It’s May now and starting to warm up all over the country. With Memorial Day quickly approaching, I have been thinking about what to do for the holiday. Back in the day, we’d all go to my Uncle David’s house for the most lit day of barbecue? good weed, cold beer and raucous games of Spades and Pitty Pat.
Then, my mom bought a house with an amazing heated in ground pool. For years after, we all spent Memorial Day at her house. Whether we were at my uncle’s or my Mom’s we knew plenty of friends and family were coming.
I remember being young at my family’s barbecue, and thinking to myself that I couldn’t wait to become an adult and participate in barbecues of my own. With my kids and my nieces and nephews running around making noise; being nosey all up ‘in grown folks business’.
Now, as an adult, coordinating family events is one of my all-time favorite, and most fulfilling things to do. (Although, I’m like eternally grateful that the children running around don’t belong to me.)
This morning, I was talking with my mother on the phone and we were discussing the topic of community and she mentioned that barbecues and block parties are essential to the Black community because of what they represent!
We discussed it briefly, as a side note to a larger more important conversation. But, her point did resonate with me. I remember being a kid and listening to the music and hearing the adults laugh and yell and get loud over who played what and who reneged. I remember them arguing over the drawings in Pictionary.
I remember my Dad and my uncles always being ready to play basketball or a video game (Back then, they’d have been playing Tekken). I remember looking at them in equal parts admiration and jealousy.
I wanted to be them.
I was jealous of the way they freely made noise and interacted with each other. Cursing, laughing, drinking or yelling at us kids. From teaching us to play spades, making us eat together in the yard or on the porch–you wouldn’t think those things would really stick out in a meaningful way. What’s so powerful about watching a bunch of Black folks be loud and cook together? What’s special about this?
As I look back as adult, I realize that it was special because it taught me something. I knew from a very young age that I always wanted to keep in touch with my siblings. I never once in my life planned to raise my children separately from my siblings’ children. I always knew that I wanted our kids to be able to interact with their cousins and play-cousins the same ways we did. I knew I wanted to yell at my kids from downstairs to ‘Stop all that hollering and playing and take your ass to bed!’
I knew that I wanted to have barbecues and parties and holidays with all my siblings and our babies in one place. I found value in it that I didn’t understand as a child. Now, I know that I found value in the cooking. I found value in the music and the laughter. I found value in the shared labor of preparing this food for ALL of the adults and children to share together.
I found value in realizing the importance of contributing what you can–even if it’s ice and cups. Block parties and barbecues teach children the value of togetherness. They taught us how to come together with all the fractured pieces and make a whole that would serve the needs of everyone present.
Everybody knows you can bring a friend to the cookout.
Everybody knows if you bring something, you can take a plate home.
*Everyone knows that one person who always shows up with their kids; did not contribute shit and takes plates home but nobody ever complains aloud.
*-We all know she didn’t bring anything because she didn’t have anything and she’s taking those plates home because they don’t have anything and isn’t that the point?!
Didn’t we all come together with little pieces to make this larger thing happen so that we could ALL benefit?
We can’t all afford ribs and crab legs. But, if one person brings the ribs; another person brings the hotdogs and buns; someone else brings the juice and soda; Granny made the potato salad; Aunt Ruthe is bringing the salad; Rosie made the pies; Aunt Nikki arranged the pool and the water guns for the kids–together we make something magical that will teach our children the very things our parents and families taught us: together, we can make anything possible!
I say all that to say, cherish those barbecues and block parties. Relish in the lessons we learned as children. Rejoice as you watch your babies soak up that same sense of togetherness and community. Nobody loves Black folks like Black folks. Embrace the ways God has allowed us to find a way to make space for each other.
Embrace the gift of community and togetherness! Throw a barbecue this summer! Invite someone who you don’t see often. Invite someone you know is struggling. Tell them to bring paper plates and ice! Send them home with plates of food and an invite to the next cookout. We need each other. Our children will need each other too. We are the foundation of their adult lives.
“Teach them well.” the old folk say. I intend to do just that.