“Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” Jeremiah: 9:1

Amid our death and demise, I hear the cries that wet my eyes. For I remember a time when only old folks died.

When living in the ghetto, we still had pride. Before “drive-by” became part of our vocabulary. Before we buried a nation of murdered sons in the cemetery.


Back when the children could still play outside. And little boys didn’t get shot while making mud pies. Back in the days when menfolk in the hood could find work. And we sat safely long after midnight, talking on the porch.

When little old ladies walked to the corner store without fear. And young men held their words when old folks were near. And there were much worse things than being poor. So long as we had shoes and food galore.

Frozen Kool-Aid cups chilled a hot summer’s day. And killing each other was not our way. We rode our bikes, played hide-and-seek. Cherished our green lawns and that old apple tree. And segregation, in some ways, made us so much stronger, less complacent. More self-reliant. Filled with self-determination.

And the ghetto was just a place. Not a state of mind. Our imaginations were a playground. And we made good ole times.

I remember back when kids didn’t sass. When black folks didn’t worry about ballin’ and flash. We all went to church on Sunday morn. And preachers preached not for fame and glory, or sum. Back when there were way more important things than hair weave and nails. And it was not a right of passage to go to jail.

I remember way black when … Before drugs flourished on the corner. Back when church mothers were still prayer warriors and mourners. Before crack and blunts and social collapse. Before we were ensnared by government traps. By liberal do-gooder policies that helped dismantle our homes. That deceived us into setting “Self-Fulfillment” on the throne.

Before TV convinced us the world was passing us by. Led us to forsake the truth for lies. Before rap music and hip hop became our new god. Before we despised each other and turned our backs on God. Before chaos and murder and devastation set in. And we longed for the days of old again.

Back in the day, when only old folks died and little boys grew up to be grown men, we were so much better off then…

And a crystal staircase to heaven was a faraway dream. For we understood that life in the hood was real and sometimes mean. That only what a man sowed might he expect to reap. That nothing on God’s green earth is ever really ours to keep.

So even if you didn’t have a “diamond in the back, a sunroof top,” you learned to be thankful for what you got. And had. Even when times were bad. So you were never completely sad. Because in the scheme of things, happiness was never about stuff or things. But substance. Not bling.

About love. Not romance. And life about the journey. Not the mountaintop.

Music about the rhythm. Not whether the beat don’t stop.

Brotherhood about forgiveness and selfless sacrifice. And sisterhood about respect and treating each other right.

Way black when, we embraced the color of coffee in our skin. And we might never have imagined what we would become — back then.

Coincidence? Cosmic circumstance? The devolution of the original man? Or a man-made premeditated plan imposed by hateful bloodstained hands?

Back in the day when only old folks died, we lived by truth instead of being consumed by lies. And yet, I still believe that we can rise.

Email: Author@johnwfountain.com