A Love Letter. June 1, 2020.https://www.gofundme.com/f/A-Love-Letter-To-Durham-North-Carolina
My father says he couldn’t see me. He couldn’t get to me. Where were his shoes that were supposed to be next to the bed, his extra pair of clothes, his glasses? Did the stairs that separated my parents’ upstairs bedroom and my downstairs bedroom collapse? What about glass? Gas lines? As the earth moved violently, my mother tried to get me. The scar on her right shin when she tripped over the television is what I have always thought of as, a love letter.
The neighborhood in Inglewood that my mother and father loved crumbled to pieces. Two years prior in 1992, my mother stood on our balcony, watching the smoke dance with our angels. Buildings burned to the ground. “Please make sure you arrive home before curfew.” Riots.
She went inside.
She couldn’t breathe.
The Rodney King Riots began on April 29, 1992. I was born 29 days later.
Ask yourself for a second. Has anything changed?
That 6.7 magnitude Northridge Earthquake rocked our lives in 1994. The car was packed, the storage was wiped clean, my parents’ businesses were closed, and a U-Haul was rented. A small city called Groton, Connecticut became our home and we would meet the Molina’s, Burns’, and the Turners’.
We celebrated in 1997 when my little brother came into this world.
Again, the car was packed, the storage was wiped clean, my parents’ businesses were closed, and a U-Haul was rented. It was January 1, 2002.
We arrived in Durham, North Carolina, where my father was raised as a child. This beautiful city would become our home.
My name is Tianna Spears. I am 28 years old.
I was educated at the public school of Fayetteville Street Lab School. In fourth grade, Mrs. Maureen McKenna taught us Black and Brown kids how to read and write. Five of my first generation Latinx classmates learned English for the first time. Mrs. McKenna informed the parents and students that we were not going to have recess this school year.
Instead, we were going to learn.
I sobbed that night in front of my mom. I licked rainbow sprinkles off a vanilla ice cream cone.
My mom and dad dropped me off at school on Saturday mornings. Mrs. McKenna taught us cursive handwriting. She rallied in one of the worst school districts at the time.
“Butterfly in the sky… I can go twice as high. Take a look. It’s in a book. A Reading Rainbow. I can go anywhere. Friends to know. And ways to grow. A Reading Rainbow. I can be anything.”
In May 2002, every single student in my class passed their End-of-Grade Tests with flying colors.
And we threw the biggest party.
In the fifth grade, I attended Pearsontown Elementary School. My brother’s classroom was on the other side of the building. We both took speech classes during the school day.
We met our childhood friends. And if you’re reading this right now, I love you.
At Rogers Herr Middle School, an always cheerful Mr. Lance Scott said good morning with a smile. I spent time with Hermione, Ron, and Harry. In eighth grade Social Studies, Mrs. Latonya Smith Hinton was the first Black teacher that I ever had.
She showed me the world.
At Jordan High School, I started learning Spanish when I was 14 years old. I sat next to my childhood friends that I met back in fifth grade.
After receiving a basketball scholarship in 11th grade, I transferred to Ravenscroft, a private high school in Raleigh. Of the 400+ students from 9th to 12th grade, 15 of us were Black. There was an Honor Code, MacBook computers sitting without an owner scattered throughout the hallways, and no need for locks on lockers.
I drove 30 minutes to school every morning alone, burned CD-ROM mixtapes from Limewire, and cranked up the volume on Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III. I turned my music down when I made the right turn into campus.
I entered a different world.
I was placed back in ninth grade Algebra. I failed pop quizzes and my Advanced Placement exam. During lunch, I slept in my car from pure exhaustion. I took the SAT three times. I was arrived late to a race that began years ago.
At the time, there were no words to describe how out of place I felt. On a daily basis, I existed in a completely different world from 8AM to 4:30PM. Then I drove home.
We tried our best. Mr. Edward Durham spoke sternly, taught me to stand up tall, and had a heart of gold. Mrs. Katherine Belk tutored me after school. From the time the school bell rang until basketball practice, I relearned fractions, decimals, and one and two step equations.
Mrs. Doreen Kelly, the Head of School, pulled me aside every single time she saw me to ask how I was doing.
“You can do this Tianna. I believe in you.”
And I will never forget that.
In 11th grade, Mr. Steve McGill was my first Black male teacher. In our Creative Writing class, he played music and shared stories of his mother. His mouth told stories of a lifetime in Philly. That tree in his backyard. He read us poetry, wrote pieces, and intertwined his memories so deeply in our minds.
He is a poet, an author.
Mr. Steve McGill crossed out entire pages of my creative writing stories with a bright red marker. “You can do better, Tianna. Try again.”
11 years later, he still reads my blog.
I graduated high school and attended UNC Charlotte for two years. I graduated from North Carolina State University and my brother would later graduate from UNC Chapel Hill.
And we threw the biggest party.
And thanks to Mrs. Latonya Smith Hinton teaching me geography, I got to see the world.
Who am I, if not a product of my community?
In 1957, my grandparents bought land in Durham. They would raise their three children on that very soil. There would be North Carolina Central University Homecoming events, graduations, birthdays, community, and parties with hundreds of people sporting afros with skin just like me. My brother and I were also raised on this land.
I come from generations of ancestors that fought for change. My grandmother paved the way as a school teacher of over 35 years. She took her Black and Brown students on a field trip to Raleigh to watch the Harlem Globetrotters play in the 1960s. Many of her students had never traveled outside of Durham. It was just a 30 minute drive.
On Facebook in 2018, a student from her third grade class in 1964 sent me a message.
“I just absolutely loved your grandmother. As a little White boy, she was my first African- American teacher. She taught me so much.”
My grandfather was an accountant at North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance in Downtown Durham. He was a strong advocate for education.
My blood flows from my ancestors that used their voices and advocated for change.
My mother is from Northeast Portland, Oregon. My father is from Charlotte, North Carolina.
My father participated in the Civil Rights Movement. My mother befriended people of all backgrounds and put poetry in her song. My little brother holds his protest sign high in the air and twists words into emotion at spoken word events.
Who are we, if not a product of our communities?
Durham, thank you. This is a love letter to the city that raised me.
In just two days, over 50,000 people have read my essay, What Do I Want from White People? (An Illustration of Being Black in America) and You Are Beautifully Whole. I share my personal story with you to inspire conversation within our communities, at our dinner tables, and in our hearts.
We are the catalysts for change.
If you have been deeply moved, shaken, inspired, and driven to have difficult conversations with yourself and others, please consider donating.
100% of all proceeds will go to nonprofit, organizations, and youth programs within the Durham, North Carolina Community.
Please help me give back to my Durham community that raised my brother and I, helped me write these stories, and impacted so many others on positive level. If each person donates $1.00, we can reach our goal.
Thank you for donating.
Thank you for reading my love letter.
· Black Girls Code- https://www.blackgirlscode.com
· BLACKSPACE (Afrofuturism Digital Makerspace)- http://theblackspace.org
· Boys & Girls Club of Durham- https://www.bgcdoc.org/donate
· Community Bail Fund of Durham- https://www.nccbailfund.org
· Durham Literacy Center (Youth Achievement Program)- https://www.durhamliteracy.org/youth-achievement
· El Centro Hispano
(Empowering Durham’s Latinx Community)- https://elcentronc.org
· Jamaat Ibad Ar-Rahman Masjid
(Our Neighborhood’s Mosque)- http://www.ibadarrahman.org/locations/
· North Carolina Central University Office of International Affairs (Study Abroad Program Historically Black College & University)-
(Garden & Kitchen Classroom)
· Pupusas for Education
(Scholarships for Undocumented and DACA students)
· Walltown Children’s Theatre
(Offering classes in drumming, drama, vocal technique, creative writing, piano lab, stage production, and dance).
· Urban Ministries of Durham
(Offering food, shelter and a future to neighbors in need)
Blog Links to Whats Up With Tianna-
What Do I Want from White People? (An Illustration on Being Black in America)
You Are Beautifully Whole