A Memoir of Grandma and Uncle Raymondloyd
Ms. Carolyn Smith, my grandma, was a community activist and played many roles and wore many hats, but I am just going to talk about the ones she bragged about the most.
First she was on the board of the city college of New York alumni association where her position was considered the president of the organization. Nowhere in any other undergraduate college are there so many opportunities to work with seniors who have graduated and accomplished a lot. There were at least three hundred graduates that shadowed people like my grandma. The director of the alumni association expressed that grandma stood up for her beliefs, in spite of dissent from others. She wasn’t just a part of the alumni, she was an advocate for the African American graduates as well.
Grandma was also a participant and advocate for Aging in America. In 1977 Aging in America was created to serve as the parent company for Morningside House and other services being provided to the community. Today Aging in America oversees five subsidiaries with the common mission of devoting time, resources and skills to those who need it most in neighborhoods of the Bronx, Westchester, Rockland and Long island. She was a dedicated staff of Aging In America. She took a leading role in finding solutions and serving the needs of the seniors. The director of the organization said that Carolyn Smith focused on self-esteem and self-reliance and enhancing each person’s sense of freedom and dignity. He explained that grandma was a soft shoulder to lean on for every client and staff. Everything he said absolutely confirmed how I remember my grandma. Whenever I called her she would write her TTD list, meaning things to do. Her first priority was working with seniors, and I would laugh because she yelled at some of them for peeing on themselves without saying anything. I would talk to her for hours and all she did was tell people what to do. She was also a part of JPAC/JASA the institute for senior action, which is a comprehensive education, leadership, and advocacy program.
I write for a non-profit organization called Poor Magazine. We do not study linguistics, syntax, or any other standardized writing. We call our classes the people school, because it is by the people, for the people, led by the people. I’m not talking about Ivy League college graduates. I am talking about people from the streets, the shelters, the churches, and various other revolutionary minded people who are willing to struggle with poverty, yet embrace writing as a tool. I have terrible grammar at times but my words are powerful, and my experience is strong. That is what journalism really is: the person, the environment, and the truth. As I’ve grown in this grassroots organization, I’ve often thought about my grandma who has transitioned, but yet is still in my heart. My grandma was the first one who told me how to write, and how to write with passion, intelligence, and humility. My Uncle, whom I love, transitioned after her and they are not only going to have a memorial at Columbia University but they are being put on our website as poverty heroes. Poverty Heroes is a project coordinated by Lisa Garcia Dee Gray and Tony Moore. It is a ten week project created for honoring the lives of youth, adults and elders who have struggled, resisted, and lived through poverty, racism, disability, criminalization and violence locally and globally.
In the nineties I went to New York every summer, and grandma basically sacrificed every penny she ever had to make us happy. She would always write letters to organizations, the mayor, and various people with whom she either got upset or embraced as an associate in the community. It’s no coincidence that when I started writing for this magazine I was so stressed out about this article because I didn’t know what to say or do. I decided to let the spirit lead me from my heart and not try to please everyone by sugarcoating my grandma’s experience in life. Every person I interviewed about Carolyn Smith was devastated about her passing, and described her as as a natural teacher and a natural leader.
After I spoke to these people, I reflected on our “elephant meetings” at Poor Magazine. Elephant meetings got their name from the African belief that elephants represent the women as matriarchs. Poor magazine was founded by a black woman called Momma Dee, and she was the matriarch of the organization. The last time I saw my grandma in 2011 she pulled me to the side and said, “I’m the matriarch of the family, and you have to stay strong for the family because I will not be around forever.” The metaphor of the elephant meetings spiritually coincides with what my grandma is and was.
My Uncle Raymondloyd transitioned a week prior to my grandma. Before this happened I started to write and bond with Uncle Ray because he was so proud of me for finishing my bachelor’s degree. He cried with empathy for all the tough times I told him about. He listened to my experiences about being a young teenager growing up Muslim, and having hardships with family members who held grudges against me. From the time I was a young age, he always said good words to me no matter how sassy I was. When I would get in trouble, I remember him taking me to the side to say, “You can do whatever you want at my house.”
What I remember most of my two beloved family members is their endurance and perseverance. Uncle Raymondloyd was a twenty-six year old veteran of the United States Army, serving Southwest Asia, who left to serve in the Gulf War on Thanksgiving day 1985. He was a medic, with 865th combat support Hospital. He ended his career in 2002 as a first sergeant. Raymond worked as an LPN from 1994 to 2010 at Erie County Medical Center and another six years in a similar facility. He was with my beautiful and loving Aunt Rita Bennett. They raised my cousins Nathaniel Bennett, Sammy Bennett, Trevor Bennett, and Gideon Bennett. I’m sure they had tough times but their family was special because they had such strong bonds and they grew up being bi-racial. Regardless of any circumstances my Uncle was always there to listen and provide for his handsome sons (yes, our family members look damn good!). I know for a fact that my Uncle was so proud of his sons, and he adopted the whole community. Everyone went to him for advice and comfort or just a laugh because he had such a good sense of humor.
Recently I reconnected with my cousin Nate and hope to re-connect with my other cousins Trevor and Sammy. I am reminded that blood is thicker than water. Nate, Sammy, and Trevor are not victims of the stereotypical complex that they say about young black men. They all are beautiful in spirit and they represent what young black men should be. I love my Uncle and Grandma but their transitions have helped me and my cousins come back together. When I was little, I always wanted a big family. Another Uncle, Wendell, always said “We will do with the family we do have babe.”
In memory of these two magnificent people: whenever you wake up in the morning, know that my Uncle and Grandma are watching all of us, family and friends as well, and they transitioned with humble spirits. All I know is they left painless and happy. God Bless the Bennetts for their strength and thank God for Uncle Ray and Uncle Wendell because without their help life would’ve been harder for my grandma. I sincerely believe through this extremely hard time for the family both Raymondlloyd and Carolyn would want us to connect and grow through our differences and mistakes in the past. I think they would want us to be non-judgemental and sincere with each other. We should make a call log list and tell one another at least once a week, “I love you and you are family.”
I never cared about family all during high school (except for Nate - I always wrote to him). I considered my associates more of family than my own. I didn’t take value in what God had put in my life. When I turned twenty-one, my best friend died and people hurt me really bad in the community. White people do not have to do anything anymore in low income communities, because usually your own people will turn on you and kick you when you’re down. After this, the only people I could turn to were grandma, daddy, Uncle Wendell, my mom, stepfather, and of course now my cousins. Through this tough time with slander in the community, I was involved in a lot of organizations in the projects, homeless shelters, library, and even wrote for a local black newspaper. At the age of fourteen I was never home, not even for dinner. When I called my twin (Veronica Smith) for the first time recently, I started to actually get to know little things that I never even knew before. For example, my sister’s best friend recently told me that dishes were the best of what my dad made for dinner every night.
Despite all of this, I learned that family is something genuine, and that family must stick together regardless. I now go to a church with no walls. No building but just living in the spirit. Walls can mean anything: financial burdens, family feuds, low self-esteem. Most of all we put up walls so we wont get hurt from anyone. Even with these issues, the intervention that God helped me realize is that He already gave me my friends, He already gave me hope, and He already gave me faith. Instead of hanging out with other people I discovered God gave me a gift, which was my family. I do feel bad for having a nasty attitude with grandma when I was seventeen, but we talked about it long before she transitioned. I’m so happy that my cousins are holding up (not on their own, the Lord is carrying them through this meaningful storm.) This is just my healing of getting close to family and not other people. But I do believe that everything happens for a reason and my grandma and uncle are the light at the end of that tunnel. Through them everyone will grow and realize the beauty of life and the foundation they put down for us. I thank God everyday for my family, because we have unconditional love. At least that’s how its supposed to be.