Telling Our Stories of Conflict and Accord

Diary of a WATSS Princess Tamara Smiley Hamilton

Our stories matter.

When I found the courage to tell my story, I had no idea where it would lead me. Reflecting on my life opened doors to memory and magic. Details returned about lessons learned and how I came into awareness of not only myself but also how I wanted to show up in the world.  Our past is an invitation to our future, if we pause to take a look.

What started as a project in a memoir writing class three years ago is now the lead article in the digital edition of Kosmos, a journal of transformation. My story now has global exposure to an audience of peace seekers, to an audience seeking to change the world for good.

My story focuses on conflict but ends with a message of hope. Where does your story begin?

watts-memoir-diversity and inclusion speaker Tamara's fatherExcerpt:

It was a Wednesday I will never forget. A funny frenzy is in the air that hot August night of 1965. A restless energy moves down the block just before nightfall. The heat is unbearable, so people are sitting outside on their front porches, fanning and sipping ice water. Some kids play catch while some do Double Dutch jump roping. News snaked through the block that there was a big fight going on at the intersection of Avalon and Imperial Highway, not too far from my sister’s house. The California Highway Patrol had stopped a car and tried to make an arrest. The crowd gathers larger and larger until Mrs. Frye, the mother of the man being arrested, hits the cop to stop her son from going to jail.

Tempers that had been smoldering for decades just explode into the summer night. While chaos was brewing at Avalon and Imperial Highway, it was also spewing over on 103rd Street and Compton Avenue. A group of young men who normally occupy the vacant lot next to a hardware store—just talking under the moonlight—must have felt the tensions oozing throughout the tiny town of Watts. A brick hurls through the window of the closed hardware store and ushers in another wave of violence that hot August night. Even though everything was spontaneous from decades of smoldering rage centering on a lack of everything—a lack of jobs, opportunities, programs for kids during the summer—the first brick opened the door to an all-out scene of rioting and looting. Sirens sound like background music in a bad soundtrack. I stand on my front porch watching neighbors running, excited that we were there when it ‘went down.’ I wasn’t sure what ‘went down,’ but the block took on a carnival atmosphere. Men opened the trunks of their cars showing off the ‘loot’ they had gotten from 103rd Street. That was considered downtown Watts. On 103rd Street, a person could buy everything from clothes and shoes to hardware. It was our commercial district if we didn’t want to ride the bus to the real downtown Los Angeles at Eighth and Broadway.

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