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Boise Voices

Boise Voices

Oral History Project

Grandfather Leonard Smith

When I grow up (0:15)

Kenni Poitier

    Listen, all you can ever be in life is yourself. Be the best self you can be. Remember an old man told you that, an old man from Cat Island in the Bahamas told you that one there--be yourself.

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    • My name is Kenni Lee Portier, I was born in Cat Island, Bahamas, 1942

      Kenni, what did you have for breakfast this morning?

      I had some home-made turkey sausage, cheese grits, and two scrambled eggs. And a glass of cranberry juice.

    • Where was your childhood home located?

      Port Solana, Florida. It's too small to be on the map. But it's Port Solana.

      Did you enjoy living there?

      I did up until I was 16. And at 16 my grandfather died and my life kind of changed. My father was a preacher. A preacher back in the 40s and the 50s, whatever they said was Bible. And I felt like when he died, the whole town kind of turned on me. At 17 1/2 I went into the Army. Once I got out, I went to Canada, and from Canada I came to Portland.

      Do you have any Army stories you could share with us?

      My Army stories is, I got a taste for the wrong side of life.

      I went to the Army in 1963, and I got out in 1966. I was in Korea and there was a lot of stuff I wish I hadn't seen out there. I got introduced to drugs, I suffered from PTSD, but I got lucky and got a break--the Army put me in military rehab and that's probably the best thing that ever happened to me.

      So what exactly did you learn from this experience?

      The thing I learned the most was how I cut my future short.

      When I came out of the military I really wanted nothing to do with the military, but I didn't have the education to go further.

      Before I went to the Army, my junior year, I went to work at a private club as a bus boy. And the combination of making tips, working in tuxedos--I saw that as my way out. I didn't have to have a good education. So I learned that quitting is the most devastating thing that anybody can do, because you can't never win.

      And I learned that when you quit, things really become impossible. But I also learned that to spell impossible you have to spell it "I AM possible." So the reason for not quitting is to make things possible.
    • What exactly brought you to Portland?

      I was a drummer in Vancouver, BC.

      Well, I got to Canada because I didn't want to re-enlist into the Army. If I just went from Korea to Vietnam, it would have been a good thing. But I went from Korea to Georgia.

      You know, I'm 67 years old, so racism back then was sky-rocketing. You see what I'm saying? So, believe me, nobody--and I hate to say this--but nobody white could say nothing to me--absolutely nothing.

      I worked in a restaurant, but when Martin Luther got killed, I was working at a restaurant as a bus boy, and the man I was working for felt so sorry, he gave us all a chance to sit down to eat. The waitress had to go into the kitchen to bring the food out to us and the waitress said, "I can't serve them, my husband would kill me." You see what I'm saying? And I made up my mind then and there--here's this person, come to work every day with a little puppy and kissed this puppy--I made up my mind, you know what I mean. It took a long time--it took a real long time, for me to even speak, you know. 1976, '77, they wouldn't have been allowed to come into my house. Period. But I've grown from that, so. But when I came to Portland, they had a place up on Mississippi and Shaver, so I was a lieutenant in the Nation of Islam. That was a popular thing to be. And what made it so popular is they made you read. You know what I mean, you had to have your bow-tie, your three-piece suit. And you remember the respect we had back then--when you saw us coming, everybody stepped off the sidewalk.
    • So, do you have any advice for people my age, teenagers?

      My advice to you brother--my advice to you is to get a habit.

      Early in the morning--early in the morning--before you have all the negative stuff in the atmosphere, get you a book. Make a book your best friend.

      And my other thing is, brother, don't let nobody, nobody, make you quit nothing. First thing is, quitters never win. One thing for sure--if you don't know much, can't do much. That's been a truth since the beginning.
    • Brother, listen to older people. Sometimes when they tell you stuff it might seem like, "man, they just old-fashioned," but you know what? It take a lot of sense--I mean, it take a lot of sense to live to be 40, 50, 60 years old. Fools don't really make it that long.
    • If I could reach back right now, my best friend would be a library--my best friend would be a library--and the reason why my best friend would be a library? Because secrets are kept in the quietest places. And the most quietest place you know is a book. You can't be afraid of books!

      In a book called "The Sufi," Nasrudin says, "In the sea of knowledge there are treasures far beyond compare. Only if it's safety that you seek, then you're still on the shores of ignorance."

      Who wants to be safe, when knowledge is out there?!
    Kenni remembered as-nappy-headed old man.mp3 (0:24) - How would you like to be rememberd? - As a nappy-headed, just a nappy-headed…I'd just like to be remembered as somebody who tried to tell the truth about the future. And the only way you can see it is you got to study the past. Kenni defining quote-listen, all you can be is yourself.mp3 (0:11) Listen, all you can ever be in life is yourself. Be the best self you can be. Remember an old man told you that, an old man from Cat Island in the Bahamas told you that one there--be yourself.
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