• J. Jamal

Unity Heights vol. 1

Updated: Jan 6


Welcome to Unity Heights. We’re a small subdivision of downtown Los Angeles, and uhh...a side of town that you don’t hear from or about much. Well, the name came from this intersection right here. We’re standing at the point where Union Street meets Unity Hills. Yea, the make up and ideologies of these 2 respective areas are as different as the Apple Store and the liquor store on these opposing corners. I can’t think of the last time I’ve been in there. The Apple Store and Unity Hills. See, aside from this intersection, these two sides really don’t mix. There’s nothing for us up there. There’s nothing for them down here. I’m not really one to mingle anyway. I’ve got baseball, football, and gym time in between. Not much time for anything else. Going into junior year in a couple of months, this is the most important year of my life. Dad’s spent years preparing me for this, scouts were already coming to our games last year, and this time around, they’re coming for me. I’ve got 2 years to put on a show, and I plan to love every minute of it.

They call me the Prince, but you already know that. The Heights ain’t as bad as they told you, man. Everybody knows everybody down here. You’ve just gotta know who to avoid. They want you to think it’s some kind of war zone down here, with machine guns popping off 24 hours a day, it’s nothing like that. I will say these guys do what they have to to defend their turf. It’s an...alternative lifestyle compared to what you’re used to, and it’s easy to get swallowed up by it if you’re not careful. Once you’re in it, they don’t kindly let you back out. I lost my best friend to the streets. We haven’t been the same since he took his first ride. Look, it’s safe as long as you keep it that way. If you go looking for trouble, we’ve got plenty for you, believe that. Other than that, the gym is a good escape, it’s in a neutral area. They understand some of us wanna get outta here some day, and sports seems to be the only way. These “thugs” you hear about? They live by a code. They don’t bother anybody staying in their lane. Women, elders, children, off limits. Neutral zones are respected, boundaries are respected. And they don’t cut down anybody out there trying to better themselves.

The community center was built on a donation from one of the leaders on the block. Actually, that’s him driving by right now. Nah, it’s nothing to worry about, let’s just walk between the cars over here.

Anyway, it’s pretty quiet out here. Most of us just spend time at home with family, or on their blocks. I heard there’s a lake up in the Hills, everybody goes fishing every weekend, beer and football on the shore? That’s pretty cool, our football field is always occupied. We come together pretty often down here, too. Yea, we...we get together, sing songs, light candles, write letters, talk, and just...enjoy our time together, you know? Holidays we get together, have a big cookout at the football field and everybody comes out to show love. That’s what Union Street is all about: showing love, to our street and to ourselves. I’m gonna miss this place when I go off to college. It’s all I’ve ever known. But it’ll be fun getting to be something different. The U will always be the best part of me, but I’m definitely excited to see what happens nex-

Shh.

Never mind, it’s just a warning shot. How do I know? Because there was only one of em.

Welcome to Unity Heights.

_____________________________________________


“I know that wasn’t what I think it was,” mom pressed as I came inside a few minutes after the shots rang out. “It’s The U, moms, you know how it is,” I smirk and kiss her cheek “They’re lucky I only had to shoot once.” My mom doesn’t play that, which she made clear with a smack to the back of my head “Momma I’m playing, you know the only guns in this house are right here,” I flex to make her laugh and diffuse the situation. My dad calls out from the hallway that they want to see me in his office in 10.

My parents were the high school sweethearts that never lost that flame. I love em, but nothing would make me happier than never having to hear about their first date again. Mom said she knew it that first night, and it’s hard to argue at this point. I’m their first kid, their only kid. They love reminding me why I’m named after Prince. I can definitely do without hearing that story again.

They’re the quintessential Unity Heights Love Story. King and Queen of their junior and senior proms. Complete love and commitment to each other, investing in the community they were born in, with a son who represents their best chance to make it out of The U. Baseball and football will both get me there, and I can’t wait to bring them with me. For all the extra practices, training sessions, scrimmages, and being at every game, the least I can do is bring them with me. I know all of that work starts here. This year, I make my way into the starting rotation, and in the fall, I go snatch the starting quarterback spot. My dad holds virtually every passing record in school history, so it’s only right that I make my own mark while furthering our legacy. But baseball will be all my own. I pride myself on being a two sport athlete, and I know it gives me twice the opportunities to thrive in college and in the league. That’ll make all of the extra work worth it.

“I guess you can consider this an early birthday present, we didn’t want to wait any longer,” mom says, smiling as she hands me a garment bag with my name on it. I told her I wanted to start dressing a bit better, so I figure it’s gotta be a suit or something. Something to start looking the part on game days. With the biggest smile possible, I unzip the bag, a look of confusion painting my face as a result of what I’m holding. “I don’t get it. I thought you spent all four years at Union, why would you get a Unity High replica?” Definitely wasn’t a suit, so now I’m all kinds of confused. What’s our last name doing on a Unity Jersey? Our name was literally built at The U. “This isn’t my jersey, son. The jersey is for you,” my dad says as my mom co-signs, telling me how excited she is to see me in the blue and gold. “This opportunity is too great to pass up, and it’ll be worth it, even just to get you out of this neighborhood earlier than we’d planned.”

“This is a joke. Y’all playing with me, you’re not serious,” I laugh before surveying the room, their silence making it clear they were, in fact, serious. “No! I’m not going over there, I can’t go over there. This is my year! We’re going varsity, we’re in the rotation, this is my year to get scouted! Why would you try to ruin me like that? I thought this is what we wanted, scouts at every game, there to see me, no you want me to be so,where else,” my emotions boil over as I press closer to them, my father instinctively standing before my mother. We planned for this year, and now that plan is in shambles to go to a school that wouldn’t even want me? Not on my watch. “This IS the plan, son. Those same scouts, those same recruiters, they’ll be right there at Unity to see you. But not only that, they’ll be able to look into your education more than at The U. You’re making yourself an all around catch for these schools, the best student-athlete they can find, this year is going to be about the STUDENT!” My fathers tone matches mine as he gets his point across, making it clear he desires more from me than touchdowns and no hitters. “If I’m the man at The U, why wouldn’t top schools want me? If I’m the best at two sports, nobody can touch me,” I respond, puffing my chest out with a dash of arrogance. “A baseball glove never stopped a bullet!” “Neither has a book!”

A hushed tone fell over the room, and he nods, placing a hand on my back for support. “You’re right, son. But you’re only looking at your life for the next two years. Have you thought about your life past graduation? Because we can’t. We spend every day, wondering if you’ll make it home that night, or if this place will finally eat you up. You can’t deny that a whole new world of opportunities is gonna open up at this school, you can’t deny that schools that have never heard your name are gonna be all over you by the time we’re done here. I know it’s gonna be hard. That’s why it’s gotta be you. If it was easy, anybody could do it, and there’d be no difference to come out of it. But you? You can not only bridge the gap right here, but you can start a whole new chapter for the students coming after you. If I only cared about the athlete, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. But you know who you’re getting ready to become. You know who you are.”

As the room cleared, I was left there in my father’s study. Books upon books, file after file, of things my eyes were never open to before. He was right, he always has been. I’d always looked at Prince the athlete, I’m a kid, why wouldn’t I? But seeing even the possibility of being more, maybe there is something else there. Maybe there is a deeper meaning, a deeper purpose here. I’ve always thought of myself as cut from a different cloth. Maybe there’s more to that cloth than I’d previously thought.

“Alright, I’ll do it. Just let me talk to my guys first.”

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