By Betrice Coleman-Sweet
It is unbelievable that it was almost 20 years ago that my community was engulfed in flames and chaos. I remember that unforgettable day like it was just last week. I was in the 10th grade attending Middle College High School. I did not go to school on April 29, 1992 because I was not feeling too well. I was 15 years old and 4 months pregnant with my son.
At the time, I was struggling with not succumbing to the statistics that everyone told me that I would become outside of my home. I loved school. I loved and still love the neighborhood where I grew up. My block, 68th and Normandie, was such a cool block. Everyone looked out for everyone. My little brothers, Leonard (nine years old) and Leron (six years old), and I played outside with our friends on the block until the street lights came on almost everyday.
I recollect everyone, including myself, being anxious about the verdict of the officers who beat Rodney King. I too became sad and then enraged when I heard the not guilty verdict. Soon after, I saw the horrific images of Reginald Denny getting pulled from his truck on television. I could not believe it was happening just four blocks from where I lived. There were people everywhere. I have never seen so many people on Florence and Normandie in my life.
That same sadness and rage that I had quickly became fear especially when I began to smell the smoke. I had severe asthma so my mom was fearful of an attack coming on. She did her best to keep my brothers and I calm. I knew she was scared, as well. My dad was on his way home from work when the riots broke out. We did not have the luxury of having a cell phone back then so all she could do is pray that he was safe. It seemed like everything was getting worse as time passed. It probably took my dad an hour or so to get home but then it seemed like forever. I looked to the television I saw fire, people yelling and crying and law enforcement everywhere. I heard the helicopters flying. It was the first time that I had encountered the smell of buildings burning.
In an instant, my whole world was turned upside down. My dad ran outside and watered the house down. Our telephone was ringing non-stop, the television was reporting non-stop and I wanted it all to stop. I was about to be a mother. I remember thinking, “Is what they are saying true? Is there no hope for us? Will I be that welfare mom who has another baby before I am 18 and drop out of school? Is my life and the life of my child already mapped out for us?”
I saw the very people who were supposed to serve and protect only protect the rich in a comforting way. I saw my community protected with force and abuse. I saw the images of the people labeled as thieves, terrorists, looters, hooligans, thugs and gang bangers. Everyone fit into those category no matter where or who you were in my neighborhood. We were in the hood therefore we will be treated as such were my thoughts.
Days later the smoke cleared. Yet, there was unbearable pain and damage. One of my friends and his mom lived on top of the corner liquor store. I remembered crying my eyes out because their place was burned to the ground. My parents frequented the gas station on the corner of Florence and Normandie, however, they could no longer go there and had to go to another city to get gasoline. I vividly recall their panic in traveling in fear of running out. As we traveled, all I could see was reality in my community. What was left after was what was felt after.
20 Years later, my community still stands with rich culture and love. The pain is still there from unheard and untold stories. There is still much healing to take place. The images that are in the media still do not fully reflect the true essence of my community. My parents are still on the block. My brothers are doing very well. Leonard has his Ph.D. in computer engineering and Leron is currently has his M.S. and is a Ph.D. candidate in the same field.
As for me, I did not become a statistic. I graduated high school with 3.93 GPA, went on to college to get an AA in Journalism, became a business woman and a community activist who is now an emerging ally. My son, RaShaun, will be 20 years old in November and is finishing his sophomore year at Northern Arizona University.
This struggle has started so many movements and created so many leaders. I am resilient in being a part of the continued empowerment within our blocks that bind us.
About Betrice Coleman-Sweet
Betrice Coleman-Sweet started writing as a young girl. She is the former Editor/VP of Communications for Treazuremag.com, an online women’s magazine. She is currently a writer who has contributed to several publications, including her own blog Queenbsweet.blogspot.com. She is also a publicist with her own PR Firm, Serving Angels Media and COO of Global Marketing and Entertainment Experts (GME Experts). She covers some of Hollywood’s Hottest Events and Red Carpets.