Growing Up Black in Fresno

By Annette Breazell-Greathouse

Born in March 1967, I was the little girl who had everything any young girl could want and desire. The youngest of three, I was loved and spoiled by my hardworking parents, Oliver and Earnestine Breazell. They gave me the confidence I needed to shine and be successful in life.

I recall all the joys of childhood. Growing up my first 11 years on the west side of Fresno in the Westgate Apartments at Belgravia Avenue and Fig Avenue (now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard), the neighborhood was much different than today. Back then, it was mainly African American and united.

I attended Kirk Elementary School until the fifth grade. There, I was involved in many extracurricular activities such as the Brownies and Girl Scouts. In 1979, I was first runner up in the Sixth Annual Little Miss Black Beauty pageant. In 1984, I was a contestant in the Miss Black Fresno County Beauty and Scholarship Pageant. I also modeled and performed in numerous talent shows throughout the city. Performing Arts was something that interested me and was readily available to me as a young girl.

My parents purchased our first family home in 1978, and we moved to the north side of town. It was a huge adjustment for me, as there were not many Black families residing in the neighborhood. I began the sixth grade at Homan Elementary School, which was vastly different from Kirk Elementary. I was quickly able to make some friends, but unfortunately, not everybody was friendly. This time period introduced me to the viciousness of racism.

I was walking to school with my first White friend, a young lady who lived near me in our new neighborhood. On the way, we were approached by a White boy who had been following us for a couple of blocks. He was yelling at us calling me the “N-word.” When he got close to us, he tossed a knife at me, which landed on the grass.

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It was an extremely frightening incident for many reasons. First, it was just me and my friend against this boy. Second, he had a weapon. But most important, it was my first confrontation with racism. We immediately reported the incident to the office when we got to school, and our parents were contacted.

The best thing about the incident was that friend and I became inseparable, remaining good friends today. As ugly as that incident was, it pales to what we faced as middle-school students. 

The following year, we attended Cooper Middle School. I remember walking to school with her our first day of seventh grade. We were BFFs way before the term became popular. Unfortunately, our friendship would be challenged by another onlooker who did not approve.

One morning as we walked along Hughes Avenue, an administrator from Cooper slowed her truck and yelled at us as she passed. She yelled that we should not be walking together. The situation upset both of us, but we had no idea what she really meant.

A few weeks later, the administrator summonsed us to the office. When we arrived, we were told to sit on separate benches. The administrator told us that we should not walk to school together and it would be best if we hung around people who looked like us. This was the first time that I experienced racial discrimination “for real.”

My friend’s mother was called to the office to meet with the administrator. My friend and I were present for the meeting. The school official shared that she thought it was best if we did not spend so much time together. She said that it was best for us to be with other girls who “looked like us.”

To my surprise, my friend’s mother told the administrator to mind her business and leave “her girls” alone. And although not everybody liked our friendship, we became closer.

We next attended Hamilton Intermediate School for the ninth grade and then went on to Fresno High School, class of 1985. Fresno High at that time was a big and troubled school. I participated in numerous activities in high school. I supported sports teams as a letter girl, which allowed me to stay busy.

I got my first job in the 10th grade. It helped me avoid a lot of the ills associated with attending a large urban high school. African American students from the Sunset neighborhood were being bused to Fresno High at that time. There were numerous gang affiliations that existed on campus. Members of the Stoners, Preps, F-14er, Crips and Bloods were constantly fighting with each other on campus.

Despite all the conflicts, I really enjoyed my time in school. Yet, the best time of my life was becoming a mother. My first son was born in 1989 and my second in 1991. Becoming a parent was the ultimate shift from self-centered to selfless living.

I had to completely adjust my priorities, schedule and interactions. Not an easy task given that my pregnancies were marked with sleep deprivation, large hormonal spikes and extreme physical discomfort. My second pregnancy was slightly easier, but just like my first delivery my body never readied for the birth.

Both of my sons were delivered by the Cesarean (C-section) method—a circumstance regularly found in Fresno’s African American community. Through it all, I was strictly focused on being the best mom ever.

My life was again refocused in April 2019. That is when my youngest son blessed me with my first grandson. The birth of my children was incredibly special, but the love I felt for my grandson was overwhelming. I immediately fell in love with him, desiring to give him everything I had.

Three months later, I would go through another shocking event. In the late evening of July 4, I was awakened from my sleep in the middle of the night to learn that my youngest son was shot. With such a frightening call, it was a horrible feeling. This is the nightmare phone call that no African American parent wants to receive. All my fears for my two Black male sons ran through my head.

My son was able to use his medical training administering CPR and assisting victims not knowing he was wounded by an AK-47 fired. I was immensely proud of my son and his selfless actions, despite the reality that another young Black boy lost his life to senseless violence. My sons have had a few disappointments and setbacks as adult men; however, they continue to overcome and persevere, and I will always love them with every ounce of my being.

My most recent life adjustment was my most difficult. My mom passed after a long deterioration of heart disease. She was my best friend, mentor, human manifestation of love and so much more. 

I have worked as a public servant for the government for the past 35 years, ran a small janitorial business for six years, been married, divorced and a single parent of two Black boys most of my adult life. Through it all, I am thankful to God for all my challenges, lessons, closed doors and open doors. I am blessed.

*****

Annette Breazell-Greathouse is a supervisory contact representative at the Internal Revenue Service. She is a lifelong Fresnan, secretary for the Black American Political Association of California (BAPAC) and has been involved in numerous Fresno community activities.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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