The sun hadn’t fully abandoned the sky just yet, and it was already frigid when I finally made it to Washington, D.C. on Saturday evening (Oct. 10). Shivering and fuming at the same damn time, I stood beneath the Washington Monument, disappointed that I had missed the “Justice or Else” 20th anniversary commemoration of the Million Man March. A black woman/news editor – for VIBE, no less – had not been amongst the thick crowd of blackness that gathered in the nation’s capital to demand its just due. Failure descended upon me, and I don’t take failure lightly.
I hadn’t decided until 8 a.m. that morning that I would make my way to D.C. Awakened and prepared the sit behind my MacBook to cover the event from the comfort of my apartment, something in me kicked and screamed like a spoiled five-year-old: “WTF? This is not enough. I need to be there!” Two hours later, I had convinced my colleague to join me on a crazy crusade, and we were embarking on a five-hour-long bus trek from New York City – only to reach the National Mall just as the crowd finished its dispersion. F**k you Internet, for making things too easy. I was heated that I hadn’t thought to be a real reporter sooner.
Desperate to find a good story amongst the remnants of marchers who were still making their exodus, my eyes landed on one woman. Decked out in a pink, cornrowed ponytail and a pink “SEEDS OF PEACE” t-shirt to match, her pale skin was tagged with biker-style tattoos as she stood amongst a nearly all-black crowd. Though a clear outlier physically, it was as though I was the only one that had spotted the sore thumb. To everyone around her, she was in her rightful place. Chyna Brown, 42, though appearing to be just a white woman clad in long acrylic nails and a signature black hairdo, was no Rachel Dolezal. In the company of members of the New Black Panther Party, NAACP, Black Legionnaires and the Nation of Islam, Brown was in D.C. on a mission as well, and had spent double the amount of time on a bus as I had, joining a 53 other people from Dayton, Ohio on her journey.
Brown had stamped herself as a representative of Larry “Larry X” Watts, the founder of Dayton’s Seeds of Peace non-profit organization that aimed to enrich the lives of the city’s at-risk youth. In addition to being a trained cosmetologist/barber who does hair and nails for a living (still, no Rachel Dolezal), she was dedicated to taking her 11 biological children and other young people involved in the organization to swimming lessons, karate classes, fishing outings and movie screenings. She and Watts were aiming to help reduce the violence in their city, and have worked on the program together since 2011. With eight Seeds of Peace kids in tow, Brown – unlike me – had actually participated in the “Justice Or Else” march, just has her father (who according to her own account is Seminole Native American, white and black) had done back in 1995, who is now deceased. With her hood-inspired drawl (she called me “sister baby girl”) in tact, Brown put me on to the work she was doing back in her hometown, and why she saw fit to bring some of the children with her to Washington.
“It’s just basically a black man that got tired of looking around at our city youth dying for no reason,” she told me, with a dead-serious stare. “And not only are they killing our grown men and our kings out here, now they are killing our 12-year-old kids. It’s went too far, and now we’re all in this together.”
There was no way I could anticipate the turn my conversation with Brown would take. In fifteen minutes, she would reveal to me her identification as “white” for years, how she discovered her rich heritage, why she has a tattoo on her hands that reads “That B**tch,” and that one time her 19-year-old son broke a man’s eye socket for calling her a “n***er loving b***h.”
How many kids did you bring with you today?
Today we brought eight kids and two adults with the Seeds of Peace group. Now on the bus, there was 54 of us, but that’s because we have other organizations also with us. The minister in charge of the Nation of Islam in Dayton, his name is Brother Tyrone, he put this together for us and helped us get here. There was no charge for our kids; everything was sponsored for our kids. They came for free, they were a part of American history. Twenty years ago, my father marched, and I have two sons that’s also here today that are 13 and 11, and I made them come because they need to know exactly what they’re marching for.
What is your background/heritage?
My father is black, Seminole Indian and white. My mother is white, Cherokee and Shawnee. [Chief Ernie Longwalker of the Red Wind Nation’s speech] connects with me, because they paid Seminole Indians certain amount of money every month. What about the rest of us? We got Blackfoot, we got Cherokee, we got Shawnee. We got tribes. Just so happens I have white in me, so I don’t have to go sleep at that reservation. Also, I have 11 kids of my own. As a single mother of 11 kids, I took on volunteering to help Brother Larry so he could spend time with his wife. And also, because I have 11 kids, it takes a community to raise a child, and I needed all these men that’s right here in front of you, to help me help my sons learn how to be men, because I’m a woman.
What are your thoughts on activism in the social media age?
When you’re telling your kid to go school and do something because that is the right way to do it, and they don’t know what they’re doing it for, and you’re not bringing your kid and making your kid march, then you’re not teaching your kid that this is what you gotta do to get equality. See when the [Million Man March] came the first time, it was a black man march. This time, we got told by the brothers, ‘We want the kids, the mamas, the daddies.’ And I was so happy, because I could not attend that first one with my father; my father died in 2001. But, we attended this one and I attended it with my two sons. The reasons my two sons attended is because they’re the ones that’s gotta fight now. We’re getting older. I’m 42, and soon we won’t be here, and our kids will know nothing about what marching is about, all they’ll know is what social media tells them. Social media lies, it is not real. This right here, this today, their feet hurting, them having to march, them having to go around here and worry about what we gotta worry about, this is what counts. This is what makes it worth it to me, for me to bring my Seeds of Peace kids out to do this. The best thing about it is, they learn, they know. If they ever gotta come back, they know how to come back. And if we’re all gone, we know they got it.
You don’t look black. You have black in you, but you have such a mixed palate. Has anyone ever said to you, “Why are you here?”
Let me explain something to you. Everybody where I live at in Dayton, Ohio knows who I am and that I have 17 brothers and 7 sisters. They know my family, so it’s not an issue. My father is a dark-skinned man, he’s just dark-skinned redbone with all that long black hair. He’s black on his birth certificate; that ‘Native American’ didn’t matter. People have asked me that, and you know what I tell them? I’ve got four young black men to raise and seven young black women to raise. And before I raise mine like thots and n***as, I’m gonna teach mine how to be kings and queens. I’m not Islamic, I’m not Muslim, I’m not none of that, but my sons attend the meetings. My sons go to the black men think tank; because like I said, it takes a community. All my kids fathers’ have done penitentiary time. I’ve raised 11 kids by myself – 11 that I birthed, by myself.
So the movement has embraced you, regardless of how you look.
Hold on a minute, you don’t know how I look. Let me give you a better look [takes off hoodie to expose tattoos] I do hair and nails for a living. Do people look at me different? When I walk into any store, or any place in my whole city? I am very well-respected. I’ve been turned away, but I like I tell everybody: I have three parts Indian, two parts white, and one part black, and I love all of mine. I’m 42 years old, with 11 kids, and four grandkids. I got very good genes. So when they say, ‘You just wanna act like you’re black,’ I say, ‘Are you mad because my hair stays fresher than yours? Are you mad because it gets done every three days?’ It don’t press me. I look pass that. People don’t bother with that. They won’t bother me where I’m from, or where I go to, you wanna why? You wanna know who my best friend is? God. And I tell them, I just told somebody today, ‘The devil working hard today. Get away from me baby, ‘cause God my best friend. And I can’t do nothing for you.’
What are your thoughts on white privilege?
Do I still think it’s out here? Yeah, I know it is; I get it. Some people, when I walk into a store, they’ll think that I’m biracial, and I’ll get treated different. Everybody knows who my family is. For one, my father back in the day, was a pimp. True story. My attitude and my demeanor? You’re not gonna come up and disrespect me like, ‘Aye, you white b****h…’ No, you’re not gonna ever do that to me, and that’s just the way it is. I tell people I put ‘That Bitch’ on my hands for a reason, ‘cause I throw these things like I’m that bitch. And that’s the end of the story, especially if it comes down to one of [my kids]. Even if it ain’t one of my 11, if it’s got to do with my Seeds of Peace boys.
How did you learn about the movement?
Because when I came to Dayton, I was in Jefferson Township Senior High, and I was one of the only four “white” kids – by color – in that school; it was an all-black school. And I get along with everybody, I love everybody. You can say something to me to make me mad, and I’d laugh at you and keep on going, because guess what? You don’t pay my bills or take care of my kids, so what you’re saying does not have no effect on what I’m doing. Even after you walk away from me, I’m still gonna do what I’m gonna do, and take care of my business.
But the reality is, you could have just lived your life as a white woman and been completely different.
That’s what my father wanted me to do. My father told the judge, ‘If I had my choice, I would have said she was white, so she could’ve had a way better life.’ And my father died with that in his mind; that’s all he wanted me to do. All of my kids are black, and he never swayed against my kids or nothing. Having my kids growing up, from my 25-year-old to my 8-year-old, when I had my first five kids, there was no issue of did I want them to be considered black or white. [The doctors] looked at their daddy, just like they did with my dad, and said “They’re black.” Then it went from they’re black to, “Well, we’re gonna give you this choice: Do you want them to be black or white?” Then, when I had my last four kids, they asked me ‘Do you want your kids to be considered mulatto?’ I told them, ‘You said all the rest of them were black, so keep all of them as black.’
Do you ever think about how different you life would be if you would’ve just lived as a white woman?
I told people I was white. You wanna know who told me my father was black? It was actually my high-risk pregnancy doctor. On my fourth kid, when they found out I had sickle cell and did a genetics test. He looked at my nose, and said there’s a nose structure thing. The nose structure starts with a black person; he said, ‘You have a black person’s nose.’ He said, ‘You have a Native American’s cheekbones, and you have the color of a white woman.’ He said, ‘You’re saying on this paper that you’re white. Do you have any mixture of anything in you?’ I said, ‘Well my mom says my dad is Indian, and that’s all he is.’ He said, ‘Your mom’s lying to you. Your dad’s got black in him. For one, one of your parents had to have full-blown sickle cell disease, and one of them had to have the trait.’ My mother’s three parts Native American.
So you were down with the movement before you even found out about your heritage?
Yeah, because this is what I do. I watched. I told you, I grew up in an all-black school. My whole demeanor my whole life was ‘love to be loved,’ and that’s it. […] I’m gonna go to these marches because I want to save my young black men’s lives. Do you think I want to see my Trayvon Martin, my [son] Lawrence Twitty, laying there at 12 years old? They’re killing kids at 12; I got a son that’s 13 and a son that’s 11. I don’t want that.
I have a son that’s 25. He’s never been in no trouble a day in his life. He stayed at home after he turned 18 to help me raise my ten other kids, his brothers and sisters; I wasn’t with their father because he was in the penitentiary. Do you wanna know what my son went to the penitentiary for? Not ‘cause he beat up a bitch. Not because he sold drugs. Not because he did anything wrong. A white man stood in my face, called me a ‘n***r-loving b***h’ and punched me in the side of my face. My son is six-foot-four, 105 pounds soaking wet. He was 19 years old, the man was a white man, fat as hell, 358 pounds, ex-Army and Marines man. He stood in my face, put his hands on my face, and as soon as he did, my son came up over the crowd, punched him one time, shattered his eye socket and broke his jaw. That didn’t get him put in jail. Do you know what got my son put in jail? Because I raised an honest f***ing black man. The damn judge, Barbara Gorman, asked my son, ‘Did you hit Zack Bozarth?’ My son said, ‘Hell yeah. He hit my mama. And if he hit another woman while I’m around, I’ll knock his ass out again.’ She gave my son four years.