You my dear little girl, come from a long line of fighters. Your grandpa used to tell me this all the time, and I think I am beginning to understand what he meant. Our blood runs rich, and pounds to the beat of those who have come and gone before us. Every night I pray that you will be spared the collective suffering of your ancestry, and if you are, please understand that your life will have been made easier by the sacrifices of your grandfather, and the countless others that fell before you.
There are some things you should know about your Grandpa Jim. They called him "Forman." I called him "Big Pop," or "dad." He is an ancestor now, and it is my responsibility to pass to you what he passed to me. I do not take my obligation lightly. May this letter be the first of many.
When you ask me a question, and I answer you with another one, please do not get frustrated or impatient. My father and I spent hours and hours in his little apartment talking about the importance of critical thinking and evaluation and re-evaluation. So try to understand where I'm coming from.
When you come home all excited and say "Daddy I heard this," and "Daddy did you know that," and I raise my hands and say "I'm not so sure about that," please don't be deflated. Your grandfather left nothing unexamined. He accepted nothing at face value. He challenged me to investigate, research, to find my own truth in the midst of the madness and innuendo. I ask you my daughter to do the same; as the fun, he would say, lies in the inquiry.
When we go to a restaurant and I want to sit far from the window, facing the entrance, understand. When we are on the bus and I don't want to sit in the back, understand. You need not go through the pain to learn the lesson. When I want you to call me when traveling to say you made it home safely, understand. When I tell you to make sure the bar code number on the fruits and vegetables has a nine in the front, even though they are twice as expensive, understand.
And when we sit down to talk and you have one thing on your mind and I seem to wander, understand the benefits of free association. We will get back to where we started, I promise. When you want to run out and play and I want to make an agenda for the day, work with me. Oooh girl I used to get so hot at your grandpa about those darn agendas, but I'll tell you this, when the sun set and the shades were drawn, it felt pretty good to look at a list of things all crossed out with a fresh new page ready for tomorrow. So we'll get out. I promise.
One day soon we'll talk about Narden Park. Yes we will. Ask me about why people go underground, and the Code of the Pimps, and Mississippi Indian tom. Dot-dot-dot-dash-dash-dash-dot-dot-dot. When you are a little older we'll talk about espionage, the double-cross, subversive forces in an organization, and professional gambling.
And you have family meetings to look forward to, ahhh the democratic process, complete with a chairman, secretary, and if we're lucky and there's something to count, a treasurer. And here's a little secret just between me and you. When I won't budge, and you really, really, really want to get your way, make up some picket signs, and have a demonstration. Trust me. It works.
And if I bore you with long talks on dialectic materialism, listen, but stop me, cause Lord knows I spent some time thinking I was bored, although now, a funny thing about life, I would sit through anything your Grandpa had to say. If only he could show up now and say it. And he will. Trust me on this one Chaya. He will show up for you.
Your grandfather loved his children from the beginning to the end. When your grandma was sweating through nursing school, he stayed home with your Uncle James and me. A time I cherish. When societal forces played their ultimate cruel hand and your grandparents moved away from each other, he never forgot his children. Separated by too many miles, he would climb into his little old beat up Ford Escort and drive from D.C. to Atlanta to support us. Through award ceremonies, graduations, and summer visits, he was there. He was so proud of us.
He talked a lot about the difficulties of being in a split-family, but always welcomed us at his door with a big smile and a plate of cheese. He said, "You always have a place to stay. It may not be much, but it will always be here." And it always was. When your daddy would visit grandpa, it's the only place I wanted to be. 1650 Harvard St. It was like a sanctuary for me. It was small. It was cramped with books. The food was sparce and basic, but we were together. He never had money, but it didn't seem to matter. He would smile on the street, look people in the eye, and talk to everyone. He said, "All women are beautiful," one of the many great nuggets he passed to me, and you Chaya, are beautiful too.
Your Uncle James and your Grandpa are a lot alike. Hard workers. Dedicated to finishing a job. Scientific thinkers. He was so proud of your uncle, and loved him more than he ever found ways to express. "One-Two-Three. Pioneers are we. Fighting with the working class against the bourgeoisie."
When I began acting, he was very supportive, although never one to put all his eggs in one basket, he insisted I have a "back-up plan." He would send press releases about my appearances all over the world and gleefully tell me, "Chaka, some folks in Zambia just got word that you'll be on T.V. tonight." And I'd say, "Dad I don't think they get the WB over there." And he'd throw his hands up in the air fingers spread apart, "Be that as it may. This is powerful information we are sending. The people want to know." And the memories run fast and furious little girl it is late and my head is beginning to hurt. I loved your grandpa. I miss him so much.
In 1972 James Forman wrote a book which you will one day come to appreciate, "The Making of Black Revolutionaries." He inscribed the book to James Robert Lumumba Forman, Chaka Esmond Fanon Forman, and all the unborn revolutionaries who will accelerate and intensify the revolutionary process. Well my dear, you are born now, and not long before he passed to the spirit world, we talked about you. In the garden, he held my hand and got real serious. He told me I had to protect you. My number one job was to keep you safe and nurture your growth. He told me you were a warrior, a freedom fighter, and if we needed to we would put out the call and all over the world mighty forces would rise to your aid. "Chaya has help," he said. "Tell her she is not alone and will never be isolated. Never underestimate the power of the people."
So my little Chaya, Life's Victory, as you and I make our way without him, understand that the principles he stood for are alive and well. You embody everything he stood for. With your Jewish resilience, your Native American power, your Thai grace and composure, your European resolve, and your African pride, you are the world as he wished it would be. As an ancestor, he is available for your council. Call on him Chaya and he will come. As sure as the sun sets and the river flows, he will rise up in the long tradition of African kings and queens and Cherokee chiefs and appear plain as day. Look in the mirror little girl your Grandfather is still alive. He lives through you.
With all my love,
Copyright © Chaka Forman, 2005.