A Breeze Along the River

By Ian Taylor, Jr.

Diamond was determined to speak to her brother, Prince, alone. He was guarded when their family asked why he decided to enroll in community college two years after dropping out of University and she wanted to learn more. An early morning walk was the only way they could talk without interruption. Prince agreed.

That morning, she almost forgot her large green glasses as she rinsed her face, threw on her coat, and tiptoed out the door. Prince grabbed a red jacket, too light for early fall in Minneapolis and shuffled behind her turning his cell phone off. 

They lived in the River Bluff Homes near a small hill almost hidden among lines of trees. Prince and Diamond crunched through the fallen leaves along First Street, a two-lane road that curved down the hill toward Bohemian Flats Park. On the siblings’ right was a thicket of bending trees with green and yellow crowns that seemed to rise to the new morning. The last duplex they saw as they finished the block had two plastic flowerpots, with healthy daffodils. Prince yawned and then stumbled on a break in the sidewalk before regaining his balance. They crossed 21st Avenue and the green and yellow on the trees was fuller than it was just a block away from their duplex. The crows started calling and the smell of fresh dew on wood hung in the air. The street followed a steep hill with a sharp curve at the bottom which led to West River Parkway. 

Before they made it to the bottom, Prince noticed a rocky throughway that cut across the forest and led toward the park. 

“Let’s take the short cut,” he pointed at the muddy path and scampered down.

As they emerged and crossed West River Parkway, they entered the park which sat on another grassy hill above the Mississippi river. They shuffled down the hill as a breeze whipped by. 

Across the river were giant bouquets of orange, red and yellow. Diamond’s eyes widened at the sight.

The river ran underneath the Washington Avenue bridge where the light rail hummed and dinged. To their left was a small steamboat docked by the park.

Near the edge of the wide lawn, Prince paused at a bench facing the river rubbing his eyes. He fell into the wooden frame leaning onto the bench. Diamond stood for a bit, then leaned into a slight stretch. The sky was a blanket of gray, though there were infinite shining folds of the river’s currents. A rusted black gate was a few feet from the bench peering above the river. Prince and Diamond were finally alone on a bench at the bottom of the hill. 

“How do you really feel about starting college again?” Diamond asked eagerly.  

“Oh yeah, college,” Prince said. “That starts soon I think.” 

Diamond rolled her eyes then squinted as she walked in front of the bench toward the Mississippi. Its endless currents reminded her of a story their father told them about how a plane once crashed in the river in one state and within a day showed up in another. The river’s currents rushed against the plane pushing metal through mud and stone.

“I’m proud of you,” Diamond said as she faced the river. 

Prince sat up. 

“Why?” he asked. 

Diamond looked at her brother. Her voice was steady, “I know you’ve been working hard to figure things out.”

Prince folded his arms. “I’m not trying to ‘figure things out.’ I know what I’m doing.” 

Diamond raised her chin slightly. “All I’m saying is, I’m proud to see your growth.

“I’ve known what I’ve been doing for a while now,” Prince huffed.

“What major have you chosen?” 

Prince looked downward. “You know, since I’ve moved back home, I’ve been volunteering with social justice organizations here in the cities.”

“Did you get an interest in anything from your experiences there?”

“After George Floyd, all these groups got a bunch of money. But I’m not sure what they’re doing with it. No one’s doing work I want to join.”

“What do you want to do about that?”

“I want to help organizations work with people and make a meaningful impact,” he sniffled and looked up again. “I want to major in social justice."

Diamond stiffened. It may have been the wind, or it may have been her brother’s intent to sabotage his future, both had the same effect on her. “Prince,” she sighed, “what kind of job will you qualify for with that?” 

Prince’s shoulders were erect though he was facing down again at the crumbled gold and orange leaves under Diamond’s sneakers. “How else will people know I understand what I’m talking about when I work with them?”

“What would they hire you for?”

“I’d help them use the money for real change and better policies in black communities.”

“Have you thought about data analysis? Where you could track the organization’s spending?”

Prince’s shoulders tightened. “I don’t want to sit behind a computer all day. I want to work with people.”

“I know...but can you find what you’re looking for outside of your job? Why does your job have to be your politics?”

“It’s nice for you, because you work with people every day, that’s not something you have to search for.” 

Diamond recalled last year: middle schoolers fighting in the hallway, mocking her voice inflection in class while she poured her soul into teaching them. She sighed.

“Working with people isn’t all you think it is.”

“But every day you can influence a kid’s life. I want something like that. How can I do that if I study something else?” Diamond was thinking of the parent teacher conferences: the yelling of entitled parents for their entitled students and the silence of absent parents for the students who needed the most help. Her voice softened.

“I just want you to have a balance.” Another breeze rushed by. 

Prince shivered “It was warm when we left the apartment this morning.”

Diamond smiled. “We’re closer to the river now...Wind moves stronger over the water than it does on the land, which is why it feels cool.”

“Shoot, what you mean cool? It feels cold!” He pulled his light jacket tightly against his high-framed shoulders as he thrust his hands in his pockets. 

“I told you to wear a coat,” she scolded.

Prince noticed Diamond smile as she argued with him. Her eyes, even behind those big green glasses had some twinkle in them, that shone even when she was distressed or disappointed. The shine was at its best when she laughed or was excited for someone other than herself. 

Prince grunted and waved his hand downward like he was slapping away her words in the air. 

“If I wore a coat, I’d be looking like an Inuit like you, just less nerdy.”

Prince stood up, his back toward the river thinking that would keep him warmer, but he stood still to spite Diamond. Prince noticed a woman on top of the hill they came down earlier. She wore a black hoodie and sweatpants. Her walk became a gentle bounce as she moved down the hill towards them. Diamond rustled the face mask in her pocket as the woman approached. Diamond thought the woman had a regal chin, like the women at her Mother’s church, Pilgrim Baptist. She remembered the multi-colored palette on Sunday mornings of wide-brimmed hats: yellow, fuschia, jade, sapphire and a scandalous ruby for one or two. Diamond always remembered those Sundays in Autumn when the gold and amber trees dressed like the women, tall and brown. Prince followed Diamond’s lead in putting on a face mask. 

“Y’all got change for the bus,” the woman asked.

Prince replied, “No ma’am.” Diamond’s hands were in her pockets and her fingers rubbed the numbers along her credit card. 

“God bless,” Diamond told her. The woman’s vacant eyes stared at them about a second longer too long. 

“God bless you,” the woman parried. She returned up the hill and headed south until she became a silhouette. 

Prince crumpled his mask in his hand then looked at the river. “I think there will be more people who share my values in social justice courses.”

“But you can find that by joining an organization. It doesn’t have to be through that major.”

“You couldn’t find any jobs when you were applying after college!”

“Sure, there were limited opportunities, but after I got a master’s in teaching that helped bridge the gap. Teaching helped link me directly to a job.”

“A job you wanted?” Prince countered.

Diamond had aspired to be a teacher, but she was always baffled by the question of desire. Did she want to be a teacher? She noticed the clouds were clearing up and the sun’s rays tinged the gray shade into an even tone appearing as morning more than dawn. 

“What kind of job do you want?” Diamond asked.

“I want to work with people,” Prince replied. Diamond looked at the river again and pondered why she pursued teaching. As a child, she was fascinated by her mother’s tomato plot. She would dig her tiny fingers in the soil where long green stems erected with orange bulbs blossoming from their heads. Water, dirt, seeds, hands. When she was nine, she would dream about those things and wonder if those same ingredients could grow things like peace, understanding and love. She still pondered that, though she stopped asking her parents about it. Her father said only God could grow things like that. 

“People are trash,” Diamond responded. 

Prince snickered. “That’s why I need people who share my values. I’m tired of fake liberals! It’s hard to find people who are genuine about activism. The fake people in college sickened me.”

“I wish other people didn’t influence so much of your decision to go to college.”

“Aren’t the people I’m learning with important?”

Diamond took off her face mask. “Yes.” 

“I want this time to be different,” Prince said. 

Diamond rubbed Prince’s shoulder.

“I hope it will be,” she said. 

Prince turned toward the river then admired Diamond. Her afro had blossomed into an amber crown of curls rising like flames on her head. Her hair mirrored how awake she was now that the day had started. Prince stood up and started walking back toward the apartment. 

“Do you talk to your students like this?” he asked her. 

“You mean the demons?” Diamond unzipped her jacket as the clouds had drifted away and a jogger bounced by. 

“It’s like that?” Prince chuckled. 

Diamond looked straight ahead now, up the hill. 

“When I was their age, when adults spoke, I listened. Even if I didn’t want to do what they asked me, the adult had my respect.” She sighed. “Today, I have to convince them that I am an adult worth listening to.”

“You have to earn their respect,” Prince said. 

Diamond’s eyes popped.

“I’m a black woman geologist and every day I work to meet them where they are at and it’s not enough!”

“They may never appreciate you,” Prince placed his long arm around her shoulders. 

“I used to be passionate about just learning. I don’t see that in my students. I don’t think they even want to learn.”

Prince hummed. “I too was fascinated by the wonders of dirt at that age. What’s wrong with this generation?” Diamond punched Prince’s rib. He could see her laughing through her eyes. He squeezed her arm gently.
“The tools they’re drawn to are the ones that move the world, and they don’t see the use of what you’re showing them.” 

Diamond burned inside at the thought that her knowledge and work was useless. She didn’t know why she was still a teacher, at least for middle school. 

“What keeps you going?” Prince asked. 

Diamond stared at the river. 

Ian-Taylor-Jr-150Ian Taylor Jr is an attorney and writer. He graduated from the University of Minnesota African American Studies program cum laude. His passion for addressing social inequality inspired him to attend the University of Minnesota Law School, where he was Lead Articles Editor for the Minnesota Journal of International Law. After graduating law school, he was a judicial law clerk in the Hennepin County District Court. 

What inspired you to take on a creative hobby? I have written in one form or another since I was a child. I’ve held on to this creative hobby largely because it is an important part of who I am. Writing helps me to meditate on my experiences and the world around me. Writing also allows me to share expressions with others and impact their lives. 

How does having a creative outlet help you in your law career? Creative expression supports my intellectual agility. It’s like stretching my brain to write character dialogue in the morning and use legal analysis during the day. Writing also forces me to reflect on how to identify and communicate someone’s story. The importance of understanding a client’s story is vital for advocacy as well as building an attorney-client relationship.

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