Famed mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot once said “there is a saying that every nice piece of work needs the right person in the right place at the right time”. I’m sure he said that in regards to a famous painting or a fractal but that entire line could work for my life too. At various times throughout this life that will soon reach the age of 30, there have been people that referred to me as “very well put together”. I had a first love once tell me that I was “a piece of work”. Well, true to Mandelbrot’s line, the piece of work before you today needed the right person in the right place at the right time on a few occasions. In this, the 4th part of this feature on The 24 To 30, I’ll cover the story of Omar Smith…one of the unlikeliest of people to get me to the age of 30.
THE BACKGROUND. My history with Omar Smith goes back to my childhood…to those years of living in the Elyton community on Birmingham’s West Side. It was in the Summer of 1995 when I first met Omar. I remember it well because me and the rest of the kids from the 300 block of 1st Street West played plenty sandlot baseball that summer and I smashed 38 home runs, including the one that took out the street light in our 4th of July night game. He, his mother, and his little brother moved into one of the units on our block. We happened to be sandlotting it on one of days early into that summer when he walked into our field and asked if his little brother could play. We didn’t have any objections and that’s pretty much how he dropped into my world. Omar was involved in the drug game. I was too young to grasp whether he was actually the show runner, a lieutenant, or straight muscle. All I know is that he rolled with other people known in my neighborhood for being in “the game”. He was cool though. On occasion, as he’d be walking by our field to do his thing, he’d be like “yo, let me get a hit”—something all the people involved in the drug game in my neighborhood did—and we’d let him get a crack. There were a few times he bought us all chips and drinks from the corner store. It was Omar who toughened me up a little bit physically, when it came to contact sports. Throughout my neighborhood, I was known for shying away from contact. When we played football, I usually ran out routes or fly routes close to the sideline so I could get out of bounds to avoid getting hit. When we played basketball, I never ventured into the lane…always took the 3 from the corner. As the catcher in sandlot baseball, I gave up runs at the plate because I didn’t want to get bowled over in home plate collisions. Omar changed that in the Fall of 1995 during a football game. I remember it was a game where he was QBing my team and one of his drug game friends was QBing the other team. In the huddle, he called for me to come in motion, take the handoff, and follow all the blocks to the end zone. The way he put it was “you’re the fastest person on the field, just follow the blocks”. I took the handoff and followed the blocks but I didn’t trust it all the way so I started to run for the out of bounds line and with no blockers around me, I got creamed before I made it. He chastised me in the huddle for that and I never unnecessarily ran out of bounds again. Sometimes he jokingly referred to me as a “nerd” because I was in the same class as his little brother and he saw me sweep in a lot of awards for my academics. Me and my family moved out of the neighborhood in 1998 and I don’t know much about what happened to him as everyone I knew had long moved on by the time I visited back in 2001. Heck, I had to reach out deep to a person from my past to even get his name for the purpose of this post.
THE MOMENT OF IMPACT. I know what you’re thinking: what impact could a guy in the drug game have on me? Simple answer. He prevented me from falling into it. I can’t put an exact date on it but I knew it was a short time after my 13th birthday in 1997, I was hanging on the corner with friends. I was the youngest of the crew. We had all been friends for like half our lives but we all had different types of parents. Their parents didn’t necessarily keep a tight leash on them whereas my mother didn’t play that $#!+. She kept me on a short rope and often called me home long before my friends got the calls from their parents. Because of that, people kinda knew where I wasn’t supposed to be and hanging out on the corner was definitely not one of those places. On this particular day, Omar walked by us on the corner and his words to me were “man, go home…you know Robin gone kick your ass if she saw you out here”. I was very hesitant to leave but he stood there until I left and went home. I think that was a moment of separation from that particular group of friends. The corner became their hangout spot and it was off limits to me so the times I did kick it with them started to shorten and eventually, I just started spending my time at the library after school.
HOW IT GOT ME TO 30. Of the 6 guys I hung out with back in those Elyton days, 5 of them ended up in the drug game. I shouldn’t be surprised as that lifestyle swallowed up so many kids in that neighborhood in the heart of their teen years. My mom’s reputation and the short leash she had on me was known and Omar did the right thing…he made me leave the corner. I wasn’t supposed to be there. More than the sure beating and/or embarrassment he spared me was the lure of wanting to be in that particular lifestyle. Who knows what my life could’ve been had I been able to hang on that corner with the rest of my crew at the time? Maybe I’m a guy running the show of some drug operation. Maybe I get caught in the crossfire of what happens on those corners. I don’t know what would’ve or could’ve happened but I do know I’m grateful that the guy in the drug game sent me home.