Jump to Navigation

Deb Torraine

Deb Torraine

Writer, playwright and editor

Born: Washington D.C., DC, United States
Heritage: African American

My words of wisdom? I know that we are all family, it’s been proven to me always through my life. About five years ago I almost died. The people who were at my side, who rose me up were not my blood kin. We are all family.

Deb Torraine

Writer, playwright and editor

My name is Deb Torraine. I was born in Washington, D.C. in the year of the rabbit, 1951.  I was born out of wedlock and in those days, being born out of wedlock was a big deal.  My mother was not a teenager, although she liked to pretend she was.  She met my step-dad and three years later she gave birth to my brother.  We moved from Washington D.C. to New York.  Then from New York, back to Washington D.C.  Mother decided it was best if she sent me away so I was sent away to Pennsylvania to live with my grandparents.  I started first grade in Pennsylvania.

My grandmother didn’t have any reason to love me.  She wasn’t my real grandmother so she didn’t have to love me.  She built that house and here I was, I little ol’ five year old child.  I learned at a very young age that when it came to working with adults, you had to be patient—adults can blow up at any time.  But I got to her just by loving her.

When I got older, about 10, I left Pennsylvania and I moved back to Washington D.C.  Mother decided that I had to have a skill.   I was going to be a typist.  I went to school five days a week, on Saturday, Catechism, and on Sunday, Mass.  I was constantly involved.

Around when I was 14, King came to town.  I was about your age.  I would go down there  to the March on Washington, the March on Poverty.  There were thousands upon thousands of people.  It was the nation’s capital, so you could really feel, really feel it.  They were all different colors, they came in trucks, buses, they walked, they flew.  Do you know how powerful that is?  It was no more black and white.  It was about we are all together and getting life back better for all of us.  It was a true revolution.

Back in high school, things started happening at home.  It was a struggle.  My mom, it was a struggle.  Poverty.  She had three kids by then.  I was the oldest girl.  My responsibilities were to keep the house clean.  While she was away at work, I was the little mama. And when she came back home, she was the big mama.  Big mama-little mama issues! I would stay out later and later and ended up with a whole bunch of other kids in Juvie.  Everybody’s parents come to get them but mine. When I was 16 they gave me the opportunity to be emancipated.  All you got is a piece of paper that says you’re legally responsible for you. Everything else you got to figure out on your own.  I found a job. I worked during the day and went to school at night.

Now I work as a community engagement director for the St. Paul Almanac.  I had to be asked to apply to this job. Sometimes you feel really insecure, the background that I have.  But you have it all, and you’re qualified, but you won’t even apply for it because you don’t think you’re good enough.  A friend called every morning and said “Are you going to apply for this job or not?”  I said, “Ok, I’m scared.”  But I got the job, I was happy, estatic!


I've Been Patient My Whole Life

Honoring Deb Torraine

I’ve been patient
I’ve been patient
I’ve been patient my whole life

I was raised by my grandparents
when I was young
I was born out of wedlock
that’s how come
My mother she needed someone
to love her
She met my step-dad when I was three
Together moved to Washington D.C.
Mother decided to send me
to Pennsylvania
To live with my grandparents
at four or five
I learned that adults
can blow up at times
The best way is to use your mind
and be patient
I’ve been patient my whole life
When I got older, I gotta come back
To Catholic school- Catechism class
On Sunday had to go to Mass
when I was fourteen
It was like, Wow! Civil Rights!
A window in time, people lost their life
For standing up joining the fight
for freedom
Red and yellow, white and black
It’s really all about class
If you’re poor, they say get back
and be patient
I’ve been patient my whole life

“I’m gonna let you go,
gonna let you be free!”
That’s what my Momma said to me
When I went to join Martin Luther King in the sixties
Thousands and thousands on the mall
People giving to each other
that’s what I saw
Getting life back better for all
in this country
Then after King got shot down
The buildings burned all over town
So they flew in James Brown
be patient
I’ve been patient my whole life
Went to Amsterdam,
people treated me nice
Deep inside I didn’t feel right
So I came back home to live my life
in California
Went to college, got my degree
This one thing I do believe
We’re all one, we’re family
pay attention
To that voice deep within your soul
Nearly lost my life five years ago
But it weren’t my time, this I know
be patient
I’ve been patient my whole life

Words & music by Kate Martin’s 7th Grade Class and Larry Long. Sanford Middle School, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Larry Long 2011 / BMI