After the first few weeks of working with Juma at the Pan African Community Association, our dialogue began to deepen. As Juma became more interested in the digital storytelling process, he had certain things he wanted to share. Of great concern to him was his ability to express his disapproval of many of his peers and classmates. Juma speaks of the "disrespectful" attitude in many (American) students his age. He also began to talk a lot about the use of the "n-word". In our conversations, he never said the world, he always referred to it by "the n-word", and spoke about his bafflement about why people continue to use the word. "Why would you say that?" "It's a bad word" "They use to use it in George Washington time in an offensive way... but that was back in that time, and that was a bad time." He'd also mentioned he listened to hip-hop, and when acknowledging the use of the word in rap music he stated "They use it to motivate people." It was interesting to be able to see Juma try to understand the complex and ambivalent relationship Americans (of all racial and ethnic categories) have with this word. How can something be both offensive and motivating? Hurtful and uplifting? Juma was asking himself these same questions.
With Michael's permission I've been giving Juma rides home so he doesn't have to take the bus. Some of the days at PACA were so cold, and Juma would show up wearing just a sweatshirt. I had an extra winter coat, so I gave it to him. A couple weeks’ prior, Juma had told me a story about wearing "girl pants" to school when he first came to the United States. When I gave him the coat he wanted to make sure it wasn't a "girl coat". I told him that it was technically a women's coat, but I ripped the tag off and told him that I didn't think it looked like a women's coat. It was "unisex", I said. Juma agreed, he said he didn't think it looked like a "girl coat" either. It fit him well, and it was a puffy coat, so he thought it made his arms look really strong. He only wore it a couple of times though, and then abandoned it for hooded sweatshirts and a knit cap.