An Encounter with the Police on My Way to Latin Class

By Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Most of my encounters with police have been rare and routine.  Most of the police officers I have dealt with have been courteous and helpful.  I have made the occasional phone call about the neighbor whose dog has been running around the neighborhood terrorizing a few people.  The police come out, speak with the offender, and the matter is resolved.  Yet, I remember this incident…

A police officer discovered I had a “First Insurance Cancellation Suspension” on my driver’s license.  For those of you born late in the 20th century, let me explain.  An insurance cancellation suspension was common if you changed cars or changed insurance companies.  You used to get a form in the mail from the Department of Motor Vehicles instructing you to record your new insurance or new car.  Occasionally, however, you might not receive the form by mail, and you could easily forget about it.  Therefore, if your new car/new insurance data had not arrived at the Department of Motor Vehicles when you bought a new car or changed your car insurance, you could end up with this particular type of suspension.  You typically had to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles, show them your new purchase, along with your new insurance card.

In what appeared to be a routine road check for driver’s license and insurance, the Decatur Police held me for three hours only a few months after I purchased a car from my elderly uncle.  This happened in the spring of 1998 when I was back in college to complete my Bachelor’s degree at Agnes Scott College.  After checking my Driver’s License number the officer stated that I had a “First Insurance Cancellation Suspension” on the car I previously owned.  I showed him my new insurance card on the car I was driving.  I knew I would have to straighten out the suspension before I drove my car again.  Since I was about a mile from the campus, I asked him if he could radio the Agnes Scott College Police and have someone from that police department drive down the street, and pick me (and the car) up.

I explained that I would have my Mama come pick me up at Agnes Scott and we would go to the Department of Motor Vehicles and get the suspension problem cleared up.  “I’m not calling anybody,” he said.  I pulled out my student ID.  He said, “I don’t need that. Girl, get out of the car.”  I was a grown woman in my thirties; and while I might not have looked as old as my birth certificate said I was, I was no “girl.”  I kept my mouth closed, but I am sure he sensed my displeasure.

I got out of the car and he instructed me to lie down in the street.  When I asked why are you doing this?  He told me to shut up.  While I lay down in the street for over 30 minutes, he and another two officers pulled the back seat out of my car.  They searched the trunk.  If it had not been for the little old man that came out of his house to watch, I do not know what else might have happened.  I was terrified, but I suffer from something my Mama used to call, “Your Daddy’s Disease.”  She said my father never showed fear when under pressure.  He always looked fearless, even menacing, when some horrible event was going on.  Then later when everything was all over, he would fall apart, shaking and reaching for a good stiff drink.  “That kind of thing can get you killed, Joy,” Mama said, “When someone expects you to be afraid, sometimes the worst thing you can do is look like you have no fear.”

Eventually a female police officer appeared and asked me if I wanted to call my Mama using her phone.  The first police officer decided to write me a simple ticket for driving with a suspended license and left me standing there in the street.  He drove off.  That sweet little old man stood there and talked with me until Mama arrived.  He told me he thought the Decatur police were doing some kind of sweep.  “They’re looking for somebody that’s up to no good, and they’re tryin’ to find ‘em in these road blocks,” he said.  Mama arrived in about 30 minutes and picked me up.  My new best friend—that sweet observant little old Black man told me to leave my car where it was until the suspension problem was straightened out.  “Them SOBs are probably waiting somewhere watching and waiting for you to drive off so they can give you another ticket or take you to jail.  I’ll watch your car until you get back,” he said.

Mama asked me how my clothes got so dirty.  I lied and told her I slipped and fell.  She would have had a heart attack if I told her what really happened to her only child.  We headed to the Department of Motor Vehicles.  The clerk handed me a simple form that I filled out citing that I no longer owned the previous vehicle and therefore had no insurance on that vehicle.  I had to write down the serial number and model of my current car and provide my proof of insurance.  The clerk recorded my data and lifted my “First Insurance Cancellation Suspension.”  All of this took about 20 minutes.

I did argue my case in traffic court.  The police officer rolled his eyes at me as I explained in detail his refusal to call the Agnes Scott College police even after I showed him my student ID.  I told the judge every detail and showed him my insurance card, the purchase of my car, and the statement from the Department of Motor Vehicles that lifted my insurance cancellation suspension.  To add as much injury as I could, I said, “I missed my Latin Class because of this!”  The judge dismissed my case.  I paid no fine.  I was lucky.  Yet, I sensed that what happened to me was not rare.  This kind of treatment happens to women, and particularly Black women and women of color, with a frequency that many people do not want to admit.  Black women encounter more than our share of rudeness and physical intimidation from police.  

I consider myself to be an average size woman.  I finally managed to gain enough weight to make it to a whopping 135 pounds at 5 feet, 5 inches tall.  At the time of this incident, I weighed only 115 pounds.  That police officer was at least 6’ 2” tall and weighed over 200 pounds.  He called me a girl.  He told me to shut up.  He did not throw me to the ground, Thank God.  Yet, just imagine how easy it would have been for him to do so.

 

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

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A Black boy and a White boy

by Leslye Joy Allen

Some folk will read the title of this blog and think that this blog is about race relations or racism.  This blog is not about that, at all…

This blog is not about the Black boy who got arrested or killed by police.  It is not about some Black boy who is a genius and who has defied the odds and created some great new invention.  It is not about some White boy that got away with something that would probably get the Black boy killed.  And it is also not about some White boy, who, like that Black boy, invented some new technology or has an unusually high IQ.  This blog is about two typical American boys…

I met the Black boy a few years ago when I went to observe a music class at the Atlanta Music Project.  He was proudly and boldly blowing his clarinet.  A few months later I attended his recital with the rest of the music students in this program.  He remembered me and promptly took me to meet his music instructor.  I chatted amicably with his mother, and like most native Atlantans, she and I discovered we knew a lot of the same people.  Since then, I have discovered that this Black boy has added the bassoon to his growing number of instruments.  He also won some position in student government at his elementary school.  Thoughtful, talented, intelligent and kind, he gives me a big hug, every time I run into him with his mother at the supermarket.  His mother told me that instead of watching TV every night, that television viewing is limited in their household.  Instead, they have full conversations and they tell stories…

Now I met the White boy last week on a ride on the MARTA train heading home. Five-years-old and seated with his young mother, he proceeded to read everything on the signs in the train.  “You read very well,” I said.  He quickly extended his hand to shake mine.  His mother and I chatted about school, education, and how well her son reads.  She told me that she lives within walking distance of a public library where they have these great storytelling sessions for children.  As I approached my stop, I said, “So nice talking to you. Now young man, you keep reading! I get off here.”  She replied, “This is my stop, too!  Take my business card,” she said, “I know a lot of historians. Maybe we can all get together some time.”   I thanked her and watched she and her five-year-old son walk home in what is and remains nearly a 100 percent Black neighborhood. And I am also quite familiar with the library that she told me about.  The Black women who conduct those storytelling sessions there at the library have engaged this little White boy.  He not only could read—his pronunciation was perfect…

It should be obvious to anyone reading this that the Black boy and the White boy have parents who spend time with them. These parents have found programs and activities that are beneficial to their children. Now, I’m not making any major pronouncements here about parenting or race relations.  I am simply writing about typical, well-raised children. I am, deliberately avoiding the noise—at least momentarily—from the media that often dominates the narrative.  Not all the news about children and what happens to children is bad news.  And the future is not all gloom and doom. And, for now, I’m going to bet the future on my Black boy and my White boy. Àṣé.

(My previous blog is Frank Wittow’s Legacy…Nevaina’s Dream)

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

Ava, Oprah, Moms, Dads, and Cheerleaders!

Leslye Joy Allen @ Spelman College Archives. Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen @ Spelman College Archives. Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This is not a review of the film SELMA. However, I will say I saw it on Christmas Day when it was in limited release and let me put it this way—I had one of the best Christmas’ ever. Brilliantly acted, superbly directed. I dig Sister Ava DuVernay because she is a Black Woman, but also a young woman director who is unafraid to use all of the nuances that come with being a woman.

I also learned very quickly that she has two great parents and I see “Daddy’s Girl” written all over her face. Oprah Winfrey is another Daddy’s Girl. I know one when I see one—I was a Daddy’s Girl too. I love my late Mama to death because we had a lot of fun, but Dad was my playmate for life. I thought about my parents when I watched SELMA in the dark of that packed movie theatre on Christmas Day. They would have been so proud; and my tell-it-like-it-is Father would have been one of Ava’s biggest supporters. I can hear his loud mouth right now talking about how “Ava is one baaaaaad young sister!!”

For the first time we have a feature film about Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Selma March movement, but also a film where women are highly visible, as are so many other long forgotten foot soldiers. Yet, for a filmmaker to press ahead and make the kind of film that truly honors the Black and White women who made so many sacrifices for civil and human rights takes courage.  For a Black woman filmmaker that courage often comes from the fact that in a male-dominated world, when a father approves of his daughter, when he encourages her and believes in her, she never, ever needs another man’s approval.

Mothers are extremely important too, and are always our confidantes and advisors; it is she who helps us navigate in a world full of possibilities and limitations. We watch our mothers make sacrifices and often we later wonder how she managed to make those sacrifices. Yet, our Dads’ support truly matters because sexism is alive and well, no matter how many men that love us try to downplay it. I am a Black woman and because my Dad supported me, I can handle blatant sexism and the occasional lukewarm support I get from some of the men I know and love. Most women know that only a minority of men can be our cheerleaders. Cheerleaders have to perform on the sidelines.

Ava and Oprah know whom their male and female cheerleaders are; an overwhelming majority of those cheerleaders has a pair of ovaries. I have several male cheerleaders, but every once in a while I hear that disinterest in their voices when the subject of the conversation changes from their problems or their work to a discussion about me and what is going on in my life and work.  They do not mean me any harm.   Yet, when I need to discuss me, I turn to my sister friends. So, in the spirit of that Sisterhood I am going on record as saying I am so very proud of Oprah Winfrey, who never fails to honor all of her people.  I am so very proud of Black woman filmmaker and director Ava DuVernay for the exact same reason!  My late parents loved Oprah…they did not live long enough to witness Ava…but I suspect they are watching from somewhere in the cosmos! Àṣé!

 

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

A Schoolteacher’s Story

by Leslye Joy AllenGE DIGITAL CAMERA

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I have been blessed.  My late Dad was a full-time, hands-on Dad that believed that females had the right to do whatever their skills, talent, and intellect allowed them to do. I do not remember ever being told by my father that I should not do or try something because I was “a girl.”  And it was Daddy who introduced me to great Jazz and Popular song.  Manhood for me was defined by him as a love of Billy Eckstine, Nat “King” Cole, and Johnny Mathis (my favorite), but that is a story for another blog.  I should add that in addition to his trying to be genteel or dapper as his musical heroes were, Daddy was also quick to intervene in situations when he thought a woman was in physical trouble.  I thought of him and my Mama after a recent encounter with one of my Mama’s oldest and dearest friends.

I recently ran into one of my late Mama’s former co-workers and good friends. Like my late Mama, she was also an elementary school teacher. This particular schoolteacher remains one of my favorite people on the planet.  She and I hit it off when I was about three-years-old, when I literally wandered in this woman’s classroom, a classroom adjacent to my Mama’s classroom via their shared cloakroom.  She was also was one of the people who wrote one of my recommendation letters to college.  Now in her eighties, she is still so much fun and packs a lot of spirit in one tiny mocha-colored frame.

This same schoolteacher told me that she had once been a battered wife.  I never met or knew her first husband.  I only knew her second husband that she married much later in life.  He was a tall, handsome man with golden-colored skin and wavy-curly white hair.  He was also funny and quite gentle, and thankfully nothing like her first husband.  She and husband number two had a good time together for over thirty years before he passed away.  Yet, she still remembered her tragic first marriage.

After more than a few beatings from her first husband, she told me she left him when their children were quite small and filed for divorce.  One day, however, her soon-to-be ex-husband showed up unannounced at her new home waving a gun at her, angry that she had left him.

“Out of the corner of my eye,” she said, “I saw our five-year-old son walking toward us.  All I could think about was what if this fool pulls the trigger or what if the gun goes off and kills my child.”

Therefore, this schoolteacher—who is barely five feet tall and who has never weighed more than a 115 pounds—wrestled with her six-foot-tall first husband for that gun.

“I was terrified that my child would get killed,” she said.  “I finally got my hands on the handle of the gun, the barrel aimed at his chest; and I pulled the trigger and it only clicked. He brought an UNLOADED gun to scare me, but I ended up scaring him and I scared myself.”

“He was shaking like a leaf and he said, ‘You really would’ve killed me, wouldn’t you?!’ I looked down and saw that he had urinated in his pants because I pulled that trigger.  It still bothers me that I pulled that trigger, but my child, all I could think of was my child.  He left and never came back.”

For most of us, we remember at least one female schoolteacher that we liked or even loved.  While I have plenty of male teachers to thank, like most of us, our female teachers were typically the majority when we were in grade school.  There was always one teacher who sparked our desire to learn or who did something or said something that we fondly remember or that changed our lives for the better.  At least I hope we all have that memory.

Now, I have nothing profound to say about domestic abuse or gun violence.  I only ask that you remember your favorite female schoolteacher and try imagining her being beaten or having to face the same ugly scenario as my Mom’s friend faced over fifty years ago.

Coda: A couple of years ago the United Nations Secretary General initiated a campaign to end violence against women.  U. N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon named it Orange Day” and designated the 25th day of each month as Orange Day in recognition of the ongoing fight to end violence against women.

The irony for me is that my mother, who was darker complexioned than I, had beautiful copper undertones in her skin and wore the color Orange better than anybody I know.  And while my Dad never abused my mom or any woman, one of the last things my Mama told me before she passed on to the ancestors was that before she ever knew or married my Dad, was that she had an early boyfriend who did not hesitate to give her a black eye!  So this blog is as much for her as it is for her good friend, and men like Dad.

You can read more about the United Nations “Orange Day” campaign here: http://endviolence.un.org/orangeday.shtml

Learn more about the law and the abuse of women at:

Can a United States Federal Judge Keep His Job is He is Criminally Charged with Domestic Abuse?  YES!    

FREE MARISSA NOW.COM which covers information and updates about the Florida woman facing 60 years in prison for firing a warning shot at an abusive husband.

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

Small and Fierce and Woman

by Leslye Joy Allen     Weary Self-Portrait 2

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

When I received the news that actor Ruby Dee had passed on, I immediately grabbed the phone and called my cousin and her good friend director-actor Billie Allen.  These two women made history together and enjoyed over sixty years of friendship.  I fondly remembered standing between them and feeling quite tall, although I barely stand 5 feet 5 inches tall myself…

Both of them are/were quite short—Ms. Dee barely stood 5 feet tall, and Billie is not too much taller. Yet, there was always something so big about both of them. Ruby Dee was one of the biggest women I ever had the pleasure to meet and my cousin Billie remains like a bottomless reservoir of wisdom…and then something hit me about both of them.

When a woman is quite small in physical stature, it is quite easy for folks to underestimate her.  As Billie and I reminisced about Ruby, she reminded me of Ms. Dee’s fighting spirit that she demonstrated on more than one occasion. Ruby Dee was talented, brilliant, warm and loving and she took no mess!

I laughed, trying to imagine Ms. Dee—a waif of a woman who made damned good homemade soup, by the way—getting in anyone’s face. Yet, her entire existence of artistry and activism, coupled with her intellectual, culinary, and maternal gifts demonstrated that there is always a subtle beauty and power in being a woman, but an even greater power in being a small woman…No one really expects you to stand your ground until you do it.  I know.  I have encountered a few bullies (male and female) in my lifetime.

Ruby and Billie’s friendship and tenacity never had anything to do with their height or size, but rather with a spirit, a certain fierceness that defied size and gender.  If that fierceness was unleashed at the right moment, it could either empower you or scare the hell out of you—and in that glorious combination and contradiction of both empowerment and fear is what it really means to be a real woman.  This is a lesson that only a woman can teach you and I am eternally grateful to both of them for that lesson.

Billie Allen and Ruby Dee at “Fences” in 2010.

 

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

CCThis Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen & is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author.  All Rights Reserved.