I talked about my first day at Mount Vernon High School in ’83 a few days ago. But as I said in my book Boy @ The Window, my second day was just as memorable. It was already the beginning of the end of my days as a Hebrew-Israelite by the time the summer of ’83 had turned into ninth grade. I didn’t need any more wake-up calls than the reality that my then stepfather was more of a hypocritical bastard than he’d been before finding this strange Afrocentric and “Jewish” religion. But my classmate Nes gave me yet another one anyway:
“After a day of assignments and learning the names of our new teachers, I went to Louis Cuglietto’s eighth-period Geometry class. It was on the first floor of the school, just to the right of the front entrance and the cafeteria. As I milled around the classroom looking to take my seat, my Latino classmate Nes came out of nowhere and snatched my kufi off my head.
“’Give it back now!,’ I yelled.
“’Make me!,’ Nes responded with a bit of sarcasm.
“Just as he was about to throw it to another classmate. I grabbed Nes and knocked him to the floor. There we were, on the floor by the dark green chalkboard, me on top of Nes, who was struggling to hold on to my kufi. I lay on top of him, punched him in the face a couple of times, and took my kufi back from him just before Cuglietto came into the room. By this time everyone in our class had formed a circle to watch the spectacle. I don’t remember all of what Cuglietto said, but he did ask, ‘Do you want to get suspended?’ After we dusted ourselves off, we went to our desks and got back to work.
“For me, the incident marked a transition point in my life at school. This would be the last fight I’d have in school. Some people continued to try to verbally intimidate me. But they left it at that, probably because my height and my face said ‘Don’t mess with me’ before I’d say anything.
“The more immediate result was that I began to question more consciously my motives for defending myself as a Hebrew-Israelite. ‘Why do I care if Nes snatches my kufi from me?,’ I said to myself on the way home from school that day. It wasn’t as if I truly believed in any of the teachings anymore. I definitely didn’t want anyone messing with me at home or in school. At the same time, I didn’t want to use up energy defending something in which I didn’t believe.”
To say that I was disillusioned would be like saying active volcanoes are dangerous. I had a smoldering anger from the previous twenty-eight months of physical and mental abuse at home (along with our plunge into welfare poverty), and ridicule and isolation at school. But I also realized that making a move to declare that I was no longer a Hebrew-Israelite meant that much of what I had gone through at school, though, was a complete waste of time and energy. And with nothing and no one to believe in or for, I still wasn’t ready to move on.
But the month of September ’83 had more in store for me, Yom Kippur especially (to be continued).