Yesha Callahan

Every Ghetto Every City

“Every ghetto, every city and suburban place I’ve been, makes me recall my days in the New Jerusalem”, Lauryn Hill, “Every Ghetto Every City”


Yesterday as I was driving home from work, one of my favorite songs by Lauryn Hill came on. It’s always been one of my favorites because I always felt as if I’ve walked those streets & neighborhoods she talked about in “Every Ghetto Every City”, while growing up in New Jersey.  Although technically, I wouldn’t call the area of NJ where I grew up as the “ghetto”, but I could throw a rock and it would hit Irvington & Newark, easily.

I remember how we would collect the change we found and walk up the hill to the bodega corner store and buy quarter waters, brown sandwich bags filled with candy and salt and vinegar potato chips. Back then a $1 went a long way. All of the kids on our block would flock to our porch & drive way to play games like Hot Peas & Butter, Hopscotch, and Mother May I. Being that tomboy that I was, it wasn’t uncommon to see me running up & down the street playing kick ball or football with the boys and my uncles. I didn’t have time for Barbie dolls and girly activities. I was the one black girl who couldn’t jump double dutch for nothing, but I had a good arm & could throw the football farther than most of the boys.

Of course not every day on our block was fun and games. There’s one incident that stands out vividly in my mind. It was the first time I learned about suicide.  Kelly & Kendall were twins who lived across the street. Even though they were practically adults, they were always involved with the younger kids. Kelly, was very active in coaching girl sports and a lot of the other girls looked up to her in that aspect. Kendall was the cute one. I think every little girl had a crush on him.  I remember the day Kelly killed herself, in her mother’s house. Gun shot wound to the head. I remember my mother walking up the street from work and someone telling her what happened and her bursting into tears.  Not only was that the time I learned of suicide, it was the first time I heard of a lovers triangle between women, which caused her to kill herself. The eerie feeling lasted for weeks on our block. No one ever spoke of the incident, but we all knew that we were thinking about it.

I haven’t been back home recently, and listening to the Lauryn Hill song definitely has me waxing poetic about my upbringing. These past couple of weeks, I’ve been able to come across a few of my friends who lived a few houses to the right of me & a few houses to the left of me, one of which actually lives within a thirty minute drive of me now. It’s interesting to share stories and memories of our old block, and how living there shaped us and changed up.

“Hillside brings beef with the cops…Self-Destruction record drops”, not to many people know Hillside, but I”m glad to have known of it……

  1. October 10, 2009 - Reply

    Reading your article brought me back to my childhood. I was born in detroit, raised in River Rouge (SW Detroit) and our stories are nearly identical…a set of twins, suicide (but not the twins), kick ball, the whole works. I guess it's all the same everywhere you go. I live in beautiful Miami now a couple of blocks from the beach. But I definitely can't appreciate where I am without remembering where I came from. Thanks again for another good article.

  2. October 10, 2009 - Reply

    I have those glorious tales of fun as a youth, but those lovely memories are clouded by the tragedies I was near to, was a victim of, or witnessed… I miss those days, but then again, I don't… sigh…

  3. October 11, 2009 - Reply

    “I definitely can't appreciate where I am without remembering where I came from…”
    my sentiments exactly!

  4. October 11, 2009 - Reply

    You can miss the good times, but also realize those bad ones and the lessons that were learned from them, I suppose.

  5. October 13, 2009 - Reply

    Reading this brought me back home as well. I'm from not too far from you in Newark, NJ and have lived in Irvington near Hillside. Now currently living in Laurel, MD I've been homesick the last couple of weeks but reading the news on brings me back to reality to realize i'm not missing anything. However, I prefer NJ / NY men over these DC / MD men anyday…LOL

  6. October 13, 2009 - Reply

    FBC, I thought I had the password for password-protected posts but I guess I don't. Maybe that's why I couldn't see some of the post that showed up in my feed. Fill in a sista in, LOL!

  7. October 14, 2009 - Reply

    Small world, I used to live in Maplewood; as a matter of fact I owned a house on Orchard Road. I sold it six years ago and moved here to South Carolina. Now back then I could definitely throw a brick outta my back door and hit Irvington, it was probably 5 blocks from the street I lived on. Where I lived it was a rather nice neighborhood, with nice schools; but go over a few blocks and…………

    It's funny how it's like that in many cities around the country, one side of the street is nice and then you go over a couple of blocks and it turns from Sugar to Shit.

  8. October 20, 2009 - Reply

    I must say this is a great article i enjoyed reading it keep the good work.

  9. October 22, 2009 - Reply

    I always read your blog as a stress reliever when I'm studying, but this is the first time I've been inspired to leave a comment <ALL, of your post of GREAT, but I love Lauryn Hill!!>

    I didn't have time to read the entire post, but I have been in love with that song since I was a little girl, which is when it first came out. I knew even then that I would miss the neighborhood I grew up in, even though people from my “good school” said my neighborhood was ghetto. <Although, most of the people on my block owned their homes, even if it wasn't much it was there's> And even though we had some rough times on my street and the violence was getting way out of hand, post-Katrina my street was one of the first to bounce back. Even though my family has moved on from there, I was too proud.

    It was the best of times, and no matter how far I get in life I was always remember it. I can't even begin to count the number time my family gather at my sister's house and talk about “them days”.

    Sorry for the long comment, but that song has ALWAYS had a spot in my heart!

  10. October 22, 2009 - Reply

    LOL @ the men comment…yeah there is a definite stark difference btwn the men back home & here…

    and you're still close by to me…with you in Laurel..I'm one town over!

  11. October 22, 2009 - Reply

    shoot me your email addy & i'll send you the password 🙂

  12. October 22, 2009 - Reply

    'sugar to shit' that's what my grandmother always says..even in hillside…that still applies to this day.

  13. October 22, 2009 - Reply

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment 🙂

    It's always fun to reminisce about growing up with family and friends..and regardless of what part of the country you grew up in….the stories are always so similar..

    For ex. the other day I was hanging out with a friend and he pulls out one of my favorite arts & crafts that we did as a kid…I'm not sure if you're familiar with “gimp”..but it's the colorful plastic string that we used to make key chains out of! He couldn't believe that other people he mentioned it to had no idea what it was!

  14. October 27, 2009 - Reply

  15. December 21, 2009 - Reply

    I just had to leave a comment because you mentioned the game Hot Peas & Butter! I have mentioned this childhood game to I don't know how many people and it seemed like only the kids in my neighborhood and I used to play that game, no one has ever heard of it.

  16. December 21, 2009 - Reply

    I just had to leave a comment because you mentioned the game Hot Peas & Butter! I have mentioned this childhood game to I don't know how many people and it seemed like only the kids in my neighborhood and I used to play that game, no one has ever heard of it.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: