Life Strategies: Chess and the Recession Proof Soul

HHCF Founder Adisa Banjoko and DJ Kevvy Kev play at Ben & Jerrys on Haight St. in San Francisco. Adisa got smashed two times quick! 

The first time I stole, I was about 8. I went to a gumball machine that had lil toys in it. It was broken, so, when you turned the knob without putting a quarter in- it still gave you a toy. I got a fake piece of buttered bread. It looked real though. I’d offer it to people on plates and people would think it was real. It made people laugh, but, I never laughed as hard because I knew I never paid for it. I knew my parents taught me better. Even without my parents, something instinctual told me it was wrong. I eventually threw it away.

I didn't steal again for about 8 years. One of my first teen gigs in the 80’s was at Chess King (ironic ain’t it?). If you were remotely cool in the 80’s Chess King was one of the best places to shop. Some of the people I worked with stole clothes all the time, but, I didn’t . I mean, we worked here, so we got a discount (plus I thought I was wrong and I was scared to do it).

But after I left Chess King, I went to work at a store that sold jeans. So many people stole there it made your head spin. They had elaborate ways of having friends come in, buy one pair of jeans, but we’d have seven pairs of jeans prepped in another bag that they’d walk out with.  After work, we’d split all the jeans in the parking lot and go home. This was before a lot of stores had cameras. So, it was done frequently.

After working in the mall for a while you get to know other kids at other stores. So, they steal from shoes for you. You return the favor by snatching some shirts and stuff for them. Everybody is happy right? Wrong.

The thing is, despite never being caught, no matter how cool the clothes were- I never felt good in them. Just like the fake piece of bread when I was kid, I knew better than to take something I didn’t earn.

That Christmas season, a bunch of my friends and I got over on a ton of clothes. A few weeks later, things got tense. Some people  got busted. If you take more than five hundred dollars of a product, its grand theft! I’m not prison material. I was shook, but I kept quiet. Some folks went to jail. I never did. Now I even felt worse walking around in these clothes I knew I had no business stealing.

After that, I stopped taking things I knew did not belong to me. It was that easy. I chose the better path. Sometimes life was tough and I had real opportunities to come up on stuff that I wanted. Other times, I had a shot at taking stuff that I really needed, but could not afford.

A few days after boxing legend Muhammad Ali won his historic match against George Foreman in The Rumble in the Jungle, he gave a speech to African heads of state. He told them that one thing the African people at that time had, that the African Americans had lost was the ability to keep their dignity in their poverty. Meaning they did not let their poverty be an excuse for poor behavior and bad morals.

Today everybody is using poverty and this recession as the reason they use or sell drugs, steal, stay high and drunk- or worse. I’ve watched many of my friends over the years sell weed, cocaine, steal cars all kinds of things. One of two things  unfolded for them. They woke up and changed, or they stayed with it and paid a price (prison, addiction or death). I understand the pain of poverty and the confusion it can cause. But we must be stronger than situation before us. Sometimes, you win in chess, just by holding your position. Making erratic moves on the board means you lose. It may not be the best time to try and move forward, but do not move back on inch. Hold your ground! There will always be pressure from somewhere. How you respond to pressure is what separates the champions from the chumps. I once heard RZA from Wu-Tang say “Cash rules everything around me, but it doesn't rule me”. That's holding your ground.

Today I’d rather sit in front of you in some old jeans and a t-shirt that are mine, than in a new suit that I took. I’d rather walk around in shoes that are worn out, than shoes that I stole.  I figured out how to have a recession proof soul.

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