I have lived in the North for 29 years of my young life. By North I mean Newark, NJ, also known as “Brick City”. The largest city in the state of New Jersey and arguably one of the most crime ridden cities in the U.S. It was once known as the stolen car capital of the country. Famously known for the Newark Riots of 1967 where a black man allegedly died in police custody. The city is still recovering from the effects of the riots and has been slowly going through a process of gentrification. Growing up in Newark was not for the faint of heart. You were either going to survive or be a victim. Thankfully, sheltered as a child I didn’t encounter much trouble. Still, I faced the everyday trials of growing up in a city like Newark. People were not always very friendly, helpful or caring. That’s not to say there were no nice people, but from my encounters they seemed few and far between. Don’t take the impression that Newark is just a bad place, because it’s not. It couldn’t be, I came from it.
For me it was never a place I saw myself staying. It was my foundation but it would not be where I would build the bricks and stepping stones of my life. It was time for a fresh start. To experience something different. The South. I decided on South Carolina. A state with towns rich in history and beauty. Cities like Charleston with its historical churches and legends like Denmark Vesey. One of the founders of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church who attempted to lead a slave revolt, the largest ever, in 1822. The church was burned down by an angry white mob soon after the foiled plan, but was rebuilt after the Civil War. While the tragedy of the recent murders that took place in that very church loomed hauntingly, I still felt that South Carolina would be a place of strength for me. It seemed to pull at my spirit, beckon me.
The ten-hour drive from New Jersey to South Carolina was long and I was anxious. I passed the time listening to some of my favorite music, with the occasional stop for gas and coffee. Crossing the border into South Carolina, I expected the flash and excitement of a city like Atlanta. However, I continued to drive through more miles of the rural South. Traveling in a U-Haul truck through what felt like the middle of nowhere, was not exactly what I had in mind when I said I would move South. I felt uneasy and wondered if I had made the best decision coming here. I needed a moment to just take it all in.
The next morning, in search of civilization I went on a hunt for a Starbucks to help me deal with what had become my reality. When I went to town I was never happier to see skyscrapers. I could appreciate the country and still enjoy the luxuries of city life. I took the first few months to get familiar with my surroundings. I found that in certain parts of South Carolina and Georgia they do not sell alcohol on Sundays. There are other states that have this law as well. Not all of them follow it, but the law is in place. It’s called the Blue Law, which is from the Prohibition Era. It was shocking going from being able to buy a bottle of wine for dinner any day of the week to, “I’m sorry ma'am we don't sell alcohol on Sundays.” An adjustment for sure, but something I could live with. Besides, there were plenty of positive adjustments to make as well.
It was strange to see people that I didn’t know waving, smiling and just saying “Hey.” It was confusing initially, and believe it or not, I didn’t know how to respond. I knew when someone speaks, it is polite to speak back. But where I’m from if someone is too friendly they usually want something from you. A dollar, a cigarette or something. This is not to say that everyone in the North is completely rude. There just aren’t a lot of people being nice just for the heck of it. I think it goes without saying, I was not accustomed to this type of behavior. Meeting the locals was interesting. They always made it their business to say, “Girl you don’t sound like you from round here.”
The affability of southerners makes me feel like I am amongst family. The perception that people are racists in the South has yet to be proven to me. I am not so naive to think it doesn’t exist just because it has not yet been a part of my experience. I’m well aware of the history of slavery and Jim Crow. However, I would be less than honest if I didn’t also acknowledge my experience of racism in the North, which has been quite frequent. Although, I have not seen racism face to face in the South, I still see confederate monuments and flags still waiving. If you remember recently in New Orleans the City Council voted to remove confederate monuments. Progress for sure but the fact that this is just happening in 2017 allows us to see who still honors slavery and who does not.
Since moving South I have let go of my fear of the unknown and welcomed being present. My quality of life is much better here. I don’t feel the pressure of the fast pace I once did when I lived in New Jersey. I’m at peace and able to take in everything around me. The phrase “Stop and smell the roses”, has become my mantra. One of my favorite things to do is bring my dogs with me to the bar which I think is so cool. The cost of living is cheaper, which means that the pay scale here matches, depending on your profession. Southern hospitality is a real thing. Being greeted with a smile by a stranger is a common occurrence. After a meal at your local restaurant it is not unheard of to be offered a complimentary sweet tea or lemonade. The quality of food is fresher because it comes directly from the farms, right into the grocery stores. The weather is breathtakingly gorgeous. Harsh winters of New Jersey are a distant memory.
The vast changes in my new environment compared to my old ones are many. I am thankful for all of them and proud of myself for stepping out on faith. Becoming a southerner has increased my sensibility to be a more open giving person. I am happy to say I am now a southern belle from the North.