Autobiography Pt.1 – Food Stamps and Gov’t Cheese

Life began for me in Chicago, Illinois in 1979.  I was born to two teenage parents.  Within three years two of my siblings, one sister and brother, would be born.  The relationships that we developed with our parents and each other shaped the rest of our lives.  My sister and I were born while my parents were still in high school.  My brother was born during my father’s first year of college. 

My father received an athletic scholarship to play football at Eastern Illinois University.  Our family of five transplanted to Charleston, Illinois for a brief period of time.  The relationship between my biological mother and father did not last.  My parents parted ways and we moved back to Chicago with my mother and her immediate family.

I started Grammar (Elementary) School on the West Side of Chicago. Growing up in the Lawndale community of inner-city Chicago was very tough.  In our community we were aware of the dangers, but were desensitized to all of the chaos going on around us.  Fist fights, shootings, robberies, break-ins, and drug deals were common to see on a daily basis.  We would never truly understand those dangers that surrounded us until adulthood.

In my earliest memory, we shared a three-story apartment building with two other families.  There were so many people in our apartment that I cannot recall the exact number.  I do remember that my siblings and I shared a bed together.  We moved every year that we lived in Chicago.  From 1983 to 1990, I recall staying in at least eight different places.  We were so used to moving that we thought this was a common practice for all families.

Food stamps and free meals in school were common among most, if not all families in our neighborhoods.  We were sure to get to school early enough to eat breakfast and also made sure to eat whatever was provided for lunch.  Dinner time often consisted of beans, greens, canned foods, or boxed items.  Much of the food in our cabinets was either provided by the government or was purchased from Aldi.

Despite our circumstances, we were happy.  We accepted our situation and made the best of it.  We were a low-income African American family, in an impoverished neighborhood, amongst other families with the same status.

In August of 1989, my father moved us (my brother, sister, and I) to DeKalb, Illinois.  That is where the next chapter began.

Here are some of favorite memories during this phase of my life.

  • My father being a chaperone at one of my school field trips.  At the end of every school year different classes would go on field trips to the different museums and exhibits in Chicago.  My father was the only man that I ever remember being a chaperone on a field trip.
  • Spending time at my grandmother’s house.  I would always leave with a full belly and money in my pocket.
  • Playing games like rock teacher, hit the top, and red light, green light.
  • Buying penny candy at the corner store.
  • Neighborhood block parties.
  • Watching Michael Jordan hit the winning shot over Craig Ehlo in 1989.

MarcQus, Jason, and Taisha

MarcQus, Jason, and Taisha

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