“You have to go after that thing that begs you to come after it. That thing that pulls and yanks at you, grabbing you, screaming at you. You must pursue that thing. Chase it. Go through the whatever you must, however you must, whenever you must. Because you must. Because you have to. Even if you are the only one that knows why it matters to you. That’s all that matters. Keep going, you’ll find what you’re looking for.” -see
So… Extremely vulnerable moment here:
I grew up, from the ages of 8-15 in a home that I believed was normal. Because it was my experience and because of how my mother reared and raised us, I lived as we were instructed to. There were good times. There were other times that I didn’t know to quantify as good or bad because they were our routine and so I might not have appreciated them, but I was taught certain values and morals that prevented me from taking stock in what I may have perceived as a problem because I was always made aware that there was an outside world that had REAL problems. I was told that though we might not have “everything “, what we did have was no reason to complain. And to a great extent, that’s what I believed. Because that’s what I was expected and instructed to believe.
That created a sort of naïveté. It formed a certain blind spot in my awareness. I think that it was a defense mechanism I applied as a coping technique due to my spiritual/natural senses having had issue with so many of the things that went on. I wasn’t empowered or impressed to respond any different than I did, nor did I feel capable of objecting to certain matters.
In the house I grew up in, my mothers bedroom door was closed. And there were rules as to how we were to function on the outside of that closed door. We were to never open that door of our on volition. We were to knock and only proceed after being given permission to. What went on behind that door was not our business.
As a child I honored that law. The only time I ever opened that door without having been granted access behind my knock was March 28, 1994. At 5:45 a.m. I knocked and she didn’t answer. But I knew she was in there. I waited a few minutes, thinking maybe she was asleep, and then at 6 o’clock I knocked again. After the second set of knocks I cautiously motioned toward the knob. I remember EVERY MOMENT of thought and motion of my hands and being as I reached to grab that knob. All I kept thinking was, that even though she needed to wake up because it was past time for her to be preparing for work, she was going to beat my ass for opening her door without her permission. And I paused because of that. I knew the rules, I knew the consequences of breaking any of her rules. But that morning I decided that I would deal with it and she would have to respect that I was being responsible- for the both of us- and getting her up so that she didn’t miss her ride to the train, subsequently her train, and ultimately a day of work. So here I was doing what I knew I was told not to but something in me said that I must.
The only time I ever opened my mothers door without knocking and her granting me access to come in, I discovered her lifeless body. Discolored, coagulated blood stuck to her face. Dried blood catching plats of hair like lava would rocks. The stuck blood molding to her grayish-bloating skin, covering her forehead and eyes. My mother was dead. She had been shot in the head. She was murdered 2 nights before that and I found her that morning. My siblings and I had spent the weekend at my Dad’s and hadn’t returned until the night before I found her. When we had arrived, her bedroom door was open. It was dark in the house. I pulled her door closed because I didn’t want her to wake up and start barking orders. My baby brother would have certainly awaken her if he had the chance. I blocked his way and closed her door. “Not tonight”, I recall thinking. She wasn’t about to get up and start giving me a list of things to do. I shut that door so quick.
When I did find her that morning, one of the things that I had and have since reconciled to being the way it was supposed to happen is that my siblings don’t have that picture in their head. They remember a different mom. Not the murdered one that I can’t stop remembering. The pull that possessed me to open her door that morning, the feeling, the gall, the audacity, the rebellion… I am glad that I listened to it. Yes, I have to deal with what I have to deal with. So do my brother and sister. We slept in that house for a night with her dead body, unaware of what would be found the next morning. That’s a lot to deal with. For anyone. And I have a picture to torture me as well.
Her murder was rough on us. It was fucked up. I will not reduce my vocabulary to explain it any other way. That shit was fucked up. What was even more fucked up was what happened after. The abandonment, the absence, the departures, the depression, the fuckery. The way EVERYONE disappeared. The village that my mother had so much pride in, abandoned her children. The entire village! Family, Friends, the Church, the Community. Everyone. And they all have an excuse or reason why. And this is not the time to express how many fucks I do not give for their reasonings. I’m still trying to figure that out. I’ve lost so much trying to figure that out.
A few years after her murder I was made aware of some money that had been raised in our names that we never received. I was shocked but not surprised that such a thing had gone on. By that time I was fully aware of how disgusting and disrespectful the cruel of this world can be. But I wanted to know more. I attempted to discover who these individuals and institutions that had collected funds on our behalf were. My investigation led me to a bank and some individuals that we had no connection or relation to. I pursued the leads that I had. The bank that was tied to one of these accounts informed me that I needed to prove my identity as well as my mothers identity in order to proceed with any form of inquiry regarding the information on any account. Two of the forms that I needed were my mothers birth and death certificates.
I went through the necessary steps to pull that information. I never even opened the envelopes that they gave me until I had gotten to the bank. The information I got was that the accounts were empty and I was told that they never had much money in them. What was deposited had been withdrawn years before. It had been 6 years since she was killed and what I got from the people I spoke to then was that I could pursue the matter legally but there wasn’t much the management that I was in contact with could do. I left it alone.
I put those certificates in an envelope and put that envelope in my book bag. I didn’t have much use for them so I planned to put them away in case I did somewhere down the line. A few days later I took them out of my bag and started to sit them at the top of a closet where I had a few other documents. Right before I was about to put them away I opened the envelope to see them. I had never seen my mothers birth certificate and I guess I was curious to. I started reading. Most of what I saw, I knew. I knew her full name. I knew her birthday. I knew her birth town. I knew my grandmother’s name. I knew all of it. The entire birth record was filled out. Even the line for Father. That was something I did not know.
The Father line was not empty.
It had a name.
I’d asked my mother who her father, my grandfather, was. She never told me. I asked all the time over the years. I didn’t recognize that my question required an answer that was not without a tremendous deal of… so many things. But I asked. And every time she discovered a way to answer that was no answer. I always wanted to know. I’m not even sure why I wanted to know at first. Eventually I wanted that knowledge to explain the parts of me that had no explanation. I’d become thirsty for as much information on my history as I could learn. In due time I would be an adult able to connect dots that formed a complete tree of my existence. As a child though, I just wanted to know.
And here I was with a birth certificate in my hand that had a name on that line. My mother did have a father and he had a name. He had a name that was on this certificate. That meant that she knew who he was. I was so confused. I was excited. I was so confused.
I knew that last name. They were everywhere. I knew so many of them. My mother knew them. Who was this? Why didn’t I know this? This is my mothers father. Wait, this is my grandfather! According to this birth certificate my mother has a father, which means I have a grandfather, and his name is Charles.
I didn’t know what to do with the newfound information. I had so many questions and so many more feelings. I just know this couldn’t possibly be one of the Kellogg’s related to the Kellogg’s that I knew. I had to find out. But I didn’t know who to call or take the information to. By that time it had been years since I’d seen most of the family that I’d once known. Especially the family that could have answered the questions I had. And again, most of the community that we grew up with had departed our lives when my mother was killed.
I did know a Kellogg that I felt could get me close to the answers I needed though. I believed he could help me out. So I called him. Mr. Eric Kellogg had been my gym teacher at King Elementary, back when I was a child. I’d known him my whole life. My mother knew him. He was one of the individuals she had given permission to keep me in line if I were ever caught “out of line” while she wasn’t around. They had a rapport. I’d recall her telling me that they had grown up knowing one another. She was comfortable with him and they always conversed when we encountered him. He was a community leader and role model in my eyes and the fact that she trusted him gave me cause to. By the time I discovered the birth certificate, he was considering a run for Mayor of the town I was born in, Harvey, Illinois. It had been some years since I had seen him but I trusted that if I reached out there would be no issue getting some time with him. I got a contact number and was able to reach him. I told him that I needed to speak with him and he obliged. We met at a neighborhood restaurant, Denvers, for breakfast, the following day.
At the table I slid the envelope over to his side. I remember every thing that happened in that moment:
Eric- “What’s this?”
Me- “Open it. I figured you could tell me what it is.”
He picked up the envelope and pulled out the birth certificate. He looked across the table in confusion. I’m sure he was trying to figure out why I had given him a birth certificate to look at.
Me- “Whose name is that?”
Eric- “Your mom?”
Me- “The Father line.”
Eric- With a look of profound disturbance and confusion, he said, “Uncle Charlie?”
Me- “You know who that is?”
Eric- “Uncle Charlie was Michelle’s father?”
Me- “Did you know that?”
Eric- “Corn, I had no idea. This is something you could talk to my mother about. She might know how to explain it.”
A few days later I was introduced to his mother at her home. She had agreed to meet with me, Eric was there as well. After our greeting she asked me what was it that I was seeking information about. I told her that I had pulled my moms birth certificate and saw a name that I had never heard before. I wanted to know who he was.
The next question she asked, “Your mother never told you who her father was?” added so many layers to an already layered pile of unknowingness. I told her that she hadn’t. Because my mother had never said anything about a father. And no one else that I had ever asked had anything to say about the subject.
She then said, “Charlie took great care of your mother. He was definitely a part of her life. The situation was what it was. He was married. He had a family.”
I was floored. Charles Kellogg was my grandfather. I had a grandfather.
She then repeated her first question, “Your mother never told you who her father was?”, to which I told her, “No.”
She then asked me what did I want from them. What was I looking for? I told her that I wanted information. I wanted to know my family history. I was doing the same thing on both sides. It was personal for me. It was something I needed. I felt that she was implying that I wanted something from them that I didn’t deserve. I felt that she thought I was misleading her with the fact that I had no knowledge of what she had just told me. By that year, 2000, my grandmother had passed away and I had not spoken to my other side of the family for awhile. I told her that one of the reasons I was seeking this was to get some type of understanding of my history, my complete history.
I also told her why I was back in Illinois in the first place. A couple years prior I had moved to Georgia where my grandmother, aunt and uncle lived. I left college to be with my grandmother. She had some health issues and I felt I needed to be near her in case something happened. She died in April of 1998. Over the next two years, I put more focus into my writing poetry and performing spoken-word. During that period, I got an opportunity from Hank Stewart and Joyce Littel to feature on V-103 (Atlanta) as a weekly poet on the air. Leroy McMath, who owned Power Records allowed me an opportunity to record a single that was placed on an MC Breed album. I was doing well on the open mic circuit and I had a slew of other projects that I was working on. I put some of that stuff on pause to come back to Chicago and attempt to get some “closure” or resolve in my moms death. I wanted to go further in my career but I had some issues that I was dealing with and decided that I might need to come back home to “empty my trash” before I jumped into the industry. I told her that I planned to go back to Georgia to pursue that career path. I didn’t want anything from them, other than the information that I felt would help me. That help would assist me in getting over some hurdles and allow me to focus on being a better person. I told her that I had a lot of talent and opportunity that hinged on my healing. The ultimate goal was to be a great writer. Because that’s what I believed my purpose was.
To that she responded, “Charlie is a poet”.
It wasn’t the “Charlie” or the “Poet” that stuck out to me though. But she said “is”. To that I responded, “He’s alive”? She told me that he was.
I asked where did he live and she said that he was living in the same house that he had lived in for the previous 40+ years. I asked her where and she gave me the address.
After she recited the numbers, I asked her to repeat them. I could not believe what she was saying. The address that she gave me was the next block over from where I was raised in Dixmoor, Illinois. Less than 7 houses away.
My mother moved us into a house that was a block over from her father and she never told us? How? Why? Did she know? What could be a reason to not tell us?
I left Ms. Kellogg’s home that day with so many questions. I was in shock, in disbelief, excited, anxious, and a whole lot of ready to meet my grandpa! I went back to my Dad’s and told him and my siblings what I had discovered.
I have to say this part before I go on: Often, when I am telling these stories of my past and recounting the things that have happened, I say “me”, I say “I”. I speak from a place of personalization, and I know that it sounds like this is all about me. A lot of times I talk about the horrific nature of what has gone on in a personal, almost individual manner. There is a specific reason for that. I am my mothers oldest child. I am the big brother. I was responsible for my sister and brother. My mother raised me to take care of them. That is what I believed my utmost obligation and responsibility in life was to do. And I tried. I tried to shield them from a lot of the mess and bullshit that came with our situation. I learned behavior like that from my mother who would have my Dad (their Father) come and get them from the house when there was an episode or some mess that she didn’t want them to hear or see. She kept me there. I don’t believe it was for protection necessarily but for information and because she taught me that I was to be responsible and mature and would have to know certain things for the fact there were things that went on that she didn’t want them to be aware or afraid of. After her murder, I was the one that dealt with matters of our business. I was the one pursuing investigations. I was the one in contact with authorities. I was the one speaking on behalf of her children. I was the one charged with keeping her legacy and memory alive. I was the one that got asked the questions. Because they were babies, 11 and 8 years old. I was a baby too but I wasn’t allowed to function as one. I was forced to face our new reality with a different type of head-on. So, I was the one that got the news of every let down and disturbing fact, first. I had to keep every ugly thing I heard and learned or had to process, from them, so that the cataclysmic disruption of our lives didn’t destroy everything or what ever sense of anything left, they did have. That wasn’t fair, or right, but it was what it was. And the truth is that it destroyed me. So much of it destroyed me. Ultimately I destroyed my relationship with them. Because I broke. I fell apart. I got depressed. I got discouraged. I got overwhelmed. I ran. I abandoned them. What I endured poisoned me. I tried to stay away to avoid poisoning them. I became toxic and a monster to the two most important people in my life. I realized that way back then and I began this process towards healing. My process required answers though. The answers that I believed could explain stuff and heal our hearts, in some way. Answers and information to stabilize the constant and consistent abruptions that our lives grew accustomed to. After a while, information and answers seemed the only thing that fought my hurt, fed my hunger, and gave me feeling again. I have been the one that has been going after this information and these answers. But know this, it has been for them, for us. Because I believe that finding things out would/could fix me. Then I can go back and fix what I have broken with them. So that is why this is so personal. I’ll take these hits and hurts. I can’t prevent them from feeling how they feel but I can fix me and then I can be of some help to them. I stopped being help a long time ago.
Back to the story…
I called and asked some of the people that we still had in our lives if they knew anything about Charles Kellogg being my grandfather… No one seemed to know anything.
At home that evening I wrote a letter to my grandfather. I was going to mail it. I thought about it somehow getting lost so instead I took that letter to the address that she gave me and placed in his mailbox. I don’t remember everything that I wrote to him but I intended for him to read it and reach out. He never reached out.
And thus began a 21 year pursuit of my attempting to find out what was true and what was not. Roadblocks and resistance for that entire time. I’d get bits and pieces over the years that only frustrated and maddened my efforts. What I was told was to leave it alone, that this was a family secret and to remain one, and that I had no business bringing hurt to the family by bringing these things up.
That wasn’t fair. But it seemed to be protocol for stories like this. That these are secrets that people take to their grave. And the key players (in my mind), my grandfathers wife (who died in 1989), my mother (who was murdered in 1994), and my grandfather (who died in 2006) were all dead. Especially over the last 15 years. It just didn’t make much sense for me to have received the resistance. Yet, I did. And told to let it go, leave it alone.
But something kept pulling at me to keep pressing. So I did. Here and there I would find someone willing to give me a little information. Most of what I got was always the same; that my grandfather was married and that my mother was the result of an affair. I would always hear that he had a relationship with her (my mother), that he -at some point- had provided for her, and that he loved her. The desire to know him grew. Hearing that he was a poet, a writer, did something for me. It inspired me, and it impressed me. Most important though, I felt that it explained me. I felt I needed or at least thought I needed that explanation.
I attempted to contact people for information but always got refused. It became a horrible routine of action: I would find someone or attempt to contact someone, let them know what I was after, not get responded to.
That had gone on for these last 21 years. Over which time I’ve struggled with so many other things and this added fuel to that fire of contempt. I began to question what I thought I knew. Even though over the years I’d hear bits and pieces about my grandfather having been in my mothers life at some point, I started to think it was an illusion. It got filed into the archives of conspiracy that has been the cloud over my life since my mothers murder. Another unsolved case destined to be unprocessed along my uneasy road.
Then Covid came. Over the past two years I found myself losing interest in the consistency of hurt and harm that I have proficiently found my road affixed to. I got really tired. Tired of the running and the routine. I guess the pandemic played a significant role in challenging me to stay still. I’ve been scurrying about my whole life to stay busy and distracted from “stuff”. Having to sit down forced me to began writing. I started writing a book about my life and the opening up began to remind me of just how much I have gone through and I started to realize just how much I have had to overcome. Then I started to remember, through the writing, that I have come so far. In that space and due to the pandemic forcing a world to focus on things much more important than what is not, I began to take stock and realize that I have actually come very far. That awareness prompted me to decide that this big reset would be a reset for me. So I recalibrated. I made the decision that I was ready to walk in the face of my pain and confront my hurts. Not as confrontation, but to communicate with everything that is me. All the parts of me. The next thing I know I had stopped writing. I believe that what I was writing was amazing but those brilliant words didn’t match the bitter taste in my mouth from all that this journey has been. Words that I have been toting around and spewing, forever. Old words that didn’t match my new walk. Language opposite of where I want to go. So I decided that I would not finish that writing project until I was confident that I was finished feeling a certain way. I needed to get over some shit and move on.
I decided that it was time to clean up some of the mess. It is long past necessary. I also decided that there were certain answers that I have wanted all this time that I could get access to by means within my power. One of those answers was if our relations to the Kellogg family was real. Because, although I had that birth certificate, I’d never received actual evidence to support it. The few people that would acknowledge it over time had only left me with more questions. Considering all the resistance, it is not at all hard to see how I could start to feel like it was all made up. That or part of the conspiracy that I had begin to accept as my life.
One of the reasons that I made finding this out a priority- coming out of the quarantine- is because I had settled with myself on this idea: I had one last push in me. I was going to reach out to some people and request that I get some proof, or I was going to let it go. I didn’t want to move on but I started to accept that the juice might not be worth the squeeze. That, maybe all of this trying to find answers or closure was bullshit. Maybe it was a distraction for me. Maybe I didn’t want to face my life and so I made up excuses and justifications to rationalize my mess. I told myself that I probably should let it go. Maybe whatever was tugging and pulling at me to press on was really something else, like a sign to surrender. A message that I was ignoring.
In June of this year I heard mention of a Kellogg family reunion. I thought about going but then wondered how it might be perceived if I just showed up with no idea of who was who or where, if any place, I belonged. I had been told that there was a family reunion every year, two in fact. I had even been invited to one. The person that invited me took me at my word that I and my siblings were part of the family and encouraged me to attend in order to get more information. That is a great idea. The problem is the 20+ years of resistance and refusals that I have encountered. I dared not to add the ultimate rejection to this story by popping up at this event to be devastated by such an announcement of denial. So I didn’t go.
Around the same time that I heard about the reunion I had been encouraged by a friend- who had recently discovered his birth father via AncestryDNA- to take one of those DNA tests. Not for any specific discovery but because, as he said, “You’re going to find out something”. Another friend of mine had taken one as well. She showed me how the test revealed details about her actual African genealogy. It broke down where her bloodline was from across the world. I was curious about what my DNA would tell me about where my ancestors came from. I contemplated ordering one of the kits. The possibility of connecting some dots offered a considerable amount of intrigue. I googled a few of the companies online. I pondered it for a few days and then decided to order a kit from AncestryDNA.
As the month of June ended and July entered, I found myself contemplating the point of it all. The point of what my personal struggle has been. I have been through some shit! An entire lifetime of mountain and mess, almost one half century of saga and situation. A forever of fuck-shit. Most of it, experienced alone. Because my mother taught me that “what goes on in this house, stays in this house”. I am this house. So, I’ve kept to myself an unnecessary portfolio of being put to the test, of being on one hand, outstanding, on the other, outcast. An entire time of tumultuous tension. I’ve kept it together though. You wouldn’t know what I have been through but for me saying because I can’t get rid of this smile. I’m always and have always been perpetually optimistic. I keep going. I continue to try and figure out. I keep believing in the God to my liking, the God that I know has empowered and enlightened me so. I have an unstoppable faith in the truth of God’s existence. On that faith I have kept hope and strength. On that faith I have maintained my sanity.
And I was considering all of that around July 1st. I was thinking about all I have been through and all that I have suffered and somehow wondered just how much of it might be self-inflicted. How much of my path is because of my own personal choices as opposed to an opposing force of some sort? I know what I want and the way I have tried to go and do, but why has there been so much turbulence and trial? I decided to answer myself with the action of refusing to take it any longer. I wanted change. It was time to change and I decided that I was not going to wait on anything to change for me, I instead would change it all myself. And one of the first things that I decided to change was what “family” meant to me. Well, what I allowed the meaning of family to mean to me. The honest truth is that my mother instilled some ideas of what family was supposed to be and out of a desire to maintain her memory I tried to keep her idea of family going. She charged me with upholding a sense of idealism in what a family being together was and in order to continue her idea and tradition, I ignored what I should have developed in regards to my own desires. I had reservations about how my mother dealt with things. Her murder and our subsequent lives gave me great angst in believing that the way that she had done it was right. It might have been what was best for her situation, but it wasn’t right. I have felt that way for a long time but I tried to avoid saying or allowing that to be true because that is my mom and it has been difficult severing who I thought she was from who all of what I would eventually discover would leave me to believe she really was. That played a part in what I put on myself moving forward. That is the gist of it. It has been a complex and complicated trek to this way, but that is the gist of it.
On July 1st I committed to breaking the chains and tethers to the me that has been imprisoned to that way of hurt and habit. Choosing a different way to family was the first priority. I felt I knew what to do immediately. I went to Jared’s jewelers to pick up a ring for my girlfriend. It was time to propose. Time to CREATE the family that I believe in. I didn’t tell anyone that I was going to do it. On the 4th of July, I rented a room at the Waldorf-Astoria, and that afternoon I proposed. I am ready to create the family that I believe family should be.
I have spent a long time getting better. I am doing better. The past 10 years of my life have bore witness to my effort. I am in a more healthy state of being. I am in a healthier mind space. My physical health has experienced significant improvement. For a great deal of time, stress and the internalization of trauma had depreciated my health value. I was sick. Hypertension begin in my early 20’s. That wreaked havoc on my kidneys. Even with blood pressure medications, for years the malfeasances of the past broke me down. Years of depression and desperation suffered me a constant state of lackluster effort and I yielded to progress the proudness of procrastination. I was a mess! And I messed up so much because of it. On the other hand, I developed routines of refusing to participate in the process of my potential for the sake of staying out of the way. I left doing what I was “supposed” to do on the table while I did less than or nothing at all. I will admit and take responsibility for not doing what I was supposed to, could have, and should have. After awhile I doubted everything. I started to welcome the consciousness of conspiracy and complication that all the bizarre my life had been, into my cipher.
It’s just been so much. And so much unknowingness. So much to attempt to “figure out”. And then I remembered the AncestryDNA kit that by now I had arrived and was sitting in my office on a shelf. I thought that maybe if I send it in it would come back and verify or clarify some history for me, but then again it might give me some news that I didn’t want. I thought about that for a few weeks. After the engagement though, I figured it was time to move forward with this new idea of family and I might as well walk into this with clarity. A couple of weeks after I got engaged, I did the swab and sent in my test kit.
There are so many chapters to my story. Like anyone and everyone else, I’ve been through. What it has taken for me to get to this point has been nothing short of miracle and manifestation of God. Period. For years I didn’t know what could possibly be the reason for me having experienced so much and yet seemingly just existing along the way. But in this now, today, I realize that I have endured, persevered, survived. I have made it through. I am better, stronger, refined. I know some stuff. I can be an instrument in the band of life. I have a solution song. I can help. I can serve. I have purpose. And, I have a story to tell.
Welp, those results came back. September 24th. I was anxious. I’ve seen and heard those amazing stories of people who did the test and discovered all kinds of information. To find a Father, a Mother, a child, a sibling type of relation has to be bananas! I can only imagine. And since I know my Mother, my Father, my siblings, and I don’t have any other children other than my son, my expectations were a bit tempered. I wasn’t expecting more than a history lesson. And maybe some confirmation.
I did find out that, according to my DNA, I am 36% Nigerian. 24% Cameroonian, Congo, and West Bantu. 12% Benin & Togo. 8% Scottish. 7% Mali. 4% Senegalese. 3% Irish. 3% Swedish/Denmark. 2% Ivory Coast & Ghana. 1% Indigenous American-North.
That was all interesting news. I didn’t think, at first, knowing this information would provoke me to want to know more about my African-self and our African history, but it did. I called my best friend, who is from Nigeria, and announced that we were cousins. Her and I laughed about it. I told her that was what the DNA said about my roots. So, to me, that means that we are cousins! I know that Nigeria has a population of over 200,000,000. Somehow, we are cousins.
That was that part of the app. The other part of the app is comprised of individual matches to your specific DNA. It lists people and their “most-likely” relation to you based on the DNA markers that you share. I don’t know the proper scientific terminology, but I get the drift. From the way I understand the app, the matches are connected to profiles that each person sets up when they register a kit. The software then links you with trees based on your genetic makeup (DNA). The trees are created by individuals who identify family members that they know are relation or have information on that verifies relationship. There is also a database of records and documents that the company connects you to based on public information.
One of the first names the app connected me to was my Aunt Shirley, my Fathers sister. That gave it a bit of legitimacy in my eyes because I know that she is my aunt. So I was like, okay, this works. The software also gives you these “hints” that you have to go through and confirm if they are connected to you. In that section there are all kinds of records and documents that you get to search. Going through it I saw military records, property records, birth/death/marriage certificates, census data, and other info that I had never seen. All that was from these “hints” that the site gives you to peruse and sift through.
And then there are these lists of names that are DNA matches to you. These are profiles of individuals who have done the same thing you did (by submitting a DNA sample) and created a profile. Each name is ordered under a section that identifies what probable connection you have based on your DNA. So, it has lists of 1st, 2nd, 3rd cousin, or it’ll say paternal/maternal Aunt/Uncle, etc.,. And in my profile, the list of cousins is SUPER-long. A few of them I know, but the majority of them I had no idea of. And to be quite honest, at first, finding a bunch of 3rd and 4th cousins didn’t excite me. Especially because in the app, you get to choose your profile name and folks choose to just go by initials or nicknames or aliases, for whatever reason. So the search requires more searching. You have to click on this and go to that and sift through this and decipher that. Just to get to a profile that has a nickname or some initials. It all seemed so daunting of a task and I don’t believe I had the energy for another treasure hunt.
I found a rhythm of excitement going through the app for the first couple of weeks. About a month into it, I started to find myself distracted by the piles of data. So much data that the bounty seemed too mountainous of an effort to discover anything other than what was already obvious. 3 months after I received the results, I cancelled my subscription to the service. I figured that one day I might re-subscribe. Just not now. Felt like I was just throwing away money right now. In this more mature and responsible season that I am in, wasting money is not an option. I’m getting older and the demand on me to make wiser choices is prerequisite for the goals and plans I have for the future. I have to plan and pay for a wedding. Got to be better with money, so no loose ends. No unnecessary subscriptions. I told myself that I would get back to the app soon enough.
On October 5th of this year- which is my birthday- I received one of the worst phone calls that I have ever gotten in my life. My plan this year was to not do anything on the actual day but relax. My birthday ritual is routine anyway. That day marks my new year and I customarily take that time to reflect, review, and reposition. I am not really big on parties or big celebrations, mainly for the reason that- because of me- everyone I would want to have celebrate with me wouldn’t be in attendance. Because I have strained relationships with people over these past 27 years due to my inconsistency, inconsideration, and the inconvenience that I had been due to my issues. A way of life that I developed after not dealing with my mothers murder. It’s been a road. The past 10 years have been me repairing that about me. I have made significant progress but I am not all the way there and I still have some bended bonds to straighten out.
One of the ways that I have been “fixing” my wrongs has been my decision to be, for some younger folks, the person I always felt like I needed in my life at those tender ages and when I experienced so much of my early trauma. I am an advocate for mentorship and making time for the youth. What I have learned is that it is not always about money. Most times it is not. It is about listening and being willing to hear what someone is saying. It’s about opening your mind, heart, and sometimes your home, to someone that just needs to know that they have a place to go if they aren’t comfortable or don’t feel comfortable where they should be. It’s about promoting and providing balance, encouraging health, integrity, and character. It’s about allowing someone to be themselves for themselves. It’s about being an example and not just an expression. It is about being present and aware. It is about communication. It is about possibility and options. It is about identifying who we are and being allowed to become the best possible version of that. And sometimes it’s just about being someone to turn to. That’s what I believe I could have used most. Someone in my life that CHOSE to be there for me and iterated that they refused to give up on me. Especially when I began to experience some of the brutal blows that came as hit after hit when my mom was killed.
As a barber- I have been cutting hair for more than 30 years- I have found a unique experience and chance to be that person for others. Even as my life had been in absolute turmoil, I have been able to be that somebody for quite a large group of individuals. Even when I had or felt I had nothing to offer, I have been able to give advice, encouragement, support, love, care and concern, prayer, money, and haircuts. What I have also always given is an ear. I have absorbed and taken possession of more than 25+ years of conversation. When I felt like I needed to release most, I couldn’t, but I allowed everyone else to dump their pain and problems, potential and promises, in my space. I’ve garnered quite the reputation for being a positive and powerful person in that respect. It has been helpful for me too. I think I might have gone off the proverbial deep end had it not been for the fact that through my relationships with “the people” I’ve recognized that I do not have any trademark on trial and tribulation. We all have something that we are going through.
Being a mentor or man in the life of someone that needs it has been an absolute honor and privilege. I have found purpose and a place in being accountable to these people. I have individuals who trust me with their lives and even more impressive, I have parents who entrust their children with me. A few of these have become lifelong bonds. Relationships that I will forever cherish and honor. Some of these have defined “family” for me. I am inexplicably linked to some of these units.
On my birthday, October 5, 2021, as I sat on the bed reflecting about life, changes I am ready to make, discipline I am ready to implement, and meditating on how grateful I am to have survived and making proclamations about how I intend to use my story to impact others, my phone rang. The call was from an acquaintance at work and I almost let it go to voicemail because it was my birthday and I was relaxing. I answered it because it was after 6pm and I thought that maybe it wasn’t about work but he was calling with birthday greetings. It was neither job or joy. Darryl, my acquaintance, is best friends with a family that lives next door to a family near and dear to me. He was calling with the worst news ever.
Darryl- “See. I hate to call you with news like this. Someone just shot Clarence and Kimani.”
I jumped up off the bed.
Me- “What! Where are they? What?”
Darryl- “Someone came into the house and shot them. They were all in the house. Someone came in and shot the boys.”
Me- “I’m on my way.”
I have known Clarence and Kimani for their entire lives. I met their mom, Traci, through my son’s mom, 20 years ago. I started off as their barber. Over the years we developed a relationship that embodies what family is. Over the last 10 years the boys and I have become extremely close. They mean the world to me. They are important to me. I am present in their lives. Kimani, the youngest, and I spoke every week, at least once, for the majority of the past 10 years. Traci and I have developed a friendship through my relationship with her sons. She knows what they meant to me. She knows how much I wanted them to succeed, to win, to become the absolute best version of themselves.
Wanted. Because they are no longer here. They were murdered on October 5, 2021.
Their death hurt me. It is extremely difficult to explain just how profound of a loss these boys are for me. I do not want to take away any attention or focus from their mom and their biological family. I do not intend to secure any type of spot in the history of their memory, but those that know me and knew my relationship with these young men know just how significant they were in my life. How important they were, how much I cared for them, how much I love them, and what I was willing to do and sacrifice for them. So to hear on my birthday that they were murdered in their home with their family present, it broke me.
I could rail on and on, forever, about the state of Black America. I have no shortage of thought or opinion about the violence and plight that offends our communities. I stand erect in my position regarding the catastrophic effects and affect of systematic oppression, economic deprivation, psychological torture, and perpetual programming to Black people at the hand of an enemy. I know all too well the facts and the fiction of our existence in this country. The next eight weeks after their murder engorged my mind with more of the other reasons for our demise. Our self-deprecating value systems and traditions, the impoverished and have-not conceptualizations that permeate the mentality and mindset of our sisters and brothers, the low/sub standard of living and expectation that we embody and employ to assimilate into the confines of this broken society, the black-on-black crime, the poisonous music and influence of pop culture, the whole “crabs in the bucket” mentality. And so much more. The boys death provoked me into a depression. I tried to fight it off. But their murder really hurt me. It caused me to shutdown. I started stopping.
For almost 2 months I started to do absolutely nothing other than the bare minimum to exist. I started to lose focus. I started to internalize all of the pain I felt and I merged that darkness with a void that I’d long been well accustomed to. That darkness had been my most consistent acquaintance over the span of 27+ years that have been without my mom. I have been very good at masking my misery but I have been in seasons of only misery. There have been times of complete disruption and destruction, because I was miserable. I found myself there, again. Remembering all of the things that I wanted to forget. I eventually admitted as much to my fiancé in the first couple of days in December. That I had started to recognize I was experiencing depression. A dark spell, triggered by the horrific loss of them boys. And then I started losing sleep. Not going to sleep. Not being able to sleep.
December 1st was one of those nights. I just couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned. I tried to watch tv. I tried to read on my phone. I tried to meditate. Nothing was working. From about 10pm to 3am, I just laid there in bed, frustrated. I watched videos, I scrolled social media, I read the news, I hit the ESPN app. I just scrolled the apps on my phone back and forth, trying to find something to bore me out. I couldn’t identify what was wrong or why I was anxious, but I was, and my fingers just flicked and flicked through my phone aimlessly.
Every time I flipped through the app screens on my phone, I kept glancing at the AncestryDNA apps.
And all of that leads me here…
That recent bout of depression triggered me to begin rehashing my woes and worries of the past. I guess the only way I’ll find out if I truly served my purpose in this realm is once I make it to whatever the next dimension is and I get the opportunity to meet my maker and find out from God what the plan for me was. But in the meantime, I began to think about what I believe my purpose is, what I think my talent and gifts are, what I imagine I should be doing. As always those thoughts are preceded or followed closely by inclinations to stress or incline towards the self-sabotaging system that has been my go-to over the years. Clouded by the clustering of thoughts that conjure all the conflict and complications of my conscience. Here I was thinking about the ALL of what I’ve experienced and wondering when I get my break. Wondering when I get to move forward without all of the shit I’ve been pulling and tugging along the way. I have family. I have lots of family, kind of. But I have so many questions and conflicts and that has gotten in the way. And there was this thing, pulling at me.
“I hate feeling like this” I thought to myself as the wee hours of the morning crept into view. I was sleepy but wide awake. I had to be at work at 9am and here it was almost 4 and I’m up on this phone just a thumbing the minutes away.
Then I opened the AncestryDNA app. I started scrolling through the “matches” section. Looking at all the names is so amazing. Because it shows just how connected we all are. How separate but connected we all are. Because I don’t know most of the last names that it says belong to people that I share DNA with. Just a laundry list of names and the number of people or connections they have in their family tree.
Again, it’s almost 4 in the morning so I wasn’t exactly clicking on all cylinders. Because I kept scrolling by these names and then I started looking at the numbers of people that they had linked to their trees. One name kept catching my attention. It wasn’t actually a name but initials. What caught my eye was the number of people that they have linked to their tree. 129,924 people. I kept thinking to myself, “Wow, that is a lot of people to have identified and connected to one family.” That is absolutely amazing! Like, whomever this tree belongs to has a super-large family! And they have done the research to collect the data to connect everyone. That is fabulous!
I kept scrolling the app looking at different information but I kept coming back to the matches page and seeing that number, 129,924 people connected to this person.
And at about 3:45am, it hit me. This person is connected to me! We have a DNA match. That means I am part of this family! So I went back to the matches page and clicked on the profile of the person that had all of those family members. When clicked on their profile I saw an icon that bought their tree into view. I clicked it and it exposed a section of a very large family tree. I expanded the tree and started seeing names. The first name I saw, that I recognized in the tree, was Kellogg. The next name I saw, that I recognized, was Charles Kellogg. And there was a picture. I wondered if that could be my grandfather. I’d never seen a picture of him. Not that I knew of. There was a picture in the house that we grew up in, a picture of a light-skinned man, a picture that hung in a frame on our living room wall. I used to ask who that man was. I’d never gotten an answer from my mom. But here was a man named Charles Kellogg and he had a picture. I looked at the names around him. Names that I figured were his brothers and sisters and cousins and uncles and aunts and maybe even his parents. Then I clicked on his name and saw some information that said he had lived in Harvey. I was wondering if this could be a picture of my grandfather, Charles. Because, at that moment, I realized that I was looking at all of this because I shared DNA with a family member of Charles Kellogg. The proposed DNA match of that person was a probable 1st or 2nd cousin. I sat up on the bed. I believed that I had found a picture and some proof that this was my grandfather.
Now, check this out…
I’ve been at this for 21 years. For T-W-E-N-T-Y O-N-E (TWO(2) ONE(1)) yeeeeeeaaaaars! And I’ve been asking and guessing and investigating and piecing together. And I’ve hit resistance and rejection and refusal. And when I did get a little information, I would get the response: “… That’s how it was back on the day.” Or I was told to leave it alone, that it would only cause hurt and harm. And I got asked why it mattered to me.
Because it matters to me.
So I am looking at this picture and his name and thinking about all the Grandad stories and moments we could have had. Because, according to this, he died in 2006. That meant for 6 years after I had found out about him, he was alive.
I kept looking at the names around him and clicking on parts of the tree and one click expanded the section directly around him and I saw a few more names and some pictures. It’s right around 4am and I am exhausted but exhilarated. I am looking at the people around his image and then it hits me… There are 9 names under his. Those are children!
“I know good and moth3$/ucking well this man ain’t got more kids!” … was my immediate and instant thought.
For all of these years that I have been asking these questions, all of the people who gave me little answers, or gave me a little hope, NOT ONE HAD EVER SAID HE HAD OTHER CHILDREN. NOT ONE SAID THAT I HAD AUNTS AND UNCLES ON THAT SIDE.
I looked at the names and realized that these were his children. If he is my grandfather, these are my aunts and uncles. I went trough the names. I realized that I didn’t see my moms name. Right then I recognized that she wasn’t on the list. So here came doubt and destruction. These aren’t my Aunts and Uncles. I am on the wrong Charles Kellogg.
But, then I saw a name that I recognized. I didn’t know her personally, but I knew her name. From Facebook! Her name was Sharon Kellogg. We’d been friends for years on Facebook. Over the years I’ve added Kellogg’s after moments that my discovery led me in certain directions. I’d always hope that someone knew about us and would reach out, after receiving a friend request from me. Maybe someone had been looking for us. Or maybe adding one of them as a friend would prompt or provoke some dialogue that would lead me to the answers I was looking for. That hadn’t happened over the time since I joined Facebook, but it could, and I had hoped it would.
But never mind that now. Because right now I was looking at a name that I recognized and I couldn’t take it any more. I didn’t think about it. I didn’t consider it. I didn’t give myself time to talk myself into or out of it.
I went to Facebook, to her page, and I clicked “message”…
Immediately after I sent it, a heart appeared on the message.
SHE LIKED IT!
Not so fast. The heart went away. She unliked the message. A flurry of emotion and hysteria jumped me. Why would she unlike my message? I felt the rush of anxious doubt blowing through the halls of my mind. Did she like the message on accident? Was it intentional? A complicated swarm of belligerent boogie men descended into those halls. It started to haunt me, all of the scariness that has been my hurt and harm. In a matter of a few seconds, I felt this over-exhausting depletion of energy sail out of my body. I felt hopeless. The thoughts that crept into my psyche were awful.
Then I saw those bouncing dots. She was typing something. She was responding!
Hold off on the panic button. Pull back off the edge. I’m about to get an answer.
Here it comes.
Message bubble appears…
She told me that what I said sounded interesting. She said that she was going back to sleep. She said that we could chat more tomorrow.
With that, I fell asleep. For one hour. I woke up and checked my phone for a Facebook messenger notification. I had no idea how long she intended for it to be before we chatted, but I was ready. I checked my phone every 10 minutes.
At 11:52 am I received another message from her. This time she asked for my number and informed me that she and her sister wanted to give me a call later that evening. I replied, “Absolutely!”, and sent her my phone number. Now- as my Dad would say- I’m cooking with grease! I checked my phone every chance o got. I was at work but it didn’t matter to me that day. Every 10 minutes I was checking my notifications to see if it was time to chat with possibly 2 of my aunts.
I checked that phone all day. The workday ended, for my first job, and I hit the expressway for my commute through the city and back to the south side because I had clients that evening. The whole while I was driving and checking my phone for a notification from what might be one of my aunts.
I arrived at the shop at around 7pm and had a client waiting on me. I started cutting his hair and reaching back to my phone every 2-3 minutes looking for a response. It was ridiculous. I was far too anxious. I couldn’t concentrate. The haircut was taking forever. I kept turning around and picking up my phone. Every haptic alert on my watch refreshed my anxiety and I grabbed at my phone. I did this for about 50 minutes. At 7:52 I received another Facebook message. This one was from someone else. This came from a woman introducing herself as an older sister of the other woman I had reached out to. She said that she was told that I could possibly be her nephew. She sent her number and asked if I’d give her a call.
I. Barely. Finished. Reading. Her. Message. Before. I. Was. Dialing. Her. Number.
This part of the story is too much, but I’ll say this:
Not once over these past 21 years of me asking questions, trying to find answers, and doing this research… With all the people that I had spoken with, that affirmed or confirmed that Charles Kellogg was my grandfather… Not. One. Time. did anyone ever say, “You have aunts and uncles.” Not once!
So, I found out on December 2, 2021 that my grandfather, Charles Kellogg had 11 children altogether, 7 of whom are living. We have 7 more aunts and uncles, 68 1st cousins on that side of my family.
I found out that they all knew my mom, or knew of her. They knew that was their sister.
That’s enough of that. I’ll be writing for days trying to explain how fucking awesome that part feels. It’s so overwhelming that I don’t even know what to do. I am processing it all. It’s crazy!
I posted a blog some years ago entitled “Leaving Leavitt”. It tells a story about what happened in February of 2010, when I’d come back to Chicago. Well, a great part of that story had a lot to do with a friend of mine, Ahav. A miraculous and magical thing happened to me on February 5, 2010 and Ahav and his sister were part of it. I’d thanked him before but I’d planned on one day being able to do something very special with and for him because of that moment. Well, on December 5, 2021, Ahav passed away. I won’t get the chance to share with him in the magnificence of whatever my journey leads to. He was one of the good guys. He was one of “The Ones”. I didn’t get much information on what the circumstances of his passing was due to, I only got information from Facebook. I pray and hope that is family is surrounded and supported in this time. He was an amazing entity. He will be missed. He will be honored.
I mention that because I began writing this on December 4th and stopped for a few days and have only written a little here and there over the last couple of weeks. 2021 has been one for the books. 2021 is a book!
Here is the point of this story:
(I’m going to attempt to condense this part.)
My mother pushed me to dream. She was an avid reader and had a fertile imagination and zeal for living. She believed in possibility, in opportunity, in chance, in art. She inspired and motivated me to dream, to create, to live above and beyond the limitations of lack. She spoke life, in the affirmative. She encouraged me. She was hard on me, but with a love and care that I recognize was a necessary balance to strike the match that would encourage my flame. She was proud of me and she was vocal about her expectations and choices for my path. She was empathetic and caring, stern and sweet, full of personality and approachable. She was direct and open. She was private. She was a disciplinarian. She commanded authority. She demanded respect. She knew how to have fun. She wanted for us to explore, to travel, to adventure.
Then she was gone.
After that, as I’ve stated before, almost everyone disappeared. Those that stayed, refused to talk about her. Others refused to talk to us. That created the beginning of my identity crisis. The guilt, shame, and fear that came along was merciless. The circumstances of her murder and the discoveries made after all began to clump together and create this congestive failure to communicate. I will speak for myself, it was terrible. The way I coped, not so great. The shit that I’ve been put through, crazy. What I’ve put others through, unfortunate.
Growing up after my mothers household was a culture shock as well. Because the village and a certain order left with her. Those that stayed around… hell, even those that left, I guess people did the best they could. I consistently make mistakes. I expect grace and mercy. I have to acknowledge that we are all capable of making mistakes. I won’t harp.
Wrap this up…
All these years I’ve been searching for something. And I couldn’t explain it, but evidently I did, because over the past couple of weeks when I tell this part of the story EVERYONE says the same thing: “… You finally found what you’ve been looking for. You found your people.”
On December 10th, my Aunt Toni invited me over to her home to meet some family that had come into town. I accepted the invite. I was excited to go. I didn’t know what to expect, how I’d be received, what would be said, how I’d feel, I didn’t know what was to come of it. I went, nerves and all.
There were about 12 or 13 family members there. When I entered her apartment, I was introduced to everyone. It was a very Antwone Fisher-esque moment. I was there for a few hours. We talked. I did a lot of staring, a lot of listening, a lot of thinking. After it had all ended, when I got into my car, I kind of collapsed onto the steering wheel. Not like a pass-out type of collapse, but more of a lose my grip on reality and fold over from the wind being knocked out of me collapse.
Because I had just left out of a room of humans that made sense to me, and it seemed like I made sense to them. Every one in the room was a creative, having something to do with the arts. Every one. There were musicians, artists, a poet, a photographer, a producer, and they all had dreams. They had ambitions and purpose in their language. I don’t know what I expected when I met them but I never expected my first meeting to be that overwhelming. It scared me. Even if everyone else isn’t like that, God allowed my first family meeting to be one that was, and for that I am grateful. It was what I needed right then. It made sense.
My mother pushed me towards the arts. She acknowledged my artistry, she encouraged it, she was proud of it. I often wonder if she pushed me because she knew where part of my gift came from. Over these past couple of weeks I’ve heard multiple accounts of my grandfather’s talent for writing. That he was a poet. Was that why she encouraged me so, because she knew her dad was a poet? She celebrated and honored my poetry. She’s welcomed it. My immediate environments after her murder were not so supportive of me writing or drawing or dreaming. I didn’t have the support system that she had designed around me. And I wasn’t strong enough to know that it was more truth that they didn’t know how to encourage my path as opposed to what I interpreted as a discouragement of my course. I will take the blame for that. I didn’t know better. They didn’t either. That ignorance served me horribly.
And here I am, in this room. A room of people that I didn’t know existed but I knew existed. I’ve been curious about this connection all of my life. I’ve been pursuing it for the past 21 years.
As I am writing these last few words, attempting to close this out so I can get to the real work of getting my life in order, and move in the NOW phase and space of my life, I just got a message from one of my aunts that includes a poem from my grandfather. She has no idea that I’m sitting here writing this, that the PERFECT thing to happen would be just that.
I believe in God. I believe that God is true. I know that we all have our own definitions and desires toward this matter, but for me, I have an unshakable faith and stance on it. I know what God has aligned and designed along my way. There are moments that could only be divine and Godmade. The way the entire universe has been aligned to create specific outcomes that were undeniably mine, is my proof. It has also been why I ain’t really cut the fuck up all this time. Because I believe that whatever the bigger picture is, God has a plan for me and he constantly shows me that I am ultimately protected, provided for, empowered., and in perfect harmony with the ultimate plan for my life. Walking out of rat room with this part of my family was such a confirmation of what God does for me. I’m finally getting out of my own way of accepting that. Because I’ve been trying a whole lotta shit over these years to get the results that seem to come so naturally when I just do what I can and allow Godwork to happen.
I’m about to end this. Because I’ll keep going. I have so much to say. So much to talk about.
I have a huge family. I come from huge families. I- for some reason- needed to know all the sides. It just pulled on me to know. I have been asking and trying all my life to know.
Anyway, there’s this bible scripture that I like… I Samuel 30:8:
King James Bible
And David inquired at the LORD, saying, Shall I pursue after this troop? shall I overtake them? And he answered him, Pursue: for thou shalt surely overtake them, and without fail recover all.
I’ve always felt like this- my life experience- has been a pursuit. Since my mothers murder especially. What have I lost? I’d write 13,000 more words telling you a little bit of it. But I’ve been pursuing. I’ve overtaken a lot. I am about to recover ALL.
Watch what I do now.