By Samantha McKenzie
There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like the many places I’ve lived that have helped nurture me every step of the way.
I was born in Nassau, Bahamas to Guyanese parents and moved to Brooklyn, N.Y. when I was three years old. I didn’t leave my borough until I decided to attend Norfolk State University, in Norfolk, Va. After graduation, I headed to Washington, D.C. and worked at a small weekly newspaper. I left there and went back to New York before moving to Wilkes-Barre, Pa. to work for a newspaper there. Next, I traveled to Fort Worth, TX, to continue my work as a journalist, an experience I likened to moving to another country. At my 20-something age, Texas was a long way from home and the people there spoke an entirely different language. It wasn’t until after I left that I learned to appreciate the expansion that place provided for me. While there though, I longed to return to the east coast and sent my resume near and far until I ended up with a job offer in Winston-Salem, N.C. After a year or so, I settled down in Greensboro, N.C. where I raised my children for the next 20 years.
In 2017, I moved to Raleigh, N.C. – a move that drastically reduced my commute to work. I’ve spend the last year learning about this new city, plotting out my future, reflecting on the good people I have met along the way. These are the people and places that have nurtured me and kept me curious about life.
The many places I have called home. The places that have taught me much.
I pay homage to my place of birth – the place that opened its arms to my arrival. Beautiful, warm, with crystal clear blue-green waters, its strong winds are all still a part who I am.
I bow to the borough that cradled me – the place the took me under its wing and taught sharp lessons that shaped me into the person I am today. It made me smarter, tougher, and hip to the ways of a fast-paced world. Full of soul and culture, I came face to face with people from all over the world there. Brooklyn is forever my home.
I learned so much more about myself outside the comforts of home though.
I learned the value of an education in Norfolk. It taught me that education was the great equalizer, a passport of some sort that opened doors and prepared me for opportunities that lurked around the corner.
I learned to hustle with southern hospitality and my NY wit in Washington, D.C. I was introduced to politics and politicians – both of which made me reevaluate my future as a writer. I soaked in American history at the museums, sat on the National Mall, marveled at its beauty and got giddy every time the President’s motorcade zipped through the capitol streets.
I learned about coal miners and lawsuits in the mountains of Pennsylvania. I saw white poverty and uncovered a new kind of struggle – the struggle of hard working people who wore pain quietly on their faces, surrounded by vacation resorts and developers who continued to eat up their so-called land.
I learned about real wealth in Texas, met billionaires who wore cowboy boots to banquets and saw farmland and oil wells that stretched beyond my imagination. They really did it big there. They had no other choice. It was a part of who they were. “This is God’s country,” I heard one Texan say, and then there were the other 49 states.
I met the kindest people in North Carolina. The kind of people who served you sweet tea and believed in everything good about family. I also learned what the term nice-nasty meant here. I learned about the inside scoop on civil rights and racism here, rubbed shoulders with many firsts: the first African-American State Supreme Court Justice, the first to sit down at the lunch counter sit ins, the first to take advantage of redistricting to swing the votes in their favor. I saw my first racial slur spray painted on a piece of plywood that sat boldly on the front porch of a Winston-Salem home. It read “No Niggas Allowed.” That was in 1992.
I embraced it all — the good, the bad and the ugly — and wouldn’t change any part of the places that held me captive.
These cities, laden with the most interesting types of people, helped removed the veil of my naivety. I grew up in these places, willingly or unwillingly. They defined a good bit of my character and helped etch out the kind of person I was going to be.
Be proud of the places you are from and the colorful people that welcomed you in. Soak in the experiences and appreciate the knowledge you’ve gathered up along the way. God puts you in places that you need…and in the places that need you.