A Souljah's Story She's back: Sister Souljah, so controversial for comments made in 1992, is writing in support of family, respect and Africa.

March 11, 1996|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

Sister Souljah is tired. Very tired.

She has spent seven hours on the New Jersey Turnpike, creeping along at 35 miles an hour because of the falling snow. Then there were a couple of morning radio interviews. By noon she is ready for a nap.

But there is another interview.

This one is held in the lobby of the Jefferson Hotel in Washington. The Jefferson does not seem like a Souljah hangout. Tapes of classical and late Baroque string ensembles play softly in the background. The gas-fed fire is warm, inviting. You can imagine the glow of the chandeliers at dusk.

If Sister Souljah was simply the Bronx ghetto girl of her book, "No Disrespect," this hotel would be an uncomfortable place for her. Yet, she is at ease among the trappings of old money. She went to a top college, has traveled extensively and is executive director of Daddy's House Social Programs Inc., a non-profit organization for urban youth in New York City.

This is not the firebrand we remember. Then again, we never really knew her. Go back to 1992. She was a little-known rap singer until a reporter for the Washington Post asked her about the riots that tore Los Angeles apart after four policeman were acquitted of beating Rodney King. To some, her response sounded like she was advocating that black people start killing white people.

Suddenly, Sister Souljah was everywhere. And the clamor grew even louder a few weeks later when then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton attacked her at a meeting of the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson's Rainbow Coalition. Mr. Clinton's comments were interpreted by many black Americans as a bald attempt to court the white vote.

Sister Souljah does not discuss that time. The media circus moved on, and she retreated into herself, faded from the public eye.

She is happily married now and has a 2 1/2 -year-old son. She will not give out their names. "They are private treasures," she says.

They made the seven-hour trip from New York City to be with her on this brief book tour. "No Disrespect," a non-fiction retelling of her life through college, was released by Vintage in paperback last month. The hardback version came out last year.

Sister Souljah -- a.k.a. Lisa Williamson -- appears for the interview in oversized black leather Pelle Pelle jacket, baggy blue denims, black shoes by Polo. She chooses a seat by the fire and there, with the old portrait of General Lafayette looking down from the mantle, she talks about her book.

It is at times a raw, sexually explicit and disturbing book. It is true in the sense that everything detailed happened, though not in the sequence presented. Some of the characters are composites or have been given different names.

"The important thing is not who these people are, but the circumstances that each person deals with," she writes. "This is what we're up against."

"No Disrespect" is not an autobiography. Sister Souljah says she wanted to present more than mere history.

"This is to show the mind set of the average B-girl, the mind set of the average B-boy, ghetto girl, ghetto guy, and I intentionally made it that way," she says. "It's simple. Simple, down-to-earth, practical stories."

The book traces her experiences from growing up in a Bronx housing project through her time at Rutgers University, where she majored in American history and African studies. The male-female relationships she recounts present a world of pain, lies, deceit and humiliation. A married man leads her on, but won't leave his wife. A drug dealer uses her for her connections to the record industry; at least that's what he told his other woman.

Learning by trial and error

"I think that the path that I took was normal in the American society where young women and men are not trained as to how to make the transition from being a girl to being a woman, from being a boy to being a man," she says. "And so I think that most young people in America live by trial and error, and not by parental instruction, community guidance."

Because of its subject matter, "No Disrespect" can seem like yet another in the "somebody done somebody wrong" genre in which black men and women can't get along. It is taken to a higher level, though, by the "note" that prefaces the book and the final section of do's and don'ts. Her admonitions are a manual for surviving the relationship wars and have the feel of an older sister talking to her younger siblings.

"Everybody doesn't get it, doesn't read the story and say, 'So the moral of that story was. ' No. Some people, you've got to hit them over the head with a sledgehammer," she says.

Having come through her wild years, Sister Souljah now advocates a value system that exalts the family. Respect, for herself and others, is key. She finds her inspiration in Africa.

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