Oral Bailey, commonly known as Eddie, is a Colorado College resident floor technician and a face many would recognize from the halls of Bemis and El Pomar. “I am a Jamaican, I am a son of a fisherman, my mother was a dress maker, I am the youngest of seven kids,” he said. Bailey was born in Jamaica, where he grew up with his two sisters and four brothers.
When Bailey was five years old, he moved to the U.S. with his mother. He spent a few years in New Jersey before moving to New York City. “You always hear about kids who are growing up in the streets and all dougie dougie,” he said. “Well, my brothers were really gangsters; they were like the real deal, like Hollywood movie gangsters.” In describing the hardships of city life and his faily’s financial insecurity, Bailey said, “we starved.”
“I remember the first time I was able to buy myself my first pair of sneakers. I didn’t ask mom because I already knew at the age of five that she did not have it [money]. It was really hard, you know. It was really hard but, thank god, because of that I am the way that I am now.” Bailey and his mother moved to the United States before the rest of their family, and as a result, she had a strong influence on him growing up. He talked about how his mother taught him strength and determination: “If I didn’t have her, I’d be a statistic,” he said.
Life in New York City was not easy for Bailey and his family. They were “these young Jamaicans” coming to the United States with no knowledge of the country, trying to survive by learning “how to hustle and make money.” Bailey talked about this lifestyle as something that was forced upon him and his family; it was not a choice but a result of desperation. His mother was adamant about his siblings not getting in the way of his education, and as a result, he always felt separated from his brothers. In pursuit of their company, Bailey learned the “hustling game.”
On Christmas night, 1997, Bailey life changed dramatically when a drunk driver killed his brother. The incident marked the beginning of what Bailey describes as “a five-year period of grief. At that point in my life, I really didn’t care about nothing,” Bailey admitted. “I threw everything away. Everything I was working for, I literally threw away.” Bailey was attending the High School of Art and Design in New York City at the time. “I was going to be an architect,” he said.
Bailey fell into a deep depression upon the death of his brother. In an attempt to escape the darkness, he followed his mother’s advice and moved to Florida where some of his cousins and other family members lived. Bailey’s experience in Florida was tainted by severe racism and police brutality.
Bailey soon realized that the move was not the change he needed, so he decided to move back to New York City, and his mother had since moved to Georgia. Bailey recalled that there was “no border to contain me, so now I’m like a mad bull in the china shop, surrounded by other mad bulls.” In the city, Bailey remained in a dark place, unhappy with his life. He described the attitude in New York after Sep. 11, 2001 as, “no money, no work, people are shitty.” The state of the city mirrored Bailey’s discontent and depression.
Bailey identified another evening that marked a significant change in the course of his life. One night, when he was drinking in his apartment during an especially rough week, Bailey went downstairs to the corner store to buy a bottle of liquor when he heard several gunshots. He described joking with the man behind the counter about how long it would take for the cops to arrive. He went outside to see what had happened and realized that it was a good friend of his who had fired six or seven shots into the front seat window of the car outside.
Bailey described the surreal moment standing outside the liquor store witnessing the event before the police arrived and realizing that the man who had been shot was his other “brother.” “We knew each other since we were in Pampers,” Bailey said, describing his shock. “Our mothers know each other.” It was at that moment that Bailey, suddenly desperate for a change, walked upstairs and told his girlfriend that he was leaving New York City for good. He then called one of his best friends stationed in the army at Fort Carson who told him to get on the plane and come to Colorado. “I was blessed to have friends like that,” Bailey said.
On Dec. 26, 2001, Bailey arrived in Colorado where he has remained ever since. Colorado, however, did not guarantee Bailey an easier life. He stayed with his friend at Fort Carson and walked to and from his job at Panera Bread twice a day.
When his friend was reassigned, Bailey decided to stay in Colorado and make a life for himself. Bailey managed to continue working two jobs while he was homeless for a couple months with little support from the local homeless shelter. There was a man at Goodwill who spoke to him about a savings plan, and Bailey assured him that he would only be homeless for two weeks. Bailey described this man laughing at him. Bailey then said, “ok, more wood for the fire,” and exactly two weeks later he moved into one of the Copper Chase apartments in town.
During his first years in Colorado Springs, Bailey worked several jobs and lived in several different apartments. He described the day he met his wife, “I didn’t even give her a line,” he said. “I should have given her a line. She walked off and he said ‘you’re gonna want me later,’ and now we’re married.” They moved in together, he adopted her four children, and he helped them find their way in the world. When all the kids had moved out of the house and started their own lives, Bailey and his wife were homeless for the third time in his life. “After the kids go, the credit catches up,” he said.
Bailey talked about the day he went to the Colorado College staff and told them he needed a job: “I am a Jamaican; we fly the plane, we take the baggage, we get the tickets, we frickin’ bring you the coffee.” Eddie landed the job at Colorado College where he has worked for the last two years.
As we sat together in the Cossit auditorium, Bailey shared how much he appreciates the CC community and the genuine humanness of all its members. He intends to stick around for a long time. “In life, when you want something, all you’ve got to do is go and get it,” Bailey said as we traced his fight from a fear of a life of “not knowing,” to a life of consistency and reliability.