From the Bottom Up

Diary of a Pimpy Kid

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Let me begin by stating that I’m honored to be the new kid on the block here at The Urban Twist. With that out of the way, I figure it would be a good idea to offer a little background as a way of introducing myself. After all, I’m sure people might wonder what makes me qualified to give my opinion on anything, particularly on issues classified as urban.

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Philosopher George Santayana claimed that wisdom comes by disillusionment; Greek playwright Aeschylus believed it comes from suffering. By their criteria, I should be a fairly wise man. You see, I was raised on welfare by a single mother who struggled with drug addiction throughout her entire, abbreviated life. It’s a problem that ravaged our family, one that would ultimately claim not just my mother’s life, but an uncle who, when he wasn’t in jail, was the closest thing I had to a father figure and my baby brother who never pulled out of the downward spiral he fell into after my mother’s death. All three died from complications from AIDS, which they acquired as a consequence of their lifestyles.

Having recently turned forty, a year shy of the forty one years my mother was with us, I feel blessed to not have fallen prey to some of the same demons that have haunted those closest to me. That’s not to say I’ve been untouched. I struggled with binge drinking when I was barely thirteen, and attended one of the most notorious public schools of its time in Baltimore. While I’ve had my share of close calls, I’ve come through relatively unscathed.

I credit writing, along with a precursory love of reading, with saving my life, not only for it’s therapeutic qualities, but because it has given me an outlet to express my shame and outrage at the fact that twenty years after my mother’s death little has changed in the way our government deals with these issues. The truth is that we are still in arrest mode: we incarcerate first and solve problems later, if later ever comes. This has been the case ever since Richard Nixon first declared a “War on Drugs” in 1969, the year I was born.

The only thing we have accomplished, thus far, is the creation of a means to warehouse a large portion of our young Black and Latino men, an act that helps demolish the very family structures that are needed help put an end to these vicious, often violent cycles that plague our people. In sharing her personal experiences civil rights hero Angela Davis has said that prison only breeds better criminals. How then do we begin to make sure that we are breeding better parents, instead?

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Before you get the wrong idea, let me just say that I will not use this column as a bully pulpit to advocate for changes in U.S. drug policy, although I will not ignore the topic. For as serious as I can be, I like to think I can also be humorous, even hopeful. I did, after all, spend time in Virginia working for the Obama campaign, something I did because I related to his message—hope. But I also know that hope without action is vain. So this is my action, to share my unique insight into the urban condition in hopes that we can begin frank discussions about what ails us, and ultimately, what might cure us. I sincerely hope you enjoy it.
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The Word Pimp
Fernando Quijano III is the former President of the Maryland Writers Association, Baltimore Chapter. His work has been featured in Welter, Smile Hon, You’re in Baltimore & the poetry anthology, Life in Me Like Grass on Fire. An excerpt from his unpublished novel, Forever, Lilith was included in the Apprentice House anthology Freshly Squeezed. He has been featured at the Baltimore Book Festival, Stoop Storytelling, & The Signal on WYPR, Baltimore's local NPR station. In his spare time, Fernando volunteers to lead workshops for Writing Outside the Fence, a program for the ex-offender community, as well as at the Brock Bridge Correctional Facility. Fernando was recently awarded a B grant for his writing by the William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund.

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