Two plaits bound in satin ribbon, 10 year old Imani was eager to finally cross the ocean beyond the hovering line that separated her from her young mother. 1,700 miles plus four years felt like an eternity. Familiar with the essence of travel through her deep dives into barrels packed with white dolly babies, toy trucks, frocks and pretty socks dusted with the protective stench of moth balls, in 1972 Imani and her siblings would finally join their mother at Brookledge St.
Their transition is one best understood by those who have lived it. The story of her family was common amongst Caribbean migrants to America- mom gets sponsorship to the US as a domestic worker, while her small children stay back until sent for, should funds allow. It makes me wonder;
“But, were there not enough qualified women in the states to bare the load of surrogate motherhood, wifedom, and secretary to city execs?”
“What exactly were the extraordinary qualities of Caribbean women that granted the opening of this lead heavy door?”
“In the end, will it all have been worth it?”
Beyond the cold weather, Boston was harsh. The asphalt lined streets lacked the nourishment of home and the yards offered no fruit worth plucking on the way to and from school. The closest the McFarlane children got to the stream of the river and beating of the ocean’s waves were rainy days, and if you’re lucky, a trip to Jamaica Pond; not to be confused with home. The stars did not shine the same. The moon hardly said hello, and the smell of smoke did not signal roast provisions of bread fruit, or freshly caught fish. Jerk three pigs fi roast and still, it was not home.
As if it weren’t bad enough that her Black American neighbors did not yet understand Blackness beyond a distressed American memory, and neither they!, 1972 was the beginning of the city’s school bussing. Southie- where they’d find themselves learning- was a war zone, and melanated skin the target. Unless in the company of their mother’s few Jamaican friends, Imani and her siblings faced ridicule, ostracism and assault that left them with a deep longing for home; their small, jovial country district of Hector’s River, Portland, Jamaica where, when little girls plaited blades of grass to resemble their freshly did hair, it made them smile and dream stories so bright that, not even the night stars could outshine them. Home; to find safety in its breast.
A child under such duress, they either go deep within for salvation, or fall out of grace in search of a false idol. Fortunately, for Imani, that savior was Bob Marley and the I Threes. It was the Black Panther Party, the older Rastas on Woodrow Ave., and the ingenious of Elma Ina Lewis. With her second eldest sister as her schoolyard defender, the prophetic psalms of Robert Nesta Marley were the wings that kept her leveled, and harmonies of Rita Marley, Marcia Griffith, and Judy Mowatt of the I Threes her compass.
The Rastaman chant gave her life. The freeform locs, drum beating, lush green of home, taste of Julie mango and modest fashions of the I Threes strengthened her. Griffiths’ 1978 vinyl, Naturally, juxtaposed with the arts programming at Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts catapulted Imani into fashion design. Then 14, her rebellion against the teachings of her Evangelical mother would result in grave consequences, the pinnacle moment from which a now 59 year old Imani designs her life in the light of His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Elect of God.