Spring of 1984, sitting in Mrs. Scheck’s class faced with the assignment to write two poems. The first:
But they make
An absolutely appropriate literary work of an 8-year-old. The second poem, I have to believe was a gift from my Heavenly Father. Not just because he helped me to finally finish my assignment so that I could go out for recess with my class, but because these words became my life’s mantra.
Use Everything You Have
To Do Everything You Do
Because Everything You Do
Is A CHIP Off Of You
These words have stuck with me my entire life. They have helped me figure out so many situations growing up in Baltimore City. As a privileged little girl, I grew up in an area called “Upper Park Heights” and my mother made a point to use the “Upper” in that description because it is indicative of the separation of which side of the tracks we lived on. But in our case, it was that side of Northern Parkway we lived on. My father, on the other hand, did everything he could to keep us grounded and humble. To him, we lived off of Park Heights Avenue.
My parents, Rudolph and Harvadene Gustus, were an accomplished, powerful Black couple in Baltimore City. My father, AKA Big Rudy, moved to Baltimore withan
8th grade education from a small town in Virginia, with nothing but a smart mind, a serious work ethic, and a dream of being rich. As the story goes, he and his dad had a little gambling joint down on “The Avenue,” more formally known as Pennsylvania Avenue. He drove delivery trucks during the day to places that would not allow him to even use the bathroom because of the melanin in his skin. He and his father ran the joint at night.
Once he saved up enough money to buy his first Oil truck – the rest was history. G&M Oil Inc. was created and just over a decade later he was listed in the coveted Black Enterprise Magazine’s 100 Top Black Owned Businesses in the United States. G&M Oil grew to a multi-million dollar company. My sister, Camille, and I never knew what struggling was. We went to an all-girls, private, and predominately white school where we could ride horses, play tennis, or study by the duck pond. We’d spend summers on our boat that was docked over by the Hanover Street Bridge. On weekends, we would take the boat and dock it at the Harbor. Friends and family would come and marvel at what we knew as our second home.
With the wonderful and privileged life that we lived back in the ‘80s, it was daddy’s priority that he would not raise two bratty “county” girls. He declared on many occasions, “Those little rich white girls will never be your friends. You are there for an education.” What a confusing thing to a kid who was the only brown face in theentire
third grade class.
To continually drive his plan of raising us to love our city, he kept us in the city as much as possible. A typical Saturday morning started with a trip to “the carry-out” on The Avenue. Wewalked
in to a boisterous, “Good morning Mr. Rudy!” They had the best breakfast food in town. Followed by a trip to Lexington Market, Daddy and I would go to the Shoe Shine Man. He made cloth dance over your shoes while music vibrated through his every move. Not only were my penny loafers shining, but my soul was lifted. We would then stop by the office on Warwick and Baker. Daddy would open up the big safe and let us take out as many coins as our little hands could carry. We stayed in the heart of the city. My life was filled with polar opposites. The girls at school did not understand my life outside of school and my friends in the neighborhood did not understand my life at school. I was a walking conundrum.
CHIP saved me. Those simple words taught me about reputation. It helped me understand that everything that I did made a mark on other people. It meant something to be with Big Rudy’s walking the streets of Baltimore, and I took that seriously. Especially since I knew that he would find out anything that I did, right or wrong. CHIP helped me to realize that I must have some kind of talent if I am supposed to “Use Everything You Have.”What
that talent was? For a long time I did not know. I was diagnosed with a learning disability early on, so I was never slotted to be a valedictorian. Despite my height, I was not good at basketball, or any other sport. Although I had plenty of melanin in my skin, I could not dance and had no rhythm. In middle school, after being the only Black kid in the class for years and never getting an award, I was given the “Friendship Award.” I truly believe that they made that crap up, but nobody will admit to it.
With CHIP, my Daddy, the conundrum I called life, and a love for my city, I remained grounded. I stayed focused. Forty years later, I am still here… but I did move to the county…
Editor’s note: Angela Gustus is the executive director of Human Services Programs of Carroll County, Inc. Her book entitled, “Chip” is available at amazon.com.