My father, Jimmy junior, was the oldest child of Jimmy Morgan, Sr., and Roselle Morgan. After him came Macy, Pat, Alvin, Cynthia, and Lorraine; there were six of them. Two of them are already dead—both of the boys died of AIDS that they caught from shooting up with dirty needles. The girls are widows, except for one. There was always music around their house because the Morgans were very religious and sang in the church choir. From a young age, my father showed real talent as a musician. He played piano and keyboards, and he was good. Entirely self-taught, he never knew how to read music, but he could figure out a synthesizer without any manual, that's for sure. My dad was a leader; when he was in bands after the war, he was always the leader, no matter what kind of band it was. I know in my heart that I get my leadership qualities from him, because all I ever saw him do was arrange everything for everyone around him. That's why I am the way I am. I make sure the people around me have what they need. I saw my dad always yelling at motherf***ers about being late to rehearsal, and I'm the same way if someone on my ship don't toe the line. My father wrote all the music his bands played; he booked the shows, dealt with the club owners and all that. I saw real quick that if there was something I wanted to make happen, I should learn to do it all myself.
My mother's and father's families lived in the same projects—the Tompkins Houses on Tompkins and Myrtle Avenue in the Bedford- Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. My father's family lived in apartment 12M, and my mother's lived in 14M. My best friend, Allen, he lived in 13M. It was like one big house—those apartments were right on top of one another, and we ruled those three floors. It was our place on that end of those hallways. We were all poor, but back then life was good out there. Neighbors looked out for each other. It's not like that now because it's all violent and people are only looking for what they can take from each other, not how they can help. But I grew up there in a time when things were a little bit different.
Excerpted from I Am the New Black by Tracy Morgan, with Anthony Bozza. Copyright © 2009 by Tracy Morgan. Excerpted by permission of Spiegel & Grau, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.