There’s this basketball court roughly about 20 minutes from the house where I grew up. Kids from nearby neighborhoods would congregate on or around the court. Local dope boys would either hoop, stunt, talk to the girls or make money there. And for myself, it’s an environment where I learned the preciousness of life is moreso based on how much a person accomplishes and who they impact while living. Not the dollar sign attached to their name.
About nine years ago, probably a few months before venturing off to college, I visited the court mainly because one of closest friends lived near there. This day in particular, I didn’t run on the court; instead opting to simply post up on my car and talk to whoever I knew that was running around. Like the younger kids, dope boys and girls, there were always old heads at the park. Some played ball. Some sold drugs. Some bought drugs. Some were just old heads who simply enjoyed the liveliness of the atmosphere.
One in particular is who I always spoke to – probably around his mid 30s at the time – because of the knowledge he often shared. I never knew his name. He never knew mine, yet somehow we’d find each other most times and shoot the shit about whatever – sports, music, the whole nine.
This time he asked what I planned on doing following graduation. After explaining my choice to continue school at the collegiate level, his response was cold, but encouraging at the same time. While I fail to remember verbatim what was said, the old head was proud. Proud because I actually saw a bigger bubble than Petersburg, Virginia. Proud because I actually kept on right track. Proud because regardless of whatever else happens in life, it’s your legacy no one can ever take away. And proud because he wished he would’ve done the same thing had he been maybe 20 years his junior.
Fast forward damn near a decade, and life has changed for the better. Whenever at home – a random weekend or the holidays – I occasionally head back to that same park only for the nostalgia. A lot of the people from my younger days are no longer there. Some are in jail. Some moved on to different phases of life. Some are dead. And some are still there doing the same shit. As for the old head, your guess is as good as mine where he ended up.
That’s why this 1996 CNN special on Master P hit so close to home. Unlike P, I’m not from the projects. I lived in a nice house, in a quiet suburban, all-black neighborhood with my mom, grandma and brother. Yet witnessing my peers who were not as fortunate to grow up in a stable household or on a block where jump ropes replaced the sound of shell casings hitting the pavement taught me a valuable lesson. Quite frankly, it’s the same lesson P preaches in this 10 minute clip documenting his rise from the Calliope Projects to rap royalty.
“Making it” is subjective and something we all want. In the ‘hood, everybody wants that come up story; to become the Robin Hood of their block, for lack of a better description. The streets are a black hole in the sense once you’re sucked in, 9.9 times out of 10 you’re not coming back unless its in handcuffs or a body bag. So the ones who escape the long arm of the ‘jects – and every pitfall imaginable it presents – to “own” the world, they’re celebrated. And they should be.
This was Percy Miller in 1996. That’s somebody now. In every tragedy, there’s a success story. A tattered, beaten, sometimes cold-hearted success story, but a success story nonetheless. And that’s all a person earnestly desires for their legacies. Gangstas included.