Every time I come to New York, in those very first moments, I feel as if this city and I are meant to be together.
Thirty minutes and $26 dollars later I arrive in Harlem with my 44.6 pound luggage. Yes, I packed alladat just for one weekend. Harlem is the Mecca of blackness in NY. Although it is drastically changing due to gentrification, what Harlem is and means will never change. I heart Harlem. The brownstones, the eateries, Malcolm X Blvd., Lenox Ave., Apollo Theater, Harlem Renaissance, Striver’s Row, what’s not to love?
Immediately after settling in I attempted to write the story I’m on deadline for. After being distracted and exhausted for being awake for 24 hours I fell asleep waiting for Nina, the BBC News reporter to call.
I was only in New York because a couple of weeks ago Nina contacted me about a radio documentary BBC is doing on single black professional women. Apparently England wanted a piece of the pie on analyzing why professional black women can’t find a man. *rolls eyes* First thought, not another single black woman story. I wanted to yell to the high heavens that this was not a crisis, calamity or whatever other false misnomer the media was calling it. Yet I thought this would be my opportunity to give my voice to the story and it not be another “I’m sad, lonely and there are no good black men” meme. Plus, let’s be real, it’s freaking BBC man!
After speaking to Nina over the phone and via several emails I thought Nina would handle the documentary with much better care than Nightline had. Coming from a British perspective I felt the tone and angle would be slightly different.
At 4:00 she called me and asked could I meet up with her for date number one. Since I had traveled from Indiana Nina decided to center the story around me. Instead of just having me talk about what I think the issues are between black men and women, she had set-up the three blind dates in which she will talk to both the date and myself prior to the date, and then debrief with both of us individually afterward. As part of her research she also was interviewing several other professional black women and men to weigh in.
Thankfully, I already knew what I was wearing. I slid on my mustard yellow business casual dress, flat ironed a few pieces of my red and black hair, no time for makeup and threw my black 5′ heels in my purse. There was no way I was walking around NYC all night in heels. I met up with Nina in the city on 86th and Broadway.
We had to travel to White Plains, NY because Andre (date #1) was coaching a basketball team. Nina wanted to interview him in his own environment to add life to the story. Nina was not at all what I expected, but I immediately knew this would be a great adventure in working with her.
As we made our way to Grand Central station she told me more details about her vision for the story, what I would be doing and of course she told me about Andre.
“Is he cute?”
“I don’t know I haven’t seen him,” she said in her British accent.
I looked at her with the Prince side-eye and we both laughed so hard we had to hold each other’s arms. Before heading to White Plains we had to stop in Harlem because I had taken my weekend roomies key and it was the only one she had.
At Grand Central Station Nina asked me a few questions about the beautiful architecture and why GCS is a symbol of romance in so many movies.
On the train is when the real questions began. People were listening and kept looking at us because every other word was “black women or black men.” Headed to White Plains we weren’t really surrounded by either.
Then she hits me with it.
“Andre is the hood brother. Does that make you nervous?”
“Of course not.” [insert long response here]
“He has three kids,” she said.
My mouth dropped wide open. We laughed again hysterically.
“How many baby mother’s does he have?”
“They’re all by the same woman. He was with her for eight years.”
She begins recording again and I explain to her I could not date someone seriously with three children.
Forty-five minutes later we arrive in White Plains. We jump in a cab and arrive at the basketball court. Like any basketball court in the neighborhood all the brothers were out. There were a few kids, some females, but mostly men. This was Nina’s first ever live basketball game so she was uber excited.
As neither one of us knew what Andre looked like she used her reporter skills and started asking questions. Finally someone pointed him out as another brother tried to persuade me into giving him my BBM pin. Andre was still coaching the game so he quickly came over, said hello and returned to coaching his team. He was definitely FINE! Brown skin, short, clean-cut fade and a skinny build. The exact opposite of what I normally love (tall, big build, brown to dark skinned men). He was tatted up and blinged out with his flashy jewelry. His attire resembled his teams. He had on a blue t-shirt(teams colors), black basketball shorts, a blue NY hat to match and a white do-rag underneath.
His team lost by five points and we patiently waited for him to make his rounds in chopping it up with everyone he knew. I noticed when we were leaving how much respect he gets from the people in his community. When Nina asked him why he coaches the basketball team his response was, “I never had a mother or father. I’m doing this for my community. You have to give back to the community.” It amazed me that someone with so little knew the importance of giving back, yet some of our middle and upper class Negroes who live in the land of Bourgeoisie seem to forget it.
In route to our date I listened quietly as Nina ran off her questions to him. In the middle of walking he excused himself because he had to go pee…outside. Yeah, I kind of knew at that point how the rest of the date would go.
Andre was incredibly open and authentic. He talked to Nina just like he would talk to his boys. He cursed, told her he was in the streets doing illegal activities, mentioned his three daughters right away and admitted to being an ex-felon. There was never a moment he hesitated or felt ashamed of the life he lived.
Because the b-ball game ran longer than expected our date was cut down to 30 minutes because our train would be leaving at 9:59. At Uno’s Nina left Andre and I alone with the tape recorder running.
With his two phones on the table (that constantly rang), we both ordered drinks having no time to eat. We talked about his lifestyle and why he does what he does. He had a full football scholarship to attend Grambling State University, but before leaving he was shot and stabbed. He said the schools backed off of him when they were informed about the incident.
Andre was definitely not a dumb dude. Rather he was a dude whose circumstances had gotten the best of him. Instead of turning his tragic life into motivation to strive for better, he settled for a life in the streets because it was all he knew. He said he knows his life would be different if he would have left NY to attend Grambling.
When I asked him what types of women he likes he admitted he typically talks to the “neighborhood girls” because women like me will not give him the time of day. When I asked him if his daughters were to date a guy like him would he be ok with that? His response was, “Hell no I wouldn’t be ok with that. I don’t want this for my daughters. That’s why I make sure I’m active in their lives.” Like I said, he’s no dummy.
After the date I sat at another table while Nina asked him his impression of me and how he thinks it went. Nina and Andre briefly went back and forth about who was going to pay the tab (Nina won), and we nearly ran to the train station having only eight minutes before the train departed. Andre walked us back to the train and we made small talk about what type of music Nina likes being from the UK. She loves rap, dancehall and R&B. As the train pulled up Andre gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Nina waved bye and he insisted on her giving him a hug. This made me smile.
On the train ride back it was time to debrief.
“He fuckin’ loves you man,” she said with her British accent.
We both smiled and laughed. With the recorder on I first told Nina all of the positive things I liked about him. And I told her I would have no problem being his homegirl. However, he has so much going on in his life that I would not be willing to take on. Three kids, he’s in a gang, an ex-felon, which is a hindrance on him finding employment and he participates in illegal activities. I’m not knocking him for what he has done because everybody has a past, but I could not involve myself with someone living the life Andre lives.
Needless to say Nina loved him. She thought he was very mature and genuine in comparison to the professional black men she’d interviewed so far.
The next move for the night was Tillman’s. Tillman’s was a lounge for the young black professionals. It was quaint, small and had a nice ambiance. The band played live jazz in which Nina admitted, “I’m not a big fan of jazz.” “No worries, I’m not either,” I said.
Neither one of us were really feeling Tillman’s. The type of guys that were there…yeah I would not be interested in dating. We met up with two other single black women who I’d met via Twitter and through another friend. We ate, laughed and did a few more interviews and bounced.
Nina wanted to go to Taj and I was all for it. Its NYC let’s go! Taj was nothing like Tillman’s. It felt more like a club. Nina walked up to the guy running the door who she had prearranged an interview with so we got in free and didn’t have to wait in line. She interviewed him and we went to do our own thing.
We got a drink and hit the dance floor. After about 30 to 45 minutes we were ready to call it a night.
What an experience! I never thought in my wildest dreams I’d be the focal point of a radio documentary. Nor did I ever think me writing about my own life experiences would lead to all of this. (Shoutout to abelleinbk.com, which is where Nina read my “Dumb it Down” article).
Nina has been a ball of fun and incredibly comfortable in the environments we’ve gone too. She even openly admitted she liked the b-ball court crowd moreso than the Tillman’s crowd.
Stay tuned for date #2-the professional white man and date #3-the ideal black man. Nina won’t tell me anything about either guy after she saw my reaction to her telling me Andre has three kids. LOL.
I’m in NY baby! And this is my life.