21 years after Tupac documented the life and death of a young mother named Brenda, fans have been asking whatever happened to the baby born in incest that she left behind. Thanks to social media we were able to obtain a copy of the baby’s graduation speech. Yes, Brenda’s baby went to college and was named school Valedictorian. This was his message to the class of 2012.
My name is Ruben Gregory Jackson and I am an American. I was born on a bathroom floor in Compton, California. My father was also my uncle. He died of a drug overdose. My mother died while selling her body to feed me.
I am an American.
My mother named me after a character on her favorite T.V. show, “Amen.” At least that is what my grandmother told me. My mother, Brenda Jackson, was killed weeks after I was born. Weeks after she left me for dead myself mind you. You see, she was 12. She kept a Hello Kitty diary. That’s how my Grandmother knew about her likes and dislikes. Why I was given this name. Why she threw me in the trash can. Why she went back for me. It’s all there in pink ink on bubble-gum scented paper. My reason for living. Why I’m able to stand here before you.
I am a vessel. I am your son. I am your story.
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The year I was born Rodney King became a reluctant video star. The Gulf war in Iraq began. The Soviet Union was dissolved. A governor from Arkansas named Bill Clinton announced his bid to become President of The United States. Barack Obama was protesting at Harvard for Derrick Bell. Mike Tyson was charged with rape. Magic Johnson announced that he had contracted HIV. My birth was a sign post of the modern era.
On my first birthday, April 29th, my city was on fire. Enraged with a failed judicial system we looted and ransacked the city. My family was forced to move. That is when my grandmother took pity on me and moved us into an apartment in Hyde Park. When I was older she joked with me that she went there because that’s literally what she wanted to do–hide us.
That was when everything changed. I am an American.
In 1996 I entered kindergarten at Angeles Mesa Elementary School. Motorola came out with the StarTAC phone. OJ Simpson went on trial for murdering his wife. The Nintendo 64 was released in Japan. The computer “Deep Blue” beat chess champion Garry Kasparov for the first time. I heard my first rap song on the radio, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s “Crossroads.” The second one was Nas’ “If I Ruled The World.” Will Smith kicked alien ass in Independence Day. I am an American.
2001 George W. Bush was sworn in as the 43rd president of the United States. At 10 years old Grandma enrolled me at the Marcus Garvey school. I learned for the first time that we Black folk wanted to leave this country. I also learned we weren’t successful in that attempt, but reward the effort in hindsight. “My Wife And Kids” was my new favorite show. Grandma took me to see “Monsters Inc.” Twice. She fell asleep the first time. Working two jobs was wearing her down. She was trying so hard to make up for the past. I kept my head in the books. She tried to teach me how to ride a bike but I fell one too many times. I still don’t know how but I love rollerskating.
I am an American.
Before the year was out almost 3,000 people are killed in suicide attacks at the World Trade Center in New York City, The Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and in rural Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Enron Filed for bankruptcy. Jay-Z dropped the Blueprint but my favorite song was Eve’s “Let Me Blow Your Mind.”
My teenage years were–complicated. When I was 14 Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana and Mississippi. Gas prices were as high as Charlie Sheen. Grandma traded in her old Impala for a Toyota Corolla. The XBox360 launched but I wanted a PSP. I got neither. I did win a new video iPod in a school essay contest though. It was a comparative breakdown of “Chicken Little” and “War of The Worlds,” two of the biggest movies that year. It would become the backbone of my entrance thesis to this fine institution a few years later. That same year I rented a movie called “Just Another Girl On The IRT” and watched it with Grandma. It came out the year after I was born and told the story of a young girl just like my mother who attempted to throw her child away. Grandma wanted me to know that I’m here for a reason. It was painful to watch, but I found some comfort in knowing that it wasn’t just my family.
I am an American.
I lost my virginity at age 17 listening to Chris Brown and Jordin Sparks “No Air.” And I’ll leave that right there to protect the guilty. I took the ACT and scored a 30, which enabled me to attend this fine institution. Jay-Z and Beyonce got married, creating the biggest super couple since Superman and Lois Lane. Chris Brown had his illuminati membership application revoked after beating Rihanna. Nas tried to distract us by calling his album “Nigger,” but no one fell for the bait.
All was not lost for Black men that year. Barack Hussein Obama was elected as our first African-American President. Three years later he killed the man many feel was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, Osama Bin Laden. Grandma died a few weeks later.
A few months ago I had my first drink on my 21st birthday. Seriously. It was a rum and coke. Rodney King is dead now but Magic Johnson has lived up to his name and is still alive. In fact, he just bought my hometown Dodgers.
Now I’m going to head to New York for a summer internship. I’m $50,000 in debt. But I am an American.
Take pride in my story because it’s your story, too. We all came up in this era of uncertainty on the heels of prosperity. We are the best prepared to deal with what is out here because we were baptized in the chaos. Forged in the confusion. And we are the most likely ones to fix it.
We are America.
What you have just read is the second in a series of hip-hop inspired narratives called “Sideline Stories” featuring illustrations by Andre LeRoy Davis of “The Last Word” fame and writer Jerry L. Barrow. “Brenda’s Got A Baby” was the first single released by the late Tupac Amaru Shakur.