The Name Game


Quote of the Day: “I get delirious/Whenever U’re near/Lose all self-control/Baby, just can’t steer…” — Prince, “Delirious”


So…the other day, Saturday to be exact, my mother and I were driving to the local Popeye’s–cause we were over Thanksgiving food and my mother and I can’t spend too many consecutive days together when I’m in Long Island without indulging our constant Popeye’s craving. To get there from our house, we have to drive through Hempstead, the town I lived in until I was about 13, the town where I went to Ludlum Elementary School back in the wonderful 1970s. Just as we were about to pass the school, my mother says, “Oh yeah. I meant to tell you…” And I braced myself because my family has a tendency to drop info on me out of the blue, like afterthoughts, like I live in Hong Kong and not the city. You know, I’ll be sitting with my folks at the dining room table and my mother will say to my father, “Ray, how’s so-and-so doing since she had quadruple bypass surgery? Can you pass the biscuits?” So-and-so, in this case, might be a favorite cousin or a beloved next door neighbor. But, somehow, I never heard about it. Someone always assumes someone else in the family told me. Or so they say. I think they just like to keep me out of the loop–I think it might have something to do with that time I forced them to ride Space Mountain three times in a row when we went to Disney World back in ’77…sweet familial revenge…
Anyway…so my mother goes, “I meant to tell you. They changed the name of your elementary school.” 
“To what?” I asked, thinking they’d probably named it after me–and my family just forgot to tell me.
“Barack Obama Elementary School,” she said.
“You lyin’,” I said.
She shook her head.  Because she wasn’t lyin’.  Ludlum Elementary School, old and stately there on the corner of Williams Street and Thorne Avenue is now the first school in America named after a …president-elect????

I didn’t know what to  say. I mean, I’ll admit it, it took me a looong minute to slurp up the remnants of the Obama Kool-Aid. I mean, I wasn’t a McCain/Palin kat or anything like that. I just wasn’t sure how I felt about the dude on the Democratic ticket. I’m over that now. I was officially over it–and drinking all kinds of flavors of the sugary shit–when I got to the polling booth on election day and the brotha next to me, about 45 years old or so, asked me how to vote, asking me which words on the ballot said “John McCain” and which ones said “Barack Obama”…it took a minute for me to realize that homeboy couldn’t read, but that he’d gotten up, was there waiting for the polls to open, and ready to cast his vote. Because he wanted a brotha to become the next President of his United States. Suffice to say that I could barely read my own ballot after that, as full as my eyes were with the tears I had to wipe away to keep my masculine dignity there in downtown Providence, Rhode Island.
But…Ludlum is now Barack Obama Elementary School. Uh, okay…? That’s cool, I guess. I asked my mom–who’s been around for a minute, who saw MLK speak, who was way down in the South during Brown v. the Board of Ed , who insisted my sister and I start voting the MOMENT we turned 18, who’s seen a whole lotta First Blacks in her day–what she thought. 
And she didn’t have an opinion. So unlike my mother. Or maybe she was just not telling me, like the time she didn’t tell me my sister’s graduation day and I only found out cause I happened to come home that weekend.
Flashback: I thought about that time during the primary, when I read a news item about a barber shop in Long Island that added Barack Obama’s picture to a longtime shrine that already had pics of MLK, Malcolm X and Jesus. I remember thinking as I read the article, I understand being proud of a brotha but can we let a brotha get in office and do something first? And another flashback: I thought about the older black woman, tears streaming down her face in Chicago’s Grant Park on election night. A CNN reporter asked her how it felt to be in Chicago on this historic night-of-nights. She replied, “I’m just so joyous and proud to be a native of the state of Illinois, home to two of the greatest Presidents ever, Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama.”
I want that Harvard homeboy who’s about to move into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to knock it out the box just as much as the next man, or tearful old lady. 
But shrines? Monikers like “one of the greatest president ever”? Re-naming my beloved elementary school two months before brothaman is even sworn in? 
Well, I guess it is … what is. Peeps are happy. And excited. And proud. They’re motivated, like, one hopes, the students at the former Ludlum School will be by this historic moment they’re just old enough to understand.
I just hope that ten years from now, when the kids at Barack Obama Elementary School are old enough to vote, they’re able to read the ballots themselves. 

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