There is a township called Redford on the west edge of the city of Detroit. The road that is the border between the township and the city on that side is called Five Points.
On a particular block of Five Points there were a number of families who were very close. In fact, they called themselves the Five Points Family.
It was a special place in Redford…where little rascals drove a Blur, and played for the Stanley Cup, and grew to be strong in the Force by kicking the can. Autumn was festive and eggs were hunted in spring, and the night sky was bright in July. Grass would not grow there but children thrived and so did love, and the harvest yielded memories galore.
We were one of those families and it was a good and happy place for kids to grow up. Not perfect mind you, but it was home.
And then, once upon a time, on an early spring day, the neighborhood was out in front of our house playing roller blade hockey.
Mr. W and your Daddy were playing too. Mrs. W and I were sitting on the porch visiting and enjoying the sunshine. All the boys from the T family were there, and the C family kids from a block over. Mr. and Mrs. W’s four children and you three were all skating up and down on your roller blades, swinging plastic hockey sticks trying to hit the ball. If a car came, the grown ups would yell “car” and all you kids would scamper… some gracefully, some panicked, some stumbling to the curb and jump on the tree lawn, because that was the rule.
As the game continued we could see down the street a couple of township trucks and police cars headed toward the play. So Mr. W yelled “car” and you all made your way to the tree lawn.
But instead of driving past us the police cars and township trucks stopped in front of our house. And the Township Supervisor got out of a police car and told everyone to load up into the trucks that were being opened. Daddy and Mr. W approached the Supervisor to talk about what was going on, but there was no talking. The police grabbed both Daddy and Mr. W and pushed them into a truck.
The took all the young people playing hockey, they took Mrs. W and me. They took everyone who was outside at that moment. They took all the C kids, all the T kids. They didn’t take our neighbors Reggie and Ray because they were too old.
They took us all in the trucks to Detroit, by the river and forced us on big boats, ships really, with many other people. The people who seemed to own the ships looked very different from us, and we didn’t understand their language, and they didn’t understand ours.
They forced us all down some stairs into the bottom of the ship. When Daddy and Mr. W resisted, the different looking men hit them, very hard.
There were too many people. It was very crowded. Little children were crying. It was hot. The ship started moving and some people got sick. But there was no bathroom. When they threw up it was just…there. There was nowhere to clean up. Nowhere to sit or sleep. Nowhere to go potty. It was dark. No windows. No fresh air. It smelled bad. People were scared. Some were angry. Everyday the Different People gave us some water and a little food. It wasn’t enough. We were hungry and very thirsty. We stayed in the bottom of the ship a long, long time. It got smellier and smellier. We couldn’t take a bath or brush our teeth. We didn’t want to breathe the smelly air. Some people got sick. Very sick. Some even died.
After a long time, we don’t know how long, but it was days and days and maybe weeks and weeks, the ship stopped. We didn’t know where we were. It was a different place. Very different. It was nothing like Redford. The only people we could see were the Different People. Different hair. Different faces, different clothes, different words.
We were all dirty and weak. Hungry and tired. We hadn’t moved around much and now our legs didn’t work so well. We were sore. Scared. And angry.
The Different Men split us up. The C girls were separated from us. David and Andrew and Nick and all the dads were separated from us. They tried to stay with us, but the Different Men hit them and tied their arms together and their legs and led them away with a rope like we would do with our dog Sparkles on her leash. (Sparkles! Who was taking care of Sparkles?!)
You three kids stayed with me and we were taken up some stairs onto a platform in front of a huge crowd of the Different People. We looked past all of them, panicked, trying to see where Daddy had gone. We didn’t know why were on that platform. We thought maybe they were going to hurt us. You were all scared and crying and clinging to me. Then some of the Different Men started shouting. Every time they shouted we flinched. We couldn’t understand what they were saying. Then we were pushed down the stairs and a Different Man came and took us with him. We had to walk a long, long way. He gave us food. But it was very different from what we ate in Redford. You didn’t like the taste. But it was all we had. So we had to eat it.
When we finally stopped walking we were put into a shelter. There were many different kinds of shelters. Strange looking. Strange plants and trees too. Animals we had never seen before! But then we saw some other people, people who looked like us! We couldn’t believe it. When the Different Man left us, the people who looked like us came up to us and started talking. They sounded different from us but we could understand them.
They told us the Different People wanted us to work. To help them work what seemed like a big farm. Work with the animals. We had never worked on a farm before. The only animal we knew was our dog Sparkles. That didn’t matter. Some of us would be allowed to work in their homes. The people who looked like us showed us where to clean up and where to go potty. They told us some of the words the Different People used and what they meant. They told us we had to stay and do what we were told or the Different People would hurt us.
We told them about Daddy. They looked sad and said there wasn’t any way to know where he was. We were very sad. We cried a lot about Daddy, but mostly at night.
During the day there was a lot of work to do. Everybody had to work. It didn’t matter how old you were. If you stopped or complained, they hit you. Even when you worked hard some of the Different People were mean.
We didn’t have anything. None of the things we used to have at home. Just the clothes that we wore all the time. We thought about our home. And our neighbors. We thought about Munga and Boompa and Grandma and Grandpa. What would they think? We just disappeared. We didn’t even know where we were.
Every day we had to get up early and work hard. Our hands hurt. Our backs hurt. Our whole bodies hurt. At night we would cry before we fell asleep.
We never got to sleep in. We never got to decide what we would do that day- when we would work, when we would stop. We were told to do things. If we tried to do anything different we would be hit. Hard.
We learned more and more words. But nothing else changed.
What if this happened to us? Once upon a time?
What would you feel? Scared? Angry? But you could never change it. You couldn’t eat what you wanted, or when you wanted, or eat as much as you wanted. You couldn’t have anything. You couldn’t play. You couldn’t go to school. You couldn’t see Daddy. You couldn’t decide anything.
That’s what it means to lose your freedom. Freedom is when you can make your own choices. But we couldn’t make any choices. If we could, we would have chosen to rest sometimes. We would have chosen to find Daddy and our friends.
We would have chosen to go home.
Sometimes we would get really mad. But it didn’t matter. There wasn’t anything we could do. We would get angry and angry and angry, but nothing changed.
We would just do what we were told. We were tired and we worked hard and we were hungry. And it never changed. It never stopped. You all grew up. And we kept doing the same things. We did whatever we were told to do.
Sometimes we still got angry and cried. But not so much anymore. Some of the anger changed. It became hatred. Wanting to hurt the people who did this to us. Wanting to hit them and shake them and say, “Why did you do this?! Where is my Daddy?! Why can’t I go home?! Who do you think you are?!”
It didn’t make any difference. Some people got really mad. But they also got hurt really bad.
One of the people like us, who still got mad a lot, tried to run away. At night. But the Different People took dogs and guns and chased him. We never saw him again. I don’t think he got away. He didn’t know the area like they did. And he looked so different. Any one who saw him would know that he didn’t belong off on his own. The only people who looked like us were told what to do by the Different People.
Once upon a time. Once upon a time, not very long ago, it happened. Only the people who look like us were the “Different People”. And the people who were taken from their homes and made to work hard and separated from their families and hurt were people who looked like our neighbors Raheem and William and Ericka and our friends Uranah and Walter and Nikita and Mr. C W who works with Daddy at Glendale.
Once upon a time this happened to their great, great, great, great grandmas and grandpas. What do you think they felt? Once upon a time?