P / P Essay: Dear Elder Odetta

Photo Credit: Odetta: A powerful woman of the 60s

Dear Elder Odetta,

I need your guidance.

Much like the days when I needed James’, Angela’s, Toni’s and my grandmother’s guidance and strength. Today, I specifically need you. I need you and your guitar songs. My guitar was my best friend for so long. Now, I need an elder’s acoustic guitar.

Old spirituals and work songs that you sang and recorded course through my bloodline – my tiny blue veins running through my faint, seemingly thin skin. Right now, to me, my skin looks like paper. It looks like paper thin, pale African American skin. No, not that colorism paleness, but tiny blue veins residing under a soft layer of flesh that needs more sun. My veins intertwine with muscles, arteries and small bones and move my blood to my heart. 

My elder, my ancestor, Odetta – I ask for your wisdom and prayers. And if you can spare one song, even just a rhythm and one chorus, you can send it to me and we can write the song together. I’ll add a hook and a chorus, and you can write the bridge and final chorus? Oh, that would be a dream. It would be healing.

Elder Odetta, your wisdom, your prayer and a song is requested because I need your help. I recently asked elder (Romare) Bearden in my thoughts and in my writing a short time ago for help to learn how to survive through the hard times.

Lately, I can’t seem to dredge together my usual smile. All I can do is give meek grin of sorrow and very little eye contact. I keep my eyes down but I still try to keep my shoulders back.

I still to go to the marketplace. There is a beauty of being crammed in with people who have different ideas, who have free speech. I like old market places. I like to walk and I like to talk to people. 

I am a simple woman, but feeling at home in neighborhoods where my grandmother used to walk too fast for me to catch up no matter how hard I tried so we could jump on the Lexington Market subway over 20 years ago… no one understands how blessed it makes me feel to be in my hometown. I miss her very much. I experience peace and joy of getting lost in Mount Vernon, knowing every inch of Charles Village and not being ashamed of my roots of Edmondson Village, Fulton Avenue, Fayette St and Calhoun keeps me connected to my very personal roots.

I miss my ancestors, the ones, when they were here on Earth had to look down and pick me up and hug me when I was small. No bit of books, money, jobs or anything can take away my true and personal reasons of being where I am today. I came to see my family soon after the 2015 Uprising to see if my living family, friends and community were safe, to see if there was anything I could do to help.I have to open up because I don’t want to get lost in translation.

Returning my thoughts of nostalgia, I remember when it was safe to go to the corner store to play Ms. Pac-Man, waiting for my older cousins to buy a pack of Newports from those machines where you pull a could pull a button, connected to a lever on a metal spring 6 inches straight out to make a soft pack of smokes appear into a copper or metal slot. After the cigarettes emerged, we would divvy up the left over change to buy candy for ourselves.

But that was all in the past. A past I am proud of and miss very much. Now, in my present reality as a woman, elder Odetta, I ask you to teach me how to make it through. Teach me how to grow into an elder myself.

Please share a song with me from wherever you are and please send me your prayers of blessings, grace, clarity and resilience.




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