The Big Boys

The Big Boys


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Walking the streets we had to look out for the big boys, and in those days the worst they did was take

your money and leave you feeling embarrassed. Walking to the barber shop alone was a trial for me,

as the big boys were everywhere, and it was all about giving them the respect they wanted.



Books by Afaa Michael Weaver

Water Song (1985)  /  Multitudes (2000)  / Sandy Point (2000)  /  The Ten Lights of God (2000) / some days it’s a slow walk to evening

These Hands I Know  / The Plum Flower Dance  / Multitudes  / Timber and Prayer  / Stations in a Dream  / The Ten Lights of God

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The Big Boys

Wire Insider, Part OneBy Afaa Michael Weaver  

East Baltimore Muse has its home in East Baltimore, which is part of the setting for the HBO Series The Wire. The Wire is an excellent program that is very true to the scene it depicts, the daily struggles of the black poor in the city where America’s national anthem was written. I thought it might be good to go back in time for this blog entry, back to the time of rhythm and blues, when black life had another kind of rhythm…I was born in Baltimore and know every corner of the East side and much of the West side of The Wire. Baltimore has a heroin problem, and it has a problem with urban violence that seems pretty stubborn. The real heroes in this struggle are people like my three sisters who work in agencies related to mental and physical health. The heroes are also friends and family members who have beat the odds and live lives of recovery. We have lost some folks to the life, as we call it, and we miss them, but we struggle on in a city that is more beautiful and precious than most people know. Milton Avenue is a few blocks from my family home. As kids, we took the long walk—or so it seemed to us—up the five blocks along Federal street to the corner of Milton Avenue, where Lucky’s liquor store still stands, although it is no longer open. From there we walked up Milton Avenue past the rowhomes decorated for the Afro-American Clean Block, a competition run by the newspaper. The winners were acknowledged in the newspaper and had an insignia to hang on their door to let the world know their house had the aesthetic taste, the manner of presentation that fit the community and the race.  Once we got to the store, we usually bought guppies, as my cousin Roy was raising them in a small aquarium at home where he, his sister, and their parents lived in the second floor apartment of our two family home. Once when one of the females was expecting, Roy thought she was too long in delivering, so he performed a Caesarian. The babies all survived, but they were motherless. Life was dangerous in my cousin’s aquarium, more dangerous than it was outside, as long as we stayed within the borders of our segregated black world. Walking the streets we had to look out for the big boys, and in those days the worst they did was take your money and leave you feeling embarrassed. Walking to the barber shop alone was a trial for me, as the big boys were everywhere, and it was all about giving them the respect they wanted. That has changed, but barber shops and looking good has not changed, As a matter of fact, the young boys today are getting haircuts in the style we used to get in the early 1960’s, before the Afro hairstyles came in to our world. Looking good was about putting old stocking caps on your head at night to make waves. Production for The Corner, the series directed by Charles Dutton and which preceded The Wire began in East Baltimore. It showed the tragedy of the drug trade as it came to be after the collapse of the steel mill and other industrial jobs for black folk. We all lived in the same communities in those days, teachers, and professionals alongside my parents. Dutton set the cameras rolling in the block where Ms. Geraldine had her barber shop, a shop I enjoyed going to because she actually cut your hair the way you asked. Her uncle Arthur would listen to you as you took your time to explain on which side you wanted him to place your part and how you wanted your hair brushed. Then he did it his way in his barber shop. Ms. Geraldine was different. She actually listened to us. There was a movie house around the corner where the movies where only 35 cents in those days, and next to the movie house there was a Five & Dime that seemed to have every necessity and every lovely little trite thing a ten year old boy could imagine. We could not shop downtown because of the segregation laws, so I don’t remember going into the large department stores until I was a young adult, but I knew the Five & Dime. I knew it, and I knew the 10 cent hot dogs in the movie house. East Baltimore was also the setting of a scene from Romeo and Juliet, the Black American version. It was a spring night in 1970, warm but chilly enough for a jacket. I stood there beneath the second story window. My girlfriend and her sister were in the window as it was past their curfew. They couldn’t sit on the steps after a certain hour. Their parents were Apostolic church folk and quite strict that way. My wife to be and her sister were giggling. “What do you want,” they said. “I want to ask Ellie a question.” “What question?” “Ellie, will you marry me?” There was no theme music, but there should have been, maybe the Yoruba talking drums, a little blues, some jazz, and certainly some old spirituals and gospels. But the only music was the excitement of being alive at that time. It was the late 1960’s. The Wire shows the rowhouses with the marble steps, and it shows rowhouses with front lawns like the houses in the block where I lived, four blocks away from the young lady who would be my first wife and the mother of my children. It’s all East Baltimore. The place we called home had been many things in the sixties, not the least of which was a battlefield. I looked out of my grandmother’s bedroom window at army jeeps and dogs the size of dinosaurs while the city burned and smoke filled the sky. Dr. King had been killed. That summer and those before and after were anxious times as we watched television to see the body count from Vietnam and the news of another American city exploding in what some of us called the black rebellion. Something strange and tragic and historic happened. Some of the big boys became warriors. Our models for manhood had to battle a world that was new and strange, a world of freedom, and in that world came new attacks, the spread of drugs and the loss of the jobs the big boys had been raised on by their fathers and mothers. In the 1970’s, taking each other’s money gradually gave way to less innocent ways of preying on each other. As the jobs disappeared and businesses fled to the suburbs, we became the prey of international drug merchants. The inner cities were a ready labor force and market for the drug lords of the world, and we began to make money by feeding death to each other. For many people this was the only way to survive. For others it was turning our souls over to the Adversary, as church folk put it, surrendering when we had all the reasons to claim our gifts and go on living so as to generate life. The model for being a man fell over to the negative swell of criminality. So teaching young men by challenging them in the street became a war of dominance where guns replaced the more benign thing of being roughed up a little. Roughing up became murder. So it was with the world in which we lived. It came under siege with changes brought in with Civil Rights, and we had to learn new ways to be. One of those things that helped us adjust was martial arts.

Source: EastBaltimoreMuse 2008


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We had a wonderful evening tribute to Lucille Clifton at the Main Pratt Library here in Baltimore last night. I had promised myself I wouldn’t get weepy at the podium, and I wiped a few tears before I got up there. But when I got to podium and looked out at the full audience of 220 people, it was a total hallelujah feeling without tears. I was so happy to be able to talk about how “important” Lucille was to me when I was doing my apprenticeship as a poet, writing while in the factory all those years. I read a letter I wrote to Lucille just for last night, addressing her in the Spirit World, and I took the time to tell Nikki how important her work was to me when I was younger. Nikki Giovanni and I were the last two readers, and everyone gave such beautiful tributes. Joanne Gabbin was there, as well as Lynda Koolish, whose photos are the gallery display upstairs. Tonight we have a dedication for a photo exhibit for Lucille at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum on my side of town, East Baltimore. It’s all such “a beautiful thing”…:-) Nikki Giovanni and I are collectees together at Boston University’s Gotlieb Archival Center, where our papers are kept.—Afaa Michael Weaver, 15 June 2012

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The Wire: The Complete Series (2008)

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The Wire—Season One Opening Credits

Season One opening credits for “The Wire”. The title song “Way Down in the Hole” is performed by The Five Blind Boys of Alabama. (From: Season 1, Episode 1 “The Target”)

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The Wire—Season One Opening Scene

In which Detective Jimmy McNulty tries to discover who killed a young man named Snot Boogie. “This is America, man”. (Season 1, Episode 1 “The Target”)

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The Wire—Season 1, Playing Chess

D’Angelo teaches Wallace and Bodie how to play chess. Season 1 of the Wire.

The Wire Season 1 Recap

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The Wire Season One—The Wire details crime in Baltimore, following the process from both the police and criminal point of view. The title refers to the espionage equipment used to gather evidence against the criminals, which is the focus of the investigation as presented. This isn’t beat cops working the streets or lab rats analyzing DNA, this is unglossed police work, monitoring phone calls, taking surveillance photos, and waiting for an opening.

What makes the show so original is the depth it goes into the story, with each episode building on the next, slowly revealing pieces of the bigger puzzle until it all begins to make sense, all the while the entire case is threatening to collapse under its weight and the political pressure attached to it. In some ways, it isn’t a procedural at all, in that it isn’t a mere series of cases introduced and solved every week, using similar formulas to tell similar stories. Instead, the entire 13 episodes focus on one case, which begins on a lark, meant to be small, then grows into something larger than anyone had anticipated. Along the way, the series delves into all aspects of the case, from the junior detectives working surveillance all the way up to judges, the FBI, and congressmen, and from the drug kingpin all the way down to a kid drug runner working the corner.

It’s a stunning feat of storytelling that I have never seen on this level. The level of detail, the sprawling cast, the intricate plotting, all of it operate on another level that simply blew me away. Just when you think you’ve seen all the medium is capable of, along comes a show like this to shake things up.—AndytheSaint

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The Corner

The bleak reality of drug addiction is captured with unflinching authenticity in The Corner, an excellent, reality-based HBO miniseries. Having lived on the streets of West Baltimore, Maryland, where this compelling drama takes place, actor-director Charles S. Dutton knows the territory, physically, socially, and emotionally, and his compassionate approach is vital to the series’ success. Dutton cares for his characters deeply enough to give them a realistic shred of hope, even when hope is consistently dashed by the ravages of addiction. This is, at its root, a family tragedy, focusing on errant father Gary (T.K. Carter, in a heartbreaking performance) a once-successful investor trapped in a tailspin of heroin dependency. His estranged wife Fran (Khandi Alexander) was the first to get hooked, and she’s struggling to get clean, while their 15-year-old son DeAndre (Sean Nelson, from the indie hit Fresh) deals drugs, temporarily avoiding their deadly allure while facing the challenge of premature fatherhood.

Through revealing flashbacks and numerous local characters, we see the explicit fallout of addiction, and while violence occasionally erupts, its constant threat is secondary to Dutton’s dramatic vision, which remains steadfastly alert to the humanity and neglected potential of these lost and searching souls. The Corner is, essentially, the civilian flipside of HBO’s equally laudable series The Wire, which approaches a similar neighborhood from a police-squad perspective. Performances are uniformly superb, details are uncannily perfect, and for all of its human horror, The Corner is riveting, not depressing. A closing interview with the characters’ real-life counterparts bears witness to the fact that these lives–with inevitable exceptions–need not be lost forever.—Jeff Shannon,

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The Corner (YouTube video)

The Corner is a 2000 HBO television miniseries based on the book The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood by David Simon and Ed Burns and adapted for television by Simon and David Mills. The Corner chronicles the life of a family living in poverty amid the open-air drug markets of West Baltimore.

The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood

This is a powerful book, a window on aspects of America most people would rather ignore. To their great credit, the authors–David Simon wrote Homicide, the basis for the popular television show; Edward Burns is a former Baltimore police officer, now a public school teacher–refuse to sensationalize their subject or make its people into stereotypes.

For a year the two hung out in a West Baltimore neighborhood that was a center of the drug trade. At the center of the narrative is the McCullough family—DeAndre, age 15, and his drug-addicted parents, Gary and Fran. While reading The Corner, there are times when we pity them, times when they make us angry. The book’s strength, though, is that we always understand them.

This portrayal of a year in drug-crazed West Baltimore will satisfy neither readers looking for a perceptive witness to the urban crisis nor those in search of social analysis. Simon (Homicide, LJ 6/1/91), a crime reporter, and Burns, a Baltimore police veteran and public school teacher, mask their presence in the scene with an omniscient style that strains credibility, and the chronological framework blunts the impact of their most compelling themes. The authors salute the courageous but futile efforts of individual parents, educators, and police officers but deny the possibility of a social solution to the devastation they acknowledge is rooted in social policy. A more compelling account is Our America: Life and Death (LJ 6/1/97) on the South Side of Chicago, based on interviews conducted by 13-year-old public housing residents LeAlan Jones and Lloyd Newman in 1993. For larger public libraries.—Library Journal

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Poem at Central Booking

                     By DeAndre McCullough

Silent screams and broken dreams

Addicts, junkies, pushers and fiends

Crowded spaces and sad faces

Never look back as the police chase us

Consumed slowly by chaos, a victim of the streets,

Hungry for knowledge, but afraid to eat.

A life of destruction, it seems no one cares,

A manchild alone with burdens to bear.

Trapped in a life of crime and hate,

It seems the ghetto will be my fate.

If I had just one wish it would surely be,

That God would send angels to set me free

Free from the madness, of a city running wild,

Freed from the life of a ghetto child.

Source: The Corner (1997) by David Simon and Edward Burns

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 The Corner / The Corner—DeAndre and Prop Joe 

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The Corner—The Real Fran, DeAndre, Tyreeka and Blue!

The last ten minutes from the HBO series The Corner, where Charles S. Dutton, the director talks to the real life characters, the story was based on.

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Take This Hammer

KQED’s film unit follows poet and activist James Baldwin in the spring of 1963, as he’s driven around San Francisco to meet with members of the local African-American community. He is escorted by Youth For Service’s Executive Director Orville Luster and intent on discovering: “The real situation of negroes in the city, as opposed to the image San Francisco would like to present.” He declares: “There is no moral distance … between the facts of life in San Francisco and the facts of life in Birmingham. Someone’s got to tell it like it is. And that’s where it’s at.” Includes frank exchanges with local people on the street, meetings with community leaders and extended point-of-view sequences shot from a moving vehicle, featuring the Bayview and Western Addition neighborhoods. Baldwin reflects on the racial inequality that African-Americans are forced to confront and at one point tries to lift the morale of a young man by expressing his conviction that: “There will be a negro president of this country but it will not be the country that we are sitting in now.” The TV Archive would like to thank Darryl Cox for championing the merits of this film and for his determination that it be preserved and remastered for posterity.

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Straight Outta Hunters Point  / Malcolm X Birthday (1970)

KQED News report from May 19th 1970 on the Hunters Point community of San Francisco’s celebrations and remembrance for what would have been the 45th birthday of political and human rights activist Malcolm X. Features scenes of local residents describing the personal impact that Malcom X had on their lives and people enjoying live music. Ends with views of public speakers addressing crowds outside the Federal Courthouse in downtown San Francisco, including the Reverend Cecil Williams who explains that: “We are talking about the liberation of the people! And that’s what we want at this particular time.”

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 – Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 – Don’t Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 – Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 – Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King

#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Life on Mars

By Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith, author of Life on Mars has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In its review of the book, Publishers Weekly noted the collection’s “lyric brilliance” and “political impulses [that] never falter.” A New York Times review stated, “Smith is quick to suggest that the important thing is not to discover whether or not we’re alone in the universe; it’s to accept—or at least endure—the universe’s mystery. . . . Religion, science, art: we turn to them for answers, but the questions persist, especially in times of grief. Smith’s pairing of the philosophically minded poems in the book’s first section with the long elegy for her father in the second is brilliant.” Life on Mars follows Smith’s 2007 collection, Duende, which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, the only award for poetry in the United States given to support a poet’s second book, and the first Essence Literary Award for poetry, which recognizes the literary achievements of African Americans.

The Body’s Question (2003) was her first published collection. Smith said Life on Mars, published by small Minnesota press Graywolf, was inspired in part by her father, who was an engineer on the Hubble space telescope and died in 2008.

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America.

This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as “the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field ‘cut their teeth’.”

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 21 June 2010




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