There stood Mulenga Harangua, over by the food truck where Coriander Kitchen and Farms was handing out free stir fry and mandarin-beet salad samples to the assembled crowd. He was chomping down with some of the other folks who were there picking up transplants and seeds at Keep Growing Detroit's Cold Crop distribution last week at Earthworks Urban Farms.
My own proclivity for beets led me over there to grab a sample too. It was a surprising culinary pleasure.
"This mandarin beet salad is great," I said as I sidled up to Mulenga..
"Mmmph," he replied shaking his head in the affirmative.
"I'm surprised to see you out here in the open for everybody to see," I mentioned.
Mulenga smiled and spread his arms as though hugging the entire area where Detroit gardeners gathered the beginnings of their spring gardens, took a hard swallow and said, "That's because this is a friendly space. It's a welcoming space. Look around, all kinds of nice people doing something positive. Affirming life of all kinds."
Well, there were a lot of people walking around and they were alive. Old people, young people, big people, small people, bald people, and hairy people munched on food, picked up their transplants and seeds, chatted and visited with each other.
"Well this does seem to be a friendly space," I said.
"Ain't nobody telling anyone else to leave," said Mulenga. "Ain't nobody calling the police. There are probably some police picking up their crops."
"I got a feeling that you're going someplace with this," I demurred.
"Oh, I'm going someplace all right," he said. "I'm thinking about those two brothers in Philadelphia who got the cops called on them at Starbucks. They went into a white space and got arrested for it. They was there for just two minutes when the manager called the police. It's like it's an offense for us just to be here. Next thing you know we won't even have the right to have water or breathe the air."
"Well, we certainly don't get to breathe clean air with that trash incinerator here," I said. But Mulenga was building up steam and wasn't about to spin off onto another subject.
"They went into a white space without their white guy," Mulenga said. "That's a serious oversight."
"Well they had a white guy coming but they beat him there by 10 minutes," I pointed out. "Leave it to a brother to get in trouble for showing up early for a meeting."
"That's the way negrophobia works," Mulenga said. "It can strike anywhere at any time."
"Negrophobia?" That was a new one to me, although I knew exactly what he meant.
"What else could it be?" Mulenga said. "They weren't doing anything but taking up space. Here's another incident. Just a couple of days after that one I heard about a couple of brothers who got kicked out of an LA Fitness in New Jersey. One brother was a paying member and the other was his guest. They told him to leave and didn't give them a reason. When they refused the manager called the police. The first cops didn't do anything and the manager called again. The second time five cops came."
"They didn't come in with guns blazing?" I asked. "Seems like the second time the police showed up to the same situation is mighty dangerous."
"Usually that's the case," Mulenga agreed. "I'm kind of wondering how those brothers managed to not get shot."
"It looks like the gym guy should have brought a white friend along with his black friend," I said. "He knows he needs a passport when he goes into a white space."
"Sometimes you can't find a white guy when you need one," Mulenga said. "Unless you got the right one maybe you don't want one at all."
Then I saw Mulenga's I-got-a-great-idea face flash.
"Maybe I can start a business," Mulenga beamed. "The space passport. I could put the office on the edge of town. Whenever a brother wants to head out into a white space he can rent a white guy to ride along. Then I could have some brothers in there too. When white guys want to head into black space they can get a brother to ride with them. Make them feel a little safer."
I had to give that a little chuckle. "I've got to say that some white folks just don't feel comfortable around black people when they are the only one."
"Now Mayor Duggan, he knows how to do it," Mulenga said. "Everywhere he goes he brings somebody black with him. That's because he knows that even though there are pockets of white space, Detroit is still mostly a black and brown space. Of course they're trying to shrink the brown space with that deportation thing."
"As off the wall as that sounds it's pretty much right on target," I said.
"Now the issue with space is that folks of all kinds are starting to defend their spaces with guns when they feel that it is threatened," Mulenga went on. I let him. He is definitely more expert on the subject of space than I am.
"That whole protect your home, stand your ground thing has spread out," he said. "That Starbucks lady was protecting corporate space — ostensibly for the making of money. That's what corporations are for — when protests jump off, the police come out to protect property. Property has more rights than people sometimes."
"And corporations?" I prodded.
"Yea, and corporations," Mulenga picked it up. "That whole corporations-are-people thing is crazy. Corporations have free speech rights when it comes to political spending. Corporations have invaded the political space and their big money is allowed to speak louder than a person. That's a space that poor people aren't even allowed to enter."
"Well, it's getting less and less like poor people are allowed to enter certain areas of the city anymore," I added. "The Cass Corridor used to be a poor people space, but some other folks decided they could make money there."
"The long game with all these corporate and property rights and space invasions is that rich folks are trying to make us their property," Mulenga said. "I know what's up. Pretty soon you are going to have to be property before you have any rights."
"Isn't that what you call slavery?" I asked.
"What else would you call it?" Mulenga replied.
"Well at least here is some pushback," I said. "Police let the brothers go and Starbucks is giving some training to employees so that it doesn't happen again."
"We'll see where that goes," Mulenga said ruefully. "It's going to take a lot more than that, especially the way things are going these days."
Mulenga paused and looked around with a yearning-to-be-free look in his eyes. "I think it's about time for me to space out of here."
"When will I see you again?" I asked.
"I can never say when I want to be seen," Mulenga said. "Maybe May 17, when Keep Growing Detroit distributes its hot crops."
I heard a popping sound and suddenly he wasn't there anymore. Just air and space, no Mulenga.
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