“He put me in a headlock, I had to defend myself.”
The words woke me from my slumber. I fell asleep on the couch while watching the first Gilmore Girls series in preparation for the new release. The voice was my little brother’s. I looked at the clock, 5:23a.m. It’s too early for this shit, I got back to sleep. In the morning I forget about it.
A day later, I sat in a good friend’s kitchen. He and his younger brother discuss a fight outside a club in Nyack, New York. Word gets around fast.
Today, I finally ask my older brother about the little one’s involvement in some post-thanksgiving scuffle. I don’t understand why he couldn’t just stay his little ass home. Anyway, it turns out some ol’ dude punched a friend in the face for hugging up on his baby mama. Little one told ol’ dude it’s not cool to hit someone who wasn’t expecting it — it’s like a Boursiquot to stand up for others. Egos flamed. Someone put little one in a headlock. Bam, little one defends himself and ends up bodying like three ol’ dudes.
I shouldn’t be proud, but I’m glad to know little one can hold his own. Another part of me is afraid. It’s not the same kind of fear I have knowing Donald Trump is President-Elect. It’s the kind of afraid an older sibling feels when they’ve come from a town where some lose themselves. Talk of folks losing themselves isn’t some made-up fairytale, there are people in my family who have lost their futures. I am saddened, still, when I think of the lives some of my cousins will never have because of messes they fell into. At my sister-friend’s wedding, her husband and his groomsmen echoed teary eyed sentiments about people believing they wouldn’t amount to anything. This is the kind of town where some teachers tell young black boys they ain’t gon’ be shit.
Where you from, ma?
I’m from Spring Valley, New York, a small town in Rockland County a.k.a The Rock. This is the point where I should tell y’all what we’re known for, but I’m not quite sure The Rock has figured that out yet.
If I had to make something up on the spot; scholars of color who attend Ivy League, athletes on the come-up, artistic talent, youth fighting, cultural diversity, Hasidic Jews, an impeding heroin crisis, and restless dreamers.
The Rock is considered a New York City suburb, but there aren’t white picket fences everywhere although some parts of town can afford gold picket fences. We’ve got that New York City food vibe. If you want dishes from the mouths of Haitians, Jamaicans, Mexicans, Ukrainians, Russians, Italians, Indians, Filipinos — you got it. Football is a big deal here. Some of my best high school days were spent watching my older brother and little one play on Coach Andrew Delva’s team. What is different about The Rock is why I love it. But I’d be lying if I said I want to raise a family here.
If you love it, why won’t you grow roots in it?
A couple days ago, I went to see Loving. My car is back in Delray Beach, so I borrowed my mom’s. She was low on gas so I decided to stop and fill it up. As I am heading inside to pay for the gas, the homeless man standing outside began to look familiar.
I shouted his name. He reached for a hug. I hesitated, but hug him. This young man is about a year older than me, we attended Spring Valley High School together, and now he’s homeless. I purchased a coffee and an energy bar for him, and dropped he and a pal off at a local hospital for shelter.
On the drive home I let out the tears I held in.
The rumor is that he found heroin.
Others in The Rock have found guns.
The Hasidic Jewish community makes it difficult for our public schools to thrive without a yearly fight. Them and Them, found here , outlines the strained relationship East Ramapo Central School District students and parents have with Hasidic power players.
Communities here are left neglected.
To live in Rockland County is to commit yourself to a constant fight. Frankly, I’m exhausted. I spent much of my middle and high school career attending school board meetings begging members to keep arts in our schools, demanding more teachers, and asking for resources. Two public schools closed down and became Yeshivas during my four years in high school. I watched teachers break down in front of students because they wanted more for the lives they mold in The Rock.
But, I love The Rock
It’s refreshing to see those who have stayed continue the fight. In some ways I am an outsider admiring small town people make a name for a place they call home. It is without a doubt that folks who grow up in The Rock get to see the world through many lenses.
Despite the challenges, The Rock molded me to be the woman I am today. Educators, coaches, mentors in this community have some of the biggest hearts I have ever seen. Many remain pillars in the lives of the young people they fight to mold into adults ready to take on the world.
This piece could go on for days because a true reflection of The Rock would take years to write. It’s a special place. For now, I’ll start here and revisit from time to time.