In Between The Walls


Agogo is a small town in the Ashanti region of Ghana, in West Africa. Agogo is known for Kente cloth to most people. For me, however, when Agogo is mentioned Freda comes to mind—the loving, friendly, artistic, horrible flirt, bad joking telling, and fashionably late Ghanaian. Freda was born in Agogo, then moved to Bronx, NY at the age of ten—the same year her father passed away. (She resembles him in the picture above.) She attended middle school and high school in the Bronx, only to leave the big city life of New York for another small town in Missouri. Our paths would cross at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri for better or for worse. (I think for the better.) My hidden talents, and her passion to see me do great things in the world, would nourish our relationship.

After graduating, she accepted an internship in DC, that lead to a position at Character.org. She currently lives in New York, but traveled back to DC to meet up with me to take part in this project. It’s only right I start with her, my personal cheerleader.

Of course, Freda was running a little late per usual, but the weather was ideal. We met at the metro, and after a five-minute-long hug we walked a short distance to a small field between Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool and Constitution Gardens, where we spent most of our day.

I began by asking simple questions, just to touch the basics.

When did we first meet each other?”


Freda laughed before answering the question. It was safe to say she remembered our first encounter. “The first time I met you was in Mr…(She slapped me on the arm multiples times) It was in Spanish class…(two more slaps) SEÑÑÑOR Roberto Del Porto!” (Freda likes to slap you on the arm when she’s trying to remember something or laughing. You have been warned.) She repeated his name multiple times with her Spanish accent. Then she added, “You had your dreads tied up in two; I thought you were a very interesting person. I kept my distance.”  


It was 8:25 am on a Thursday morning in Señññor Roberto Del Porto’s Spanish class that Freda had her first gander at me. The Florida boy with dreads that favored Donnie from The Wild Thornberry's. (90s cartoons were the best.) I was sitting next to Weednel. (You will meet him eventually.) Freda had; had past interactions in New York with individuals that shared similar features as me. It’s safe to say I was on her naughty list.

What were your first thoughts about me?”  


“To be honest,” She laughed, “I thought mmm I need to keep my distance from you. Because growing up in NY, especially in the section that I grew up (Bronx), I saw a lot of guys (African Americans) that looked like you. I had a prejudice against African American guys. It was the type of guys that looked the way you did, not clean cut and unsafe.”

Then she ended it with, “That was the honest thing, I hope it’s not too offensive.” I wasn’t offended, I have heard it all before. I respect her honesty. The interview did not take a turn for the worse.


How long have we been friends?"


Well, I knew you. I think we started to become friends our junior year. So that was 2013. But we hung out with the same groups of people, but we never really talked.”


I wouldn’t say Freda hated me, but she had a strong resentment towards me. Therefore, it took three years, and for me to cut my dreads off, for her to say hi to me without sucking her teeth. Now I get texts with hearts and kisses. Started from the bottom now we’re here. Every time I mention growing my dreads back she gets frustrated and says, “They were fugs, my guy”. 


Have I been a good friend to you?”

I think you have been a really good friend to me, Tony. Because of being your friend, I’ve learned you can’t box people in because of experiences you have had. Also, we can dream big, that inspires me because you have big dreams. You actually take tangible steps for it.”


Since we became friends, Freda has always pushed me to showcase my talents or take classes to improve my craft. Especially when it comes to spoken word and poetry. She is still trying to get me to publish some of my work (there’s a surprise at the end of this). Having people like Freda in your life fuels your drive to take chances you would ordinarily pass up.


How do you choose your friends?” 


Ummm, I am a very friendly person and I have lots of acquaintances, but I wouldn’t say I have many close friends. I just study people a lot. I would like to think... I would gear towards people who are huggy and extra bubbly like me. I think it just happens naturally.” 


Choosing friends can be difficult for many reasons. As my mom would say, “Friends come a dime a dozen”. Out of the hundreds of people I have met over the years, I can say I only have 5-7 real friends, who I know I can count on. As one of the greatest put it, “There aren’t many people worth saving.” -Iron Mike.


Have you been betrayed by a friend?”

She laughed for a few seconds. The type of laugh you get when you look back on something that almost broke you. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. It didn’t end the relationship, but I think I definitely learned from it. It shows that humans are very complex beings. I can’t know what is in your heart, you can’t know what is truly in my heart, but I can only trust you in blind faith. Sometimes being too naïve can cause a lot of trouble when you trust people too much. It made me put some walls up. Even with my relationships today, it is very one sided with my friends. It took 3-4 years for them to get know things about my life.”


Everyone has their share of trust issues. The world is not a place full of unconditional love, lollipops, and fufu (Ghanaian dish). I learned that blood only makes you related, loyalty makes you family. I have a tattoo that says, ‘The only difference between friends and enemies is loyalty and respect”. Close friends and family are usually the ones who show you what betrayal feels like. You must learn from it and keep it pushing.    

 

What is your definition of a real friend?”

Someone who is selfless. They put others before themselves. Their heart breaks when your heart breaks. Also, someone who has good morals and believes in similar things I do in terms of humanity. Not hating others who are different from you. Someone who is loving and selfless.”


The term friend has multiple meanings. Based on the context, you can grasp a better understanding. Such as, a childhood friend, a true friend, a best friend, just friends, a friend from school, or real friends (also known as Day 1s). The majority of the time day 1s are usually day 2,920, a friend you made in elementary school. However, I literally have a day 1 friend. He was born 8 days before me. So, I guess that makes me his day 8 friend.


Is there someone, or a group of people, you wish you were still friends with?”

Hmm, yea yea. My middle school friends Aleah, Alana, and Antinaya. When I first came to the States I went to St. Angela Merici School. It was a Catholic School. We had to do an assembly line every morning to sing the national anthem and pledge of allegiance. Aleah and I were in the same class and she was really nice to me the first day. The following day I stood in line and I saw Aleah and I told her to come stand next to me. I was 10 and eager to make new friends, but she just kept staring at me. Aleah and Alana are twins and I didn’t know that. When we finally got to class I asked Aleah why she didn’t come stand next to me. I called you so many times. She was like ‘Ooh no! That was my sister Alana." Then we all became friends and Antinaya joined in. The three of them went to a private high school and I had to go to public. So, we didn’t stay in touch, and they tried but I really didn’t. But yeah, I kinda regret it.“

Losing good friends at a young age is common.There are so many factors that kids have no control over. Growing up I moved around a lot, so I would have to make new friends every time I moved to a new neighborhood, or when one of my friends moved away.

It’s a part of life you get used to. I don’t believe in the pessimistic phrase, “All good things come to an end”. Of course, people die, things change, and time moves forward, but the essence never dies. To a lot of people, I laugh at random moments. (I’m not weird.) But in reality, I’m reliving the good moments that I keep alive."Bhandari likes apples. You may like bananas but Bhandari likes apples. So we are going to use apples."It gets me every time I think about it. (Dr. Bhandari was my economics professor.)  Freda and I have been friends for 5 years. Every time we get together we enjoy each other’s company. We spend more time laughing than talking to be honest. As Freda puts it, “Laughing together is so important”.


It’s strange because we know so little about one another. Putting walls up is a way you prevent a certain experience from happening again. Things such as heartbreak, abusive relationships, and betrayal, are a few of the main reasons why we put up walls. However, my reasons are a little different. A larger portion of my childhood I spent alone. From the age 5-12, I would wander off on my own and explore. I know the age 5 sounds a little a young but, I have vivid memories of getting in trouble for getting my school clothes dirty from fishing. 

 

At a young age I learned to embrace solitude and being alone for hours at a time. It wasn't easy at first but over time I grew to love it. Therefore, I put up walls to keep out people, thoughts and vibes that didn't give me the same vibe. The downside is, the same walls that keep out the bad keep out the good. There have been multiple relationships that ended due my lack of "opening up". It takes 3-4 years before Freda allowed her friends to get close to her. It’s been more than 25 years and there is not one person who knows me fully; my pleasures (besides fishing and ice cream), my burdens, my fears, and my struggles. We enjoy the mystery of not knowing each other and the chance of learning something new each encounter. Hopefully, by then end of this project the world will know me a little more.


Here’s the surprise I promised at the end.

Back in The Days


Remember back in the days when we wore Reebok Classics, watched Rugrats and listened to R&B?


No, I mean back in the days when my grandfather’s grandfather was a slave and he wore chains; but some things have changed.


See back in the days blacks were considered niggers because of their shade but the word nigger stands for an ignorant, illiterate person, but my grandfather’s grandfather didn't speak the tongue of this land, so the whites considered that the same


See back in the days my grandfather’s grandfather’s tongue sang with Isizulu, Twi, Ga, and Fante but the whites decided that should change and changed his name, and that's why Mitchell follows my first name


See back in the days my grandfather's grandfather was faced with lynchings, lashes, beatings, and being burned alive if he knew how to read or write his name


See back in the days crackers were the whites who cracked the whips before they opened the flesh of a girl my sister’s age


See back in the days my grandmother’s grandmother was a house slave, and she cooked and cleaned for the whites while her kids starved all day


See back in the days my grandmother’s grandmother was beaten and raped, and would be whipped if she cursed her rapists name


See back in the days my grandmother’s grandmother gave birth to interracial babies who still feel lost today


See back in the days the bible was used to justify slavery, and we still preach these verses today


I would say back in the days, but some things still exist today