Uncle Johnny

I woke up to the news that my favorite uncle passed away last night.

It was #Cancer, not #COVID19. But the pandemic still colors everything about the way that we’re allowed to grieve. I’ve been lying awake since 5am, just thinking about family and legacies.

My dad’s people are from #Louisiana. But they’re not from “beignet and Bourbon Street” Louisiana. They’re from barrel fire and “Christmas Coon” Louisiana. Buckshot squirrel and collard greens Louisiana. Pretty sure they’ve eaten gator and frog legs Louisiana.

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My sister and I, with our paternal grandfather in Northeastern Louisiana in the 1980s

They lived in a house that my grandpa built with his hands.

All the houses in the neighborhood looked like that.

When I was little, I assumed that all the houses in the city looked like that.

I was in college before I realized that my family lived on the “Colored” side of town.

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The mailbox in front of my grandparents’ house on Lincoln Road

My dad had three brothers: Allen, Nate, and Johnny. Allen left home at 18 (when my dad was still a baby) and joined the military. So Nate, Johnny, and my dad grew up together in the segregated Louisiana of the 1950s & 60s.

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Uncle Johnny, Uncle Nate, and my dad

Uncle Johnny was my favorite. No shade to my other uncles, but Uncle Johnny was my GUY.

He actually lived with us in the Bay when I was little. I’m not sure that I ever knew why, but I did know that having my favorite uncle live with us was definitely the coolest thing.

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With Uncle Johnny in Atlanta back in 2014
When I was growing up, I knew bits and pieces of my dad’s history.
I knew that he played football for Richwood High. I knew that he dropped out his senior year & joined the #JobCorps.
There were whispers about #LasVegas & #ReddFoxx. But they were never loud enough for my ears.
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With my dad and Uncle Johnny in 2016

I was a lot older when I found out that Uncle Johnny had taken a different path. He went to Grambling University and played in the Tiger Marching Band.

He told me how the band traveled to #Africa in the 1970s. He told me they ate monkey brains (which I’m pretty sure he made up!).

Uncle Johnny was a dancer.
He told me that he and a buddy had once won a dance contest where the prize was going on tour with #SammyDavisJr. They hadn’t gone, though, because the duo split in a dispute over a woman.
I never knew how much of Uncle Johnny’s stories were true.

When I (finally) finished grad school and started traveling more, Uncle Johnny was always hyping me up.

He told me that he was proud of me. He told me to keep moving forward.

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He reminded me, as I stood in front of the #pyramids in #Egypt, that I was doing things that many people would not have the chance to do.
He told me to enjoy as much as I could.
He said, “we’re only here on this planet for a little while.”
He said he was enjoying my joy.

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He affirmed me.
He told me, “I’m soooo proud of the ways you’ve created your own roads to success.”
That meant a lot to me, because (even now) people constantly question me about why on earth I would leave legal practice to start teaching.
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In the moment, you assume that your #heroes are going to live forever.
Now, looking back, I wish I had said more than “Thank You”.  I wish that I had said to him everything that I just said to you.
Back in January, we learned that Uncle Johnny had #BoneCancer. “The doctors are giving him 6-8 weeks,” my dad said. So we headed down to Monroe to see Uncle Johnny for what ended up being the last time.
But how do you say goodbye to someone you’ve known your WHOLE life?
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With Uncle Johnny and Uncle Nate in Monroe in February 2020
How do you thank them for everything they’ve given you? For everything they’ve made you?
We got 14 weeks with Uncle Johnny, instead of 6. But it still feels like it happened way too soon.
So now we’re planning for another Zoom funeral, and I’m left wondering how to honor a man who meant so much to me.
Rest in Peace, Uncle Johnny 🙏🏾💔😢

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