“Don’t go to jail.”- Mr. Mack.
He spends his days near Lake Merritt, adjacent to the Alameda County Court House. Accompanied by his backpack & bike, he squats is in the middle of a popular path for business people who blur past in suits and weekend warriors who jog past in workout clothes.
His name is Mr. Mack.
I see him all of the time, as do many Oaklanders.
I walk, jog, and ride past him all of the time, as do many Oaklanders.
I’ve always considered talking to him, but August 1st, 2012 was the day I was meant to speak with him.
As I biked around the lake, I saw that Mr. Mack wasn’t in his normal spot. Instead of the sidewalk closest to the shore, he was on his knees, on the pavement in between the two-way traffic, in the middle of a construction zone… drawing in chalk.
These words were inscribed on the asphalt:
I never got an understanding as to what his written words meant, but his spoken words gave me a profound understanding of how the world works.
I asked Mr. Mack a rendition of the same question I ask every elder Black man: Given your life experiences- If you had the ear of the youth, what wisdom would you bestow upon them- what would you tell them?
Mr. Mack laughed, and eloquently stated his answer: Don’t go to jail.
A brief question and answer session with Mr. Mack ensued:
Me: “Why do you always sit right here?”
Him: “to watch the birds (He points towards the shrubs which surround the Oakland musuem)… They’re hiding in there.”
Mr.Mack: ”What is that boy 50Cent doing nowadays?”
Me: “Hahahahhaha… What? I don’t know.”
Mr.Mack: “What about Hammer?”
Me: “Hahahahha… Where are you from, sir?”
Mr.Mack: “East Oakland, born and raised.”
Mr. Mack: ”What do you do for a living?”
Me: “I’m a journalist.”
(That’s when the questions stopped… Momentarily.)
Mr. Mack: “Chauncey Bailey was gooood…real good.”
(The questions continued)
Mr. Mack: “How good are you gonna be?”
Me: “What made Chauncey Bailey ‘good’ ?”
Mr Mack: “… He didn’t back down…”
I gave Mr. Mack a card of mines and told him about my blog. He pointed to the email address on my card and asked, “How do I call this number?”
I laughed, and explained the process of email.
He didn’t laugh.
Mr. Mack: “Well, you’re a journalist… When are you going to come down here and show off?”
Me: “Show off?”
Mr. Mack: (lowers his glasses): “Show. Off.”
Me: “Show you some of my work?”
Mr. Mack: “Yea, ‘show off’ !!!”
I shook Mr. Mack’s hand and told him I would come back with an article.
I came back later that afternoon, the chalk on the asphalt was still there- but Mr. Mack wasn’t.
Aug 2nd, 2012 marked the 5th anniversary of Chauncey Bailey’s death. En route to Mr. Mack, with the article which he requested in hand, I walked past the spot where Bailey was assassinated. I briefly spoke with a local news crew who was covering the story of the well respected Black journalist from Oakland who was killed on the job, then continued on to meet Mr. Mack.
I delivered Mr. Mack the article, and simultaneously asked him if he knew that today was the anniversary of Chauncey Bailey’s death; he had no idea.
Mr. Mack: “I used to see Chauncey Bailey walk down this street on his way to work at the Oakland Post all the time- I never spoke to him tho… but I read his work… he was good.”
I now understand how the world works… just a little bit more.