Growing Up in Mississippi

This is the house where I grew up, located in Presidential Hills, a predominantly black neighborhood in Jackson, MS. All of the streets are named after U.S. Presidents. My parents were one of the many new homeowners who had their house built in 1974.

I have many fond memories growing up in this neighborhood. The backyard, in my mind was an island get-a-way; it was home to a tree house my dad built for my sister and me. It was indeed a cozy little palace with a colored TV and plenty of space to play. We used extension cords for power and hosted club house meetings. Though it was exclusive, our membership requirements were very inviting. The only requirement to join our treehouse club was you had to bring a snack. To ensure our club house members were safe, we even had fire drills with participants lining up one-by-one to jump off the main floor, 10 feet down to the ground.

Preparing my worksheetsIn the front yard was a walkway that ended in 3 large steps. Those steps provided an excellent place to sit for hours and play with friends while waving at people passing by in cars. The house had a two-car garage that dubbed as both my classroom and a skating rink. When playing school, I had my very own Strawberry Shortcake chalkboard. Making my own worksheets with activity books I received for Christmas, one could say I was destined to become an educator. Looking back, I maintained a strict grade book as well. When school was over, we pushed our learning tools aside and played music from a small radio that my dad often used when he washed the car. That radio was the DJ for the skating rink. For hours, my friends and I would create dance moves and routines in preparation for our next make-believe professional skate performance.

My summers were filled with barefoot races in the creek that ran behind the houses. We loved the feeling of the cool mud gushing between our toes. The wet mud was a cooling comfort in the sweltering Mississippi summer heat. As evening approached, you would often find me playing kickball in an old pair of red high heels that belonged to my mom. In retrospect, it was an unsuccessful attempt to build an arch for my very flat feet.

My parents were very supportive. They often encouraged me to explore whatever interested me. They also did not force me to remain true to the typical gender roles. Yes, I wore a dress to church every Sunday. My dad even bought shampoo for me so I could wash and comb my dolls’ hair. I was a girly girl, but I also played football and basketball with the boys or sat side-by-side with my dad as he worked on the car and fixed things around the house.

We took summer vacations most years, my parents often had parties that lasted until the morning, and I NEVER recalled being called a nigger. We had everything we needed and much of what we wanted. This was the only life I knew, and it was an awesome life for a kid growing up in the South, especially in Mississippi.

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