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LEVEL
Higher Learning. A publication from Medium for the interested man.

Childhood

In LEVEL. More on Medium.

Truth is, we’re all fighting our inner demons

Shadowy portrait of a Black child with shaved hair.
Shadowy portrait of a Black child with shaved hair.
Photo: Lutendo Malatji/EyeEm/Getty Images

How long did it take you to accept your weirdness? Have you ever accepted it?

I remember growing up and not fitting in. I didn’t like my name. I cringed whenever I went to a non-Jewish event and my name was called. I wanted to be ordinary, like every other kid in the playground. John was my name of choice. Unassuming, mild, and easy to pronounce. My surname (not Salsa) also caused me acute embarrassment.

It didn’t help that my older brother was super popular: star of the sports team, great with the girls, talkative, charming, even a little roguish…


It has to change. And I must believe it will.

Image: Jasmin Merdan/Getty Images

I grew up attending a small private school with mostly White students. I was almost always the only Black kid in class. It didn’t matter much. Until second grade.

One day near the beginning of that school year, my teacher sat all of the students in a circle. “I want you to each tell the class one interesting fact about your family,” they said.

For the most part things that my classmates spoke about were harmless. I can’t remember what I shared. But I do remember the girl who sat next to me.

“My family hates Black people,” she said.


Acknowledging my history helped me lower my family’s smoke screens

Photo: Carlos Javier Noguera/EyeEm/Getty Images

“Michael, you’re Black.”

This statement of sheer fact made me turn away in frustration and embarrassment. For 10 minutes, a Black girl in my class and I had engaged in a conversation about my ethnicity — a topic I eagerly wanted to avoid. I managed to make it more than three years in my New York City public high school without talking about my ethnicity in any serious way. And unlike many Black and Brown children across the country, I hadn’t been confronted about my race before.

In that high school office room, where I had lunch with a small…


By never knowing stability, I learned its immeasurable value

Photo: Mike Kemp/Getty Images

I was born in Chicago, and I’ve spent most of my life there. I’m writing these words there. But if there’s anything that ever makes me want to pack up and leave my hometown, it’s the weather.

I’m sick of the cold. The snow. The ice. All of it. At this point in my life, I want to live where people have no concept of “wind chill.” I want monotonously good weather. I want to go where I keep a jacket in the car just in case the temperature drops below 60 degrees. …


All I wanted to do was cook. Why do we spread lousy advice that stunts the happiness of young boys?

Photo: Matthew Simmons/Getty Images

I grew up cooking with my grandmother. She made biscuits from scratch, baked sweet potato pies, and prepared turkeys at Thanksgiving. She canned her vegetables, jelly, and chow-chow, and even made ice cream.

And I helped.

I stirred pots for her. I peeled fruit and ran to the store for forgotten half-pints of cream or to buy onions and collard greens. I watched simple ingredients become things of beauty. And I loved it. Even as a small child, I read cookbooks for fun. No one thought anything of it — or, if they did, no one ever said anything.

I…

LEVEL

Higher Learning. A publication from Medium for the interested man.

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