This story is true, and it is happening now. Today, I am lucky enough to have Z with me, and to be caring for her all day. She is the sweetest, cutest baby I know. The granddaughter of the woman who works for us, she weighed about three pounds at birth, and now, at 13 months, seems fairly healthy, although she is small and has asthma.
It’s hard to know whether the asthma comes from the small apartment in the Patterson Projects, where Z lives with her mother, grandmother and two other people. Z is small like her mother and has her wide, bright eyes. Otherwise, her features are like her dad’s. He got out of prison a few months ago, and visits Z sometimes. Z’s mother takes care of two children and works parttime. Her mother, Celie, who works for us, is one of the most remarkable people I have ever known. Not only does she always go beyond the call of duty as a helper for us, she raises an entire extended family, giving them her constant wisdom and love.
This is not unusual in African American families. I have known many instances of grandmothers taking care of their children’s children. When I lived in Youngstown, Ohio, I knew a woman who was raising each of her three children’s children. She was raising them because every one of her own children, two sons and a daughter, had been shot and killed in situations involving drugs.
The situation in the Patterson projects is not so different from the one in Youngstown, where poverty and shootings over drugs are the norm. The fact is that Z and every member of her family is under risk living where they are. For years, we have tried to get Celie and her family to move to a safe place, but rents are high here, where we live, and Celie’s daughter is loathe to leave the culture and friends that she she grew up with and knows so well.
But there is Z. Z, who is curled up into my arms, playing with beads I wear around my neck. Z, who is listening to me read Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream Speech,” which continues to resonate these many years later, and which most certainly applies to Z and her family. Today I will read to Z, I will take care of her in a house where there is no asbestos, and where there will be no television blaring, only an actual human voice, encouraging, nurturing and offering hope.
It was only after offering to take care of Z for a day that I realized today happens to be Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. I know he would love Z, who is part of my extended family. In the Occupy movement, we understand how all human beings, rich, poor and middle class, are interconnected, and we are making the effort to relate to one another in better ways. Some days it isn’t more complicated than changing a neighbor’s child’s diaper. Some days you realize that all "occupy"
means is living right.