The Big Four-Zero

By Uhuru B. Rowe
November 4, 2016

On the October 15, 1976, I was born at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond, VA to Claretha and Robert Rowe. I was the last of seven children. We represented the typical working-class Black family trying to survive and thrive under racist, capitalist system. My mother and father both worked long, hard hours to keep a roof over our heads and food in our stomachs. So, when we came home from school we were often home alone and had to take care of ourselves, and each other. Being the baby in the family, naturally I was the most spoiled and devious. I could do no wrong in my mother’s eyes. So, I used to get away with a lot which drove my siblings nuts. We were all raised to be Jehovah’s Witnesses, so we didn’t celebrate any holiday’s (including birthdays) which bothered me, especially during Christmas. I would sit in my window and watch all the neighborhood kids play with their new toys and wished to God that I was one of them.

Before I became devious, my mother told me that I was a quiet child, didn’t cry too much, and loved to eat Cream of Wheat. I remember the days when she would sit me on top of the refrigerator in the kitchen and put a bowl of Cream of Wheat between my legs. I would sit there and eat while I watched her cook. I was around seven years old.

I drank a lot of milk, my mother said, and I had a perpetual potbelly to show for it. I also used to hum myself to sleep, as I am told, which annoyed everyone in the house who was trying to sleep.

I didn’t become really self-aware until I was about ten. I would explore the backyard and surrounding neighborhood as if I was on a great safari hunt. I discovered early on that I loved to set fires and watch them burn, and so, I was called “firebug” by the kids on my block. For some reason I thought such a name was a compliment until the Firefighters came knocking on my door. On several occasions, these huge, towering figures, with their helmets and uniforms on, would come into our house and interrogate me about a fire. I never would confess but I would always get a whipping anyway, usually from my father.

Then I graduated to torturing and abusing the feral cats and dogs in my neighborhood, including our family dog. I would throw rocks at them or try to run them over with my bicycle. Often when I came home from school, I would see all the dogs confederated together as if they were plotting a revolution against me. I would charge towards them and they would all scatter in different directions and then stop a short distance away and bark at me like some sort of dog guerrilla warfare. When I reflect back on those times now, I realize the fire-setting and abuse of animals was a sign that something was wrong and I was desperately crying out for help.

In my early teens, I started to play contact football for the community recreational center. I was the best on the team! I was so good, everyone used to call me Emit Smith. I didn’t even know who he was until I learned he was all-star running back for the Dallas Cowboys. I was glad that I’d found something I was good at. But my football career was short-lived as the center wasn’t getting the necessary funding and had to cancel the following seasons.

A couple of years later, I started to experience deep depression, crying spells, suicidal thoughts and increased criminality. Drug and alcohol abuse became a permanent fixture in my life. I started to engage in smalltime crime, like going into people’s cars and stealing money so I could play video games at the arcade or buy candy and ice cream. I dropped out of school, was arrested several times, and enrolled into Job Corps but was subsequently dismissed for behavior reasons. I was placed in mental health facilities and counseling sessions with quack doctors but they didn’t help. I was too far gone to be reached and the only thing that was capable of bringing me back was REALITY.

REALITY came in the year 1995 when, after a night of drinking and smoking drugs, I left the house with a group of “friends” to commit crime, and I was one of the ones who didn’t make it back home. And I’ve been in prison ever since.

I didn’t set out to be this way. “I want to be a scientist,” is what I excitedly told my elementary school teacher as she went around class asking every student what he/she wanted to be when we grew up. I very well could have been a scientist and at the time that’s what I truly wanted to be. Instead, I adopted the stereotypical image, personality and character of most Black men and women lacking self-knowledge, self-love, self-worth and self-respect, while trying to come of age in a racist society that doesn’t care to see our value or potential but only our skin color. A lot of us Black men and women in prison would have chosen a different path if only this racist society supported the vision we had in our youth. When asked in elementary school what we wanted to be when we grow up, I doubt any of us expressed a desire to be a criminal or a prisoner. Through mass propaganda and psychology, young Black men (and Black women) are socialized to accept an inferior, self-destructive persona which we out as if it’s a movie script. And the racist power structure manipulates us into these roles by continuously slashing the budget of inner-city, predominantly Black schools and community programs, pushing drugs and guns into our neighborhoods (remember the Iran/Contra scandal?), while increasing funding for prisons and jails.

Steven Biko said that “the most powerful weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the opposed,” meaning that once the oppressed internalizes the propaganda of the system, the oppressed will readily submit to the system, and will fight to the death to defend and maintain it. As such, we must undergo a process of decolonizing and reclaiming our minds and using it as tool to collectively resist and overcome our oppression.



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