This book is a series of free verse poems in which the author reveals her memories of growing up African-American in the '60s and early '70s. Jacqueline was born Feb. 12, 1963 in Columbus, Ohio. As an adult, she recalls that the country was caught in a time of civil unrest. Malcolm X was talking about revolution. Martin Luther King was marching toward change.
Jacqueline's father wanted to name her "Jack" after himself. He thought it would make her strong. He left the hospital angry when his wife would only compromise and call the baby "Jackie." She made sure the birth certificate said "Jacqueline" so there would be no mistakes later.
Jacqueline grew up with a strong knowledge of her family's heritage. Her father's family traced their ancestors back to the first child of Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings. Knowing this gave her family a sense of pride and encouraged them to make the most of their lives, becoming doctors, lawyers and teachers. An uncle even fought for the Union during the Civil War.
Every winter, Jacqueline's mother bundled her up, along with her older brother, Hope, and her older sister, Odella, and took the bus to Greenville, South Carolina, where her mother's parents lived. Jacqueline's father rarely went with them. He hated the bigotry of the South and preferred to stay in Ohio where his family was respected.
Jacqueline's mother loved to reminisce with her cousins and her parents about the past. They took the night bus when they returned to Ohio because it was safer. Black people were often stopped and questioned, sometimes beaten, if they tried to ride the bus during the day. When Jacqueline was a year old, her parents separated. Her mother took her and her siblings to live in Greenville.
Jacqueline enjoyed growing up with her grandparents and soon began calling her grandfather "Daddy." He worked as a foreman for a newspaper but was often not given the respect he deserved from the white employees under his supervision. They lived in Nicholtown, a black neighborhood, but her grandmother said that the times were changing. Grandmother worked part time cleaning houses in the white neighborhood, in order to help feed her grandchildren. She was proud of the work she did and how it helped to provide for her family.
Grandmother was a Jehovah's Witness. She read her Bible at night and in the morning told the children Bible stories. Jacqueline learned to write the letter "J" when she was 3. She was enthralled with words and stories even then. After bathing on Saturday nights, she would listen to Odella read stories while Grandmother fixed her hair. She loved listening to the stories the adults told each other when they thought the children were asleep. Jacqueline repeated the family gossip to her siblings, making up the parts of the stories she couldn't hear.
As the fight for racial equality spread over the South, Jacqueline and her siblings heard their grandparents and mother speaking more about it. Her mother began to take part in protests, always with Grandmother warning her not to get arrested. Mother's Cousin Dorothy told her that she should attend training to know how to behave when someone took offense at a protest. She warned Mother that everybody has a line.
Dorothy could handle most anything, but she prayed whenever she sat at a lunch counter. She didn't want anyone to spit on her because she couldn't guarantee she'd remain nonviolent. Their neighbor Miss Bell hosted meetings at her house for the marchers. She knew the white woman she worked for would fire her if she marched, but she could hold these meetings secretly. Jacqueline's mother moved to New York City where she hoped to start a better life. The children stayed with their grandparents until she was settled.
When their mother returned to take them to New York, she brought her new baby boy, Roman. Jacqueline was jealous that she would no longer be the baby of the family. She didn't like the city at first because it was gray and made of stone. They soon moved from their first apartment because the ceiling fell down in the bathroom. Jacqueline liked their next apartment because her aunt lived upstairs and a friend from Greenville lived on the floor below them.
On Saturday nights, they all got together for dinner and talked like they did in South Carolina. They moved away when Jacqueline's aunt had an accident and died. Their Uncle Robert moved nearby. The children loved when he visited because he always brought presents. Jacqueline's mother warned him to be careful and not get in trouble.
Baby Roman got lead poisoning from eating the paint on his bedroom walls. He was hospitalized. Their mother stayed behind while Robert took the older children by train to spend the summer in Greenville. When they returned, Roman was still in the hospital. He eventually came home, but he was smaller than other children, and the lead had damaged his brain. Jacqueline was happy when he came home for good and they were a family again.
Jacqueline found a best friend, Maria, who was Hispanic. In school, Jacqueline longed to be as bright and rewarded as Odella, but learning was difficult for her. Still, she loved to make up stories. They stayed stuck in her head, however, because she couldn't write quickly. The children spent another summer in Greenville, but their grandfather grew very ill.
Grandmother still sat in the back of the bus because it was easier than having people look at her like dirt. Jacqueline wanted to be brave like the other African-Americans who rode in the front of the bus.
In fourth grade, Jacqueline memorized the story "The Selfish Giant" by Oscar Wilde because she loved it so much. When asked to read it out loud to the class, she instead recited the story from heart. Her teacher and classmates were amazed. It was then Jacqueline realized that words were her gift and purpose.
Her Uncle Robert was arrested and sent to prison. She and her family visited him. He had changed, becoming quieter and sadder. Jacqueline wrote her first song after visiting him. In early spring of that year, they received word that Grandfather was dying. They hurried home to see him. He died the night they arrived. Grandmother moved to live near Jacqueline's family.
Jacqueline continued to make up stories. She found strength and idealism in the protest of the Black Panthers and people like Angela Davis. Jacqueline began to see what was happening in the world as a carousel. History was always being made around her. Sometimes she was a part of it; sometimes she wasn't. But she knew that she was ready for the ride. In fifth grade, Jacqueline's teacher called her a writer. It was one of the happiest moments of her life.