IN THE BEGINNING
I was born in 1974 to Kandynce Griggs-Jones and Ernest Jones in Los Angeles, CA on a Tuesday in May. Now, at 41 years of age, the mother of a 21 year old college student, and a newlywed to one of the most wonderful men that I have ever encountered in my life, I am ready to share this story.
From the start, my childhood was unique, complex, challenging, fun and sad. all at the same time.
My family history is a bit convoluted, but as I understand it, my mother was originally from St. Ann, Jamaica and came to the United States with her father when she was in her pre-teen years; her mother having passed away when she was still very young. My grandfather was a tall man with strong African features and it was shared with me that my grandmother had been a beautiful fair-skinned West Indian woman who possessed high cheekbones. Once in the U.S., my grandfather married a woman named Mary Griggs, who was of mixed race; her parents being African-American and Choctaw Indian. As Mary already had two daughters, she didn’t make much room for another within her heart. Nevertheless, my mother instantly had two sisters; my Aunt Feda and Aunt Mary.
Therefore, my mother had grown up in Dallas, Texas, where eventually she had gotten married at 14, given birth to a son and a daughter, and been separated well before Chucky and I came along.
Mom was a small framed woman, standing at only 5’3 and weighing in at less than 130 pounds. And, though she had been living in Texas since before she became a teenager, she still possessed more than a hint of her Jamaican heritage with her deep brown skin, short stylish haircut, high cheekbones, almond shaped eyes, and cute Jamaican accent.
My mother was what some would call a homebody, her primary focus being her salon business and making a home for us. She was also a strict disciplinarian and didn’t play. When she gave you directions, you took heed, because you didn’t want her to have to tell you more than once!
So, after having had Chucky and being rejected by Mary, mom made her way to L.A.
Mom and Chucky were exceptionally close and it wasn’t surprising that they had a very strong bond with each other; considering that the two of them had struggled together for years prior to her marriage to my father, as my mom worked hard to build a decent life for the two of them. At one point, they were homeless and without anywhere else to turn or go, my mom joined the Nation of Islam, which is where she met and a short time later, married my father.
Dad was a very handsome dark skin man, who at just over six feet tall was strong and physically well-built. It was no secret that my father had been incarcerated when he was in his 20’s due to drugs and alcohol. But, once he found the Nation of Islam, he cleaned himself up and got an education. From what I understood, he was an Electrical Engineer who had his own electronic repair shop, which I can remember visiting as a young child.
To this day, I still don’t have the full story behind why he and mom separated, but I do know that he loved studying history and astrology and already had five daughters long before I was brought into this world.
At first , I lived with my parents in the home they owned on 54th and Western Avenue. Although I don’t personally remember living there, I have seen the pictures and heard stories. My elder brother lived there with us as well. Having been born in 1957, he was 17 years my senior and more of a father to me than my own.
I don’t know where Chucky was born, but that didn’t matter to me at the time. I just knew that he loved me and was always there for me and my mother.
Los Angeles in the 70’s was a time of great upheaval, with its racial and ethnic tensions and exploding urban expansion. With a population of almost 3 million people, L.A. was easily the third largest urban city in the United States; following behind New York and Chicago.
At the early part of the decade I was born into, Sam Yorty was mayor, taking credit for the city’s largest years of growth. Not surprisingly, he was quick to reject any claim that he was also responsible for the Watts riots of 1965 and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1968.
In 1973, the year before I was born, Tom Bradley became the first African-American mayor of Los Angeles, and the second African-American mayor of a major city in the United States. He would go on to serve in that office for the next twenty years.
I don’t remember exactly when the three of us moved into the Princess apartments, though I do know that it was shortly after my parents separated and sold our home. It was a well-maintained building and many professional African-American, Africans and people from the Islands made the Princess their home. I loved it there because everyone knew each other. My first best friend was Ethiopian who lived in the apartments, whom we called Mimi. Mimi and her family always invited me over to eat injera, which was a large sourdough flatbread and beef wat which is similar to stew. It was a good place to be.
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