will be. When he would tell me this, he would always add, please remember you are not finished because you are defeated. You are only finished if you give up. He would usually include a reminder. Always remember who you are and where you came from. Never think you are too big because you can be on top of the world today and the world can be on top of you tomorrow.

I think Granddaddy had the foresight to see that I could do common things in life in an uncommon way, that I could command the attention of the world around me. Granddaddy impressed upon me that change is a strange thing. Everyone talks about it but no one ever tries to affect it. It will take courage and perseverance to reach your place of success. Just remember that life -is not a rehearsal. It is real and it is you who will create your destiny don’t wait for it to come to you. He would say, can’t is not a word. Never use it because it implies failure. It is also smart to stay away from those who do use it.

He would tell me that I was an important creation, that God gave a special gift to me for the purpose of changing the world around me. It may be hard sometimes, you may not understand, you may have self-doubt or hesitation, but never quit. God gave it to you so use it wisely. He would add often times something biblical during his teaching, or so I thought, like to whom much is given, much is expected. It is because we needed you that God sent you. That statement profoundly gave me a sense of responsibility that I was duty-bound to carry throughout my life.

Granddaddy’s inspiration, courage, and motivation still humble me, and I’m filled with gratitude that his example profoundly enriched my soul. So much so that in those times of trouble, when the bridges are hard to cross and the road gets rough, I hear Granddaddy’s gentle voice reciting words once spoken by the Prophet Isaiah: “Fear not for I am with you.”

Excerpt from “Just a Season”
All Rights Reserved
(c) 2007

http://www.justaseason.com
justaseason.blogspot.com


A Father’s Day Message!!!

With Father’s Day upon us – I wanted to share a few thoughts concerning this special day. First, let me start by saying that I was abandoned by the guy who was responsible for my being. With that said, I never have nor will I ever call him my father because I never saw him as a man. Now, I understand that he did have the necessary equipment to procreate, which mean there is a difference between making a baby and being a father. Any male can create a life but it takes a unique soul to be a father because that man acknowledges the responsibility which begets, raises, and nurtures a child. This is a gift that life denied me but there was a special man who assumed that role – my Granddaddy. I would always say to him that he was the greatest gift God could have given to me.

To honor him I featured this great man in my novel “Just a Season”. I fondly remember the most lasting impression Granddaddy made upon me. It was “I raised you to be a man and as a man you don’t know what you will have to do, but when the time comes – do it”. The result of not having this guy in my life as a father created a yearning deep within me to be a father and to make sure my child had this special gift in his life. Thankfully, God blessed me with a wonderful son allowing me to realize this dream and if I must say I was a “GREAT FATHER”. Then as if in the blink of an eye God took him – twenty years later and it still hurts… WOW!!!

I am sharing this for two reasons: One, I want each man to know that fatherhood is an amazing blessing. Two, to say to mother’s that it is very important to have a man in the life of your child be it the child’s father or a male to nurture the life of that child. I often hear this statement from women – “I am a strong woman, independent, and successful”, which maybe true but if you have a son you cannot raise him to be a man. I say this in the same vain that your daughters need a father also and I said father not just a man in their lives.

Fathers who are able to develop into responsible parents are able to engender a number of significant benefits for themselves, their communities, and most importantly, their children. Involved fathers offer developmentally specific provisions to their sons and daughters throughout the life cycle and are impacted themselves by doing so. Active father figures have a key role to play in reducing behavior problems in boys and psychological problems in young women. For example, children who experience significant father involvement tend to exhibit higher scores on assessments of cognitive development, enhanced social skills and fewer behavior problems.

Increased amounts of father-child involvement have also proven to increase a child’s social stability, educational achievement, and even their potential to have a solid marriage as an adult. These children are also more curious about the world around them and develop greater problem solving skills. Children who were raised without fathers perceive themselves to be less cognitive and physically competent than their peers from father-present families. Mothers raising children without fathers report more severe disputes with their children. Sons raised without father’s shows more feminine attributes but no less masculine characteristics of gender role behavior.

I submit that the absence of FATHER’S is a direct result of the condition of many families, the devastation of our communities, and dare I say our society. We have entered a new era of “HOPE” and I pray that males will make this profound transformation into manhood. Forget about all those things that may have caused the unholy condition you face, accept your responsibility, honor your children, and be a man. Because regardless of what you believe because the reason we live is to continue the species and as African American’s we are losing the battle.

www.justaseason.com


Granddaddy’s Lesson

Today we live in a world where there is no more Granddaddy to share wisdom guiding our young men into manhood. I was very fortunate to have had a loving grandfather who share many lessons with me and I am very grateful to have had this blessing. This passage is taken from my novel “Just a Season” that I hope will enlighten, empower, motivate, and/or provide a thought provoking lesson that you can share…

“Granddaddy would say if you really hear me, not just listen to me, you will inherit life’s goodness. I would hear him talk about things like “God bless the child that’s got his own.” He constantly reminded me that everything that ever existed came from a single thought, and if you can think it, you can figure out how to do it  just put your mind to it. I would also constantly hear that a man must be able to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done regardless of the circumstances. “I raised you to be a man and as a man, you don’t know what you will have to do, but when the time comes, do it.” Granddaddy drove home the point, the difference between a man and a boy is the lessons he’s learned.

Granddaddy would also say you will always have an enemy. Your enemy is anyone who attempts to sabotage the assignment God has for your life. Your enemy is anybody who may resent you doing positive things and will be unhappy because of your success. These people will attempt to kill the faith that God has breathed within you. They would rather discuss your past than your future because they don’t want you to have one. Your enemy should not be feared. He would say it is important to understand that this person usually will be close to you. He would tell me to use them as bridges, not barricades. Therefore, it is wise to make peace with your enemy.

“Just remember these things I say to you.” I certainly could not count all of these things, as it seemed like a million or more that I was supposed to remember. However, he asked me to remember above all else that there is no such thing as luck. The harder you work at something the luckier you get. I would tell him that I was lucky, maybe because I had won a ballgame or something. He would smile and tell me luck is only preparation meeting opportunity. Life is all about survival and if you are to survive; never bring a knife to a gunfight. This would be just as foolish as using a shotgun to kill a mosquito. Then he asked me to remember that it is not the size of the dog in the fight; it is the size of the fight in the dog.

Granddaddy’s words had so much power, although it would often require some thinking on my part to figure out what he was talking about, or what the moral of the story was supposed to be. It may have taken awhile but I usually figured it out. For example, always take the road less traveled, make your own path, but be sure to leave a trail for others to follow. Life’s road is often hard; just make sure you travel it wisely. If you have a thousand miles to go, you must start the journey with the first step. During many of these lessens, he would remind me not to let your worries get the best of you.

Sometimes he would use humor. For example, he would say something like “Moses started out as a basket case.” Although most often he assured me that hard times will come and when they come, do not drown in your tears, always swim in your blessings. He would tell me he had seen so much and heard even more, in particular those stories from his early life when dreadful atrocities were done to Negroes. Some of the stories included acts of violence such as lynchings, burnings, and beatings. He would make a point to explain that the people who did these things believed they were acting in the best interest of society.

He would tell me about things he witnessed over time, that many of these atrocities were erased from the memory of society regardless how horrible the event was. Society’s reasoning would make you think their action was right, fair, and justified. Granddaddy would add, if history could erase that which he had witnessed and known to be true, how can you trust anything history told as truth? He would emphasize that I should never, never believe it, because nothing is as it seems.

I would marvel at his wisdom. He would tell me to always set my aim higher than the ground. Shoot for the stars because if you miss you will only land on the ground and that will be where everybody else will be. When he would tell me this, he would always add, please remember you are not finished because you are defeated. You are only finished if you give up. He would usually include a reminder. Always remember who you are and where you came from. Never think you are too big because you can be on top of the world today and the world can be on top of you tomorrow.

I think Granddaddy had the foresight to see that I could do common things in life in an uncommon way, that I could command the attention of the world around me. Granddaddy impressed upon me that change is a strange thing. Everyone talks about it but no one ever tries to affect it. It will take courage and perseverance to reach your place of success. Just remember that life is not a rehearsal. It is real and it is you who will create your destiny  don’t wait for it to come to you. He would say, can’t is not a word. Never use it because it implies failure. It is also smart to stay away from those who do use it.

He would tell me that I was an important creation, that God gave a special gift to me for the purpose of changing the world around me. It may be hard sometimes, you may not understand, you may have self-doubt or hesitation, but never quit. God gave it to you so use it wisely. He always added a biblical saying during his teaching  to whom much is given, much is expected. It is because we needed you that God sent you. That statement profoundly gave me a sense of responsibility that I was duty-bound to carry throughout life.

Excerpt from “Just a Season”
All Rights Reserved
(c) 2007


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