|Posted on February 2, 2017 at 2:55 PM|
Strange Fruit Like Fallen Mangoes
By Tracy L. Darity
On my morning walks I pass by a home that has a huge mango tree in its front yard. The tree is so big that you can barely see the front of the house. Each season as the tree begins to bear fruit the owner installs a fence around the perimeter of the tree and hangs multiple signs with a “no trespass” warning.
As we get deeper and deeper into the season and the mangoes begin to grow and their aroma permeates the air, I can’t help but wonder how sweet and juicy they must be. The sight reminds me of the mango trees that used to bear fruit in the backyard of my childhood home. So many times as an adult I have met people and once they learn where my parents live they share a story of how they used to come and get mangoes from our tree, or how we had the best mangoes in that one tree, but the other two had “turpentine” mangoes, which are hard and bitter.
It’s funny thinking back on those days because those mango thieves had gotten so brazen that they built a platform in the tree and would leave their homemade fruit pickers (a 10 ft. pole with a wire hook and string attached to it) leaning against the brick wall that separated our property from the business behind us. As much as it annoyed my parents, they were very giving people and preferred the mangoes be eaten and not go bad, which could draw rats and other rodents to the yard.
There were many days that I passed the house with the mango tree and wanted to stop and ask the owners if they sold them, if I could buy some, and why have that fence at all. I was unable to take my daily walk for a few weeks, and by the time I was able to get out again the stench of rotting fruit greeted me as I approached the house. As I passed by I was saddened by all those mangoes just lying on the ground and thought, what a waste. The following week the fence had been removed and the ground cleared of any evidence the tree had produced any fruit at all.
Fast forward to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend here in St. Petersburg. I had the fortunate opportunity to attend an event put on by Tampa Bay Writers Resist. It was a gathering of writers and poets and educators who came together to presents works on freedom, tolerance and acceptance. Terri Lipsey Scott, Chair of the Board of the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum, recited a thought provoking poem titled Resolution, in which she juxtaposed the lyrics of Billie Holiday’s, Strange Fruit, and her own resolve to be more engaged and more out-spoken pertaining to matters that impact the community.
As I listened to Scott I couldn’t help but think about those rotten mangoes that were allowed to fall and die. Crazy, I know. So what’s the connection? I’m getting there, trust me.
The city of St. Petersburg touts being the host to the largest Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. parade in the United States. Several years ago State Representative (now State Senator) Darryl Rouson rallied for funding to support area day of service projects to engage the community in more productive ways of celebrating the Dr. King holiday. On the Saturday evening preceding the 2017 Dr. King holiday; I attended the annual candlelight visual at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum. The event was standing room only, but as I looked around the room my guestimate would be that 95% of those attending were NOT African American. Yet, the museum is housed on the grounds of the historic Jordan Park housing community, which is predominantly black. Of the remaining 5%, I would guess that about 1/3 were on the program for the evening. This was pretty much the same makeup as the demographics for the Writers Resist event, which was held at one of the larger predominantly black churches in the city the following day. No, I will boost their numbers up to about 15% because there were church members in attendance who were on hand to greet Florida A & M University and Tuskegee University band members who were being fed by the church.
On the Sunday evening of the Dr. King holiday weekend there was an advertised block party scheduled for an area of town known as the Deuces, which is half a block from the museum and two blocks from the church. Only weeks earlier, a standing weekly “unpermitted” gathering at the same location, which had been taking place for roughly eight months, had been shut down. As concerns began to be raised rumors had it that there would be no block party, but a welcoming of FAMU and TSU bands to the city.
So there along the Deuces were families and individuals waiting for what many believed were going to be performances by these two college bands. Instead, what they witnessed was the Mt. Zion Progressive MBC community band leading the two college bands from the church to the Deuces. Disappoint ran through the crowd as they realized that was it, no performances just a group of band members in their school t-shirts walking down the street.
Some believed, myself including, was that this “welcome march” was simply a facade for the block party, which did take place, if only briefly. There was open drinking, weed smoking, loud music, etc. Things were not allowed to get too far out of hand because there was also a police presence and orders that whatever came of the event it would be shut down at 9:00 PM. Now let’s fast forward to Monday, the actual day of the famed Dr. King national parade. The parade takes place in downtown St. Petersburg and last year a tradition was added that included a family fun event that takes place in the parking lot of Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays major league baseball team.
In St. Petersburg there is another tradition that is as old as the parade itself. Decades ago the city renamed Ninth Street, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Street. It is along this street, in 1985, that the parade originally took place. Although it was moved long ago, 100’s, if not into the 1,000’s, continue to gather along Dr. King Street for what they call the “night parade.” Again, an unpermitted event that costs the city’s taxpayers $1,000’s of dollars, in police and sanitation services. It has also been a night when the possibilities of shootings or even murders are increased.
I recall going with my daughter last year to buy some barbecue from one of our favorite street vendors. To my heartbreak and dismay I was stunned to see police officers lining (like literally standing in a line) up and down Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Street, at 2:00 pm in the afternoon. “Why?” I asked. “Oh, it’s always like that on King’s day, wait until tonight,” was the response of someone standing by. He said it as though this is how its supposed to be, as if the community doesn't deserve better.
This year several people shared Facebook Live videos showing the events of the “night parade.” Now I am not going to pretend like I haven’t heard the stories of trashed streets, residents unable to leave or return to their homes, or the intermittent violence that breaks out in the area of the city known as Midtown. But watching the video I couldn’t help but wonder why the focus of some in the community is to congregate on the streets, break laws by openly drinking, using drugs, playing loud music and disobeying noise ordinances. Why must our people create an unsafe environment in the name of celebrating that garners a response from the city that sends out police in riot formation to herd the crowd like cattle? Why are major city streets blocked off to prevent citizens from traveling into “hot” neighborhoods on a day that is supposed to be about celebrating a man who championed for peace and unity? Most important, why aren't our youth being encouraged to participate in the various activites that about uplifting the memory of Dr. King, and enriching their lives?
Then, again, I thought about that strange fruit and mangoes left to rot on the ground. I thought about the candlelight vigil, the writer’s resist, the countless “day of service” projects that received very little attendance and/or participation, and I thought about those mangoes laying on the ground rotting. I thought about how despite the chaos of the night before when unsanctioned street parties took place; like that homeowner, the city came in early in the morning and erased any evidence of its existence.
Is the city of St. Petersburg that homeowner who puts a fence around the next generation by simply allowing them to perish in a community with failing schools, dwindling employment opportunities, and a sense of being ignored as the rest of the city changes before their eyes. Are we, the black community, that neighbor wondering by who might ignore the fence and pick the best fruit while the majority falls to the ground to decay? Are we the passerby who looks over perplexed as to what is going on? Or worse, are we the person walking by thinking of all the possibilities of how great our fruit can be and simply keep walking because we’re too distracted or too afraid to ask, can we do something more with this fruit than letting it just fall to the ground and die.
Iynala Vanzant once asked, “If our children are the fruit, then what is going on with the tree (the parents).” Have we become the ones bearing strange fruit for a bitter crop?
Let’s get the conversation started, leave your comments below, like and share.
Love & Blessings,
Tracy L. Darity is the author of three novels, He Loves Me He Loves Me Not!, Love...Like Snow in Florida on a Hot Summer Day, and The Red Bear Society. Available in print and e-book. To learn more, visit www.TracyLDarity.com or Amazon.com