Wordz of Wilson: When I Think of Home

By Chelle Wilson
Columnist

One of my favorite movies of all time is The Wiz, yes, the one starring Diana Ross, Nipsey Russell, Ted Ross and MJ as Scarecrow. I love the way our culture is beautifully and tragically woven into the storyline as we took this popular story and made it our own—from running numbers, and naming children after cars (Remember Lion aka Fleetwood Coupe DeVille), to the fabulous and fashionable sistas of Emerald City and the petty crows who gathered to laugh at Scarecrow’s dreams insisting he would never go further than ‘dis here pole.

Every time I watch, a new life lesson is revealed. The other night I watched through the lens of current events and one scene was almost too heartbreaking for me to watch. It’s a scene that ordinarily brings joy because the quest has been completed and I get to (in Miss Black America talent competition style) sing along to two of my favorite ballads. In this scene Lena Horne, as Glenda the Good Witch of the South, floats down in all her glittering glory surrounded by beautiful Black angel babies.

Glenda helps Dorothy to understand that all she needs to get what she wants most is to simply believe in herself. Dorothy get it. After a “you got this” motivational speech and a fond farewell to her traveling companions, Dorothy clicks her silver shiny shoes, and sings, “When I think of home, I think of a place where there’s love overflowing…

It would sure be nice to be back home where there’s love and affection/ And just maybe I can convince time to slow up/Giving me enough time in my life to grow up/Time be my friend/Let me start again.” Home. Four letters overflowing with meaning. Home is the sound of Luther Vandross singing Everybody swingin’ (the bad boy’s swingin)/dancing to the music/ On the radio-o-o/Havin’ a party. Home is the blended smell of peach cobbler in the oven and Liz Taylor’s White Diamonds perfume.

Home is the same spot on the couch that engulfs you as you sink into familiarity. Home is love. Home is acceptance. Home hurts but has the power to heal. Like fingerprints and snowflakes, home is unique to each of us. Suddenly my world’s gone and changed its face/But I still know where I’m goin’ I have had my mind spun around in space/ And yet I’ve watched it growin’.” 

This week, Sarah M. Broom’s memoir, The Yellow House won the 2019 National Book Award for Nonfiction. The book is named for the home her mother purchased in 1961 to house more than just their bodies—it was space to keep safe their hopes, dreams and aspirations. The house no longer stands, a casualty of Hurricane Katrina, it was demolished in 2006, leaving Broom to grapple with all that was lost. “The Yellow House was witness to our lives,” Broom writes of the home where she and most of her 11 older siblings grew up. “When it fell, something in me burst.”

I understand that feeling. After my mother passed, I had my own imaginings for the house I grew up in. I never envisioned it not being in the family. I never envisioned it not being. Burglars vandalized my mother’s house looking for copper and then set it ablaze. When I drive down to 1111 NE 43rd Street now, the feelings are different. Instead of seeing the light grey brick with faded black trim; only the land, our old shed by the back fence, and a few strong trees remain to welcome me back home.

Only recently has my weeping lightened enough for me to even get out of the car. The pain in feeling unrooted hurts deeply. If you’re listening God/please don’t make it hard to know if we should believe the things that we see/Tell us should we run away/should we try and stay/Or is better just to let things be? For African Americans, home has often been our only place of refuge from life’s storms.

A place to speak freely. A place to practice caring for ourselves and one another. A place to slap Big Six and trash talk throughout Bid Whist. A place to laugh. A place tears were allowed to flow joyously or painfully, depending on the drama of the day. A place to savor ice cream on the sofa. A place for favorite aunties to enjoy quality time with the nephew and his favorite video game.

In “Home,” the poet Warsan Shire writes: no one leaves home unless home is a sweaty voice in your ear saying- leave, run away from me now i don’t know what I’ve become but i know that anywhere is safer than here. Considering these times we live in, our survival requires that home become more than just the physical structures we leave from and return to every day. We are in need of sturdiness to help bear the weight of burdens that come from being Black in America.

We are in need of safe sanctuary. We need each other. I visited South Africa a few years ago, and a brother walking down the street passed me and with a nod said, “Hey sista. Welcome home.” Obviously, I wasn’t in my house, but I felt at home. I felt reassured. I felt safe. I felt peace. Like Whitney Houston’s character Savannah, I took the leap, stopped waiting and exhaled. It was a glorious feeling. Home is where the heart is, they say. I wonder, can we attune our hearts to one another? Can we capture all the best feelings home conjures up and share them with one another?

Can we build community across difference, across shortcomings, across insecurities and fear, like Dorothy did with Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion? Can we see each other through the lens of love and potential? In a world inclined to make us feel very unwanted, imagine the possibilities of a brand new world where home stands after the hurricanes, rises like a phoenix above the ashes, and exists wherever we are whispering in a voice as sweet and warm as an embrace, “Hey you, welcome home/Living here in this brand new world might be a fantasy/But it’s taught me to love so it’s real to me/And I’ve learned that we must look inside our hearts to find/A world full of love like yours and mine/Like home.”

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