I’m not sure if D. Watkins’ The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir was on anyone else’s wish list for Mother’s Day this year, but it was on mine.
Having just been published and released in early May, this book was what I had been hoping for. Yes, to my mind, The Cook Up for Mother’s Day was right up there with the much-anticipated delicious brunch, lovely cards, and thoughtful phone calls from my family. “Look, mom, it’s signed,” my son said. “It is, indeed. Thank you.” A bold signature, I observed – one I hoped would not soon fade. I admired the cover, front and back, and placed the book snugly next to me on the living room sofa in my row house that sits just shy of three miles from the East Baltimore neighborhood where D. Watkins grew up and where I work at Caroline Center.
This July at Artscape, my son caught up with D. Watkins at the Taharka ice cream truck. “I’ve got your book,” he said. “What’d you think of it?” Mr. Watkins asked. “Well, actually, my mother has your book. We gave it to her for Mother’s Day, so I’m waiting for her to read it first.”
“It’s been out awhile. Time is short. What’s she waiting for?” Mr. Watkins asked smiling.
Waiting for is right. Time is short, for real. On any given day in Baltimore, you don’t need to go far from your doorstep to see this truth. Time here can be painfully and breathtakingly short. If you live in the city, you’re going to know somebody, whether you realize it or not, who’s marking time’s brevity, whose life is already in some degree of “fade.”
Watkins talks about it this way – In Baltimore, “people are gained, trusted, and loved as quick as they fade.” One day you’re moving about in full living color; next day, you’re at some irrevocable percentage of “fade;” standing on the bus stop, losing the war with time, and receding against your will to a place from which it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to return.
“Fade” is for real.
Jason Parham, in his New York Times review of The Cook Up, observes “When you are black in America, fighting against the ‘fade’ – that is to say – battling against erasure – sometimes means doing things you would not otherwise do.”
Was Freddie Gray fighting against the fade? Was Darius Kelly, the recent Poly graduate who met his end in an empty lot on N. Caroline Street, fighting against the fade? Was Lor Scoota fighting against the fade? Was D. Watkins, when he “took up the mantel of his [deceased] brother’s crack empire” on the East Baltimore streets he knew only too well, fighting against the fade? Today, is D. fighting against the fade still in his life as a writer, author, and educator?
It’s complicated – the choices we make, the things we do – to keep from being erased, to resist invisibility, to just stay in the world long enough to defy this street-bound shortness of time.
On July 29, Caroline Center will graduate its sixty-fourth class of career trainees – women who are newly educated and professionally trained to enter careers as certified nursing assistants and pharmacy technicians. We want them all to be strong enough, smart enough, and, let’s be honest, fortunate enough to win in the fight against “fade.”
Women, particularly women of color, have been battling invisibility and erasure for centuries. Over-incarceration, sex-trafficking, and violence take women’s souls and lives every day. It’s complicated. But, our hope is that the single, courageous choice a woman makes to come to Caroline Center may be one powerful step in the direction of redeeming time – of her successful resistance to invisibility and erasure.
When you read The Cook Up, listen up to D. Watkins. Pay attention. Because he’s going to tell you the truth. It’s a truth that every Caroline Center graduate knows – that reinvention is also for real. That it’s not, as the old saying goes, “how you begin,” but rather “how you finish” that matters.
For everyone in Baltimore who knows or is a witness to these struggles, our hope is that you “finish well” and that the unique brilliance you bring to the city and to the world not soon fade.
Quotations in this post are from D. Watkins’ The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir, May 2016, Grand Central Publishing, New York & Boston and The New York Times, Book Review section, “The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir by D. Watkins,” written by Jason Parham, published May 13, 2016. Mr. Watkins use of the word “fade” and Mr. Parham’s observations on the important use of the word as well as his expression “fighting the fade” inspired this post and its title. The bus stop image is by photographer Joe Robertson and features a mural by internationally renowned Baltimore street artist Nether. The mural of Freddie Gray at North Mount and Presbury Streets in Baltimore was created by Nether in 2015. The Black Women Matter image is by photographer Rayette Turner.