So there I was, approaching my teenage life with big dreams of becoming an NBA basketball player, and thanks to my 7th grade tryout experience, my athletic career resembled the tragic home life I was enduring – a big flop! My father remained in and out of the hospital. Occasionally, he would make a futile attempt to end his life by taking a pill overdose. Other times, he would leave work early and come home drunk. I don’t know how he made it home without getting a DUI. My mother, frustrated with being broke, started putting pressure on my father to work. Bills were piling up, and given my father’s struggle with bipolar disorder and alcoholism, there was no hope in site. Things came to a head when both our water and electricity were disconnected at the same time. We had lost electricity before, resorting to candlelit nights and early bed times. With our water AND electricity turned off, my mom knew that something drastic had to be done.
My parents asked my sister and I to find friends to stay with for a few days…at least until the water was turned on. I know it must have been embarrassing for them, especially for my mom. She always talked to us about creating a better life for ourselves…much better than the life they had given us. As much as it bothered my dad, my mother started looking for work. It was time to be a two-person working household. We had no other choice.
My mother started working at a small auto parts assembly plant. You can imagine it being a hard place for a woman to work, especially in the 80’s, with pressures and traditional backlashes of of gender equality and the women’s liberty movement. My father was old fashioned, too. His pride made it difficult for him to accept that his wife had to work. His mother was a stay at home mom. That was all that he knew as a child, and his expectations were the same for his household. In the end, he couldn’t fight it. My mother wouldn’t stand for not having water and electricity anymore. After a few months working at the smaller auto plant, she transitioned over to the fast food business, and worked the next 11-12 years for both McDonald’s and Burger King.
This presented my sister and I will more challenges. Now we found ourselves being home alone without much supervision. Even when my father and mother were on alternating shifts, my dad spent most of his time in bed. My mother imbedded herself into the closing role for McDonald’s, so she was gone from 6pm – 3…sometimes 4 o’clock in the morning. From that point on, my life was one of autonomy. No one was around to push me educationally, guide me morally, or manage my daily nutrition. I’d come home from school, throw my books on the floor, head out to the basketball court, skip dinner, come in and eat a peanut butter and jelly, go to sleep, and do it all again the next day. My sister, who was 2 years my elder, found other things to do, and they weren’t ideal activities for a child approaching her teenage years.
Growing up as a white kid living in a predominantly black neighborhood made my sister and me minorities in the neighborhood. It sounds weird, but I totally relate to the struggles endured by the African-American community. I know first hand what it’s like to be on the outside looking in.I remember being hated just for being white. I’m convinced that me getting picked on had just s much to do with my skin color as it did with me being the smallest kid in the area. My sister hated it. As a female, she was oftentimes subject to a lot of sexual harassment, especially in school. She was known to scream, kick and punch on boys making inappropriate advances at her, regardless of the consequences. there were times when she even stood up for me when I was getting picked on. Talk about embarrassing…having your big sister fight your battles for you gave everyone plenty more material to pick on me with.
When we were integrated into the Wayne County School District, both my sister and I befriended people outside of Inkster, getting a glimpse of what it was like to actually live within the caucasian culture. I don’t even think we knew that there was a big racial divide until we started going to Franklin.The school integration was a good idea in theory, but it made the socioeconomic difference quite difficult to manage. For us (particularly me), it was even more complex. I started attending a school where the culture of blacks and whites were much more evident. As if I wasn’t teased and picked on enough for being small, white, and poor, now I was attending school with white people who believed I was trying to be black, when it wasn’t that at all. It was all that I knew.
After a few weeks at Franklin, I befriended a couple of people from Wayne, Michigan: Brad Elmore and Mike Austin. Before them, my circle of friends included Matt and Daryl Canty, Cory Blanks, Art and Eric Thomas…all African-Americans. Befriending Brad and Mike was very knew to me. There were a few other white kids in Inkster, but I wasn’t close with those people. Not only did I start to seeracial and cultural differences, I started to see the socioeconomic differences between those races. This opened my eyes to the racial divide that existed and still exists in America today.
Mike and his family lived a completely different lifestyle than what I was accustomed to. I lived in a 3 bedroom, one story starter house. He lived in a 2 story home with a pool in the backyard. He also had a barn in the back with a basketball rim. We spent a lot of time playing one-on-one back there. When dinner time rolled around, there were no pot pies being served. There was actually a full-course meal. One of my new favorite dishes (that I just can’t seem to replicate) was the green bean, sauerkraut and sausage dish that Mike’s mother use to make. I never even heard of sauerkraut. It was very tasty.
All throughout junior high, I spent a lot of time at Mike’s house. It was nice to get away from Inkster. I definitely visited Mike’s house more than he visited mine. I wouldn’t be surprised if his mom didn’t want her son spending too much time in a place like Inkster. It was quickly becoming the worst suburb in the area. When he did come over, though, he was a part of the regular Mark King activities. We spent most of our time in the back playing basketball. We had some ruthless battles in the garage. Since neither of us could dunk (we were both short white kids), we purchased an excellent miniature basketball rim and hung it in the garage on some rafters. When it was too dark and too late to play outside, we’d shut the garage door, turn the lights on, and take turns dunking on each other, mimicking the Michael Jordan-esque dunks that everyone became accustom to seeing in the 1980’s NBA.
Spending so much time with Mike and his family showed me that there was a different life available out there. When you are growing up, you find yourself boxed into thinking that the entire world operates the same way your family operates. I realized that wasn’t the case by spending more time in Wayne instead of Inkster. People actually sat down for home-cooked meals with the family. Having a pool in the backyard was not necessarily a fairy tale. I didn’t realize it then, but I know, now, that those experiences expanded my own horizons. There was more to be gotten out of life…it was achievable.