Beyond the Walls

Lemme tell y’all about what Black Excellence looks like, imma try to get my Ernie Barnes “Sugar Shack” paint on up in here… cuz I need y’all to see the braids swaying, the hips undulating to hit a perfect O -opened on point and closed on point, and the fancy footwork of the Turbo hustle in heels and hard-bottoms.

Ladies and Gentleman, I give you…

In 1949, Harvard Business School graduated a class that boasted the most successful group of men in, well business… the SEC Chairman and the CEOs of General Dynamics, Johnson and Johnson, Xerox, ABC, Bloomingdales Metromedia, and the Sheraton Hotels. One in five became multi-millionaires… but WE da best!

Stuyvesant High School in New York has an impressive list of alumni, with 4, yes FOUR Nobel Laureates having walked its prestigious halls. People notable in film, music, and politics are among its grads including Thelonius Monk, Paul Reiser, Eric Holder, David Axelrod, Dick Morris, Jack Molinas, Tim Robbins, James Cagney, and Mike Greenberg. Yet and still… WE da best.

Like those notable classes and schools, we have our fair share of successes… doctors, authors, entrepreneurs, lawyers, educators, comedians, and the list goes on. However, we share something bigger, better, and even more lucrative than financial gains and degrees. The Renaissance High School class of 1994, also known as “#demninefoes” has found… freedom.

“Beyond the walls of intelligence, life is defined” -Nas, NY State of Mind, originally stated by Sun Tzu

Detroit, the 90s, it was a time of major shift in our fair city. Our parents, the children of the Black Bottom and Paradise Valley, the former Black middle class parts of the city where Black professionalism and businesses thrived, had watched integration and the resulting White flight turn Detroit into a bona fide Chocolate City but with crumbling infrastructure, failing businesses, and a downtown that was starting to look more ghost town. The city wouldn’t see a resurgence for 25 years.

In August of 1990, a diverse collection of kids entered the best academic high school in the city. A place that you went if you were and wanted to be among the best the city had to offer, or your parents forced you. We were a cross section of kids from every economic, educational, and social level. Yet, inside those walls it didn’t matter where you were from, just what you were willing to put into your future. What sacrifices you were willing to make to truly fulfill your biggest and boldest dreams. Our teachers demanded it if us… and in quiet competition, we required it of each other.

“I sever the head from the shoulders, I’m betta than my competta. You mean competitor, whatever, let’s get together”-Wu Tang, Shame on a Nigga

And we did it to a soundtrack of Illmatic, Enter the Wu Tang, and Midnight Marauders. We transitioned from childhood to adulthood in what is arguably the best year in hip hop, our young minds full of knowledge and steeped in braggadocio, that there was nothing we could not do, be, and become. We stepped outside the halls of Renaissance High School in the Spring of 1994… and carried with us a stride in our step, an assurance in our gifts, and a confidence in ourselves that few kids from Detroit ever experience. To be young, gifted, Black, educated, confident, and from the D… is an anomaly. 99% of our graduating class went to college, about 75% of us have graduate degrees. We took that experience, smacked it up, and flipped it. We da best.

“Bitter be claiming pro but I say they be procrastinating, settling fo less, betta be ready…” -OutKast, Crumblin’ Erb

In the time since, we have seen our generation’s legends killed by violence… Tupac, Biggie, Jam Master Jay. We watched a man that looked like us, our brothers, and our fathers become the first Black President. We saw hip hop soar to become the top musical genre in the nation, and folks that looked like our college dates and roommates, become millionaires many times over… Nasir “Nas” Jones, Shaun “Jay-z” Cater, Sean “Puffy” Combs. We have watched children kill other children in schools. Adults gun down parishners having prayer at church. The World Trade Center fall to the ground before our eyes on television. The Detroit our parents and grandparents built, that we stocked full of talent, gentrified so that our people cannot even afford to live or thrive in its newness. But still we rise. We continue to climb in chaos, and our once competitive nature has turned into unconditional love and support. It’s hard being the true Talented Tenth… but we da best… so we make it look easy.

“It ain’t hard to tell, I excel then prevail.” -Nas, It Ain’t Hard to Tell

In the time since, we have also forged bonds from those shared life experiences, framed by our lives together inside of those school walls, that are unbreakable. Not time nor distance can break them. To be young, gifted, and Black … with opportunity and swag surfin on a million… is to be free. This weekend… after 25 years of #demninefoes… we celebrated each other. We took over for the ’94 and the ’19, and backed our asses up with wild abandon and no judgement. We hugged, we loved, we cried, and we had a great time. We danced and laughed and broke bread without inhibitions, in a mansion, in the city we have helped grow through our philanthropy, professionalism, home ownership, investments. Detroit is resurging and we are it’s children.

And it was lit af! (Do we still say lit? Just checking) It was the hot girl in the jumpsuit with the long braids who came to party, she was Sharane from House Party, with the funky cross step… you da best! The sexy mama with the moves who set the dance floor on fire, it’s Turbo Time… she left right lefted like it was her paying profession.. you da best. The pretty little thing with the legs out, heels on, who reminded us, every hour on the hour, said or unsaid, it is always shot o’clock…. everybody! You babe, you da best. The Chairman of the strong back society with the mad tie game… sir, you da best. Baby girl and hubby with the bespoke outfits on, looking like a bag of money, y’all da best. And our very own Mr. (Class) President swaying with his sexy lady to the beat… you da best!

We are an anomaly… 144 of us… some of whom we’ll never see again, but most of whom we can call on like family. Our children are our collective village of responsibility. Our mates are extended family. We will put the hounds out on you if you come for one of us or all of us. We are the roses that busted through concrete. We break ceilings. We break the rules. We know no bounds, as does our love for each other. That’s freedom.

So we may not have a Nobel prize in the group yet, and perhaps maybe one or two of us have made a million dollars… but success and notable names don’t compare to what we share. We are hustlers, survivors, true products of the D, with a polished and shiny finish. Together, we are each individually free to be just who we are… we feel seen, heard, understood, and apart of something bigger than ourselves.

I’m a movement by myself, but I’m a force when we’re together. Demninefoes… you make me better, cuz…

And we’re taking over!

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