African American Studies
Morgan’s full name is, Kristopher Morgan Powell. He was born in Mandevol, Jamaica in 1973. His parents were divorced, but his father was an engineer and his mother was a civil servant who worked in the founding years of the newly-independent Jamaican government. His mother moved to the US during his parents’ divorce and she established herself in Harlem, and when he moved to New York in 1974 they lived on Olinville Avenue in the Bronx, but spent much time in Harlem with his mom’s friends. Though Powell is Jamaican-American, he identifies as African-American because of his weak connection to Jamaica.
He recalls Harlem having a very strong pan-African presence, and he enjoyed being surrounded by intelligent African “people with a sense of history, a sense of culture.” Despite being a toddler, he recalls the blackout of 1977 and how they used candles at night and ate a sandwich with Jell-O crystals and bread. Powell also recalls how common it was for people to communicate with each other by sticking their heads out the window in the Bronx.
He describes his mother as a “church hopper” and they frequently went to several Christian churches of different congregations and he experienced the many styles of Christianity. He describes his mother as very formal, leading a very private life, and he attributes that to her upbringing in Jamaica as a colony under Britain’s authority. He also recognizes that being black in America at the time was different, because of social barriers that go unrecognized; he also expresses angst at society’s consumerist structure, and education’s focus on tests that don’t reflect intellectual ability – the humanistic side of life is oftentimes ignored, especially in the lives of black people.
Because his mother was single, he only really saw her on Sundays, and on Sundays they had a very formal breakfast with music, and he attributes this as one of the positive things that emerged from his mother’s experience in colonial Jamaica. He recalls being among the first dark-skinned people in his northern Bronx neighborhood in the 80s, which was mostly Italian and Jewish, and he remembers playing in board games with the neighborhood kids. It was a place full of life, but was regarded as being worthless and full of social decay by the rest of America during the time.
He remembers that during the late 80s, the Bronx became home to more Asians and Eastern Europeans, as the Cold War began to end. Though he was naïve of racial tension at the time, he recalls having Italian friends, but never being invited to their house. He recalls this post-Civil Rights era as being integrated, yet segregated. With regards to education, Powell attended PS 89 and PS 96, which mostly had white students and had a high-quality and challenging curriculum. But in junior high and high school, where students were Latino or African-American living in housing projects, the school had less resources and students were pregnant, but he was able to avoid trouble because he was mature by then.
During his senior year, he remembers learning about the Rodney King beating in social studies class, not the media, and how students were surprised at the brutality of police. He recognized that students were afraid to voice their opinions on the matter, and he tried to emphasize to a female students she was missing an opportunity.
Unlike most the other people he grew up with, Powell “identifies with the Bronx, has come from the Bronx, and is an educated person who wishes to stay in the Bronx.” He stayed for several reasons, one being that after graduating high school at age 17, his mother refused to sign any papers for him going to college. He also reflects that people wanted to leave the Bronx because, growing up there, they were taught it was a “godforsaken” place.
He finished by reading a letter that reflects his future as a citizen in the Bronx. The letter regards the development of Crotona Park, and how there has been little community interest in fixing the park. He emphasizes that he’s a professional gardener with over 1500 hours in horticultural training and wants to help the park, which is rare among black people; yet, those in office who can contribute to this project are ignoring the requests.
Powell, Morgan. 10 September 2004. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham.
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