I Am Famous For Something and Living With a Colored CemeteryMay 21, 2018 Off By Joy Clark
I have four ancestors buried at Burr Oak Cemetery on the famous Colored Side. Mother Etta Lee Roberts, Bishop William Matthew Roberts (Protestant Clergyman), Mamie Thompson and George Thompson I. My ancestor Bishop William Matthew Roberts started Chicago’s famous Roberts Temple and is the Protestant Bishop that presided over the Chicago funeral for Emmitt Till (The Emmitt Till Story made national headlines near the turn of the century, when he was murdered and hung from a tree while visitng his family in Mississippi. Emmitt Till was accused of whistling at a white woman). Not only are they buried next to eachother but Bishop William Matthew Roberts and Emmitt Till have streets named after them on Chicago’s Southside (crossing 42nd Street). Other famous African-Americans include civil rights leaders and numerous players from the Negro League. Visitors are given a pamphlet when they visit. This cemetery is not far from where I grew up.
In addition, my grandmother (on my mother’s side) Norma Jean’s maiden name is Roberts, along with her siblings Barbara (RIP), Thierry, Wanda, and George. William Matthew Roberts is on my fathers side which makes me inbred.
I had a pretty good thing going. I wasn’t rich but I had a boyfriend who adored me and a beautiful son. I had just convinced my boyfriend to go to work so I could stay home with him. My days were awesome, I got to raise my son, take care of our place, and write music.
I stopped working with the other artist I was collaborating with. We had done so much together that cutting ties was like ending my career in music.
I met my soon to be baby daddy at a recording studio. I got knocked up and I got a job waiting tables. I did not think that we were ready for a child but he swore he would be there for me. My baby daddy got another girlfriend and I was unprepared for the slow season as a waitress, I lost my apartment. I had to spend a couple of months on my aunt’s sofa.
I worked and worked. I had three jobs. I served at a lunch shift downtown, a dinner shift in the burbs, and a banquet serving job in a hotel on weekends. I befriended a co-worker. My baby daddy moved away to another state.
My co-worker was engaged to be married but his ex cheated on him and broke up with him. I told him I was pregnant but, I didn’t tell many people because I needed to work as much as possible. We shared war stories about our ordeals with our exes. I finally saved up enough money for a one-room efficiency apartment. My co-worker would visit and bring me food.
I finally had my son. My grandmother passed away. Since my grandfather is a highly-decorated police officer, my grandmother had one of those official funerals you see on TV with the police force and everything. Although my son will never remember her, I am glad that she was able to hold him before she passed.
My co-worker and I decided to officially become an item. As usual, I worked and I worked. My boyfriend watched the baby while I did my double shifts at the restaurant.
My boyfriend moved in and I didn’t have to work quite as many double shifts. By my son’s first birthday we moved into a two bedroom apartment. Luckily for us, our apartment went through a gut-rehab and when the work was completed, everything was brand-new.
My son started talking and his first word was, “daddy”. Oh no, I am doing all of this work and his first word is, “daddy”. I talked my boyfriend into working more and letting me stay home. He agreed and everything was awesome.
With my time at home I was able to write songs when my son naps. I was doing some of my best work and I knew it. We lived above a convienience store. My neighbors enjoyed my music and I would proudly work with the windows wide open. My boyfriend bought me a guitar. This is the best life I have ever had.
My dad works for the local news. On the other hand, it was just bought by a major network and now their station is part of the, “network”. I started dreaming. In my dreams a man would say, “My wife killed herself because she wanted a baby and never conceived”. “I don’t want you to die that way”. I thought it was weird because I have a baby. I didn’t think much of it at first.
I started daydreaming while I was songwriting. It’s cool to have an imaginary fan, I guess.
I watched the news. Michael Jackson dies. Whitney Houston dies. B.B. King dies. Burr Oak Cemetary was involved in a scandal involving the reselling of burial plots. I asked my family if anyone was buried there. Not to anybody’s knowledge.
I began to think that my boyfriend was snickering and saying smart remarks behind my back. “What did you just say?”. He would reply, “nothing”. All of his supposed talking under his breath had me ask him to move to the couch. He orders cable. We now have access to hundreds of channels and this is a luxury for us.
One day when my boyfriend was at work I was watching music videos and I could swear that the artists are talking to me. When my boyfriend comes home I confess that I was diagnosed as being bipolar but I hadn’t had treatment in years. He was very supportive. I apologized for making him sleep on the sofa but I am just not ready to share a bed yet. He told me to get some help and that he would sleep on the couch as long as I need him to.
Things are getting worse for me. I made an appointment with a social service agency that serves the mentally ill. This agency had me come in for intake and then informed me that they would get in contact with me as soon as they have an opening for a new client. Which took a long time.
I decide to copyright and register my music with BMI. Can you believe that now we can just do it online? In addition, I felt that it was imperative that I work with Kanye West and I submitted my music to a remix contest.
At this point, I can’t stand my boyfriend. It just seems like he is always mumbling things under his breath and won’t admit it. He swears that he is not saying anything but I just hate the things that I am hearing. I ask him to move out. He gets another unit in the same building.
The agency finally calls me in to meet with a psychologist and then a psychiatrist. I get on meds and apply for disability. I have no income so I have to move back home. I pack my things and head to the south suburbs.
While I was on medication it felt as if I had slept for two years. I stopped thinking that everyone was saying things to me but, I was overweight, single, and living with my parents. I dated some people but, no one wanted to be exclusive. I felt like a loser. Like I didn’t have it together enough for anyone to take me seriously. I wasn’t always comfortable talking about having a disability either. People always assumed that I was unstable. It is still hard to disclose.
Suprisingly, when I wasn’t sleeping I had a job. I managed to save up a little money and decided to replace my music equipment. At the same time, I decided to go get a bartending certificate.
The club that I got hired at was owned by a young woman which really impressed me and, she immediately asked me, “Do you know Billy Branch?”. I was like, “yeah” and was totally surprised that he works so close to my parents house. I thought she was saying things under her breath so I decided not to go back. Billy Branch is my cousin who is a grammy award winning blues artist.
The next bar I worked at went on Bar Rescue.
With my new equipment, I decide to record an album. It was a great experience. While I was searching online I found many sites that allow you distribute music yourself. I decided to start another publishing company too.
I also thought that bartending was not working out so I decided to go back to school. Surprisingly, I got an academic grant and a pell grant that allowed me to attend the university tuition free. I spent a ton of money on books but it was still a great opportunity.
On the first day of school Billy Branch’s photos were on posters all throughout the campus and on lightposts. I was very apprehensive about this but, I decided to go to my classes anyway. I also saw pictures of a judge and I began to wonder if he is also my relative.
I met some former high school class mates for lunch. I told them about my pending album release. Soon after, one of them heads off to Afganistan.
At the same time, I started thinking that I need to be very clear to my son about the kind of background that my child has ethnically speaking. I am light-skinned and his dad is white. I figure this is not clear and decide to do a family tree.
I visited other family and found out that a couple more of my relatives went to my school. I was surprised because I thought I was supposed to let the school know that I am related to some alumni. I felt proud, I want to sing this from the mountaintops but, these people probably never think about me. I immediately told my music teacher.
While I was doing the family tree I got tons of funeral brochures. You wouldn’t believe the amount of information that is written in a funeral brochure. One thing that stuck out to me was the fact that four of my family members were buried at Burr Oak. Which, is not too far from our house so I decide to go there. Once again, I am proud of the accomplishments of my ancestors and relatives but why is nothing ever a big deal?
I thought that maybe I did something wrong when I put my album in distribution and I asked for a takedown until I could figure out what the problem is.
I am exhausted, physically and mentally. I am at this university barely keeping up and I am trying to raise my son. I wrote some of the most inspired music ever. Every lesson that I learned in math and science gave me a practical lesson in life so that I can understand it. Never has science been so real to me. I took a Latin studies class and was just as inspired. I have had these same kinds of experiences. Spanish is not my first language but I certainly know about not being pure enough. That might be my whole problem.
I have accommodations at school for my disability. 1. I get to miss class for any reason and I get an opportunity to make it up. 2. I have to have things in writing like, assignments, exams, and notes. I am a very good student. I came in with honors status. I am hearing things again and I am afraid that I will ruin my credit this time. I can’t imagine blowing such a large amount of money. So, I decide to focus on Spanish and Music.
The burbs is killing me. I travel 1 ½ hours to school each day. I carry a backpack that weighs a massive amount and I am skinny now. I have to move to the city. I put in an application for the Latin School for my child. I figured if I could get a grant for school maybe I can get him one too.
When I established phone and internet service I was so glad. I was spending a mint on cellular data just so I could complete assignments and stream video. When my home phone service was started people called all day long. I turned my ringer off. I had way too many messages to listen to them all but, what if someone called with some real business?
I was so worried about my privacy. I called my grandfather about my privacy issues. He told me to contact my phone provider. He passed away a month later.
After Latin studies class I begin to learn some things about my culture. I am like a Latin American person, there are some Africans, Europeans, and American Indians. The only difference is that my Europeans are English we are not united by the Spanish Language. However, I do know some Spanish from school. The second I move to the city there is a special report on the news: The Burr Oak Class Action.
After being in the city things seemed so racially charged. Everyone was black, white, or black and white. I felt like I did not fit in with anyone. I felt like my child did not either. I called the officer handling the Burr Oak Case and he told me that they were closing it.
It felt as if everything was so racially and politically charged. I couldn’t put my finger on it but, I felt like I was being excluded from something for not being black. Turns out that the Burr Oak Cemetary scandal was focused on the, “colored side”. I would have never known this because there are no signs. However, they have several famous colored people who are buried there along with four of my ancestors who are definately “colored”.