During 1993, Yusuf Bey of Your Black Muslim Bakery (YBMB) located in Oakland, California stated on his public cable access show True Solutions that he didn’t want gay teachers to hold those positions because they might influence his children to be gay and he also claimed that homosexuals were beheaded in the Middle East. After that rant, two dozen natural foods stores stopped carrying the bakery’s breaded fish sandwiches, bean pies, honey carrot muffins, and tofu and veggie burgers.
During 1998, as my relationship with Yusuf Bey’s son Khalif progressed, I asked Khalif how his father felt about gays. Khalif said that he did not mistreat them. I then confided in him that my Great Grandfather Private Milton Lee Ratcliff was bisexual and a transvestite and that my eldest brother dated a Transwoman named Damonica. I’d then happily taunt Khalif and tell him that I’m sure some of his twenty plus biological brothers were bisexual. After that, I’d hear the dial tone.
Near 2000, Khalif started to express his frustrations to me. His high school sweetheart (who happened to be bisexual) turned into a nightmare. Caring for his daughter while fighting for her in a drawn-out custody battle became a full-time job for him along with being an entrepreneur. He began to constantly complain about exhaustion from shuffling back and forth between work, the baby momma drama and her alarming licentious romps with professional athletes. While he would be hard at work washing and detailing automobiles, I listened attentively to his feelings. As I was still trying to find my angle to seduce him, so he could have talked me into a casket. Since he wouldn’t allow me the pleasure of massaging him, I mailed him a gift certificate for a deep tissue massage.
On Tuesday, September 30th, 2003, Khalif phoned me. In a somber voice, he informed me his father Mr. Yusuf Bey had died. Although Khalif never cried, his voice sounded low and I could sense the loss and pain he was feeling. From photographs that I viewed of the funeral on October 3rd, Khalif was one of the beautiful sixteen sons in white suits and red bow ties that performed a military-style drill send-off in honor of his father. Khalif looked forward unmoved, minus his usual megawatt smile that I was accustomed to. He now displayed a perfectly blank moonlike face, virtually void of expression even in the most emotional scene. In spite of the brokenness of his spirit, his sensuality was unblemished. Had Khalif invited me, I would have attended. Over the years as I aged, even as an adult when I viewed other young boys and men with their fathers, I grew envious and mad. Even though my father’s death was out of his control, I still needed him.
On December 30th, Khalif instructed me to purchase the Los Angeles Times newspaper. There was a lengthy article on his father, Yusuf Bey who was a pillar in the African American community who once ran for mayor and was feared by many including the Oakland Police. For over three decades, he was the most prominent Black Muslim and had built an empire of bakeries, security firms, and a school, and was notorious for doing things his way. His father also had an insatiable sexual appetite, fathering over 43 children with at least six different women and one legal wife. Bey’s “spiritually” adopted followers and “wives” often took his surname, although no legal adoptions took place.
The more Khalif confided in me, he left me dying to sink my hands and teeth into him. I always invited him over for dinner weekly to sit at his designated place at the table. I figured I’d ply him with food and drink, to better my chances of stealing his heart, but he always laughingly politely declined. Living a heterosexual lifestyle, he kept me at a public distance while privately confiding in me which deeply infuriated me. He often teased me and said, “your damn good at setting rat traps for men”. I agreed! Had he taken my dinner offer just once, hundreds of missing person posters would’ve been plastered over the city bearing his face.
During Oscar Sunday in February of 2009; the 81st telecast of the Academy Awards was broadcasting. I then realized I had not spoken to Khalif or viewed him in public for over a year. I began craving his voice like a junkie dying for one more hit, and phoned him, but it went to voicemail. I was trying my best to enjoy the show but with one eye swollen and sealed shut and a sledgehammer drilling my forehead open from a bike accident. I couldn’t focus or sit still. Slumdog Millionaire won eight awards including best picture.
After biting my lip for hours, I called Khalif again on Monday. Tuesday, still no answer! I phoned at least ten times within the week but “If you’d like to leave a message” was the only response I got. What was going on with this man? I was ready to call Inspector Gadget, Ms. Cleo, Colombo, Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Phil, America’s Most Wanted, 911, the FBI, CIA, Homeland Security, the US Army, Marines, Boy Scouts, NASA, the Nation of Islam, the Girl Scouts, and pondered summoning the notorious Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. This was unusual. He always looked forward to my calls, or so I thought. I sensed something was amiss.
That Wednesday, while riding in a car near La Cienega and Pico (near his home) around 6:30 pm, I phoned Khalif again. It rang several times. A female answered. No one else EVER answered his phone. I figured it was his girlfriend and started to hang up. Then I thought, I might as well say hello. She identified herself as his sister, hesitantly, I asked: “May I speak with Khalif?”
She casually said, “He’s gone.”
I questioned, “When’s he coming back?”
She stated, “I’m sorry he’s not.”
Confused, I paused then angrily said, “What you mean he’s not?”
She somberly said, “Khalif passed away.” It was as if I was having open heart surgery without anesthesia. I then felt like my heart was vacuumed away, tossed around by sharks and sunk to the bottom of the ocean. I couldn’t breathe and shouted, “WHAT?”
The details didn’t matter. I then calmly asked, “Where is the baby? Is she OK?”
“She’s fine, and with her mother.”
“Where is he, can I view him?”
“I’m sorry. He’s being sent to Oakland, we’ll have funeral information this weekend.”
I hung up thinking, Damn, this ain’t fair. I want to see him! I can’t even say goodbye! The thought of never hearing his voice or seeing his smile again was cruel and unimaginable. I was sure he would live a long, stable life, his family loved him, he had no mental illness, or enemies that I knew of. What could’ve killed him? I always thought I’d probably expire before him because of my “lifestyle.” I slouched in the seat quietly sobbing as tears streamed down my cheeks like a tropical storm.
Later that night at home, I lay on my futon tossing and turning and longing to hear Khalif’s voice, while listening to Bobby Womack’s song “If you think you’re lonely now”. I usually enjoyed my solitude but at that moment, I dreaded being alone. To quench my desires, I took several sleeping pills. Nothing worked. A friend picked me up. I spent the night with him rambling on about Khalif till the birds were chirping and the sun rose.
Aching for more details, in the first weekend during March of 2009, I dialed Khalif’s cell phone for his funeral information and his sister answered. I said, “I’m Nahshon, we spoke last week.”
“Yes, Khalif passed away at his home on February 25th.”
I then asked, “Will an obituary be published in a local newspaper?”
Surprisingly, she said, “The family wanted to keep it private (because of the ongoing murder trial of his younger brother Yusuf Bey IV, for the death of Journalist Chauncey Bailey) I’m a give you his baby’s mother Gina phone number to inquire about the service.”
I hung up, scratching my head and headed to Rite Aid pharmacy in West Hollywood near Sunset Avenue and Fairfax to pick up some pain meds; just blocks away was the bloody scene of my bike accident, which had me flying high in the sky and caused my concussion, a chipped tooth, a black eye and 16 stitches which inspired this story.
I phoned Gina and introduced myself: “I knew Khalif since he moved to Los Angeles in 1998 and lived on San Vicente. I’m sorry for your loss.”
With a coldness I felt through the phone, she snapped, “It’ll be a closed casket funeral in Oakland and the repast is only for family”.
After hearing that I felt like I was slapped in the face and knew I wasn’t invited. I always thought that if had I the money, I would’ve purchased a billboard posted prominently near his home asking, “Khalif, will you marry me?”
Flooded with emotions and images of him constantly smiling, I then made a memorial tribute for Khalif in my home: a few photos of him, his Timberlands, polo shirt, candles, flowers, and Egyptian sand. One of my friends, Jerry, an older Jewish criminal defense lawyer, who was obsessed with black men came by and inquired who my memorial was for. I told him the love of my life. Excitedly he said “oh yeah, that’s Yusuf’s son. I got a story about one of his older brothers. I’ll tell you when I’m ready”.
For months, I had to beg him for the details. Jerry finally confessed he’d been traveling back and forth from the Bay area for decades. He was on one of his routine missions for a handsome black man. This is when he met one of Khalif’s older brothers in the late 80’s at a gay bathhouse called Steam Works, in Berkley. I always knew at least 3-4 brothers out of twenty would likely be bi-sexual or gay.
After residing in Culver City for less than six months, On the first anniversary of Khalif’s death in February of 2010, I made the trek to Northern California to visit his gravesite. The hour-long flight reminded me of the first time I flew to Oakland in 1995 with Rick and Alberto. They were two finger-snapping “Queens” that I spent that summer with.
Arriving Thursday night, I stayed in the Nob Hill area. Friday, I rested and started doubting my visit. Saturday, at Chevy’s for Mexican dinner, I was sitting at the bar, sucking on limes, licking salt off my fists while guzzling shots of Jose Cuervo, and enjoying guacamole with sizzling spicy fajitas. Along came a cheery lady.
“Mind if I sit here?”
“Oh, no worries.”
“You always dine alone?”
About to fill my mouth with salsa I said, “Pretty much, I enjoy my solitude.”
“Yeah. I need a break from office politics and drama.”
“I’m not from here; I live in Los Angeles.”
“What brought you here?”
“Going to say goodbye to a guy who has been standing me up for a decade.”
“How’s that going to happen?”
“He’s got no choice now. It’s finally out of his control.”
As her drink arrived she said, “Wait, I need more details. I’m confused.”
“He passed away a year ago. In the morning, I’m heading to his grave.”
“Sweetie, I’m so sorry to hear that.”
“He came from a large family. The Bey’s, from Oakland.”
Stunned she asked, “The Bey’s?”
“Yeah, the notorious Bey family.”
“I’m a San Francisco Public Defender. I represented one of your friend’s brothers in a case.”
Taking one last shot I said, “I gotta get going. I really enjoyed your company.”
Digging into her crab enchiladas she said, “Lets exchange email addresses.”
Sunday was a misty morning with a slight drizzle. I purchased an umbrella and took a two-hour subway and bus ride to El Sobrante. At my exit, I trudged twenty minutes up a hilltop to Rolling Hills Cemetery. I entered the main office and was informed Khalif didn’t have a headstone and was directed to the Garden of Vista. I sprinted for five minutes down the winding roads searching for the general area. In the left-hand corner on a slight hill, I noticed a large group of people. My ears twitched when I heard Khalif’s nickname “Weedy”. One of the men looked familiar, it was his brother, who resembled him but darker.
As the crowd started to disperse, I then noticed his sister. I slowly approached her nervously extending my hand and said, “Hi I’m Nahshon”, then another voice interrogatingly questioned, “You’re Nahshon”? After I glanced at her I was dumbfounded. Who was this girl questioning me? Like she knew me. She didn’t say it, but I felt it with her piercing rolling eyes. What the fuck you doing here, and who invited your ass? It was Gina, Khalif’s baby’s mother, the source of his fury and the one he often discussed on the phone with me for hours.
As I scanned his resting place, I felt a floating sense of unreality and I held myself together while the entire family was courteous and inquired how I knew Khalif. I proudly said we were friends for over a decade. Although I wanted to confess my love for him, I knew it wasn’t the appropriate time. We took pictures together and his sister stated, “Anyone who was a friend of Khalif’s was a friend of the family’s”. Hmm. Really, me, a “friend”? I wondered how Khalif would have felt, knowing that I was now a “friend” of the family.
Gina took my phone number and we said our goodbyes. I was really appreciative that his family didn’t run me away from the cemetery and that they had remained with me for a few moments, although it was one of the weirdest predicaments I’d ever been in other than being assaulted on July 4th, 1997. I felt like Khalif guided me to be there at that specific time and was giving me a round of applause.
After the family turned and walked away, I allowed my tears to flow as I circled his grave several times before sitting down near his plot, next to his father and brothers, Akbar (the inspiration for his grim reaper tattoo) and Antar. My heart was buried deep in the rolling hills of Northern California. I held back from digging my own grave just to curl up to him. But now it was sinking in that I’d no longer hear his humorous soothing voice or run into him monthly on the streets of L.A. in his freshly creased jeans, colorful sweaters, or his favorite white t-shirts, be able to flirt with him and enjoy his megawatt smile or view his hypnotic eyes and luscious lips.
I’d lost several friends over the years. In 1982, when my dad Milton died, I was too young at age 5 to comprehend death. When my older sister Shennea was charred to death in a fire in 2005, I didn’t cry. For months, I endured crying spells over Khalif. It was the first time I really felt the devastating loss of a loved one, besides my maternal Grandparents the Scott’s. As the sun began to set, I picked myself up, dusted my bottom and began exiting the grounds trying to figure out what to dine on. Like clockwork, a Latin gentleman pulled alongside and offered me a ride downhill, except he didn’t ask me how much I charged. At a loss for words, I nodded my head at him as I exited his vehicle.
Back on the BART train, with my head tilted towards the clouds, I watched my nostrils flaring and fogging up the window. My heart was slowly mending, and it began to beat with glee. I felt satisfied that I saw Khalif’s final resting place and paid my respects to him. It was at this point that my decade-old obsession with Khalif finally came to an end, so I thought. Then as I began having images of the drama that had transpired on Jan 1, of 2009 regarding the shooting death of Oscar Grant on the BART at Fruitvale station, my phone rang. After the caller introduced herself as Gina, my ears perked up and I sat up in the seat like I was attending my first day of class.
“Nahshon, Out of all the days. I can’t believe you showed up today.”
“And, I can’t believe all of you guys were there. I never thought I’d run into you.”
Almost whispering she said, “I gotta tell you something (all of a sudden, I had this horrifying feeling that I was standing on the brink of learning something really, really awful, like the part in the horror movie just before you open the closet and find a headless corpse with maggots oozing out of it) Khalif had been ill for months and could no longer take care of our daughter.”
“I know he was sick. From what?”
“This past Thanksgiving Khalif was in the Bay with family. He appeared well. But by this January, he couldn’t work and started to look like a skeleton and required a cane to walk. Not wanting to scare our daughter, he gave me custody of her and had to be hospitalized for pneumonia and blood clots on his lungs. I went with him, but the prescribed medication caused him to hallucinate. He checked himself out and went home.”
“At least you were there, by his side. I wish I could’ve taken care of him in his time of need, to repay him for the compassion he showed me.”
“I know how you feel.”
I proudly said, “He’s one reason why I’m alive. I would’ve done anything and everything for him including robbing banks.”
“I got really worried and rang the alarm. His mom and family members rushed from the Bay Area to LA. Exhausted, Khalif had enough, said his goodbyes, and sent them packing.”
“At least they got to say their goodbyes.”
“I hadn’t heard from him. I went to his house February 25th in the morning. His apartment felt like an oven. The heater was on, and the television was playing. I then discovered Khalif in his bedroom lying supine in a pool of dried blood with the scent of rot filling the air”.
Confused, I asked, “Why was there blood? I thought he was sick.”
In a low hesitant emotional voice, Gina replied, “His, his, his, 357 Glock.”
After a moment of silence and removing my hand from around my mouth I thought maybe he died of…. But then quickly asked, “Did he leave a note?”
“No. Khalif was very close with his father and was still mourning his death since 2003.”
“He stopped talking about his dad years ago. Had no idea it was bothering him like that.”
“I don’t understand why he’d take his life since he had a daughter who relied on him.”
“I used to confide in Khalif, I was suicidal, and he’d always tell me to keep pushing on.”
“That’s the type of person he was, very encouraging and a good listener.”
“Gina, I’m sorry, but I was madly in love with Khalif. I’m still obsessed with him. Do you think it had anything to do with him being bisexual?”
“Sorry? You can’t help who you fall in love with Nahshon, and no, that would’ve been cool. Several of my male friends are gay, and I use to be bisexual.”
“I know, Khalif told me that often.”
“And his dad’s brother’s son is openly gay, lives in Los Angeles and is a successful actor.
“You might know him. He grew up in Altadena. Isn’t that where you’re from?”
“Yes, but I was under the impression he was sick and passed away “naturally”.”
We hung up and I silently thought Khalif, suicide? Hell NO! Not him. I then wondered if his neighbors heard the shot and if they were startled by it. I wasn’t sure what to believe and couldn’t shake the suspicion of thinking maybe someone killed him (especially since two of his other brothers had been murdered and one was in prison being held responsible for three deaths). Then I remembered Khalif always said, “When it’s time to go, it’s time to go.” Was he trying to tell me all those years that he was suicidal as well? This was a macabre twist of fate.
I hated knowing Khalif spent his last days alone, in excruciating agony. The new last image of him holding a 357 Glock to his left temple and pulling the trigger while the bullet exited his right lobe, began melding with my own images of Ricky ramming his 380 in my mouth that he shot me with on July 4th of 1997, while laughingly asking if I had ever been to a shooting range. If Khalif was as sick as Gina stated, then I could understand how suicide was a viable solution to himself.
I was grateful, because due to the integral role he played in my life through his compassionate listening my life was extended. I had no idea a man could rouse my emotions the way he did. I needed him like I needed air. I desired him, more than I desired breathing. I was addicted to his attention and now believe it was in Khalif’s best interest to keep me at a distance, but now his death was drawing us closer and I yearned to know everything about him.
Since I was given conflicting stories regarding Khalif’s death, years later I purchased his autopsy report, minus the 13 photographs taken of him. I then learned the last date that he was known to be alive was on February 22nd and he used a small brown towel to muzzle the gun, that’s why no one heard the shot. It also really disturbed me to know that he only weighed 122 pounds when his normal weight was at least 165 pounds. I then wondered if the small longitudinal scars on both wrists were indicative of him attempting to begin the ending of his story.
Khalif, my eternal Valentine and a gift to humanity, was the brother, lover, and husband I never had. He’d always inform me that I was the only one he shared his most intimate feelings with, instructing me to change his name if I ever recorded his life on paper as if he knew……… What is most odd is that during our relationship, I had no plans of being a writer and didn’t believe I would survive this long. Writing has been entirely happenstance and an unintended consequence of my life’s journey. His favorite saying “one”. Lovelorn for a decade, Khalif kept my heart well lubricated. His magnetic personality and friendly hand still leaves me yearning to feel the warmth and pleasure that radiated from his ethereal soul, his death left me unhinged. Khalif exited this universe with a trail of broken hearts, and sometimes I think of…………
Amber D. Tran’s Interview with Nahshon Anderson
In your third-person biography, you mention that you are also a filmmaker. Is there a direct association between producing film and creating literature? Do you find the two to complement or contrast with one another?
I’m an aspiring filmmaker. Producing film and creating literature are both forms of storytelling. In literature, our imagination helps the story along, whereas the moving images allow us to see the “story” unfold in film. There’s definitely a direct association in that film heavily relies on literature for research and authenticity. Not to mention, some films are based on books or actual events. The two mostly complement each other, but contrasts can occur based on a filmmaker’s interpretation and/or public perception. Details that may seem minor to some could greatly invalidate others. We saw this firsthand with the 2016 biopic Nina.
Your award-winning manuscript “Shooting Range” is inspired by a very troubling ordeal. What made you find the courage to write about this event?
While the painful events in Shooting Range have kept me looking over my shoulders, I love sharing this story, in which I was victorious and lived to tell about it. I’m also proud to have played a role in getting a serial predator off the streets until 2036. Talking about my 1997 hate crime assault has often made me relive that fateful night. Writing, however, helped bring a sense of normalcy and balance to my life. I can focus on details better, and also take inventory of and appreciate how far I’ve come since that time.
Do you prefer to immerse yourself in a particular setting when you make time to write? What about music, do you have a favorite song that helps you write?
I mostly prefer the solitude of my Bronx apartment, but occasionally take up refuge in the nearby beautiful Crotona Park. A lot of writing takes place during my travels, from hotel rooms, reserved library space, and even Amtrak and Greyhound buses.
My musical tastes vary, but when writing about trauma, classical music helps soothe my thoughts.
You have a very impressive history of publication in the writing community. How do you make time to participate in these groups and organizations?
Writing has become a full-time occupation, and group/organization participation is most often part of my professional development, as well as an opportunity to network. Advocacy is also a strong focus of my writing, so I benefit from these collaborations, and also take it as a chance to “pay it forward” with aspiring artists.
When did you realize that you wanted to create art (films and literature)? Do you remember how old you were?
Growing up in a strict and religious household, a career in the arts was not encouraged. My inspiration came in middle school (around age 13), when the drama department began regularly taking groups of students to see our classmate, Jaleel White on the set of Family Matters and other TV sitcoms. Every detail of this experience intrigued me, including the behind-the-scenes work, i.e. camera crew, writers, etc. The following year, in 1992, I submitted my essay about community improvement into a Discover Card-sponsored contest, and won $500.
During 1996, the rapper Tupac attended my high school John Muir’s prom with my classmate. I inquired about working in TV/Video production. Tupac directed me to Look Hear Productions. They were producing his music videos at that time. After graduating from high school, that summer I began an internship with Tracy D. Robinson at Look Hear. During 1997, I then pursued acting, and became a production assistant for the Keenen Ivory Wayans TV Show.
We accepted your essay “Quick N Shine” for publication in the second issue of The Shallows. This essay is one of the most powerful pieces we have ever published, and we are truly grateful that you shared this experience with us. What motivated you to submit it to our journal?
Given my background, Cold Creek’s mission resonated with me, in that it felt like you were specifically speaking to me. I knew that my story aligned with your values, and would be a perfect fit.
The bond you shared with Khalif is extraordinary. In your essay, you write, “I would’ve purchased a billboard posted prominently near his home asking, “Khalif, will you marry me?” We do not find this line to be hyperbolic but to be accurate. Can you share with us, small or large, something else you may have done for Khalif, if given the chance?
If given the chance, I would have continued to give him the distinction of loving me on his terms. To Khalif, family was everything, and this included his beloved daughter, as well as his devoutly religious and well-respected father. What we could have been didn’t fit in with the life he’d grown accustomed to, and yet he gave me the devotion he felt capable of giving.
Instead, I respected his wishes and acknowledged his stressful lifestyle with a gift card for a deep tissue massage. Upon Khalif’s death I commissioned a portrait of him.
It takes skill to craft an essay about such a delicate topic. Where did you find the courage to share with readers such a personal, immensely emotional moment in your life?
My courage comes from the trauma I’ve endured, from being beaten and shot, rejection from loved ones, shunned, and unrequited love. Writing has become a coping mechanism, and a way to keep all my memories alive. With Khalif, even though he’s no longer here in the flesh, staying silent felt like I was burying him. Writing about him keeps him alive and allows my heart to heal.
Your essay concludes with a heartbreaking, revealing conversation between yourself and Gina, a woman connected to Khalif. This conversation provides the essay’s climax. Why did you choose to use dialogue to share this information instead of another method, such as storytelling or a series of detailed paragraphs?
Gina was Khalif’s first love and the mother of his daughter. We first spoke immediately after his death, and I found her to be cold and distant. When we unexpectedly met again at his grave site a year later, she seemed warm and forthcoming. While I rode the train back to my hotel, Gina gave me details and answered lingering questions. To me, there was no better way to share this except through dialogue.
“Quick N Shine” ends with a letter-like confession addressed to Khalif. You refer to him as your Valentine, brother, lover, and husband. If you could write a letter to anyone who reads your essay, what would you tell them? What do you hope your essay can show to readers who may not have experienced the tribulations you have?
For the ten years I knew Khalif, I fell head-over-heels in love with him. Confessing what was on my heart would result in tears due to his proclaimed heterosexuality. I’ve always been open about who I am, and he kept me at a distance because of it. It hurt and frustrated me that he kept me in his life, but wouldn’t allow a physical closeness to materialize.
To readers, I’d admonish them to always be careful about who they smile at. Khalif’s initial smile made me fall for him and want to dig a grave next to him once he passed. No one has ever smiled at me the way he did. I honestly don’t think he was aware of how he made me feel. For those who have not endured similar tribulations, Quick N Shine can show them that despite the pain and trauma, they still have the capacity to love and move forward.
Nahshon D. Anderson is an award-winning writer, screenwriter, and aspiring filmmaker from Altadena, California. Nahshon attended California State University, Los Angeles. At age 19, Nahshon survived an attempted murder, which inspired the short manuscript, “Shooting Range,” which won a 2014 BRIO Award from Bronx Council on Arts. They are a contributing writer in the anthology, Happy Hour: Our Lives in Gay Bars, in Emerge: Lambda Fellows Anthology Vol. 2 & 3, Prose & Lore Issues 2, 3 & 5 and Bronx Memoir Project Vol 1. Nahshon resides in the Bronx and is a New York State Council on The Arts grants advisory panelist and is writing a memoir, Shooting Range. Read more at www.nahshondionanderson.com.