G.MONEY: (crying) Am I my brother’s keeper?
NINO BROWN: Yes, I am.
New Jack City, the 1991 “urban” crime thriller about a New York City drug kingpin’s rise and fall, was one of my favorite movies. I was only 7-years-old, but I wasn’t censored or shielded like a 7-year-old should have been. Having a mother who was of the era in which crack cocaine flooded the black ghettos of America, watching movies of that nature wasn’t a big deal.
I vividly recall riding around Philly in my mom’s 1984 Blue Ford Mustang, as Public Enemy, Keith Sweat, and Al B. Sure cassette tapes blared from the speakers. Many of those car rides occurred when my mother was picking me up or dropping me off from visiting my father on the weekends. My parents didn’t marry and didn’t stay together much longer after I was born. Anyway, on those weekends, I would my spend much time in my father’s bar, watching the oldheads two-step, or “bop,” to the classic sounds of The O’Jays, McFadden and Whitehead, The Whispers, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye. Meanwhile, my dad entertained his patrons with jokes and truth-telling insults. I also witnessed an occasional bar fight every now and then. Most of the ruckus was sparked by some drunk, shit-talking oldheads, or some crazy drug addict that would piss one of the patrons off.
Just as I saw drugs in New Jack City, I saw drugs in the bar. I can recall a guy named “Crazy Craze” (think of a cracked-out Flava Flav, with no gold teeth. No teeth at all, actually). He would inhale a black tar-like substance that burned on a makeshift “dream stick,” made from an unfolded paper clip, in the bar’s alleyway. It was opium, the base product of heroin, a.k.a “dope.” In this particular case, one of the oldheads did make an attempt to shield me from seeing this, as they cursed “Craze” the fuck out. Sounds crazy for a kid to see, right?
After a long and crazy Friday at work with my father, he would drop me off at his house to be babysat by one of his young girlfriends. Yup, my father was that guy; a suave and seasoned sugar daddy. Think Billy D. Williams. I would stay up late waiting for him to come home. Some nights, he was sober. Some nights, he would be so turnt up that he would wake me up out of my sleep to wrestle and rough me up with affection and kisses, while talking shit about random people who pissed him off. Sometimes, my mom wasn’t excluded from those people.
The following morning, we would wake up early in the AM to take a long rides to the outskirts of Philly to visit my older brother. Depending on where my brother was, rides could take anywhere from 45 minutes to 3 hours. If you’re wondering where my brother was, he was serving a prison sentence of 15 to 20 years for his involvement with Philly’s own “New Jack City”, the Philadelphia Junior Black Mafia. Junior Black Mafia, JBM, or The M, ran Philly’s cocaine and crack circuit from 1985-1991. How ironic that the same year Nino Brown and his doomed CMB was introduced to the movie world, my brother and the JBM would fall, too?
These trips of signing in and sitting in a waiting room to be searched and walked through metal detectors would be the formal introduction and meeting place for my brother and me, at least in the terms of what I can recall. You see, my brother is 25 years older than me and two years younger than my mother. Remember, I told you my father had a thing for younger women? Apparently, me and my brother have different mothers. Prior to the visits upstate, my brother’s existence was materialized through his motorcycle helmet, jewelry, silver Corvette, and diamond encrusted JBM ring. My father would occasionally pick me up from my mom’s in that Corvette and also wear the ring from which he got the diamonds removed. Those material items were my connection to my big bro. In my eyes, this was fascinating. Visiting my brother felt like a family trip. Picture leaving the city and driving through the cow pastures and farm filled valleys of Pennsylvania to eat vending machine food and popcorn while visiting your big brother. We’d do this about three times a year until my father was murdered in 1996.
The sudden passing of my father would abruptly disrupt my connection to my brother. I was 11-years-old and headed into adolescence. These were years in which I would need someone to teach me about liking girls, sports, and becoming a man. I had a stepfather who would shape me with his stern ways of discipline and punishment (I thank God for him and my mom), but to not have my biological father and big brother in my life has a profound impact on me since forever. I emphasize the word, “forever,” because I will never be able to erase the memories of my father nor will I be able to get the bonding time back from my brother’s incarceration…
Stay tuned for Part 2 of “My Brother’s Keeper.”
Brett Roman Williams is now in re-production for his short film initiative, Warrantless. He currently resides in Harlem, NY.