excerpt, “Night Coming Tenderly” by Sandra Jackson-Opoku

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Candace Hunter

excerpt from a novel-in-progress

 

 

To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening…                                                                                                                             
A tall, slim tree…
Night coming tenderly
Black like me
.

                          — Langston Hughes, from “Dream Variations”

 

Part 1 – The Third Generation

 

 Enora Sarah Sixes

If he thought he’d just walk off into sunset, the man was sadly mistaken. You can’t be an icon one day and anonymous the next.

They were giving him his roses while he lived, and J.T. seemed surprised and dismayed at all the attention. He actually used the phrase “undeserved commotion” to dismiss the media retrospectives, the mayoral proclamation declaring “J.T. Sixes Day in the City of Chicago,” a front-page story at the very newspaper where he’d worked for 40 years

As something of an introvert myself, I understood why the sudden limelight made my grandfather uncomfortable. People were already coming to me with fawning platitudes and unreasonable requests. My Media Ethics professor tried using me to get J.T. up to the University of Wisconsin for Black History Month. She’d already asked on her own behalf and had failed. And with such a name as ours, I couldn’t even pretend a relationship didn’t exist.

“Oh, I don’t think so, Professor. He’s kind of shy.”

“Shy?” She gave a stubborn frown. “A seasoned investigative reporter like J.T. Sixes?”
“And he hasn’t been well,” I quickly added. This woman had my grade in her hands, after all.

“Yes, I heard about that.” Her semi-scowl shifted into a semi-smile. “I hope he’s on the mend, Enora. Our man is quite the legend. You must be very proud.”

Of course I was proud of “our man,” though now with a tinge of distress. I finally put my finger on it at the retirement party where his colleagues presented him with a giant peace lily wrapped in white satin. That kind of attention usually came with wreaths and suits and black crepe dresses, with weeping and sniffling before an open casket.

They were preaching a funeral without a corpse.

I’m sure the man of the hour sensed that kind of meddlesome mourning as he edged in closer to the Great Beyond. Everyone starts to speculate though no one dares to speak it. I wonder how much time he’s got left.

The Tribune wanted to do a profile, “An Era in Journalism Comes to an End.” J.T. politely declined the request. “I’m not dead yet. Let them write my obituary after I’m gone.”

He was used to shining the spotlight on others, not being blinded in its glare. Maybe that’s why he’s beginning to shed some of that armor he’s always worn like a second skin. It’s hard to be cagey when you’re dumped into a fishbowl.

So J.T. Sixes is vulnerable now, exposed and distracted. It’s a perfect opportunity to make my move. I know it seems ruthless to press your advantage when a man is at his weakest. But I gotta do what I gotta to do. And he owes me, after all.

Alright, I’m being melodramatic. It’s not like I’m going to bump the man off or swindle him out of his life savings. I’d never harm a hair on his head, if he had any hair left to harm.

Because after my father and little brother, J.T. Sixes is the third most important man in my life.

You know what I’ve been noticing lately? The older he gets, the better he looks. Some men don’t hit their stride until after middle age. I almost do a double take every time I see him.

“Well, damn,” I realize. “J.T. ain’t bad-looking for a high yella fella in failing health.”

Then there’s that cool, gray gaze with one eyebrow lifted that he’ll turn on you in a Chicago second. My little brother Malik was always known for making up unusual sayings. He swears up and down that he’s the mastermind behind the “let-me-speak-to-your-manager hairdo” and the catchphrase “crunkadelic.” Malik calls J.T.’s penetrating gaze the “do tell” lie detector, a look that will have you spilling your guts before you know what hit you.

The recent weight loss has chiseled his features, giving them lean new angles. Pale skin molds the curves of high, carved cheekbones. The chemo took its toll so now his head is smooth- shaven. I’m so used to his baldness now, I can barely remember what my grandfather’s hair was before–a rusty auburn shot with silver? With a wide forehead and slightly crooked nose, the arrangement manages to be striking, if not exactly handsome.

Those late-emerging good looks are somewhat disconcerting since he’s always been the plain James, content to let his better half bask in the spotlight. There was room in the marriage for only one diva and that role was taken.

 

J.T. and Miss Jonita were a match made in 1960’s Jackson, Mississippi. Forty-five years married and going strong, the cutest older couple I know. Though you can’t call Miss Jonita old to her face. To hear her tell it, women have been congratulating J.T. for decades and men have always envied what he had: the heart and hand of the lovely Jonita Jean Babcock.

“And that’s saying something,” she likes to remind us, “because even though good black doesn’t crack, dark chocolate wasn’t fashionable back in the day.”

She’d stroke her smooth cheek, making it clear that this brand of chocolate would always be in style. And if you weren’t sharp enough to recognize it, then shame on you.

It was vanity of course, but bolstered by an unshakable confidence that her complexion was flawless, her hips and lips flared in pleasing proudness, her hair was thick and lustrous, and a dimple flashed disarmingly in just one cheek. Even if that luxuriant mane was now streaked with gray, the Coke bottle body collapsing into pear-shape, if generous flaps of skin waved in the wind when she raised her arm, and she was working on a double chin. Gravity and age be damned, Jonita Jean Babcock Sixes was still fine as wine and she knew it.

She once showed us a swimsuit centerfold from a mid-1960’s Jet Magazine. Against the blue backdrop of Lake Michigan, a long-legged, full-bosomed beauty with an impressive Afro smiled provocatively into the camera.

“That’s you, for real, Miss Jonita?” Malik gasped. “Damn, you were sexy back then.”

She snapped the magazine shut, forehead pinched in irritation. This wasn’t because Malik had cursed; Miss Jonita wasn’t easily offended. She herself was known to drop a profanity bomb now and then. Nor did she seem bothered by the creepy case of the hots my hormone-ridden brother had just declared for a vintage version of his own grandmother. No, it was because he had failed to recognize the evidence in front of his face.

“Sexy back then? Shit, I’m sexy now,” Jonita snapped. “When’s the last time you had those glasses checked, my brother?”

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Candace Hunter

Even though we shared a name and bloodline, the Sixes sometimes seemed more like distant relatives. I’d always been closer to the Pattersons, my mother’s side of the family. Most of them lived within hollering distance of our Bronzeville home. The gang of seventeen cousins was more like an expanded set of siblings, my aunts and uncles were six extra mothers and fathers. My Granny Fanny and Big Momma– my great-grandmother Eloise–babysat us on a regular basis.

The bid-whist-playing, gin-drinking, chit’lin-cooking, barbecuing, party-loving Pattersons. That was Mama’s family–loud, boisterous and slightly disreputable. Miss Jonita declared them “country,” though the Pattersons had been established in Chicago a good half-century before Miss Jonita’s people came Up North, or as Black folks ironically deemed it, “Up South” from Arkansas.

It was a classic case of the disappointed mother-in-law who thought her son had married down. Mama makes more money as a social work supervisor than Daddy does as a police detective. Even though she has an MSW under her belt and Daddy barely finished his bachelor’s, Mama didn’t quite measure up to Sixes standards.

“If Marjorie Patterson had been a different kind of woman,” Jonita was known to say, “she might have inspired Ivan to greater heights. To do as Zora Neale Hurston wrote: ‘Pick from a higher bush and a sweeter berry.’ But your mother just didn’t have it in her, bless her heart. They never should have married.”

Which would have meant that neither myself nor Malik would be born, but I guess Miss Jonita would have been willing to accept the collateral damage.

We’d known practically since birth there was no love lost between our mother and OUR paternal grandmother. Mama called Miss Jonita’s family the “Bourgie Babcocks.” They lived four miles south of us in Pill Hill. Not quite as exclusive as it once was, the neighborhood got its name for the glut of Black doctors that once overflowed its borders.

Even if she’d once been a Jet Magazine Beauty of the Week, Miss Jonita was nobody’s trophy wife. Dr. Jonita Jean Sixes, if you please, had a private pediatrics practice and a staff post at Children’s Memorial.

J.T. and Jonita felt much like out-of-town grandparents. We saw them once, maybe twice a month. He had a demanding, modestly-paid career to keep him busy. She sat on boards, hosted black-tie benefits and out-earned her husband by double the duckets. Maybe triple.

According to them, our time together was more quality than quantity. “So let’s make the most of it, shall we?” They paid our tuition at the Lab School, gave us books for birthdays, took us to museums and luncheons at the Walnut Room at Macy’s. They generously contributed to our college funds, though neither of us actually needed it.

When we both won full- ride scholarships to our schools of choice, Miss Jonita wasn’t at all surprised. “Of course these children are bright. What else would you expect with all we invested in them?”

I barely remembered Miss Jonita’s father, my great-grandfather Josiah Babcock, an ob-gyn who died when I was six. His widow Anita Babcock, a retired schoolteacher, still lives on her own in the brick bungalow where she raised Jonita as an only child. A house, Miss Anita is proud to remind us, they bought outright only nine years after moving up from West Helena, Arkansas. That’s my dad’s maternal line.

Of his paternal family I know next to nothing. I’ve patched together a threadbare pedigree from rumors, whispers and innuendo. I can’t say how much of what I know is true.

James T. Sixes was born in Hancock County, Mississippi and left there at 21, the age I that am now. He says he has no family that he knows of, and a past he won’t discuss. J.T. Sixes is a mystery man, right down to that illogical surname. I’ve been teased and ridiculed my entire life for being named after a number.

I once asked Granny Fanny why I couldn’t be a Patterson like most of my cousins.

“Now, baby,” she scolded. “You may think that name is a cross to bear. But if you can’t bear no crosses, you can’t wear no crowns.”

We never went down Down South for summers like other relatives. Except for Southern Florida, which seemed more like South America than the Southern U.S.A., I’ve never been below the Mason-Dixon Line. Why? Because, regardless of the millions of Black folks still living there, the South wasn’t a safe place to visit.

Now this was from people in Chicago, the city known for its disastrous violence, from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre to Al Capone’s mob capers, the 1968 police attack on protesters at the Democratic Convention to the shooting death of Laquan McDonald. I hear those Murder and Mayhem tours of Chicago history are exceptionally popular with tourists these days.

When people here in Madison, Wisconsin, find out I’m from Chicago, the older ones shape their hands into machine guns and pretend to blast away. The younger ones look at me with pitying superiority: “How do you live with all that violence?” And the Whites IN MADISON complain about all the ugly crime migrant Chicagoans have brought to their beautiful town.

Chicago is rough, I can’t deny it. It had more murders last year than New York City and Los Angeles combined.

But then I’m liable to turn defensive. No, Chicago is neither the murder capital of the world nor of the United States. If I insist that St. Louis, Detroit, Milwaukee, Atlanta and New Orleans have higher rates of violent crime per capita, I get frowns of disbelief. People don’t want to be disabused of their fondest preconceptions.

My brother and I grew up hearing J.T.’s stories about Emmett Till, “a boy your brother markedly favors.” I’m not sure if that resemblance was supposed to be physical or merely a personality trait. What I do know is that the Chicago boy murdered in Money, Mississippi, 40 years before we were born was said to be of “infectious spirits.”

Emmett Till was that unspoken answer to any question about the South. “If it happened to him, it could happen to you.” Which was never answer enough for me.

I went online and looked at photos of Emmett Till. There was one of him in a bowler hat, alive and smiling. The other was him in his casket, bloated and disfigured beyond recognition. I couldn’t look at it for more than a few seconds. I went back to looking at him when he was alive. He seemed somehow suspended between babyhood and a manhood he’d never reach.

He and Malik did look something alike, though Emmett Till’s face was rounder and his smile much sweeter. It was hard to tell in black and white, but his eyes did seem light-colored like Malik’s.

 

So, I’m Enora Sarah Sixes, for better or for worse. This crazy name is my grandfather’s gift to me, my cross to bear and my crown to wear. I am the daughter of Ivan and Marjorie Sixes. Granddaughter of Benjamin and Fannie Lee Patterson, of J.T. and J.J., James Thomas and Jonita Jean Sixes. Great-granddaughter of Eloise Patterson and Anita Babcock.

But the portrait is incomplete. How can I truly know who I am when my paternal grandfather refuses to say who he is? The time has come for answers.

I’m taking this genealogy research course at UW Madison where we’re assigned to conduct oral histories of family members, search ancestry websites, census records and submit ourselves to high-quality DNA testing if we want to spring for the extra $350. The final project is a report on four separate branches of family, down to the sixth generation.

Big Momma–my great-grandmother Eloise–was clear-minded up into her mid-90’s when she began slipping into dementia. Now she can’t always recall her children’s names or why she lives in a nursing home. Yet she still remembers the 1940’s like they’d happened yesterday, the dances she went to and the entertainers she used to see at places like the Club DeLisa and the Rhumboogie.

Not realizing that she’s repeating herself, Big Momma obsessively reminisces about her Westside Chicago childhood when neighbors planted collard greens and corn in their backyards, the watermelon man rode through in a horse drawn wagon, the streetcars on Roosevelt were powered by electric rails and buses on Pulaski ran on overhead trolley lines.

Our family seems to be collecting mayoral proclamations like trading cards these days. Big Momma just got a certificate proclaiming July 29 as “Eloise Maryetta Patterson Day.” Her red velvet sheet cake had “100 Years Young” piped in chocolate icing. When she exhaled a breath to blow out the single candle, her top dentures went flying out and landed in the middle of a fondant rose. Theo Faraday, the Black reporter sent out to interview her for the CBS morning news, promised he’d have that faux pas edited out.

That morning last summer I’d been hastily recruited to run interference at Homestead Haven. Big Momma’s dementia had loosened her decorum. Depending on mood and medication, she was prone to bizarre utterances that would embarrass everybody in the room but herself.

Her vanity remained intact. Theo Faraday was flirting with her outrageously, the rascal. Big Momma lapped it up.

“You know I was born in the middle of a race riot,” she bragged. Big Momma always told her origin story like she’d witnessed it herself.

“A race riot!” Theo egged her on. “Well, imagine that.”

“Yep. It was July of 1919 when a Black boy name of Gene went to cool off at the 25th Street Beach and drifted ‘cross that invisible line that marked off White from Black. Gang of White boys stoned that colored fella until he drowned, the scoundrels. Police didn’t arrest nary a one of them for it. Now, you know that’s wrong.”

“Unbelievable, Miss Eloise. Unbelievable.” Theo Faraday completely disarmed my great grandmother with his encouraging smiles.

“Us colored wouldn’t take that lying down. There was fighting all over the city. My daddy had told me that the peckerwoods down South could beat you damned near to death and you couldn’t pass a lick against them, do you’d be swinging from a tree. But we were in Chicago now. And honey, we fought back!”

“Did you now, Miss Eloise?”

“We sure did!” Big Momma declared, conveniently forgetting that she’d been a newborn baby at the time. “We gave as good as we got.”

“People lost their lives, though.” Theo knew his history, I had to give him that. “The African American and Caucasian both. Many more were injured.”

“Yes, I suspect they were.” Big Momma’s eyes glittered with sudden mischief as she leaned forward and cupped her hand to his ear. “Now, don’t you breathe a word of this, y’hear?”

Before I could stop her, Big Momma was telling him the story she’d made each of us swear that we’d take to our graves.

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Candace Hunter

Eloise’s father, a man named Booker T. Ingersoll, had come north from Mississippi during World War I, one step ahead of the Night Riders. The White landowner he’d been sharecropping for had cheated him out of his due from that season’s cotton harvest. When the confrontation got violent it wasn’t clear whether the White man had died or been merely knocked unconscious. My great-great grandfather didn’t hang around to find out. He hightailed it to Chicago as fast as the Illinois Central Railroad could carry him.

Back in the days when she was more lucid, Big Momma was also a lot more careful.

“Loose lips sink ships,” she insisted. “So don’t be telling our family business.”

She had seemed to think back then that the Klan could come at any time, looking to punish her dead father or confront any of his offspring.

 

A strange thing on both sides of the family was that even when their men died off, the women lived to a ripe old age. My Great Grandma Anita on my father’s side was still present and accounted for. She was nine years younger than Big Momma, but her mind and memory were still sharp. Miss Anita subscribed to both daily newspapers and read them cover to cover. She was conversant with all the major issues of the day and still drove her own car.

As firmly fixed as she was in the present, Miss Anita could also recall the minutiae of her early life in the South—the crops her family once raised, recipes for icebox cake and canned preserves, the quilt patterns and Sunday school dresses her mother would sew on a foot-pedaled Singer. If there was ever any “strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees,” any hooded Klansmen roaming her corner of western Arkansas, she claims not to have known about it.

But this isn’t about the Party Pattersons or even the Bourgie Babcocks. It’s about a man without a past—my grandfather, J.T. Sixes, recently retired from the Chicago Defender.

As much as I loved him, I never really knew him. J.T.’s branch on the family tree was conspicuously bare. There always seemed something missing there, a space that yawned empty as an extracted wisdom tooth. I could almost probe it with my tongue, trying to figure out what should have been in the empty cavity. The secrecy he had wrapped around his origins seemed out of character for the no-nonsense, straightforward type of man my grandfather was.

J.T. never talked down to us. He treated children like miniature adults and was known to rattle off a “juxtapose” or “paradigm” then make you look it up if you asked him what it meant. His self-deprecating humor and courtly manners seemed to belong to another century. After 45 years in Chicago he still hadn’t lost his Southern accent and taste for soul food.

J.T. has always been a fairly approachable type of adult. I mean, how many kids get to call their grandfather by his first name, let alone his nickname? If you needed to know something important, he was the one you went to.

“Hey, J.T.” I must have been seven or eight that time I phoned him. “What’s a virgin?”

Except that I had pronounced it wrong.

“Version, Enora? Well, that’s a type or variety of a thing.”

“No,” I insisted. “A version.”

“Oh.” There was a pause at the other end of the line.

Granny Fanny had already told me, “Don’t go getting bigger than your britches, little gal.” I hadn’t asked Miss Jonita, but I could just see her shaking her head. “Enora, I can’t imagine why you’d ask me such a thing.” Daddy had said, “Ask your mother,” like he always did. Mama had duly scolded. “That’s information you’re not ready to have or use, young lady.”

J.T. heaved a sigh. “So, I think the word you mean is virgin, right?”

“Yeah, that’s it. A virgin.”

“That’s someone who hasn’t had sex yet.”

“Oh. Okay.”

I was satisfied with that explanation, though back then I didn’t know exactly what “sex” was. I could always trust J.T. to tell me the truth, except when it really mattered. Then he was the proverbial “Speak-No-Evil” monkey with hands firmly covering his mouth.

 

The Patterson and Babcock family trees on my class project are nearly complete. The Sixes on the other hand, are a big question mark. Now I know why adopted children go looking for their birth parents. A person needs to know who she is and where she comes from.

When I’m down in Chicago for spring break I’ll take J.T. to his favorite spot. It’s that hole-in-the-wall Delta Blues Bar, way out on the fringes of West Pullman. An intimate dinner with his favorite granddaughter–who happens to be his only granddaughter—will be my retirement gift to him.

I’ll treat him to some of that Mississippi moonshine they serve under the table, the catfish steaks, fatback-laden collard greens and sweet potato pie Miss Jonita won’t let him eat at home.

I’ll turn on the voice memo of my smart phone, hide it in my purse and set it on the table between us. J.T. has been asking questions for over 40 years, probing people’s lives with the point of his pen. Now it’s my turn to ask some questions, and I do expect to get answers.

I’ll reach across the table and take his hands in mine. Those hands betray his age and infirmity, with their liver spots and small tremors. My grandfather is modest but not immune to flattery. I’ll probe him about all the muckety-mucks he’s interviewed, the reports from Freedom Summer that put him on a short list for the Pulitzer. He’ll hold forth on local politics and I’ll listen to stories I could recite from memory.

Then I’ll turn his journalist’s tricks on him with questions for which “yes,” “no” or “I don’t know” will not suffice. I won’t accept any, “it’s been too long ago to remember”S or “painful stories better left in the past.”

Those stories are mine, painful or not. And who knows how long he’ll be around? There, I’ve said it. I’m as bad as all the others, preaching his funeral without a corpse. He could live for another decade with Stage 4 melanoma. Or he could go tomorrow and take his secrets with him.

 

✶✶✶

 

Malik Shabazz Sixes

I know what Cousin D’Elroy says about me, but the boy ain’t never been right in the head. How he gonna come calling me a throwback? Please!

Everybody knows a throwback is an inkblot on the family’s paper-white bloodlines. Me, I’m more like bleach that dilutes the black. Except for my grandpops, I’m the lightest one in the family. They say I favor him, but we’re not anything alike.

I’ve got nothing but love for J.T. Sixes. The dude is my blood, after all. But sometimes I look at the brother and swear to God, it seems like there’s a White man hiding inside with those cool grey eyes. Sizing me up like a lawyer, staring me down like a judge, trying to get me to admit to something I may or may not have done.

Like the last cop who pulled me over, glaring at me behind the flashlight he shone in my face. “Where’d you get the vehicle? A car like this was reported stolen.”

I couldn’t snap back the way I wanted, “I ain’t stole shit. Did you run the priors on your bitch-ass momma?”

I’d made myself remember the lessons Dad started force-feeding me when I turned twelve. “Son, I’m trying to keep you alive. Because one day some cold-eyed cop will look at you and he won’t see a child. He’ll see a Bigger Thomas, a criminal, a thug. A wild animal that belongs dead or in a cage. Don’t give them any ammunition to use against you.”

I was confused because I hadn’t read Native Son yet and I didn’t know who Bigger Thomas was. But it didn’t take long for me to find out.

I was waiting at the bus stop on my way to school when the first police car pulled up in front of me. That was the beginning of many times to follow: the sirens, the blinking blue lights. The flashlight beam in the face, the legs kicked apart, the hands in the air, the “what are you doing here?”–walking down your own block, across your college campus, shopping in certain suburban malls, standing on any city street corner, being out with your girl and especially, especially hanging with your boys.

Sneers from the White cops who think they’re slick, calling you “bro” and “home slice.” Insults from Black ones too, sometimes. “Oh, you think you’re big shit, little yella nigga.” Hell, you might even get a female cop on some macho trip, pulling you over and patting you down.

“You answer respectfully, always,” Dad had said. “You can’t afford to lose your cool and let him lose control of his trigger finger. Say ‘yes, sir’ and ‘no, ma’am.’ Show ID and registration if he demands it, but ask for permission before reaching for it. Memorize his badge number just in case, but don’t let him see you doing it. You hear me, son?”

“Shouldn’t I tell them my father’s a police detective?” I asked.

Some of these dudes don’t give a damn who your daddy is. I’ve got frenemies on the Force, you know. Some old school cops won’t say it to your face, but you know they can’t abide any Black man a pay grade above them. There’s one with a Confederate flag pasted to his back bumper, for Christ’s sake.”

J.T. never gave those kinds of life lessons. He acts like he’s never been pulled over, never frisked, never busted, never been a Black man in America. Maybe those are the times when he punks out and decides to pass. On a dark street corner you could take him for White. He did it once before, traveling down South in the sixties for some investigative report on lynching.

“I’m not exactly proud of it,” J.T. admitted. “It’s what you call ontological ethics. The end act justifies the means. Doing something dishonest serves a greater good.”

Yeah, a greater good like saving your own ass.

Every time I mess up, J.T. gives me one of those looks from his “do tell” lie detector. Like when I got locked up last year. “I don’t know why you insist on behaving like a hoodlum when you’ve had so many advantages. You’re in college on a full ride. Don’t you know you’ll lose your financial aid if you’re convicted on gun charges? Not to mention your future job prospects. You’ve got to start using your head, Malik and stop pretending to be something you aren’t.”

What’s to pretend? Don’t care how light my skin is, I’m a Black man in America. The cops don’t give nobody a pass for that. J.T. doesn’t even hear what I have to say.

See, these homies from the ‘hood were coming up on campus robbing people in the lounges, the men’s rooms, the library stacks. They were taking money, phones, laptops, anything they could grab. One kid had $400 worth of textbooks stolen. So what the hell was I supposed to do? Leave myself out there unprotected?

It’s not my fault these stupid Illinois laws say you gotta be 21 to get a gun license. I had to hold one of Elroy’s pieces, a snub-nosed .38. That’s just a little pocket pistol, nothing outlandish. I wasn’t exactly packing no AK-47.

And it’s not like I shot or pistol-whipped somebody with it. I had it in my book bag when the Five-O pulled me over for the umpteenth time. Being young, Black, and male is probable cause enough in Chiraq, Killinois. And just my luck that day, they searched the car and found it.

In fact, if I didn’t know better, I’d think somebody ratted me out. But my boy D’Elroy Patterson would never do me like that.

✶✶✶✶

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Sandra Jackson-Opoku is author of the novels The River Where Blood is Born and Hot Johnny (and the Women Who Loved Him). Her fiction, essays, poetry and dramatic works appear in the New Daughters of Africa, Ms. Magazine, The Literary Traveller, Transitions Abroad and elsewhere. With poet Quraysh Ali Lansana she coedited the anthology Revise the Psalm: Work Celebrating the Writing of Gwendolyn Brooks, a Chicago Review of Books Nonfiction Finalist. Jackson-Opoku has also won a National Endowment for the Arts Fiction Fellowship, the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines Fiction Award, a Ragdale US/Africa Fellowship and many other honors.

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Candace Hunter is a self-sustaining visual artist residing in Chicago and calling the world home. Her touring one-person shows, Dust in their Veins: a Visual Response to the Global Water Crisis, Hooded Truths, and So Be It. See to It, have enjoyed robust viewings in multiple cities. Her multidisciplinary work Loss/Scape, the Landscape of Loss, now in its fifth and final year, examines the major loss of human capital on the Western shores of African during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Hunter is a proud recipient of the 3Arts Award (2016), was honored by the collective Diasporal Rhythms (2014/15), and most recently received a Joyce Foundation SPARK grant.