From my forthcoming work, Raising Kazembe: A Memoir. This collection of journal letters written by an HIV-positive father to his son chronicles the lesson of life and education, the mental and emotional health of a father who deals with isolation, stigma, mental health issues as well as how the traumas of his childhood play out in his parenting and desire to heal.
November 18, 1992
You arrived into this world this morning at 10:11 a.m. to the sound of Afrikan music, the drums and vocal. My Baba, Eric Rucker, had provided me with many cassette tapes and as the universe would have it, I selected an amazing one for this day. It was in the rhythm that only the instrumental played right until the time you began to crown. Then the vocals began and Dr. Giles asked, "Did you plan that?"
I cried over your Umi after cutting your umbilical cord and the nurse took you to the other side of the room to clean you up. I cried on your Umi's chest releasing the joy and happiness of your birth. One day you will see for yourself on video which I recorded.
After the nurse had you all cleaned up, I came over to pick you up and carried you to meet your Umi. I started singing Funga Alafia and you opened your eye to me. "Amazing," said the nurse of 11 years. "I have never seen a newborn do that before."
Your birth weight is 6 pounds and 12 ounces and you are 21 inches long. You are going to be tall. All your vitals checked out perfectly and now our journey begins.
November 25, 1992
Prayer for My Sons
Holy Father, how I praise and magnify your holy name! I know that you are worthy of all honor and praise, for you have been faithful to me and to my family all of our lives. I confess that we have not always been faithful to you, but you have forgiven and blessed us in spite of ourselves and I thank you.
Father, I present my son to you. I ask that he will grow up whole, for whole is holy. I want him to be of a mind to praise you, to love you, to worship and adore you, for as long as you are primary in his life. He will be strong, responsible Black man who is blessed to be a blessing.
Thank you, father, for hearing your servant's prayer that is prayed in the precious name of my Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen -- Marjorie L. Kimbrough
This morning we had your naming ceremony. We all woke up before dawn. Your Nyanya (grandmother) is here from New Jersey, Umi (mother), Gam Gam and me. We were in the basement of MaDear's house and I had a fire burning in the fireplace. We were gathered together and again, your Umi knows I am living with HIV. The ceremony was simple. We prayed, spoke affirmations for your life, and then I raised you up, and spoke your name Amenhotep Kazembe Ture Abif.
I then went outside and planted the afterbirth and placenta along with a tree in the back-right corner of the yard. Tomorrow I will go back to the hospital to file the appropriate paperwork for your birth certificate and social security card.
Later in the afternoon we will host several family and friends for the soul food feast prepared by MaDear. Many people will ask you later in your life and me now, "Where did your name come from?" I feel blessed to have the opportunity to name you and provide hope and aspiration for you by selecting a name which has real meaning and purpose.
When I decided to change my name, it was because I wanted my name to reflect my conscious thinking, self-identification and my ethnic heritage. On appearance alone I am a man of Afrikan descent so I wanted my name to reflect that ancestry.
Dr. Nathan Hare argues that because we, the Black community, have lost control of our culture and our children's socialization, many Black youths suffer an extended adolescence. Boys reach physical puberty readily enough and more precociously than their white counter parts. Dr. Hare suggests this is far more difficult in an oppressive situation to gain social puberty. In bringing Black boys to manhood we must recognize and actualize the differences between physical and social puberty in the development of Black boys.
So many Black boys are systemically blocked from the avenues to social power and position and social potency which may leave them to often feel compelled to over-compensate in the physical. To that end, Dr. Hare believes what we need is some way of bringing the Black boy to manhood, to highlight and sharpen the focus of the importance and significance of being a man.
Dr. Hare goes on the say we must now search for a way to give the Black boy a sense of becoming a man, a clearer sense of self and purpose, responsibility to his roles as father and husband, a sacredness of self, and others in the context of more attentive family and community networks. I agree it is my responsibility as your father to point you in the direction of ownership of commitment and responsibility.
My time with you will allow you to witness my role in the household. I will work to provide a daily model for you. I hope my example of commitment to family and community will be a real model for you. It is for this reason I will enjoy having you with me as I attend community events, activities I participate in, and at times with me at work. I will do these things so you can see with your own eyes what it is that I do and how I am connected to community. This will be available to you, providing you with the benefits of custom, ceremony, faith and rituals in an effort for you to know your place in family, community and the Afrikan nation.
"It's better to be prepared for an opportunity and not have one, than to have an opportunity and not be prepared." -- Whitney Young