And Only One Was a Full Grown Man — by Karen D. Taylor

“Black men in Harlem are less likely to reach 65 than men living in Bangladesh.”                

Harold Freeman, MD, Colin McCord, MD: New England Journal of Medicine

The dead I know, who would have been men now, lived in Queens since birth or from when they were very small. The dead that I speak of did not live in a place like Harlem. They had yards. Small patches of green in the front and the back. A shade tree that gave off crab apples. An awning above a patio. They were the children of clerks and factory workers. Some parents had post office jobs. Worked for the Transit Authority. Teachers, some doctors. State troopers. Like that.

The statistics that were compiled, comparing Bangladesh with Harlem, do not count. The dead I know are not numbers. They say naught about the guys I knew. Allowing for standard deviations does nothing to change the fact that these brothers had mothers who would call them in for supper the same time every evening. No numbers explain that I knew their fathers, their cousins, their sisters and brothers. I knew whether they were tenderheaded near their temples or at the backs of their heads. I knew the sound of their voices; their laughter. I knew all of these things, yet the memories of them are faint.

Since their deaths, I have missed them for what they were or what they could have been. Whether I liked them or not. Whether they were good or not. That I knew them when they were physically embodied and that I witnessed the time of their deaths means that they are part of who I am. Since time is time, and I have had my own burdens that made me wish I was dead, the impressions of the brothers that I thought were indelible are not. So I write to chronicle remembrances.

– Cooter

He had a martial walk. Erect, sturdy, determined. He was in the Seven Crowns or the Seven Spades or some such thing. The last time I saw him, he was walking along Linden Boulevard near 204th Street wearing a dungaree jacket with tails hanging off of the back like the ones on Davey Crockett’s hat.

Cooter was a big-headed proto gangbanger, St. Albans, Queens style, which was softer and less treacherous than Bed-Stuy, and cruder than Harlem slick. He was also the first teenage father I had ever known. Someone shot Cooter.

Arlene, his baby-mother, was quiet, pretty, and church-going. The day of Cooter’s funeral, which I did not attend, I saw her walking down the boulevard looking as though she had been crying for hours and hours. Her fists were balled up at her sides. She pouted mightily. Looked like she wanted to kick someone in the head. She was crossing the same intersection that I had seen Cooter cross a few days before. A line of Cooter’s gangbanger brethren walked behind her. Memory says that I did not know who all of those gang members were, but I presume that most, if not all, are dead today. Had Cooter and Arlene been married, she would have been a widow at age fifteen.

Cooter did not live on my block to hear Lefty chanting “Black Power,” but surely he had heard of it. His color consciousness made gangland hues more definitive than racial ones, however. But a stance for the rights of his people would not have assured his survival. After all, someone shot Dr. King.

– Tony

Tony was another one with a big head. Bigger than Cooter’s. Nobody liked Tony, except for that dude, Frenchie, who nobody liked either. Another set of proto gangbangers trying to live up to the reps that the hustling Brooklyn boys and the money-making Manhattan cats had.

Cynthia, Laurie, and I were friends. We had a joke about Tony’s head. Tony tried to walk real cool, with his head tipped to the side, like he had not a care in the world, but we swore we knew the real reason. Tony held his head to the side like that when he walked because his head was so big that it was too heavy for him to carry. That’s how big his head was. I’d spot Tony all the way down the boulevard doing that side-headed diddy-bop. I’d say, “Hi Tony,” and all he’d do is nod, grimace as though he was angry, and keep right on walking.

Tony, evidently, did not have time to wait for his dreams to be deferred, where he was surely a rich man like the Rockefellers and Nicky Barnes. The grocery store owner shot Tony on a Sunday. Point blank. In the head. Was trying to get away with the man’s money. Tony was seventeen. Too young to be called an armed robber, even though he had committed the act.

– Terry

The first time I saw Terry, he looked like a prototype for some Ralph Lauren clothing line made especially for the people who spend their winters in Aspen and their summers on Nantucket. Tweed jacket with suede elbow patches. Brown leather pants. Brown suede loafers with a gold buckle across the top. We had a nodding acquaintance. We both attended Andrew Jackson High School. He was glib, intellectual, well-liked. Made bad choices and the streets claimed him. For Black men bad choices are not always just bad choices. I had always heard that Black people did not commit suicide. I now know that young Black men have some of the highest rates. Terry shot himself in the head a few years after graduation. Some say he sacrificed himself for his family. He was not going underground, so somebody could kill his mother or nephew or any of his family. So he blew his brains out. Too deeply involved in the drug trade. And elegant. So elegant. Even if his dressing was far more sophisticated than John Gotti’s, whose sartorial effect was the subject of many newspaper articles, because Terry was Black–if he would have ever become as famous as the Teflon Don–he would just have been another lawless Black man to the same people who romanticized Gotti. What a dubious argument I just made. What a silly comparison. This is what happens when one is obsessed by race.

– Bobby

He lived across the street from Lefty. His skin was saddle-bag brown. Black Larry is what we called him. And not even to differentiate him from another Bobby, because as far as I know, there was no other Bobby that he could have been confused with.

Bobby’s voice at around 6am in 1973: “Floyd! Floyyyyyd! Floyd!” He was standing in the driveway between my house and Floyd’s, right underneath my bedroom window. It was a still summer morning. Bobby’s whining holler woke me up. I could not figure out what he was doing that time of morning calling Floyd.

“Floyd! Floyyyd! Wake up man. Play some of that Marvin Gaye. Play that Marvin Gaye, man.”

Next thing I heard was the twang-twang-wah-wah sounding guitar, then the drum and the bass hitting on the downbeat, and Marvin’s voice: “I’ve been really trying baby. Trying to hold back. . . . ” And Bobby was down there saying “That’s my song. Yeah. That’s my song.”

When it ended Bobby said, “Play it again Floyd.” And the guitar that set the groove traveled through the heat of the morning energizing me. The sunlight came through the sheers at the window, and it was a great way to start the day. Next morning. Around six. Bobby again. “Floyd. Yo, Floyd, man. Let me hear some of that Marvin Gaye.”

I was half asleep, half awake this time. “. . .Sensitive people. . . .Let’s live. . . . Oh baby now, now. . .” After the song faded down. “Play it again Floyd.” And then Bobby’s sounds of satisfaction: “Yeah.  That’s my song.  Marvin bad.”

The next morning, and I swear on all that is sacred to me, Bobby came again.” Floyd!” So, Floyd put on the record, let it play, then Bobby said, “Play it again Fl. . .” All I heard then was the needle ripping off of the record, then “Would you go away. Leave me alone Bobby. I’m trying to sleep.” Floyd shouted so hard, I imagined a vein popping out of his neck. I thought he was going to go outside and smack Bobby upside his head, but he didn’t. Bobby walked out of the driveway mumbling and muttering to himself, pissed. I’ve heard “Let’s Get It On” literally hundreds of times in the thirty years since it made Bobby holler to Floyd under my window, and every time I hear it–every time–I think of Floyd and Bobby.

Bobby was only friendly, it seemed to me, to people who knew him well. Otherwise, he seemed pretty evil, and would stare right in my face and walk on by. Most of the time he would not even speak when I said “Hey.” I guess I did not warrant any more attention from him than I got, because I was around five years his junior.

People said that Bobby was spoiled. I thought he was just evil. My former husband, Butch, knew Bobby well. Bobby, he says, was not evil, he was just into developing his street persona. I think it’s a charade that in some brothers becomes too hard to sustain, so they drop it and remain who they are. But in other brothers the charade takes them to the tomb–the one with bars or the one that is a more permanent resting place. I have no idea what the deciding factors are. I know a cat–I’ll call him Peter–whose father was a prominent judge in New York City. His mother would pop up in the society pages of the Amsterdam News from time to time. They spent time at the Inkwell on Martha’s Vineyard, but Randy Crawford’s song “Street Life” describes Peter best. He’s lived far beyond his youth, but barely, even though he’s in his late fifties now. The coke and the streets caught up with him, and strokes have claimed half the marbles he still had left. I’ve also seen the charade dropped by children whose mothers are their sole support on two minimum-wage jobs that go from can to can’t.

But some of the brothers just want to be hard, trying to figure out the manhood thing, and so they learn from other men. And most men seem hard. Then there’s the chippie that made Bobby evil. That made his behavior a little abstract. The chippie is a malign, invasive thing, dragging itself through the joints and running out of the nostrils like the flu, letting the body know that it’s time for another hit.

Bobby would walk up and down the block, up and down the block, up and down the block. His body tight. Looked like something was going to pop. Like maybe he’d pull his elbows out of joint, because of the way he was holding on to them. Or he’d break his knees because they were rubbing so close together.

I was too young to know that he was looking for the next hit. The hit to soothe the chippie would keep him, temporarily, from the colossal jones that were in his future. And, surely, he would get there. Once heroin got hold of the brothers, it made them too weak to fight for the power that Lefty’s chant promised.

Not many summers after, and he could not have been far more than twenty, Black Bobby died from an O.D. Sitting on the toilet, his arm tied off. The spike still hanging from his vein. His mother’s only child.

– Franklin, also known as Fly

A great smile he had. I loved the way the corners of his eyes crinkled up. A beautiful, muscular body and bow legs. Moody. Pissed off half the time. Charming the other half. The summer I came to know him was the summer I had somehow or another become the official cornrow girl of the block. I’d be on that stoop for hours or holed up in Floyd’s backyard braiding his sister’s hair or his niece’s hair. All day long. I braided Fly’s hair. Wasn’t hardly long enough, but I think the fact that I had very thin fingers helped me grab up that hair because it was around two inches long.

I’d say, “Franklin. Your hair is too short to braid. Just let it grow out and then I’ll braid it.”

He’d smile and say, “It’s not too short. Come on. Braid it. Please?” And that smile. God, he was handsome. A broad angular face with high cheekbones, flaring nostrils. Skin the color of pecan pie. A beautiful gap between his two front teeth.

“It’s too short Franklin,” and I had a half-way crush on him anyway. “Look, you gonna braid my hair.” He’d show his impending manhood side, then whip his comb out of his back pocket, sit his behind down on the stoop, and I’d start parting and braiding. And he was tender-headed, too, which did not make things any easier. I braided his hair twice, and twice he took it out after two days. “Never again,” I said. And he didn’t ask.

Franklin went to the Army. Franklin went to school. I lost track of Franklin, then heard he died. Checked in the hospital with pneumonia and some oddly configured ailments. Never came home again. We didn’t know much about AIDS then.

– Scott

Franklin and Scott were friends. I braided Scott’s hair too. The challenge with his head was the fact that he had very fine, straight hair that curled at the ends. His kind of hair did not hold a braid, but he wanted braids anyway. He would sit there grimacing, clenching his teeth, flinching as I worked. I am sure he had never known that hair could cause so much pain.

“Am I hurting you Scott? I have to braid it tight or else it will come out. Your hair is too straight.”

“I’m alright. Just keep going, Miss Taylor. Just keep going.”

” The very next day, Scott had no more braids. He had gone back to his fluffy afro.

A few days later, I allowed him to dupe me into believing that if I braided his hair one more time, he would keep it in. He didn’t.

He was colorstruck to boot. I loved him anyway. His entire family was light-skinned. His aunt, Miss June; his uncle, who everyone called Uncle Roy; his cousin, Bull. All the cousins that ever visited, the aunts, the uncles. Light-skinned. Do you know how hard it is to keep Black people light skinned in North America? Do you know the level of work and machinations that it takes to keep an entire family of Black people the color of butter and vanilla pudding? If you have never considered these questions, think about them now. Uncle Roy and Bull were the family rebels: Both eventually wound up with women the color of coffee.

Scott was mechanically inclined, and could fix a bicycle in a heartbeat. I think he believed in the saying about don’t give a man a fish, teach him how to fish, because whenever my chain would come off, if I sought his assistance, because I forgot how to put the chain back on, he’d stand there, joking. “You think you can get the chain back on the bike without messing up the derailleur this time, Miss Taylor?” Scott would chuckle at his own sarcasm. I was so mad that he was teasing me I wouldn’t answer.

“Okay. Turn the bike upside down. That’ll be easiest for you. All right, pull the chain around that thing right there, now turn the pedal.”

I could only fix the chain with Scott standing there. I always wanted him to do it because the chain was nasty greasy and the bike was too heavy.

Scott.  Making go-carts. Riding his bike with no hands. Doing wheelies. Working behind the counter in his family’s candy store on the corner. Letting me be short for a pint of Louis Sherry cherry-vanilla ice cream. Carrying his schoolbooks in his waistband on the way to school.

When I went away to college, I heard that he had died. It bothers me that I can’t remember why or how, and I can’t find anybody who remembers either. Some memory about a high-yellow girl with gray eyes and sandy hair that he married stabbed him when she was drunk, but not to death, keeps replaying itself in my head. But was it pneumonia?

Scott for years and years. Always laughing. Dead and not yet twenty-two.

– Keith

I spent more than a little bit of time sitting on the stoop, as I’ve said previously. That’s what we did on 204th Street between Linden Boulevard and 118th Avenue in the 1970s. The young folk sat on the stoops. I’d braid hair there. Listen to the music I had playing in the living room, as it grooved out of the screen door. Talk to neighbors passing by, coming from work. Talk with my friends, and try to avoid the “he said, she said” intrigue that ruined many good relationships.

I’d see Keith walking through the block up to Scott’s family’s candy store to get some of his favorite snack foods. He’d buy potato chips, corn chips, cheese doodles, popcorn, and pretzels, then dump them all into a brown paper bag. He would enjoy big handfuls as he walked his bow-legged walk back down the hill to where he lived with his mother and brother. His father was dead from cancer. Sometimes he’d go next door to visit Floyd or Gail–Floyd’s sister–who was his sweetheart.

“Hey Kaaan.” Some folks are just so cool, they shorten my name to one syllable and leave out the r all together and drag the  a out. This was Keith. This is how he said my name. The girls, both younger and his age, all had crushes on him. I didn’t. I just thought he was hip and smart. Like an older brother. Although he did accuse me of being a lesbian because I would not have sex with him a few years later. But I am getting ahead of the story, which I will not tell here anyway, because it has nothing to do with his death.

“Hey, Keith,” I’d holler out. I always felt like an ugly duckling when I saw him, because he was just that pretty. Skin the color of caramel. Lashes the color of crow feathers. Thick, dark, and long. Black loopy curls and dark lips. Smart. He was good in math, so he tutored me in algebra a few times. While he was there, explaining how to actually put PEMDAS in action, I got it.

“Just remember your order of operations. Parentheses Exponents Multiplication Division Addition Subtraction. Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally. Do the equation in that order.” Soon as he left, I went back to being the dope I was, although I knew what PEMDAS stood for linguistically.

Year after year, there was Keith. Always with something intelligent to say about someone or some thing. He joined the Navy. The military was, as it is today, a last refuge for the brothers to get away. To go to school. To be paid. He came home from the Service. I’d see him coming up the hill from his house with his eyebrows raised, wincing. He’d hold his neck stiffly as though he was trying to carry a heavy parcel on his head.

“What’s wrong Keith?” I asked.

“I’ve just been having these headaches. I can’t sleep. I’m going down to the Naval Hospital.”

He was diagnosed with brain cancer. The Naval Hospital down Linden couldn’t care for him, so they sent him to the Bronx VA Hospital.  I’d go all the way up to see him on the bus and two trains. He hardly knew I was there when I went. He was on morphine. Keith thought the doctors were not treating him properly. They, basically, just cut away the tumor in his head, gave him painkillers, and that was it. Keith became frustrated and left the hospital in the hospital gown he was wearing, with the woman he eventually married, because the doctors were not doing enough for him. The people who study these things say Black people receive inferior cancer treatment, compared with white people. The people who study these things make it seem like the cancer is treated better than the Black cancer patient. Keith went into remission. Moved to Ben-Salem, Pennsylvania with his wife and kids. Commuted daily to New York for work with the Transit Authority.

The cancer came back. He died not too long after, outlasting, by a few years, the others from our block, our neighborhood.

– Rich

I clipped a composite drawing out of the Daily News one day. The tiny article accompanying the picture stated that a Madison Avenue jewelry store had been robbed. No one was hurt.

“Butch, look at this. Doesn’t that look just like Danny?” The drawing showed a dark, pie-faced Black man, with a head that seemed to come to a slight point under the Kangol he was wearing. Butch stared at it for a long time.

“Yeah. That’s not Rich, though.”

“Well, if that’s not Rich, he better be careful, because this picture looks just like him. You should show it to him. The cops might shoot him.”

I think Butch knew that it was Rich, but did not want me to know that it was Rich. To this day, and I don’t care what Butch has to say, I know that was Rich. I did not like a lot of Butch’s friends, and I didn’t know that Rich was a stick-up kid until after he died.

Whenever we had company, my son, Chenzira, before he began to read on his own, would pop up the stairs to his bedroom, pop down with a book, sit on the couch next to the guest, and hand them the book. The first time he did this to Rich, Rich did not know what to do. Chen sat there looking at him, waiting. Rich looked confounded and slightly panicked.

I said, “He wants you to read to him.”

Then Chen chimed in, in a voice that was husky for a two year old saying read, and opened the book, which was sitting on Rich’s lap. So, Rich, hard-rock for the ages, who, as it turns out, spent a lot of time thinking about the best way to abscond with rich people’s money and jewelry, without harming them, started reading The Little Engine that Could.

“Puff, puff, puff. Ding-dong, ding-dong . . .” Rich read with very little expression, but, once he got into it, he placed his arm around Chen’s little shoulder and read the book all the way to the end. When he finished the story, he said to Chen, “You liked that story, little man?” Chen nodded.

On subsequent visits Rich would read to the end, the other books that Chen would bring him. When he was through reading, Rich would hold out his palm and say, “Give me five, man.” Chen would slap it and continue sitting there, while his father resumed the discussion that he and Rich were having before Rich began reading.

Rich was sharp. Wore clothing from Saks, Altman’s. Had diamond cufflinks. Silk shirts. And was respectful of the little family we had. Me, Butch, and Chen. When we were short on money Rich would give Butch a few dollars. But, recently, around twenty years after the fact, Butch told me he thinks Rich’s the one that stole my $200 Minolta.

Like Franklin, Rich contracted some unusual form of pneumonia and some oddly configured ailments. He was admitted into the hospital. Never came home again. Dead in a week or so.

– David

Had a certain effect on the opposite sex. He knew it too. Had a shop on Linden Boulevard. He was a barber and a beautician. The best of both worlds? Some people say his sexuality ran that way also. He was my friend. Had thirteen years on me when I was twenty-one. He liked women for sure, though. From the tender age of legal right on up to menopausal.

Tall, thin, light-skinned with a toast-colored birthmark across his cheek, around the size of a quarter. A receding hairline. Not handsome. Not ugly. But with an outsized personality. Flirtatious and complimentary. Women loved to be around him. A forthright, secure masculinity. Other men respected him.

He was committed to whoever he was with at a given moment. Committed in the way Stephen Stills meant when he sang, “Love the One You’re With.”  He lived with a woman, who loved him obsessively. His “baby,” as it were, was not “so far away,” but around the corner, which for him was far enough. So, I became the one he was with. He asked me not to avoid his cohabiting beloved, but to smile and treat her nicely (which I did), so she would not be suspicious (which she was, because she knew his tendencies). But before that time, he was a soldier. His protest against the war, like many of the bloods who had been sent there for that most preposterous militaristic madness, was to go hide way up in the jungle, away from “the Cong,” away from the arrogant, white military officers who had been dispatched from West Point with no combat experience into the middle of the theater to tell soldiers who had been fighting for months what to do, to which many soldiers said, “Kiss my ass. I’m not doing that shit.” And went up into the jungle.

He told me for next to nothing, he could get a Savarin coffee can filled with brown heroin and stay high. All he had to remember, he told me, was to hold on to his weapon at all times. Came back from Nam with a habit. Lived a busy dopefiend street life until he could get it together to go to rehab.

And like every Vietnam vet I have ever known, he was not scared of a soul, a thing, a neighborhood, a situation.


David took over the shop from a barber named Fisher. When Fisher owned it, there was drinking, cursing, numbers, raucous pool games, and a generalized lascivious ogling of every woman who passed by the plate glass window.

When David took over, he changed all of that and people didn’t mind taking their little boys there for hair cuts anymore. David was mild-mannered. Enjoyed people. Enjoyed me in the manner of the Stephen Stills song. He thought it was funny that a young woman as nationalistic as myself wanted to go to Forest Hills Stadium to hear Joni Mitchell. As a gift, he bought tickets.

He was calm but not a pacifist. He told me a story once. A man he was arguing with spit in his face, so David had no choice but to take out his pistol, because he was going to kill him. When the man ran from the shop for his life, David ran after him shooting. David contended that he was temporarily insane. He had to apologize to Sonny Carson, as in “The Education of . . .,” and all the Carson brothers when they came to talk to him about why on earth the bullet from his gun grazed their father’s hand. The only thing that saved David was when he told them a man had spit on him. Coming as they did from Black America, the Carsons were very understanding about why David would want to shoot the man.

The Carsons shook his hand, made jokes about his aim, and forgot about it.  I don’t know how it is outside of the Black American world, but I will tell you right here, right now that spitting on someone is the same as shooting them with a gun. According to Black folks, it’s like, “Im’a have to kill you now.” If you don’t kill the person you spit on, you better run for your life, because they are surely going to kill you. And that is all there is to it. I hyperbole not.

Early 80s. In the back of his shop on a Sunday morning in April. I could have been there. I could have been there, visiting with David that morning, because I went by early to see how he was. But before I walked over, I called. When the phone was answered, I thought that David had picked it up in a semi-sleep state, been too tired to speak, so let it fall to the floor. I called back. The line was busy. I decided to go over.

The boulevard was quiet. At that time of day the people most likely to be seen were churchgoers on their way to service, and people who liked to get up early to get their Sunday papers, especially the Times, because that sold out quickly.

I knocked on the glass door of the shop, which had the kind of lock that could be opened with a key from the inside as well as the outside. I could have been there. His keys were in the inside lock. I peered into the shop, knocking again. Through the two-way mirror that hung at the back of the shop from Fisher’s days, I could tell that there was a light burning in the back room, the door to which stood slightly ajar. I stood there a moment. Thought I heard him say, “You’re not going to let me answer my own door?” I thought he was back there arguing with Maureen, who may have been giving him a hard time about seeing me, seeing others. I was ashamed. I did not want to stir up any more trouble.

A little later, I stopped at the shop again on my way to visit a friend. The light was off in the back room. There were no keys in the door. The door to the back room was closed up tight.

A man came from around the corner near the alley. He was not a churchgoer. He did not have a paper or buy one. Walked right up on me, said, “Good morning. And how are you today?” He was in my physical space as though he owned it, and could remove me from it anytime he felt. I smiled, responded “Fine. How are you doing?” like a little coquette. An ever so subtle shift in his mouth made it meaner, disgusted.  Looked like he thought he had spit on better whores than me. Instead of answering, he looked at me dead in my eyes, then walked toward a car that had pulled up at the curb.

“Take care of yourself,” he said, as he got in. They pulled away slowly, made a right at the corner. I continued on, trying to figure out who the hell he was.

When I got home that evening, my grandmother told me they found David dead in the back room and the detectives were looking for me, because I was a prominent character in his diary.

He was tortured. Eleven stab wounds within the space of two inches on the left side of his chest. I could have been there.  He cancelled our tryst. They were superficial puncture wounds. Not deep at all. I could have been there. When we spoke he said I’ll see you tomorrow. Shot five times in the chest. I could have been there.

These twenty-six years later, I think that his killers knocked the phone out of his hand and disconnected the call, because they had already decided his fate. Just like that. Men to men. Choosing whether another was to live or die.

His father offered a reward. Nobody who knew anything said a word. If I had called the police when things seemed strange to me that morning, maybe David would have lived to see the son that Maureen–the woman who loved him obsessively–was carrying.

After the funeral, I gave Maureen Nikki Giovanni’s poem, “The Women Gather.” I copied it in longhand onto pretty stationery:  “the women gather strangers to each other/because they have loved a man.” Folded inside of the paper was money. When she opened the envelope, she placed the money into her pocket, glanced at the writing scrawled across the page, looked at me, then looked away.

“Who could have done it? Do you know?”

“I don’t know, Moe.”

“Don’t call me that. That was David’s name for me,” she said and a depth of pain arose in her eyes.

David was the only full-grown man. There are more Black young men that I knew that never got to 18, 25, 30. In the same way that I could continue the litany and go on to describe the lives of the others, there are other Black women, who remember their brothers, lovers, sons, cousins. The men that never were.

When one lives an oppressed life, one carries the oppression on even when striving to surmount it. When one lives an oppressed life, one’s children absorb it somehow or another, and it stains the cultural memory, altering the psychology in complex ways. Of course not every little thing is caused by racism, but the question I have is at what point does the collective heart rend irreparably from it?  At what point are we justified in asking people to take it like a man? To take it like a woman? To take it?

– Karen D. Taylor received a master of fine arts degree in Creative Nonfiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She was a finalist in Narrative Magazine’s 2012 Story Contest. As an adjunct professor of English at the College of New Rochelle, she taught Freshman Composition; and for many years, she has been a manipulator of words, serving as managing editor for Amistad Press and Scholastic Books, production editor for Audubon Magazine and Taylor & Francis. She is a jazz singer, who has appeared at the Schomburg Women In Jazz Festival, as well as at various venues in the northeast. She has two sons, Chenzira Imani Malcolm Taylor-Lewis and Siyaka Paul Taylor-Lewis. 

About Kiese

Kiese Laymon is a fiction writer and essayist who writes frequently on pop culture, hip hop and politics. He is currently teaches English, Africana Studies and Creative Writing at Vassar College.
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5 Responses to And Only One Was a Full Grown Man — by Karen D. Taylor

  1. Diane says:

    Kiese, thank you for publishing this guest post by Karen Taylor. Her writing breaks my heart. These lost men come so alive through her words, those of us who never knew them can feel the pain of their deaths. We have to look at things the way they goddamn shouldn’t be. Karen, you are brilliant. May your words reach out and bring change.

  2. Brendan says:

    This is an amazing piece, with not one wasted word or missed letter. I only hope that one day I might be able to remember those left behind half as clearly, or to remember them to others half as alive. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Tina says:

    Karen, Butch has often says that you could write your ass off. This piece was powerful.

  4. Floyd Hunt says:

    I loved it Karen. It is a real account of what it was like growing up protected. We had a wonderful childhood filled with lessons and friends and success and failure and growth through pain. I love my childhood and I love you for being able to give me an account of it. I will keep a copy in my memoir.
    Keep writing K.T. it is your thing! :)

  5. Shirley says:

    Wow, that was deep, made me go back to those days. Trying to remember the faces of these Men. It was a lot of love and pain back then, was hard hearing about another brother from the neighbor gone too soon. Sometimes when I think about my time as a child/teenager back then made me always think was our block cursed. We lost many of friends/foes back then. Many gone again too soon. Nice writing Lady, had me drawn in and holding on to each one of your sentences.

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