I grew up on Wilton Drive in downtown New Orleans. From the living room window in my parents’ house, I could see, across the street, the Filmore Apartments; the shape of which always reminded me of the little plastic hotels from the board-game Monopoly. From the time I was five, John and I would ride our bikes-mine was a black Mongoose; his was a chrome Pacifica- to the park around the corner from the Filmore, a small park where John pushed me on the swing and the merry-go-round. That park is where I started playing football when I was seven.
John and his friends, who were 14, let me play only because my daddy forced me upon them. Daddy worked at a series of hotels, the last The Embassy Suites in the CBD, the central business district. He was tough on us, in a good way; he always pushed us to go harder and not give up. One time when I was playing basketball with him at the hoop in our front yard, I lost a game to him, and he said, “You’re gonna play me till you beat me; you’re not going inside till you beat me. ” Winning took me three more games. I was worn out; it was summer, it was hot, I was sweating.
The sun had drained me, but I found enough energy to win. I know my daddy was happy that I hadn’t just given up and walked inside. When Daddy told John to let me play football with him and his friends, John just nodded his head and said OK, but was he happy? Naw. Now 27, John, a department manager at Lowe’s Home Improvement on Elysian Fields, is a graduate of John F. Kennedy High in New Orleans, which no longer exists. The city tore it down after Hurricane Katrina. Both of our parents graduated from Joseph S. Clark, also in the downtown area, where they first met.Order now
Both my daddy and my brother played basketball in high school-my mama ran track-but I’m the first football player of the family. I get my inability to quit from my daddy and my speed from my mama. When I got to Warren Easton High in ninth grade, we had no football team because of Hurricane Katrina; enrollment was too low, and the storm had messed up a lot of the equipment. If Katrina hadn’t come, I would probably have gone to John F. Kennedy, following in my brother’s footsteps. I was familiar with that school-I even knew the hallways, because I explored them when I was waiting for John’s basketball games to start.
My mama and my daddy and I always attended those games; we were John’s big support system. Before Katrina, I played one year of park football-not at the little park near my house, but one of the multiple Little League parks, this one far from my house in New Orleans East-until I broke my leg when a guy on Bunny Friend tackled me, dove head on at my leg. (Our team was the Joe Brown Spartans; even at nine, I preferred playing running back for the Spartans, not just because of the team name, but because we were better than most of the other teams. ) Three weeks after I began eighth grade at Francis W. Gregory Junior High-which is downtown, near the St. Bernard Housing Development (the projects)–Katrina hit.
Not just downtown, where we lived two blocks away from the London Avenue levee breech, but everywhere. Two days earlier, my mother came home at 9 from Church’s Chicken where she is the general manager, and said, “Pack your bags; we’re leaving. ” She knew the weather was getting bad; I, however, wasn’t paying attention. I knew Katrina was coming-I’d lived through other storms-but I didn’t think this one would be a big deal. John and I thought we were going on a little vacation.
We then went to our rooms and packed a couple bags for the weekend. The next morning we packed up the car, a 2000 Chevy Blazer. First we headed west toward Houston, but the traffic on Airline Highway was too bad, bumper to bumper. If our Blazer moved at all, it inched maybe two miles an hour. We turned around-we were still in New Orleans-and instead evacuated east to Atlanta; it took us maybe about 11 hours to get there. Once actually in Atlanta, we got lost and rode in a complete circle for about two hours until we finally found a hotel, which would soon be our residence for a couple months.
Day by day we sat in the hotel room (I’d give it about three stars), crowded in front of the television, just awaiting the news. On Monday, August 29, 2005, CNN finally reported that over 85 percent of New Orleans had flooded. That same day we learned that the London Avenue levee had breeched; that was literally two blocks away from my house. We had 13 feet of water inside our home. It was destroyed. At that point, we didn’t know how long we would have to stay in Atlanta. Phone service was out, so we couldn’t check with anyone from our neighborhood. (We knew Mr.
Robert, who lived next door to us, had ridden out the storm; we found out later that he had survived that he and his family had ridden out the storm at a local motel they owned, but ended up being rescued off of the roof. We stayed in a hotel for about two months until a family (the Clarks) adopted us. They paid for us to move into an apartment for six months and they furnished it. We really appreciated that, because they didn’t have that to do for us. My mama and I didn’t stay in Atlanta as long as my brother and daddy did. We left in November because her job had called her back to work.
I was upset, because I had really enjoyed my new school where I had joined the basketball team and made plenty of new friends. Still when moms says it’s time to go, you have to listen to her. When we moved back to New Orleans, the only schools that were open at the time we located on the outskirts of the city in Metairie. I attended a white school, Riverdale Middle School; teacher & students didn’t really accept me, though. During the one semester I spent at that school, I got suspended four times. Once that semester was over, I did not choose to return to that school.
I wanted to go to McDonogh #35. My mama wasn’t having, that, though so she sent me to Warren Easton Senior High, where I spend my four years of high school. My ninth grade year I participated in the marching band, playing the cymbals. I had always enjoyed music, so the band kept me out of trouble by giving me something to do after school. My tenth grade year I was promoted to the position of drum major. That was a big accomplishment in my life, because not too many sophomores take control of a whole band of a lot of upperclassmen. Mr. Brooks gave me the task, however, and I did a pretty good job.
My sophomore year was going great until October 1,2007. On the evening of October 1 my brother, along with one of his friends, came pick me up from the McDonald’s down the street from my school (where I normally waited for my ride). When I got into the car, I sensed that something was wrong, because usually John cracked jokes about me being in school all day, but I just got in the car. As we began to pull off, the car was super quiet; them, when we got to the first red light, and he asked me about my day. I explained to him that it was just a normal day, nothing special.
The car got silent again, and that’s when he hit me with the news that Daddy had been found dead in the house. At first I didn’t believe him, but I realized quickly that he wouldn’t joke about such a thing. We headed to the house where we found a lot of family and friends outside. As soon as I saw my mom, she grabbed; me because she didn’t want me to go inside, because the morgue hadn’t come of the body yet. I moved her aside and went to the room where I found my daddy lying peacefully in bed where he had died in his sleep from catching a seizure.
He had suffered from epilepsy, a brain disorder, since he was a child but usually somebody was around to help him when he caught them. Not this time, though. I returned to school the next morning, not telling anybody what had happened. I didn’t miss any days of school. School was my comfort zone; it kept my mind off of everything. That week we played St. Augustine in football, and I still marched the game and all, even though our team lost. I missed only that next Monday of school, October 9 the day of my father’s funeral. His death is the worst thing that ever happened to me.
Its really hard being a African American male growing up without a father in New Orleans. My father never saw me play high school or college football, so every snap, I dedicate to him. ? My Emotional Hurricane The death of my father was tough on the family. I handled it pretty well; I didn’t miss any days of school except the Monday of his funeral. I held up the whole time throughout that week and because I was still social at school, nobody but my close friends knew what had happened. The day of his funeral was the only day I cried, and even then I was able to hold in my tears until the very last minute before they closed the casket.
At that point I knew this would be my last time seeing my daddy’s face. After all we had been through, and the tough times we had, he had left me at the time I needed him most. I was a high school sophomore who was now lost. The death shook up our house a lot; my mother wept throughout the week, even more so the day of the funeral, but she knew she had to stay strong because she had a household to control. My mom and dad had been high school sweethearts and had been married for 20 plus years. The death of my dad not only took a toll on my mom mentally, but also took a toll on her financially, because we now had only one source of income.
Being a general manager at Church’s Chicken didn’t bring in much but she always found a way to make ends meet. My brother really stepped up after the death of my daddy. He took on the role of a real big brother and the man of the house. He did what he could to help my mom out around the house and he also took care of me by keeping me with the latest shoes and clothes. My grandmother was affected the most by the passing of my father. The death of her only son was too much for her to handle, because Hurricane Katrina had struck New Orleans a couple years earlier and she had still not rebuilt her house.
Losing her only son was tough for my granny (79 years old). At the time when it happened, she was just in shock hoping that she was dreaming and soon she would wake up to reality. Although we all were hoping for the same thing, we knew reality would set in and we would accept that we would see him again in heaven. Since the loss of my father, my grandmother has not been the same; she now suffers with Alzheimer’s disease, being around my grandmother is very hard for me. She sometimes mistakes me for my father, because we look so much alike.
Nothing like the feeling when somebody you’re so close to forgets who you are. Other than my mother having to raise two children by herself and my grandmother developing Alzheimer’s disease, the family has held together because we realized you never know when it’s your last chance to tell you love him. Thanks to my daddy I do not give up on anything I put my mind to. On his birthday, I scored on the opening kick-off return versus Jackson State University with an 86-yard return and I knew it was all because of him I did it. I love you daddy and can’t wait until we meet again.