Black Male Elder Recognition: Otis Lee Jenkins Sr. by TaLeesha Jenkins

    When I received this project I knew of the one person I could to turn to, coming from a single parent home and being raised by my mother the only male father like figures in my life are my grandfather. I am fortunate enough to have to have both of my grandfathers in my life, but my mothers father is all the way in Arkansas and so my Dads father was my best bet being that he lives in Los Angeles. My papa’s name is Otis Lee Jenkins Sr, he is married to Mildred Jenkins, the father of four and the grandfather of eleven. Other than distance another reason why I chose to interview my Papa because I know from brief stories I’ve heard him tell and others tell that he is a strong black male that would do anything to provide and protect his family. My grandfather is my definition of a strong black male.

    On October 6th, 1943 in Chickasha, Oklahoma Otis Lee Jenkins Sr was born to his African American father and Cherokee Native American mother. Until 1945 Otis and his mother lived on a Native American reservation but were forced off of the reservation because Otis was not full blood Native American. After leaving the reservation Otis moved to Bakersfield, CA. While living in Bakersfield Otis was raised by his grandmother (fathers mother) and although he is a only child he never felt as if he was along being that he grew up being raised with his cousins. He lived in Bakersfield until around 1950 when he moved to Los Angeles to live with his mother. His father was never really in his life he considered his grandfather to be more of a father figure. His father would stop by every now and then he still respected his father he talked about how talented he was and how smart he was “he was a musican could play the piano like no other, he even went to school to become a doctor but once again the stigma of being a black man couldnt take you no where”. Otis was raised all over Los Angeles from the east side to the west side, on the east side he where later on in 1962 my grandmother. Otis attended Manuel Arts High School in the heart of south central. While attending Manuel Arts High Otis was heavily involved in his academics and sports, his main goal was to focus on his education so he would not get caught in the negative aspects of the inner life. He grew up with gangs all around him, never joined but expressed how much he was respected by the different gangs all over Los Angeles. Although Otis tried to avoid trouble being a black male during that time period unprovoked trouble found him. One day Otis and a group of friends were at the Los Angeles Collisum when Otis was approached by a LAPD officer and called a “Green eyed Nigger”, Otis stated, “I have always been strong willed and I would not let me nobody disrespect me, nobody”. His response to the officer was “I’m Native American” the police officer proceeded to start to beat him and Otis fought back was then taken into custody. Otis claimed the only reason the police assaulted him was because he was a he had green eyes. Otis and his family did not take the beating lightly his mother went down to the police station to raise and hell and fortunately Otis had a uncle would was a sheriff and had connections, He sued the LAPD and was rewarded a 3,000 dollar settlement because he was a minor when he was beat. After being assaulted he dealt with it by avoiding the police and white people in general. Otis completed his high school education at Manuel Arts graduating at the top of his class and even being honored with becoming class valedictorian, but he said “with such a honor it still meant nothing because I was a black male”. After high school the only thing was he wanted to was help take care of his mother so he enlisted himself into the United States Army.
    
    In 1962 Otis joined the service, he knew it was the only way he could make something of himself quickly that would allow him to send home money to help his mother who worked her whole life to make sure that he was taken care of and he wanted to give her that in return. While in the army it was his first time being in the south, Georgia. Going to the south was the first time he had experienced the segreagation type of racism. While interviewing him he reflected on a story about when he first got off the plane and arrived in Georgia. “It was raining and I was looking for a cab to get into to take me my hotel there any cab to get me out the rain there were multiple cabs so I hopped in the first one I saw, I got a told the driver where to take me, he replied son do you see the color of the cab I looked out side the cab and said yes it’s white can you take me to my destination and he replied again I do not think yo realized the color of this cab and at this point I thought he was trying to mess with I said I know I can see this color is white and a woman who was on the plane with me ran over to cab and said Otis you can be in this cab it’s a white cab you can only ride in one of the colored cabs, this baffled me it’s a cab why can’t I just ride in this cab but I proceeded to get in one of the colored cabs and head to my destination”. While in the service Otis attend Albany State University and studied book keeping during his time in Georgia. During his four years in the service he said one of the most interesting thing he experienced was being able to see Martin Luther King Jr give a speech after the Civil Rights Bill was passed in 1966.

    After returning from serving in the US Army and spending sometime in Vietnam Otis returned to Los Angeles. He started to date my grandmother Mildred and they married in 1968. Together they were the parent of two daughters and a son, which is my father. He stressed that he would do anything that is necessary to make sure that he was able to provide for his family. My grandfather held two careers he was a electrician for Los Angeles Unified School, which he retired from and a vehicle seat maker for Chrysler. Although his those were his careers he said something that was fascinated me was the he “I could have done anything, I could have been president I just never tried I chose to run my nation at home”.

    My grandfather does not fit into the stereotype of the black male that pop culture displays, rather he is the epitome of what a strong black male is and should be. When I was barely a six month old infant my father Otis Lee Jenkins Jr was killed and felt behind six children. During my whole life my papa has stepped and been the best grandfather that he could be while also trying to his fill that fatherless void for my five other siblings and I. The way the Jenkins family is structured it runs on very high family morals and being dedicated to helping yourself but also others around, I see that in my grandfather he takes the time to help others in any way possible, although he is retired he still helps people repairing things for people. My papa provides wisdom and is a role model for the Jenkins family. After completely the interview with my papa I found a new respect for and I am thankful for this project because it allowed learn more about my family history and what strong of a background I come from. My papa Otis Lee Jenkins Sr is the strongest black male I love and know.

 

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