African American Studies
Samuel Christian grew up in the Morrisania section of the Bronx. His mother is from upstate New York and her father was from VA. Both are light skinned. He was born in the Bronx and was an only child. He, his mother, father, and paternal grandparents all lived in the same house. The family attended Mount Carmel Baptish Church.
Before he even was sent to regular school, he was enrolled in Dance school. The reason he was enrolled in dance school was to keep him away from the negative influence of the street. Coming home from school in the afternoon was difficult when he was younger. He was harassed and beat up by his classmates at PS 54 for being smart and involved with the arts. The bullying continued up until High School. Throughout his childhood, he used his involvement with organized activities, like drama and dance, as a way to protect himself from the other children. Aside from being beaten up, he also talks about his fear of fire that originated from the fires in the Bronx. He remembers seeing them routinely, sometimes on his block or even across the street. Because of this, he had horrible nightmares about fires coming to his building.
The crack epidemic never touched his childhood directly. He claims that the only person he knew that died from an overdose was his cousin who only recently passed away. For his friends, the drugs of choice were tobacco, marijuana, and alcohol.
A famous jazz singer, Maxine Sullivan, lived on their street. He wanted to get out of dance and started working on piano with her and her jazz friends. He soon realized, though, that he wanted to be on the stage performing as an actor. He initially went to Holy Cross for college, then when he realized he wanted to be an actor professionally he transferred to NYU. He got to work with many faculty members and learned quite a lot. He had a difficult time getting in touch with his African-American-ness. His parents and teachers provided him with so little African-American history that he was very out of touch with the black community. The fact that he and his entire family were light-skinned only worsened the situation. People at their church, for example, would question if they were really black or not. Not only was he out of touch with African-Americans, but he was also not allowed to interact with the Latino community.
He currently is teaching at a community college in the Bronx. He has continued to have problems with tougher African-American men, but his other students support him and try to keep him safe.
Christian, Samuel. February 15, 2006. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham University.
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