My life in Inglewood was only briefly interrupted by Nebraska. That time would forever be a happy blip in my life. Even now, if I had an option I’d probably opt to raise my children in Omaha. Affordable housing, good schools and freedom to be a kid who plays outside… these are not things that come easily in Southern California, if you have the last two you probably can’t have the first one.
I didn’t quickly realize the schools in Inglewood weren’t all that great. It was actually until I was much older and my little sister came home with shiny new textbooks that it dawned on me that my books with people with afros in them because the books were literally from the 1970’s was not normal. The fact that I’d used an Apple One computer in the “computer lab” in the late 90’s had just gone over my head. As a kid, I thought a school was just a school like any other. I didn’t think it was peculiar that the D.A.R.E program “to keep kids off drugs” was huge in Inglewood, or that we consistently had police offers come and hand out shirts and stickers. D.A.R.E was a weird way to teach kids all the slang words for drugs.
My 5th grade teacher seemed to be good friends with the police officers, that was the grade where we would see them the most, we knew them by name. That same teacher also made us memorize and perform Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” in front of the whole school. It was as cringey as it sounds.
My 6th grade middle school teacher, Mr. Carson, would teach us all about Black inventors and how their history had been white washed, but he’d also mention how he’d been part of the choir in Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” music video. Some facts stuck more than others.
That transfer from elementary school to middle school was a defined transition. I was suddenly aware of my appearance for the first time. My parents wouldn’t let me shave my legs so I’d wear a lot of knee high socks. One day I decided I’d had enough and shaved anyway. When my mom finally noticed, I shrugged her off. They are my legs and I will decide if they have hair or not.
Sixth grade also brought the G.A.T.E. program into my school life. I’d always suspected I was smart but now I was “gifted and talented” too. I don’t remember actually learning much from G.A.T.E. but it did afford me extra field trips, getting out of regular class a few times, and meeting extra sarcastic friends. My favorite kind of people.
Seventh grade also brought the most awful math teacher I’ve ever had, a neurotic hypochondriac that would not tolerate the slightest smell of scented shampoo. Perfume? Leave the classroom. Body spray or scented lotion? Get out. Getting called to answer a question was equally stressful, he expected speed. Speed and math have never worked together in my brain. Fuck that guy.
Our 7th grade history teacher, on the other hand, was a beacon of light amongst teachers. Mr. Good was a liberal from a Texas, he’d gone to Brown University and had a strong dislike for George “Dubya” Bush. He’d inspire my love for politics, history, and public speaking. He taught us all to ‘think outside of the box’, in tandem with our assigned textbooks he used the book “Lies My Teacher Told Me” to make sure we got the whole picture. He’d also be my public speaking teacher in 8th grade, one of my favorite classes of all time. I won the class debate tournament that gave me the opportunity to debate our school vice principal on why we should have a free dress code. We were a team of two against one and my debate partner totally choked but I’d been arguing with adults my whole life. My dad always thought I’d be a lawyer, but mostly I was his defense lawyer always arguing his case against my mom.
Our middle school graduation was much nicer than it really should’ve been. I know we call it a promotion now, but we didn’t at that time. We had full cap and gowns with tassels, we took a charter bus to the field where the ceremony was held. It was over the top for middle school but I think they did it that way because they don’t expect all inner city school kids to graduate high school. It was expected that, for a lot of these kids, this would be the only “graduation” they’d ever have.
In my life, I only attended two school dances. The 8th grade dance and Senior Prom. One sucked way more than the other. I was not into dancing, there’s some shit I need to sort out in therapy about it but overall I wasn’t into having boy’s grinding their crotch against me or the act of “backing it up” at age 12. In the words of Randy Jackson, “that’s a no for me dog”. Our 8th grade dance was at the Hollywood Park Racetrack, which no longer stands as its now the ‘SoFi Stadium’. My friend Danny and I decided dancing was lame so we made our own fun. We ran around borrowing everyone’s unattended disposable cameras. Lots of people probably ended up with random photos of me on their rolls.
Once middle school was over, I’d decided I’d had enough of Inglewood. I’d been around a toxic friend group since elementary school and my best friend Cynthia had moved away after 6th grade. One great teacher didn’t cancel the years of mediocrity of the other educators. I didn’t have much hope that the school district would provide anything better as I moved to high school. Inglewood High School, my geographically assigned next school, had race riots every year since the 1970’s.
It was due time for a new environment.