A brand new Black household explores America collectively — Andscape

I took my new spouse and new 5-year-old son on a protracted drive this summer season, making an attempt to shock them with a serving of beignets.

We stay in Connecticut. The beignets have been in New Orleans.

We ended up driving greater than 3,400 miles and seeing components of America that made us proud, made us smile and made us cry. We have been a newly blended Black household, with a dad from the USA and a mother who grew up in Guyana, exploring our nation collectively for the primary time on the highway relatively than via the air.

In Washington, we admired the development handiwork of slaves from 200 years in the past. In Tennessee, we worshipped in a centuries-old church on a mountaintop and later inadvertently spent an evening within the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan. We additionally made an impromptu determination to go to a sick beloved one.

It was fairly a visit, one in every of studying, of bonding, of kindergarten excessive jinks. We discovered the beignets, 1,400 miles from our entrance steps in Connecticut. We introduced again a pair packing containers of beignet combine and a lifetime of recollections.

My spouse Aquila immigrated to the USA in 2016. She’s a nurse now, however in Guyana she was a pastry chef. As such, one in every of her hobbies is critiquing the meals and repair at eating places. So I used to be stunned in March when she fell exhausting for the beignets at Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen fast-food eating places. I solely knew Popeyes because the place to get a fast order of delicate or spicy Southern-fried hen and biscuits.

Beignets are fluffy, candy items of dough, often about 2 sq. inches or so. The dough is fried after which sprinkled with sugar or coated with icing. They got here to New Orleans with the French within the 18th century.

Dwayne and Aquila Bray obtained married on July 9 and started a highway journey three days later.

Kawise Wishart/Photographywishart

One chilly New England day in March, after working a double shift at her nursing gig, Aquila found berry-filled beignets, three for $1.99. Her solely information of the deal with got here from The Princess and the Frog animated movie, which is ready in New Orleans. In a single scene, a desperate-for-marriage princess orders up 500 “man-catching beignets” for that evening’s ball, satisfied the treats will entice the prince and result in their nuptials.

“My mama at all times mentioned a technique to a person’s coronary heart is his abdomen,” Tiana, a pal of the princess, says.

One thing about that little little bit of sweetness after a protracted day on her toes actually hit the spot for Aquila. However Popeyes was solely providing beignets on a monthlong promotion. Someday they have been obtainable, then they weren’t, a undeniable fact that so depressed her that she shed some tears.

We have been getting married in July. With the beignet drama now totally current in our lives, I instructed Aquila we’d be taking a highway journey after the marriage. However I didn’t inform her we have been going to New Orleans looking for beignets.

I used to be a divorced father of three grownup children when Aquila and I began relationship within the fall of 2019, about 4 months earlier than the coronavirus pandemic shut down the world as we knew it. In March 2020, she and her son Ezra moved into my residence. They’d been dwelling together with her mother and brother, each frontline health-care staff on the time. We wished to minimize Aquila and Ezra’s danger of catching COVID-19.

On the time, Ezra knew me as his mother’s boyfriend and known as me “Uncle Dwayne.” Over time, he would consult with me as “Dad.” Then it was again to “uncle” till someday it was dad and by no means modified.

Aquila and I married on July 9 and the three of us hit the highway 4 days later in my 10-year-old Nissan Armada.

On that first day, we drove 350 miles to Washington.

On our first full day on the town, we left the SUV in our lodge parking zone and took an Uber to the Worldwide Spy Museum, which was offered out on this afternoon. We purchased tickets for the subsequent day and hiked a mile and a half, in 86-degree Washington warmth and humidity, to the White Home.

Ezra knew that Joe Biden was the president of the USA.

“Are we entering into to see him?” he requested.

“He’s not residence,” I mentioned, in truth.

Biden was within the Center East. We loitered exterior a 13-foot wrought-iron fence that separates vacationers from the North Garden and enlisted a fellow vacationer to snap a couple of footage of us on Aquila’s cellphone.

Aquila had by no means been to Washington earlier than. I had visited a couple of occasions and I’m at all times impressed by how stately the White Home seems in individual, particularly as soon as the solar begins happening. I’m overcome with delight after I consider how this citadel of energy and beauty was constructed partially by free Black laborers and slaves. The White Home, in addition to the U.S. Capitol and presumably the Washington Monument, have been constructed with the labor of slaves, whose “homeowners” have been paid hire for his or her providers.

We walked throughout the road to Lafayette Sq., a park north of the White Home and rested on a bench. After some time, Aquila ordered dinner off her cellphone from Oohh’s & Aahh’s Soul Meals Restaurant, a spot a pal in Connecticut had really helpful. We walked throughout the sq., previous a statute of Andrew Jackson, and caught an Uber to our lodge to fulfill our meals supply individual. In our room, I ate catfish and grits and inexperienced beans, Aquila had jerk hen and yellow cake and Ezra had wings and mac and cheese.

From left to proper: Dwayne Bray, spouse Aquila and son Ezra on Pennsylvania Avenue exterior the White Home on July 14.

Dwayne Bray

On the morning of our second day in Washington, I obtained a name from my stepsister, Nikki Wells, in Cleveland, my hometown. Her dad, the person who assist elevate me from adolescence, had been admitted into an intensive-care unit with acute respiration points. A retired truck driver, Roy Williams had been identified with persistent obstructive pulmonary illness, or COPD, for a few years. This newest assault had medical doctors involved for his life.

COPD, which causes airflow blockage within the lungs, is irreversible. About 16 million People, disproportionately Black, have COPD, the fourth-leading explanation for loss of life within the U.S. The brutal illness is prevalent amongst people who smoke, but in addition impacts hundreds of thousands of nonsmokers.

Roy, 72, says that he contracted COPD from inhaling diesel fumes in the course of the many years he drove 18-wheelers throughout the nation. Roy wasn’t a smoker however had spent lots of time round people who smoke, together with my mother and no less than one different vital different later in his life.

I instructed Nikki that I’d get there however I didn’t know precisely when. I’d final seen Roy in individual at a July Fourth cookout in 2021. That was the day I had launched him to Aquila, then my girlfriend.

I gave the information to Aquila earlier than she, Ezra and I went to the Spy Museum with the tickets purchased the day earlier than. Ezra loved the museum’s devices. Aquila and I loved the histories of the spies. After that, we made our technique to the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, which have been cordoned off with chain-link fencing.

I didn’t need to go away Washington, affectionately often known as “Chocolate Metropolis,” with out going into a few of its Black neighborhoods. I typed “Martin Luther King Jr” into Google Maps, figuring out that might take me to the place I wished to go.

We drove to Martin Luther King Avenue SE, handed Malcolm X Avenue and arrived in an space of small homes and condo complexes, a group that bustled with individuals and exercise. We ultimately pulled right into a Popeyes. Aquila ordered a hen sandwich and concluded it was too salty. I requested the cashier for beignets, to no avail.

Martin Luther King Jr. as soon as proclaimed, “I’ve been to the mountaintop.”

He additionally mentioned that “11 o’clock on Sunday morning is among the most segregated hours … in Christian America.”

It’s value noting that Sunday mornings will be equally segregated in Black and white communities, a notion we might quickly be testing.

We left Washington, taking Interstate 66 west to I-81 south. It was our third evening away from residence and we have been headed to the city of Sign Mountain, Tennessee, greater than 1,700 toes above the Chattanooga metro space. The group is residence to Beth and Todd Henon. I had instructed Beth, a pal from graduate faculty at Ohio State, that we might be driving via the realm and he or she invited us to remain over.

Ezra was already asking how lengthy we’d be on the highway. In the meantime, Aquila raised the topic of Roy’s situation. “I believe we must always go see him on this journey,” she mentioned. She knew I’d by no means forgive myself if his situation worsened and I’d not gone to Cleveland.

Cherokee and Creek individuals as soon as used the mountain to ship smoke indicators. Union troops would use it for related functions in the course of the Civil Warfare. Within the early 1870s, Sign Mountain was a refuge for Chattanooga’s wealthy households fleeing cholera and residents say they take pleasure in cooler temperatures in the summertime than the encircling flatlands. In December 1990, Byron De La Beckwith, the person who assassinated NAACP discipline secretary Medgar Evers, was extradited to Jackson, Miss., from Sign Mountain, the place he’d moved after assembly and marrying an area girl about seven years earlier.

In the present day, the mountain affords suburban dwelling, high quality colleges and low crime. There are 8,500 predominantly white residents. In response to the U.S. Census, solely 28 residents are Black and 108 residents are Asian. Beth and Todd are white, and Todd additionally has some Native American ancestry.

I drove a twisting, two-lane highway to the summit. At my buddies’ residence, we have been greeted by Beth and Todd, in addition to their daughter Savannah and Savannah’s two women, Kennedy, 3, and Caroline, 6.

Todd grilled burgers, sizzling canines and corn on the cob and we caught up on one another’s lives. Ezra had a ball operating round Beth and Todd’s new two-story barn, chasing the ladies, earlier than Savannah and her daughters departed at nightfall.

The subsequent morning, my household of three joined Beth, Todd and their Boykin spaniel, Riggs, in Todd’s pickup truck for a six-mile drive to the Little Brown Church for worship service on the mountain. It was sunny and within the 80s, and Todd, Ezra and I wearing shorts. The ladies wore summer season clothes.

Todd parked a couple of quarter-mile from the church. He grabbed some folding chairs and we picked a main spot underneath some white oak bushes, catty-corner to the quaint church. A U.S. flag flapped out entrance.

The Little Brown Church on Sign Mountain.

Dwayne Bray

The introduced attendance that day was 219 of us, from teenage boys sporting khaki shorts and collared shirts to a younger dad in a baseball cap and flip-flops standing subsequent to his spouse and child in a stroller to older women and men, who gave the impression to be grandparents or great-grandparents.

I didn’t see another Black of us, though I didn’t see everybody on the service up shut. The congregants right here have been extra subdued than these I worship with in Connecticut, the place shouting, talking in tongues and dancing within the aisle aren’t unusual. Right here, the gospel appeared extra inward.

A 2021 research by the Pew Analysis Middle discovered that 60% of Black churchgoers attend predominantly Black church buildings, 13% attend predominantly white church buildings and 25% attend multiracial church buildings. These numbers – particularly Black individuals attending white church buildings – are higher than I’d have thought. Black church variety improves with youthful of us. Amongst Black millennials, 18% attend a white church and that quantity is 25% for Gen Z Black of us – all indicators that the youthful generations have a shot at enhancing variety in religion teams.

After the sermon from visiting pastor David McNabb from Chattanooga Todd launched us to members of the flock. Ezra was in good spirits — not being cooped up within the SUV for a day actually helped. He was invited contained in the church, the place he rang the church bell 4 occasions, which could have set some form of document.

From the mountain, we drove three hours west to Sheffield, Alabama, the place we had dinner with one in every of my uncles earlier than heading additional south to Meridian, Mississippi, a metropolis I briefly known as residence in my teenage years.

My grandfather, a bricklayer named Samuel Bray, moved to Meridian within the early Nineteen Sixties. He had grown up in Montgomery, Alabama, in the course of the Jim Crow period, when he was obligated to relinquish his seat on the entrance of town bus to white individuals. In 1949, he joined the Military at 16, served in the course of the Korean Warfare and have become a mason after his army service.

“Daddy” got here to Mississippi in his late 20s to put bricks on the Naval Air Station Meridian. He began a small masonry firm and labored on 1000’s of homes, church buildings and industrial buildings all around the nation, together with Chicago, New York, Boston and Washington. He’d work up North in the summertime and autumn and again in Mississippi and Alabama within the winter and spring.

In Mississippi, he turned a civic chief, working for legal justice reform, together with serving to convicts get jobs upon their launch. He employed former inmates to work in his development enterprise. He additionally was a property proprietor, renting small properties and trailers to dozens of households. Once I was 14, I left my mother and Roy in Cleveland and moved to red-dirt Mississippi to stay with Daddy for a yr. Once I wasn’t at school, I labored alongside his crews as a raker, which meant I raked mortar from in between the bricks as soon as the boys – they have been all males – laid them. I attended desegregated Meridian Excessive College, in notable distinction with my life up North, the place I went to an all-Black faculty. After all, this was nonetheless Mississippi the place, in 1922, the state Senate voted to ask the federal authorities to resettle the state’s Black residents — 52% of Mississippi’s inhabitants — in one of many European colonies in Africa.

Daddy was a storyteller, however the one which sticks with me until this present day includes James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner – the three civil rights staff who have been killed within the close by city of Philadelphia, Mississippi. (Their deaths have been the idea for the Academy Award-winning film Mississippi Burning.)

Chaney, who additionally lived in Meridian, was about 10 years youthful than Daddy. Daddy mentioned Chaney and different freedom fighters would enlist him to recruit protesters for his or her actions round Meridian and the remainder of central Mississippi. Daddy and his spouse would feed Chaney and the others.

“They used to come back by the home for lunch,” Daddy, who died in 2015, instructed me. “Greater than as soon as.”

Aquila, Ezra and I ate dinner at Outback Steakhouse with three kinfolk who stay in Meridian. Our waitress, a white girl, served the six of us with impeccable hospitality. But, vestiges of the illiberal previous are nonetheless current. Mississippi is one in every of 15 states to limit curriculum on race and historical past in colleges lately.

Throughout our time in Meridian, our greatest fear, although, was conserving Ezra out of mischief. One evening, when the elevator arrived at our flooring, Ezra stayed on.

“Come on, let’s go,” I mentioned.

“My arm is caught.”

“Properly, we’re going to go away you.”

He started crying. I observed his left arm was lodged above his elbow between a handrail and the wall of the elevator.

“Get some Vaseline from the room,” Aquila commanded.

She massaged the petroleum jelly over Ezra’s bony proper limb and the railing. His arm slipped free. His tears was a smile.

After leaving Meridian, we spent day six of our journey in Gulfport, Mississippi, the place we splashed round within the warmest seaside water any of us had ever encountered. We drove one other 75 miles and crossed a five-mile bridge alongside Interstate 10 into New Orleans, arriving at 2:30 within the afternoon on July 20, one week and 4 hours after starting our journey 1,400 miles away in central Connecticut.

It was time for beignets. Many vacationers want Café Du Monde. Aquila selected Café Beignet, reputed to be the spot most well-liked by locals.

Ezra eats a beignet at Cafe Beignet on July 20 in New Orleans.

Dwayne Bray

We drove to Royal Avenue and located parking about an eighth of a mile from the cafe. It was heat and brilliant exterior. Folks have been wearing shorts, T shirts and flip-flops. The subcultures of the French Quarter and surrounding areas – avenue distributors, artists, musicians, painters, panhandlers and the unhoused – all blended seamlessly. You would hear saxophones, Aquila’s favourite instrument, taking part in from avenue corners. Two airline pilots from Dallas observed my Cleveland Browns T-shirt and gave me a ribbing.

I felt a way of accomplishment as we climbed a brief flight of stairs to enter Café Beignet, the place beignets are at all times on the menu. The ground was black-and-white and chandeliers hung over every eating desk. “Recent Handmade Beignets 3 Per Order” have been a part of the menu together with andouille sausage and crawfish omelets, shrimp po-boys, crimson beans, jambalaya, gumbo and muffulettas.

I ordered jambalaya. Aquila ordered a serving of the beignets for her and for Ezra. One was lined in powdered sugar and the opposite in chocolate.

“The place y’all from?” the cashier requested after I went to pay.

I shared our story: We had gotten married a couple of week earlier. I drove her to New Orleans for this second.

The cashier, a Black middle-age girl, turned to face some co-workers.

“They’re from Connecticut, y’all, and he introduced her all the best way down right here to get a few of our beignets.”

Our meals got here out in lower than 10 minutes. The beignets have been sizzling. Aquila reached for one with powdered sugar. She beloved them and mentioned they tasted like one thing her mother would bake in Guyana, minus the powdered sugar.

For 2 days and nights, we loved as a lot of New Orleans and the French Quarter as we might, contemplating we had a 5-year-old in tow.

Bourbon Avenue was alive early within the night. Ezra danced as two younger teenagers performed drums with drumsticks and five-gallon utility buckets. We visited the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. Our second day we rode the Canal Avenue streetcar to Cypress Grove Cemetery, with its above-ground tombs and Egyptian Revival structure. The ostentatious graveyards are the place I started to lose Aquila’s consideration. She wasn’t down with town’s fascination with the useless, its extravagant cemeteries and embrace of witches and warlocks and voodoo.

The household poses for an image in New Orleans on July 20.

Dwayne Bray

Our closing evening on the town was July 23, a Friday. My niece, Trecia Bray, who had moved from Meridian to New Orleans, joined us for dinner at Oceana Grill, which focuses on Creole and Louisiana delicacies. Ezra and I had gumbo. Aquila had jerk hen and, in fact, beignets. As we ate, an indication on the wall caught my consideration:





At first, I used to be offended on the diss of my hometown. After which I remembered that the subsequent day, we’d be leaving on a 1,100-mile drive to Cleveland.

And that was simply wonderful by me.

On the best way north, we stopped in Tuscaloosa on the College of Alabama’s soccer stadium, which has its personal stroll of fame honoring the six nationwide championships the Crimson Tide has received since 2009, after Nick Saban took over as head coach.

I used to be taking an image of Aquila subsequent to a statue of Saban after we ran into one other household.

“We’re Ohio State followers,” I instructed them.

“We’re, too,” one in every of them mentioned. “We’re from Cincinnati.”

“O-H,” I mentioned.

“I-O,” the Ohio mother responded.

“We higher say that quietly,” she chided me, with fun.

We stuffed up the Armada at a Walmart in Tuscaloosa for $3.73 a gallon, the most cost effective gasoline we’d get throughout our journey.

Again on full, we drove three extra hours and stayed in a single day at a Hampton Inn in Pulaski in south central Tennessee. I picked the lodge as a result of it was a midpoint between New Orleans and Cleveland. After we hit city, it was near 10 p.m. and darkness had descended. We noticed an open Greenback Basic retailer in an outdated purchasing middle and I pulled within the lot so Aquila might run in and get some gadgets we wanted. Subsequent to the shop, a number of males sat exterior a closed enterprise consuming beer, their pickups shut by.

Whereas my spouse was within the retailer, I began studying in regards to the historical past of Pulaski, the county seat of Giles County. The beer drinkers eyeballed us.

Inside seconds, I found Pulaski had been a Accomplice stronghold and that Giles County was the location of the Battle of Anthony’s Hill in the course of the Civil Warfare. In that battle, the Accomplice Military of Tennessee held off Union troopers on Christmas Day in 1864, permitting that military to battle a couple of extra months, into the spring of 1865, earlier than eventual defeat.

I additionally discovered that Pulaski is the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan, which was shaped in December 1865, by Accomplice veterans. A plaque commemorating Pulaski’s function hangs on a one-story constructing on the town. However since 1986 it’s been bolted on backward, an emblem of the constructing’s proprietor disdain for the individuals who pay homage to the plaque and what it stands for.

I additionally realized in regards to the Pulaski Race Riot of Jan. 7, 1868, when Klansmen stormed into an area grocery retailer and killed or wounded six Black males. Pulaski was a vacation spot for some individuals who have been free of slavery and, after we visited, Blacks comprised practically 22% of the city’s 8,500 residents.

When Aquila returned to the automobile, she had an uneasy expression on her face. She mentioned the clerk was nice, however she obtained a nasty vibe from the group of beer drinkers subsequent door.

“It looks like I’m in Get Out,” my spouse mentioned, referring to filmmaker Jordan Peele’s horror film a couple of Black man who’s lured right into a weird white group that he can’t escape.

I thought of driving to the subsequent city, however we determined to go to our lodge, throughout the highway from the Greenback Basic. We have been relieved to be greeted by a Black male front-desk clerk. The subsequent morning, we started the 600-mile drive to Cleveland, however not earlier than Aquila shared some ideas.

“I’d suggest immigrant households take a highway journey and undergo all these battlefields and see among the posters of plantations,” she instructed me, feeling some form of method from her Pulaski expertise. “I’ll inform you the reality, we immigrants don’t actually perceive how Black People really feel [about] slavery. If you take a highway journey like this, you see it – and also you perceive it much more.”

We had traveled practically 2,700 miles in 11 days by the point we reached Cleveland within the predawn hours of July 24. We slept a couple of hours after which attended the church from my childhood, Burning Bush Baptist, sitting subsequent to my 89-year-old grandmother, Sangenella Smith.

After church, we headed to a suburban department of College Hospitals, the place Roy was within the intensive care unit. Roy got here into my life after I was 11. To that time, I’d been raised by a single mother and her mother. Roy’s daughter, Nikki, was a couple of years youthful than me, and we turned one another’s brother and sister.

I beloved sports activities and so did Roy. He took me to my first Cleveland Cavaliers video games. The group performed in Richfield, about an hour away from Cleveland, and it wasn’t widespread for a Black child from a single-parent residence to have the posh of attending NBA video games. However I did, together with Roy and my mother.

From left to proper: Dwayne Bray, Aquila Bray, Roy Williams, Ezra Bray, Rashad Williams and Rasheed Evans on the College Hospitals Ahuja Medical Middle in Beachwood, Ohio.

Like lots of Black males again then, he was additionally a fan of Main League Baseball. On Memorial Day in 1977, I used to be exterior our two-family home about 4 miles from downtown Cleveland throwing a baseball round. It was nearing 7 p.m.

“Let’s go to the Indians recreation,” Roy mentioned, and we hopped into his brown Lincoln Continental, for the primary pitch.

As soon as contained in the outdated Cleveland Municipal Stadium, Roy slipped an usher an additional $5 and he positioned us in unoccupied field seats behind the third baseline though we’d paid for less expensive seats. On that day, pitcher Dennis Eckersley, the group’s long-haired ace, tossed a no-hitter towards the California Angels. It’s uncommon to see a no-hitter in individual. Because of Roy, I noticed one whereas sitting in some prime seats.

After we walked into his room on the hospital, Roy was shirtless, sitting in a chair and holding onto his oxygen masks.

“Brother Bray!” he exclaimed, lifting off his masks and utilizing the nickname he gave me again within the day. Roy lit up on the sight of my household. All of us hugged.

Nikki was on the hospital with Paul Wells, her husband. Additionally within the room was Roy’s girlfriend, Brandi. Roy’s two teenage sons, Rashad Williams and Rasheed Evans, got here alongside about 45 minutes later, as did, Kyra, Nikki and Paul’s daughter.

Roy famous that this was the primary and solely time all of his children had gathered in a single place. That was true as a result of I had moved from Cleveland earlier than Rasheed and Rashad have been born. That’s why this journey to Cleveland was essential.

The room was 10 individuals deep and I fearful about violating the hospital’s guests coverage. His doctor walked in and admonished Roy for taking off his masks. Roy had the power to reply and mentioned he thought the physician wished him to attempt to begin respiration on his personal. Roy’s thoughts was on household.

Nikki launched me to the physician and we talked out within the corridor. The doc defined how the COPD was damaging Roy’s lungs. He mentioned air was being inhaled simply wonderful however Roy’s lungs have been having problem pushing that air again out.

Roy was going to be launched in a couple of days, however he wanted bodily remedy and pulmonary rehab. (On Sept. 1, Roy had one other critical flare-up and was admitted again into intensive care.)

Brandi snapped some footage of Roy with Rashad, Rasheed and my household. Somewhat greater than two hours after we had arrived, it was time for us to hit the highway. We have been driving to Syracuse, New York, that evening and Roy had instructed us {that a} storm was in our path. Recalling his days as a truck driver, he suggested us to not preserve driving into the tooth of unhealthy climate.

We bumped into the storm about an hour earlier than we obtained to Syracuse. However we made it safely to our lodge. The subsequent day, on July 26, after practically 3,400 miles on the highway, we pulled into our driveway in Connecticut. “Thanks, Lord,” mentioned Ezra, repeating a phrase his mother would say at every vacation spot all through the journey.

Aquila mentioned the journey gave her a greater view of how People exterior the Northeast and New England work together with each other. The South, she mentioned, will not be higher or worse. It’s simply completely different. Of all issues, my spouse was most enchanted with how the individuals of Mississippi and Louisiana use and say the phrase “y’all.”

We had tasted beignets in New Orleans and introduced residence two packing containers of beignet combine. We had visited cities that Black of us helped construct and locations the place native leaders had tried to maintain us in line via pressure and threats of exportation to Africa.

We’d additionally frolicked with buddies and kinfolk and, most of all, with one another, my new spouse and my new son and me. Who can ask for a greater highway journey?

Dwayne Bray is a senior author for Andscape. He writes about subjects starting from normal sports activities to race relations to poverty. He beforehand ran ESPN tv’s award-winning investigative group and is a die-hard Cleveland sports activities fan.


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