Don't Tell Me What To Do: A Spiritual Memoir
Just kill me now, LORD! I'd rather be dead than alive, because nothing I predicted is going to happen. – Jonah 4:3

Why was I impressed with Butch Johnson?

Answer

Butch Johnson, the tall, lanky, cultural street guru around the neighborhood, was always preaching about the relevance of John Coltrane’s life and music. We met while I on the way to a corner store. Gathered around him, in front of the store, was a group of bushy headed students clapping hands, clicking fingers, patting feet as Butch chanted verses of poetry he had written. I watched his performance from a distance and listened to his skillful manipulation of words, making his words rhyme and clash at the same time, his impassioned plea for enlightenment, his insistence that racism end. He called on black people to resist integration into the America's mainstream.

I wished in my heart that I could do what he was doing. I was fascinated by how easily and quickly he linked his words together, never breaking cadence, never making a mistake or stuttering. I couldn't string five words together without stuttering and here was this guy commanding an audience on a street corner with his eloquence with his nerve and confidence to believe he could pull it all off. My enthusiasm for his audacious street performance created an instant friendship between us.

Racism was a new concept to me. I lacked experiences that linked me to Butch's poetry. All of the people who had hurt me were black and nappy-headed. The only opportunity I had to look a white person in the face was when a white insurance agent came calling to collect money from Mama. I never thought twice about where white people came from, where they lived or worked. No one, except for Butch, had ever sat me down and explained the American facts of life to me.

“Define yourself, man,” he always would interject some- where into our conversations about pride and legacy. “Never allow anyone else to do it for you.”

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