black girl escapes from New York
It was the second week of June 2008 and the summer was off to a promising start. I was working, had founded a non-profit organization called the Black Film Academy—a short-film collective comprised of filmmakers of color det-ermined to reform the image of black film–—and had recently scored a meeting with a successful television producer to pitch my college web series into a television show on BET or MTV. The sun was out, the rats were in hiding and, just as I neared my Washington Heights apartment building, I saw my roommate, Kiki, walking toward our building.
In nearly a year of living together, we had never gotten home at the same time. She was working toward her master’s in public health at Columbia and would generally leave early in the morning, while I was working toward figuring out my life at a small theater company. We were happy as hell to see each other, like old friends reuniting after years, and not, just the day before. As we talked about our respective days, we were thankful the elevator was working and that we didn’t have to walk up five flights of stairs. The antique elevator doors opened and we hit a left down our dimly lit hallway. As Kiki continued to talk about plans for the weekend, I pushed open the door and was briefly confused to find that the chain on our door was locked from the inside. Then it clicked.
“Oh my god!” I banged my shoulder into the door in a panic while Kiki looked at me, alarmed and confused. “What? What’s happening?”
Kiki and I sat in the living room, waiting for the police to come, distraught. She, too, had had two computers, a digital camera and a ring stolen. When the police arrived, it became very clear to me that they wouldn’t be much help. We started snooping around the building, asking our resident thug neighbors if they knew anything. They tried to be as helpful as they could without snitching. Then, we caught a break. One of our neighbors found a bag of clothes and odds and ends, and asked if it belonged to us. As we rummaged through the items, Kiki found her digital camera. She scrolled through the pictures and to our surprise, the dumbfuck robbers had taken pictures of themselves! A set of teenage girls and guys had been squatting in the empty apartment next door and had been watching us. They snuck through my back window via the fire escape and did what they did. Immediately, we called the police and showed them the evidence, relieved that we could capture these idiotic amateurs and possibly get our stuff back. But the response from the police was almost as bad as the crime itself: “Since they’re minors, we can’t really do anything about it.”
So began a gloomy period. I sent the producer a somber email asking if we could reschedule the meeting, as all of my scripts were on my computers. Of course, I hadn’t backed it up. Of course, I didn’t have production insurance. “Well, why didn’t you just… You should’ve…” Why don’t people understand that nobody wants to hear what they should’ve done? Do they not assume that’s what’s already repeating in your head, nonstop?
I love what it represented, but, what was I doing?”
Suddenly, it hit me: “I’m awkward. And black.” One of them I already knew, but the other I had just realized. It all made sense. My shyness, all the times I was dismissed for not being “black enough,” my desire to reframe the images of black film and television, my inability to dance—these were all symptoms of my Awkward blackness. This is an identity, I thought. I could make T-shirts. I could make sketches or commercials for the T-shirts. Ooh, and what if they were animated? Without knowing it, I started penning an outline of what would be my first and second episodes. I was excited. This was my purpose. This moment of despair had sparked my creativity once more. But then my heart sank. I was still broke as hell. I’d have to sit on the idea, making a promise to myself to make it happen one day.
The following summer, I flew to LA for my cousin’s graduation. While I was there, I visited two friends from Stanford. One was in film school and the other had just landed a job in the mailroom at CAA. We sat on the beach, updating one another on our lives. Then one turned to me and said, “Bitch, why are you still in New York?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You got robbed. You’re broke. It’s like you’re willingly struggling for no reason,” she continued. “Everybody you know is in LA—you should just come here. We could do so much together.” I thought about it for a minute, and then said, “I can’t just get up and leave.” They laughed. “Why not?” What was really keeping me there? It’s not like I had a husband and kids I was tied down to, or even an amazing, high-paying job. Why was I still there? On the plane ride back to New York, I pretty much made up my mind. My roommate, Kiki had graduated and gotten a job offer in LA, so she was happy to hear the news. That July, I moved back to LA and no one has robbed me since.