The Joy of Memories

12 Jun

Jamel Shabazz, His Art and My Old Memories Kept Alive

Photopgraher and Visual Artist Jamel Shabazz back in the day

In most of the Vibe magazines collected over the years, I saw vintage 1980s photographs of urban teens and young adults dressed in the latest trendy styles going on during that time.  From the Photographer credits, I learned Jamel Shabazz took these images. All I looked at was the 80s fashions that included the fat shoelaces worn in Adidas, pageboy and flipped curls hairstyles on my sistas, Jordache jeans, Kangol hats, shearling coats, gold chains, gold teeth, and big gold earrings.  It wasn’t until I purchased both of his photography books “Back In the Days” and “A Time Before Crack” that I understood the real meaning from his art. It was allot more than capturing the essence of hip hop culture in its early days. These were not professional models in these photographs. These were real people struggling to overcome the obstacles in the 1980s that affected most New York City neighborhoods such as  drugs and violence  destroying their neighborhoods at a growing rate; recession; and Reganomics.  I was born and raise in Newark, NJ. I may not know much of what took place in NYC.  Looking at Jamel Shabazz’s art not only told the story in New York City but in every urban community across the country. It also kept my memories alive and how life is something special.

When I flipped through the pages of Back in the Days and A Time Before Crack, memories of my childhood in Newark, NJ were just popping up. I smelled the litted cigarettes of Newport often smoked by my parents;the Budweiser and Heineken Beers drunk by my late grandfather and uncles; and the scent of the hot leather car seats from my grandparents Oldsmobile car when taking those long summer trips to Maxton, North Carolina.  I remember spending my weekends with my father in the Weequahic section of Newark where all of me and my little sister’s new toys came from Valley Fair and never missed a year to see my late father’s alma mater Weequahic High School Homecoming parade. The dealers on my block were engaging in weight lifting contests. I still hear the late night phone rings my older male cousin was getting from his female admirers.  My peers engaging double dutch contests, waiting anxiously for the ice cream truck to come to our block, racing with our BMX bikes,  and watching The Cosby Show faithfully every Thursday. I , along with my people, were still living our lives despite the struggles that plighted in our neighborhoods. Some were able to overcome and change their lives for the better. Others, have either become strung out, imprisoned, or have met their fate.

From his essay, I will learned that Jamel made it a point to “capture the beauty and true essence of his people“. He stated in a passage, “I was fortunate to photograph many men, women, and children in their best years before crack and AIDS destroyed their communities. The camera enabled me to tell a person how special and valuable they were and I had hoped that I could encourage people to look toward their own futures and believe in themselves. The 80s allowed me to take some of my greatest photographs, from the joy of life to the pain of death.

I was fortunate to review all his photographs and have my memories kept alive.



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