'Growing Up King,' By Dexter King

Police were always around. I admired them. I admired their uniforms, their sidearms, their garrison caps and badges and official gold braid. I would stare. I couldn't tell if they stared back, because they wore dark glasses. Their expressions never changed. Besides admiring police from afar, I admired entertainers up close, whether it was Harry Belafonte or Bill Cosby, or any number of others who contributed to what the grown-ups referred to as "the Cause," or "the Movement." At times our parents would be called into active duty. Whether the campaign was in Selma, Birmingham, Montgomery, Albany (Georgia), Chicago, Memphis, didn't matter, because we were told they were going to fight for their country to be greater, for people to be treated fairly and equally under the law. This was for all of our futures, we were told. We understood our parents were doing good work. Sometimes we'd be teased, which affected Yoki more because she was older and more aware and was so connected to my father. When teased about our father going to jail, Yoki would tilt her head upward and say, "Yes, he did, but to help poor people."

There are photographs of us sitting at the table, playing ball in the yard, at the piano as Mother plays and sings. Daddy had invited a man to our house — Camera Man. He took pictures of us. I was fascinated by his equipment, his cameras, lights, flashbulbs popping. I thought, "I can do that." Camera Man took a photo of me sitting on Daddy's lap, Daddy calmly looking at the camera. I'm looking off to one side, mouth sprung, seemingly in awe of something, comforted and protected in Daddy's lap. Secure. I won't fall even if I fail. He'll lift me up. I know this. I can look over the abyss of whatever it is I'm in awe of in the photo — maybe it was only Yoki making a face at me — I know my father will not let me go. I can take the risk because he's there. I trusted him like I have trusted no man before or since. I had the security to be insecure. And then …

The photographs remain. He knew they would.

Camera Man had a name. Flip Schulke, a photographer for Life magazine, as Gordon Parks had been. Though my father was protective of us at home, didn't let reporters or photographers in, Schulke came by many times to document. I gave him a nickname. My father gave us names of affection: "Yoki-poky," "Dexter-wexter," "Marty-bopy," "Bunny-bopy." Bunny was Bernice, Yoki was Yolanda, Marty was Martin III, but Dexter was just Dexter. I felt special; I was named after a church, an old, historic church too, which had been pastored by a man named Vernon Johns before our father arrived. I was glad to be named Dexter, after the church. It set me apart. Everybody else was named for a person.

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