Breaking down the lyrics of the song “One Love” wasn’t the first time my brother Kia had tried opening my eyes to new things. When I was ten and he was fourteen he walked into our home with a copy of Black Law Dictionary and a stack of Donald Goines novels. With book titles like Black Girl Lost, Dopefiend, and Black Man’s Grief, this literature was read far more frequently than Mark Twain or F. Scott Fitzgerald in our community. Goines was the favorite author of every older guy I knew. His books were hood classics.
Kia put the dictionary and the Goines paperbacks on the table saying, “You’ve been talking about becoming a lawyer, so you need to read this.” He pointed at the dictionary. It was an enormous hardcover the size of a phonebook. Behind the dictionary, just out of reach, my eyes caught a Goines novel titled, Kenyatta’s Last Hit. It had a picture of a big Black man holding a shotgun on the cover. One book was full of case law and legal language and the other was full of stories about a fictional Black hitman. The paradox between the two books was classic Kia—intellectual and hood. Even if Kia did not understand this about himself, I understood it. I understood him. Most importantly, I understood what he was trying to teach me.
Kia never had to explicitly say the words, but he modeled what it means to fully explore all elements of your identity. He did this for me the best way he could. He did not have the range or framework to introduce me to Black feminists scholars to help shape my understanding about the topics in “One Love.” As a young Black man figuring out who he was and teaching himself to think deeper about the world around him, he had his own stuff to figure out.
Kia has always been the type of thinker to study a concept or a school of thought before deciding if he was going to apply it or reject it. He spent years studying things he did not fully agree with as a way of making an informed decision. He studied Christianity, The Fiver Percenters, Islam, and other forms of “righteous teachings” as he called it. Kia referred to this process as “eating the meat but spitting out the bones.” He would dive into their principles as a way of learning and not simply to dispute people or dissuade anyone else’s thinking. It was purely so that he could stand ten toes down for what he believed. He took me a long with him on this journey. Sometimes he didn’t even realize he was doing it.
There would be times where I just watched his process from a distance. Other times he would do this by bringing me books or taking me to classes. I experienced him figure out who he was and as a result he pushed me to think deeper about pieces of myself. It was in these small moments where pieces of my identify were birthed. He was shaping the type of woman I would become. He was forming the type of writer I would become—one who could “eat the meat and spit out the bones.”