Welcome to the 90’s. The Golden Age of the New Generation. Some say the 50’s belonged to the Rebels, the 60’s to the Revolutionaries, the 70’s to the Artists, the 80’s to the Disillusioned, and the 90’s were a Lost Generation. A generation of new kids with “No Guidance.” No one understood us and half the time, we didn’t understand ourselves. Although some may view me as being too young to belong to that generation, the 90’s formed a big influence on my life. The 90’s was a decade started at a time where know one knew what the hell happened during the 10 years that came before. America became richer, yet the poor communities became drastically poorer. The crack-cocaine epidemic hit the Black community like a sledgehammer during the mid-80’s and the government used desperate measures to start a full on clean-up at the head of the 90’s. The veil over American eyes was swiftly pulled away, leaving the visage of a two-faced capitalist nation. The youth experienced a huge consciousness by questioning their understanding, while at the same time, I grew into adolescence, gaining basic knowledge of the world around me. This was the 90’s. Arguably the best decade to have experienced and matured.
I spent my time growing up in Dolton, Illinois, 5 minutes outside of Chicago and one of Chicago’s oldest and notorious housing projects, the Altgeld Gardens. The Gardens were a separated and long forgotten section of South Chicago that was purchased when the Pullman city could no longer operate on it’s own. Chicago then expanded from 115th down to 130th, with the sanctioned Altgeld Garden community encompassing the few more blocks south of 130th. The inhabitants saw very little to no help from city officials, so they needed support from each other. That spirit birthed fractions of one of Chicago’s oldest and most infamous gangs, the Gangster Disciples. South of that was my neighborhood. My peers and I became the last generation that saw a small Caucasian population before the great flight pursued.
A great bulk of my time was spent on 100th and Morgan; at my grandmother’s house reading the numerous books she had because she was an assistant teacher for kindergardeners and 1st graders. My sister and I spent countless moments fighting over who was to take which knee as my grandmother would read books a hundred times over. I remember these good times occurring before the 90’s truly began for me.
In all truth, John Singleton started the 90’s in 1991. Barbara Bush’s push program to end drug abuse, D.A.R.E., allowed the American elite to feel a bit more comfortable. They didn’t care when crack-cocaine was at its peak because they were out of touch with our struggle. The hushed social plague wasn’t an issue until viles started appearing on politician doorsteps. We were strategically grouped in our communities and felt we were all alone. We would speak with cousins one day and watched them leave our homes for the last time. John Singleton’s film, Boyz N The Hood made the problem national. At the age of 6, I felt as if I knew the characters in the film. Doughboy was my cousins, Slick, Lil’ Andre, and Bam Bam. Ricky used to live down the street. L.A. was Chicago and I’m sure it was also New York, Miami, Cleveland, Houston, Atlanta, St. Louis, New Orleans, etc. Everyone had their means of survival but no one understood why it had gotten so bad. I remember there being so many rules to living in Chicago; and at the time, I had regarded them as dumb but I knew them. My brother wouldn’t let me wear red when we’d visit here, then turn around and wouldn’t let me wear blue when we’d visit there. It was insane to me. My cousin Tiffany lived in Cabrini-Green and I couldn’t wear my good shoes when I went to visit. The older cats had a different understanding of things then us, yet I don’t believe anyone ever truly understood the answer to “why.” Things slowly stopped adding up.
I believe a big part of the answer came the following year. On one fateful evening in 1991, Rodney King became a legend when a videotaping of a police beating forever made him the poster figure for police brutality in the Black community. When the 1992 verdict cleared the officers of their offense, the Black community in Los Angeles literally went up in flames. We were all angry. All for similar reasons that funneled up to one common monster, the U.S. government. I was 6 and a half watching the television show images of Los Angeles looted and in flames, and I understood. Everyone had had enough. Chicago is so segregated that interacting with the White community did not happen often, if at all. I became angry every time I’d travel to Mississippi and watch my grandfather nod and treat the White people with the upmost respect. He was from a totally different generation than I. The gap was so large that I just viewed everyone as people, one in the same. I knew I didn’t like the eyes of the people in Mississippi. The Asians at the restaurants never looked at me like that. There were two Spanish families in my neighborhood and they never had those eyes. They were eyes of belittlement and only directed at us. After I saw the tape and watched the city burn, there was an adrenaline that I couldn’t explain. My father cursed the riot as I sat and smiled. This was a new generation. We could no longer take marching, or sitting idle on restaurant stools as people cursed and spat. We no longer had the will to forgive, nor the time to forget. We were watching clear and unadulterated, the rise of a new youth. A youth that needed new platforms of expression or we would rip this country apart. The teenagers were trying to understand their aggressions and I was trying to understand life.
(To Be Continued)