Letter to My Grandfather

Hey Grandpa.

It’s weird, I don’t remember calling you that,  “Grandpa”.  You were always my Grandfather. I don’t remember addressing you formally, I think I just spoke and hoped you knew I was talking to you. A part of me wants to feel guilty about that but you seemed pretty cool with it.

I remember when I met you, I was 15, I just got held back in the 10 grade and I never felt lower. All I knew of you was a photo that was in our house, you had on a black pinstripe suit, a black hat and a cane. If someone told me you were a pimp I wouldn’t have been surprised. But then that image was dashed when we came to your house and I saw you walk out of your room in faded blue coveralls, tired but excited to see us.

As we sat in your candlelit living room, I saw you praise my cousin for working so hard in school and I felt like such a failure. It’s self centered but when I’m at my lowest, praise towards others can feel like indictments towards me. I usually hated the lack of electricity but this time I appreciated the fact that no one could see me quietly crying. I felt like such a fuck up. “Damn, here I am with all the opportunity and I’m not doing anything with my life, what am I doing?”

The next day I remember walking around your homestead, seeing your irrigation system and where the main house was going to be built. I remember seeing you looking at me and laughing to yourself. I didn’t know what it meant. Maybe the thought of this americanized kid struggling to blend in made you laugh, maybe it was my discomfort, I had no idea what it was. I wanted to ask you questions but my shyness wouldn’t let me, my Shona is no good and I was too awkward to try to build a connection. My mom told me that he’s laughing because I look SO much like his father, which at 15, is a surreal thing to hear.

I do remember leaving your homestead, I gave you a twenty thousand dollar bill (remember how bad we THOUGHT inflation was?) and you laughed, gave me a hug and told me “I’m very proud of you”. At first I thought it was because I gave you the money but, it felt deeper than that. I didn’t know why you were proud, I just got held back, I didn’t know Shona, I was aimless, what’s to be proud of?

A few years later I saw you again, you laughed every time you saw me, I still didn’t understand why. I saw people come to your house and watched you talk to them, everyone listened. It was really impressive. It became more impressive when Grandma pulled me to the side and told me “you know your Grandfather couldn’t read? couldn’t count? He was never taught, he taught himself. “ This was more impressive.

When you passed away, I was confused. I knew things were crazy, I knew that you were imprisoned, that you were beaten and I knew you were tortured. I knew you weren’t well, but when you died, I was confused. This wasn’t supposed to happen. How could it have happened? As time progressed the confusion started to dissipate and I realized the answer to my question, you didn’t pass away. You were killed.

You were killed.


Why would these niggas kill you? Whats to gain out of killing a 82 year old man? That shit hurt my whole soul and I wanted to run from it. Luckily I didn’t, I ran towards it. I needed to know more. I needed to find out that you were politically outspoken, I needed to find out you were seen as an activist and a voice for your people, I needed to know you weren’t scared to say how you felt. I needed to know that despite the beating, the horrible jail conditions and the fact you could barely stand, you kept your spirits up because you knew you’d get out and tell your story. Most importantly, I needed to know these niggas tried to murder you and you basically said “I’m not dying here, I’m not dying til I tell everyone my story, and when I finally decide to die, it’ll be at my house in my own bed.”

The fact that you made it home gives me comfort. Thank you for that.

I’m very proud of you.