Vernon Robinson Jr. knows we all share a common bond that is more than just the blood we shed, the color of our skin, or the universal language we speak. That common bond is adversity. In this true story, Robinson, who has seen his share of struggles in his lifetime, offers a poignant glimpse into his forty-year journey to conquer his childhood demons, overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles, learn to believe in himself, and pursue his dreams.
Robinson begins by detailing a difficult childhood in which he was forced at a young age to cope with death and endure an abusive home environment. Seemingly destined to walk a dark path, Robinson shares how he turned to the streets and was challenged to avoid drugs, gangs, and crime. Determined to turn his life around, Robinson eventually joined the Marines where he pushed boundaries, embraced opportunities, and utilized his street smarts. But with the good came a relentless fear of failure and another devastating life experience that threatened his survival. As he chronicles how he managed to overcome his most daunting challenge, Robinson proves to younger generations that anything is possible.
A Change Is Gonna Come shares one man's powerful journey through life as he learned to overcome adversity and became a decorated marine, a devoted husband, and a proud advocate of diabetes awareness.
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A Change Is Gonna Come
A Memoir of Coping with the Harsh Realities of Life
By Vernon Robinson Jr.
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2014 Vernon Robinson Jr.
All rights reserved.
On 602 Condon Terrace, Apartment #21, a large six-apartment brick complex with a large concrete front yard. In that front yard, four wooden benches laid out in a sideways L-shape. In the 70's, people young and old would crowd the streets as usual. Any bright and sunny day and I was always ready to enjoy every minute of it.
On a good day, I'd wake up to the smell of bacon and eggs cooking in the kitchen. After a brief stretch of my young growing body, I would peek out the window to see what was new on the block. Loving life and surprised by the slightest thing, I loved sitting out front of our three-story apartment complex. However, every time you peeked out the window, you ran the risk of seeing something that you didn't want to see. In the projects, it was usually something that would definitely get you in serious trouble if the wrong person caught you looking.
Although in our community, it was that very challenge that got the best of my common sense and I would peer out the window in pure inquisitive fashion. For some reason, the peek wouldn't last long because I knew that my grandmother had a nice surprise in the kitchen. I'd make my way to that raggedy ass bathroom. Yes, my grandmother kept a nice clean home, with the latest in 60's style furniture in the mid to late 70's, but she had no control over the bathroom's conditions.
Reflecting on this bathroom, imagine going into a roughly five-foot by six-foot bathroom that had a tall slender wooden door at the entrance. The walls were bright pink in color with the cracking of the plaster slowly creeping through the paint on the ceiling and upper corners of the walls. The cracks were so visible that you could literally draw a road map out of the cracks. To the right of the entry way at eye level was a tall rusty white metal medicine cabinet hovered over an old porcelain style sink that hung from the wall by two hangers with no frontal support. The toilet directly next to the sink was huge and could flush the skin off your butt if you sat low enough. Only the residents from European and Asian countries could appreciate such power coming from a toilet or bidet.
Directly across from the sink and toilet was empty space that we used for storing the dirty clothesbasket. Above it was a high tech toilet-paper dispenser. What do I mean by high-tech? Well as a kid I used to use it for making my G.I. Joe guys jump off of it like it was a repel tower. It had no real purpose and didn't really hold the toilet paper in place because the screw holes were larger than the screws that held the dispenser.
Looking into the bathroom, the tub crossed the room like a "T" with its rust stained drain that proved to be tougher than any drug dealer on the block was. There was a small, but usable window in the center of the shower wall. I definitely can't help but to reflect on the matching shower curtain and window curtains made of a polyester/plastic type substance. I call it that because no matter which way you bent this material, it seemed to stay that way like one of those bendable action figure toys where you bend the arms and legs how you want them and it just stays that way.
Then there were those one-inch square mix & match tiles that would make you have a seizure if you stared at one spot too long. This is just a small sample of the living quarters of a housing project, but at least it provided shelter.
Because my grandmother had instilled good manners into my body (mostly with the aid of a nice long leather belt), I always walked into the kitchen and greeted her with the biggest kiss of the day. To me, it was important to express to her how much I loved her and appreciated her in my life. Besides, that breakfast was well worth it. It was just the two of us, but there would be enough food for a small military squad. Eggs were cooked any way I wanted them, a selection of bacon, sausage, fatback, or scrapple; usually fried potato wedges or shredded potatoes, and either homemade biscuits or cornbread. Some mornings I would get a treat of homemade pancakes. Did she make them from scratch? Of course she did! She opened the box of Aunt Jemima or Bisquick and whipped up a batch of the complete powder faster than you could eat them. All she had to do was add water and pour it in a pan and within minutes, I had little tan discs flying on my plate for me to tackle with lots of syrup.
Unfortunately, this was the good side of waking up some mornings. Sometimes a nice hot breakfast wasn't what I woke up too. There were times when I woke up and walked out of my bedroom to find a hurricane had hit the living room and kitchen. Besides, my grandmother passed out in her bedroom; this demonic side lived within our walls. Family knew about it, but no one dared confront her about them. It was my grandmother's alcohol problems.
It was almost like clockwork that when midnight struck on some late Friday's, there was a different side to my grandmother. Anyone that knows her would tell you that she was a true Gemini being born in mid-May of 1917. She was roughly five and a half feet tall and her long bushy grayish hair, caramel skin tone, and high cheekbone almost looked as if she was part Indian. I remember as a child I used to comb her hair and practice corn rolling it to style. I'm sure this is where I got my infatuation with long hair.
Her eyes were also unique in color. They were a light brown with a green ring around the outer circle of her pupil. Her eyes made it that much more difficult to look at her when she was upset.
She was as strong as any man was and had hands the size of a large man with the strength that told the story of a hard worker. She had a mean bear hug that would squeeze the life out of anyone, but she always knew when to let up. One of her famous lines was, "Hug your mama and squeeze me as much as you love me!" I would always try my hardest to hug her and squeeze as hard as I could, but she would always give me that hug that had me begging for air.
After midnight, all bets were off and there was no hugging. She would go on a tantrum about anything that upset her from bills, to her two daughters, to her past. Most of the time I ignored it because I was young; but as I grew older, I started to listen and understand that her alcoholism was a result of a deeper and darker past one that she didn't like to touch upon very often.
When my grandmother went on her rampage on some of those weekends, anyone could have been a recipient of her anger. Sometimes it would be a lingering issue bothering her. I remember when some drug dealers were shooting craps in the hallway leading up to our doorway. Being drunk and full of fight, she opened the door to warn them not to be next to her door. Being stubborn, they ignored her because she was just an old woman.
She boiled a huge pot of water and grabbed a hatchet. Once the water boiled, she prepared her ammunition by the front door. As she swung the door open, she threw the hot water out onto all the patrons in the hall. I heard screams and hells from these people and one made the mistake of calling her a name. Apparently, it wasn't her real name and she took offense because she threw the hatchet at the person and chased after him trying to retrieve it. It is amazing that she never got hurt fighting the local drug dealers, but it was apparent that they respected her and her grandchild.
Sometimes I was the victim and I would get a major beating with a leather belt. She kept a couple of belts hanging on the left hand side of the entryway to the kitchen. There was a thin leather belt and a thick leather belt that she used and I feared. My beatings, whippings, or disciplinary tactics (whichever you prefer) were all because I didn't listen to instructions or because I didn't follow the rules. This was her way of helping me to stay the course in life. Of course, her methods of helping me are sometimes of huge debate today as abuse. I never really saw it as abuse, but then some rape victims don't see their attackers as the one that did wrong. Either way, I understood the ramifications and acknowledged it as a firm learning process that derived from her early childhood; which passed on from her parents as slaves beaten to get the point across. However, I did have hard feelings on a couple of these punishments because of the reasons.
Most of my friends remember, as well as I, the incident that hurt me both mentally and emotionally because the physical aspect was easy to get over. While out with my friends, I knew that I was supposed to return home before the streetlights came on. My friends and I took a little walk to the Eastover Shopping Center some fifteen-minutes away and returned just after dark.
As I was about to stick my key in the door of our apartment, my grandmother swung the door wide open, yanked me in by my arm and commenced to whip me like I was a thief in the night. Now I understand that I was late and knew that I would suffer some degree of consequences, but I didn't know why I was beaten to a pulp. As she was bringing down the belt with swings as strong as any heavyweight boxer, she was yelling at me for missing a phone call from none other than (ready for this) the gospel singer, Reverend Al Green.
Now I was young and intelligent, especially while hopping across the living room as if I was running on hot coals. However, I knew that she was drunk judging from the amount of alcohol on the kitchen table, albums all over the living room coffee table, and the smell of booze as she is breathing heavily while chasing me around with a belt! I really can't remember what song was playing at the time, but if it were gospel, it would explain why I was screaming Jesus' name. I never found out who actually called. I also never learned the real reason why she was so depressed, but I was really pissed with my grandmother hell and Al Green for calling our house.
In truth, I can joke and laugh at that moment, as my friends do when they remind me of the incident, but realistically, it was a moment that I realized that drinking wasn't good for any human and made people do things that they wouldn't ordinarily do ... like beat a loved one out of pure rage. Not that alcohol was the main cause of her sorrows, because it was obvious that there were other underlying issues in her mind, like poverty, money, work, and her own hidden skeletons. Nevertheless, it definitely helped to fuel her aggression with a child that loved her as if she was an angel.
Don't get me wrong, in my eyes she was definitely an angel. She provided me with the best even when she couldn't afford it. She also didn't cave and spoil me by giving me every little thing I asked for. She taught me from the beginning when we went to the grocery store not to ask for anything. When we went shopping, I only ask for what I needed. Her rules were simple, "Don't whine, don't beg", and most importantly, "mind your manners". She knew how to get her point across and I loved her so much that I wouldn't dare do anything other than what she asked of me because I knew she was giving me the proper guidance needed.
I can imagine that it was extremely difficult for her to be her age and raise a child all over again. She worked constantly during the day and trusted in me to come right home from school. It was commonplace during school days for me to get up in the morning, fix my own breakfast, walk to and from school, and wait for her to get home from work. My instructions were to lock the door and not answer it for anyone. Those instructions were all I needed once I walked in that door. Allowed to grab a small snack before dinner, I would walk in the house, grab a snack while doing my homework, and then off to watch television until she got home.
Otherwise, I toured our neighborhood as if it was a big city. It wasn't unheard of for me to go to each of my friend's house and knock on their door just to say, hello to them and their parents. I had a large group of friends in our neighborhood. I had a group of friends across the street that was a separate group of kids from the group of friends down by the circle. Of all of them, my grandmother was the one true friend that I could talk to and she always made time for me.
"A baby is born with a need to be loved - and never outgrows it"
Frank Howard Clark
My grandmother drew a lot of my attention. I watched every move she made like a baby cheetah watching her mother catch prey. I wanted to make sure that I grew up to be like her despite the gender differences, alcoholism, and race problems of that time, I knew it was going to be challenging even at a young age. I came to wonder though, how did I end up living with her? Where were my mother and my father? So I asked.
My mother was thirteen-years old when she had me. Being born in June, my mother turned fourteen-years of age that December. She was a 7th grade high school dropout from Charles Hart Junior High off Mississippi Avenue.
My grandmother was disappointed in her second daughter because she had caused her nothing but problems. As a parent, I can't help but to wonder if my mother was a reflection of my grandmother's upbringing or a bad root from a tree that blossomed on a separate branch.
I was born a healthy child despite my mother's progression of drug abuse and alcohol addiction from running the streets in her teen years. It's my understanding that she started out with cigarettes and slowly progressed. How's that for cigarette companies that claim cigarettes are harmless. Tell that to Congress, they may believe you!
My grandmother had kicked her daughter out months earlier because that was the rule of the house. "If you can't live by the rules then you can get the hell out" was another one of my grandmother's many quotes. From a learning perspective, she always used to say, "I brought you home from the hospital at three-days old", so it's understandable, to me, how I came dislike my mother.
As a child, I remember my mother babysitting me (that's right, she was babysitting because she wasn't allowed to take me anywhere) while my grandmother was at work. In her late 50's, my grandmother was a hard worker. She worked for a cleaning company that had her doing jobs all over the Metropolitan DC, Maryland, & Virginia area now called the DMV.
There was an incident once where my mother and aunt were smoking marijuana in the living room. They saw that my grandmother had just gotten off the Metro bus and were trying to clean up and get the smell out before she walked in the door. In the process, my mother knocked over a plant that sat on top of the TV set that was just watered. As a result, the TV stopped working, so when my grandmother came into the house, my mother said that I was playing with some toys and knocked over the plant. My grandmother didn't believe it because I conformed to the rules of the house by not playing in the living room, throwing or bouncing balls in the house, running around the house, or jumping on any of the furniture. But that blatant ignorance from my mother was nothing compared to another memory of how evil she was to her first born child.
One particular day, my mother took me to school with her to Friendship School now called PR Harris, Educational Center located near Eastover Shopping Center off Livingston Road, where she was working unsuccessfully on her GED. She took me in the classroom and I was the only child in the room. I got bored quick and I called her name a couple of times to tell her that I was ready to go. I didn't refer to her by mommy or mom – hell I didn't even call her by her real name. I simply called her by her nickname as everyone else did. She kept telling me to be quiet as I was interrupting the class. I didn't know what I was interrupting, as I wasn't in school yet.
Yet I remember when we were leaving the school walking back to my grandmother's house some 15-20 minutes away. All she did was tell me how dumb and ugly I was by belittling me with each step taken. I cried from her genuine motherly love. She even spanked me a couple times and yelled for me to "shut up!" I remember I felt so hurt and unwanted because it was the first time I'd felt mistreated by a family member.
When we got back to the house and my grandmother came home, there was a huge fight that ensued from when I told my grandmother of what happened. I was like a pig squealing as the butcher was coming with a butcher knife. My mother and grandmother exchanged words, tempers were definitely flaring and it wasn't long before punches flew. Unfortunately, I remember my birth mother shouting how much she appreciated giving birth to me. "I can't stand you", she said with such hatred.
Excerpted from A Change Is Gonna Come by Vernon Robinson Jr.. Copyright © 2014 Vernon Robinson Jr.. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Growing Pains, 1,
Chapter 2 Dealing with Demons, 15,
Chapter 3 Contravention, 22,
Chapter 4 Made Man, 46,
Chapter 5 Violent Rage, 59,
Chapter 6 The Few, The Proud, 79,
Chapter 7 Somalia, 192,
Chapter 8 Marriage, 223,
Chapter 9 Keeping the Faith, 239,
Chapter 10 Revelations, 244,
About the Author, 255,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I Could not put this book down, I was drawn in, and went through the tears, laughter and frustrations that life threw at him. To see him fall and struggle through life, only to turn around, get back up and rise from it all, more determined and stronger from it all. A great read and highly recommended, especially for those that need that inspiration to make that change. Well done Vernon!!
This book captures your attention with the prolouge. It brings you to tears, anger and laughter. You see how the author struggles with his life's choices and how his choices comes to affect all of his relationships. In the end you find your self routing for the author and reflecting on your own life. A great read.
Great job Vernon. This author takes you through the life that most never know exist. You get a true sense of what it is like to live in low income housing and the dangers that lurk in drug infested areas that most are scared to death to talk about .