As a child I grew up on Detroit’s North Westside close to the city of Highland Park. I lived at 1642 Clements next door to my Grandmother Motherdear. My earliest memories of friendships, playing, and establishing individuality began on Clements. It was a very unique setting that I feel has had a lasting effect on many of my life’s interactions today.
Throughout the mid 1980’s through the early 1990’s when our family lived on Clements there were 22 children in my age range. Beginning of course with my sister Dara, there was also Elizabeth, Apryl, Don, Juan, Carlos, Kenita, Brian, Andre, Big Andre, Aaron, Kenny Boy, Paradise, Fransoir, Raenita, Tashiana, Taquila, Shaniya, little Andre, Mike, Shawn, little James, and Teliya. Along with all these children many of our cousins in our age range would often spend summers on our block as well.
Everyday after school, and in the summer we all couldn’t wait to go outside and play. Football, pick em’ up mess em’ up, hide and go seek, tag, that’s my car, or just talk about each other. I believe my open nature, and personable attitude relates directly to the fact that at 7 years old I dealt with so many personalities and people. Our parents and grandparents all led different walks of life as well. Through the short visits, and talks with business people, unemployed workers, factory workers, retirees, fast food workers, teachers, entrepreneurs, hustlers, mechanics, and lunch aides, I had a loving cross section of society that viewed me as a friend of their children.
I remember in 1989, 90, and 91 drive-by shootings and gangs became more prevalent which put a new perspective to living on Clements. Little James’ father was the first drug dealer I ever knew of. He (Big James) and little James’ mother (who struggled with addiction) lived 2 doors away from my home on the corner. I remember Big James being always (kind of) at odds with my father. Big James let the neighborhood FOLKS (a gang: For Our Lord King Satan) use his home for drug trafficking, and partying through most nights. My Father felt as personable, and smart as Big James was he was wasting his talent. Also he felt the drug activity Big James introduced to our block was dangerous and disrespectful to a neighborhood which supported him and his family. I remember times when Big James could not afford heat, lights, and water and my family and others would send buckets of water to their home. This was always the balance for me to know that the biggest dopeman in my neighborhood borrowed water from his neighbors. Motherdear would always tell us (me and Dara) to stay away from the corner at all costs. That made the allure of going to the corner stronger.
There was also a strong presence of elders on Clements my Great Aunt Marie (who lived across the street), Mr. Male, Ms. McAfee (our babysitter), and Ms. Deemer all would sit on the porch talk to each other and eat fruits and vegetables through summer days. At times of the day you could cruise down Clements and see house after house with seniors eating Georgia pecans, watermelons, and grapes. Motherdear’s favorite (we often shared) was apples and peanut butter which till this day I often have as I reminisce visions of yesterday.
For 2 years my older cousin Vicki moved her family into our home on Clements which is a 2 family flat. Vicki married James, and had a daughter Donnah, and son Devin. Vicki was my Aunt Shirley’s eldest child, and James was her husband. James was a basketball star from Alabama who had family here in Detroit. James was a couple years younger than Vicki, and to me as a child one of the coolest people on earth. “James Laster was one of the best basketball players I’ve played against,” direct quote from Charles Barkley. James moved into our home, and within months put a basketball hoop in our backyard which changed my life on Clements.
Before James got our basketball rim we (the boys in the neighborhood) would primarily play pick em’ up mess em’ up. Pick em’ up mess em’ up is a game where you pick any object like an empty pop bottle and use this as a ball and run to the end of the backyard for a touchdown while everyone else attempts to gang tackle you. Everyday we’d end up hurting one another and rarely anyone would score a touchdown. It was fun tackling each other but not fun being hurt. So when I got a basketball rim in my backyard we started playing basketball. Every kid from blocks away that dreamed of being either MJ (Michael Jordan) or Isiah (Thomas) became my friend. I’d never played basketball, and was terrible for about 2 years. After 2 years I became one of the okay basketball players in my neighborhood.
One day when we were playing basketball talking shit like usual, Big Andre was calling all of us ‘dumb kids’ for playing 21. “Why?” I asked him, “You’re too young and don’t know how to play real basketball” was how Big Andre responded. That’s when I made the decision we’d make a team. The Detroit Flames were formed after big Andre left my backyard. “We can play basketball and Andre’s just being stupid. We have a court and I bet everybody would come to see us play” is what I told Don and Juan. The next day Don and Juan showed up with Carlos, Fransoir, and Teliya who all wanted to play. I told everybody, “This is perfect we can play 3 on 3 and have a real game.” Teliya said “I’m gone have to be Jordan, so I need 23” then he and Don started arguing over that and fighting. After we broke the fight up, I realized we needed jerseys. I came in the house asked my mom how can I get jerseys for my basketball game coming up. [My mom has always been reluctant at first mention of my creativity, but she later supported it.] In 2 days, she showed up with the biggest bag of Shoppers World summer shorts and tank tops I’ve ever seen. After she came back I gathered the teams and gave out the uniforms. After that, Carlos asked about the referee. I asked Don to ask his Uncle Benny. I assumed Benny would say yes, because he always bought us ice cream every time the ice cream truck came around. Benny gladly accepted the offer to referee the game. Then I named our team the Detroit Flames (Me, Teliya, little Andre) vs Clements (Carlos, Don, Juan) it was classic.
There were about 14 different types of lawn chairs in the sun with old people and a couple of girls. This was the first time everybody was playing with girls watching so we couldn’t look bad. Ms Theresa who lived across the street made hot dogs and my mom bought Bettermades and Hawaiian Punch for everybody. The game began as I led everyone in the Black National Anthem which I learned from my time at Nataki Talibah. After that we played one of the sloppiest basketball games ever played. Travels, doubles, carries, fouls, but we had fun. The game went to 30 points with 1 and 2 point baskets. My team won the game but it was very close. I remember after the game cleaning up then playing basketball all night because I and Carlos didn’t want to stop.
It was rare that we could all play for so long without any fights or anybody quitting. As the seniors, girls, and my parents looked on it felt like we were professionals. At this time in our lives some of the most important people we all knew were watching us play a game we played for fun. My father vividly remembers the way all the guys followed my instructions to clean up the backyard, make posters, invite fans, and get support. My Dad felt it was odd for a 10 year old to manage a group of other guys his age whereas I felt it was the same as playing with my friends as I always have. It is definitely one of my fondest memories on Clements.