Last Saturday night, in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, yet another young Black father, brother, son and friend, lost their lives to another senseless act of gun violence. Now while I didn’t know this young brother personally, being a resident of this community, I know these stories all too well.
Since I was a young dude, it’s been commonplace to watch my peers get murdered in cold blood over some of the most meaningless shit ever.
Hearsay spread by other people.
Just nonsense and I always think to myself WTF, we gotta do better.
Put the guns down.
Dudes forgot how to square up like? And honestly, eff all that. We need to learn how to deal with our shit, and our emotions as a whole, without resorting to violence.
In these situations mothers and fathers lost sons. Kids lost their fathers. Siblings lost their brother and all in all, a community of friends and neighbors have experienced a grave loss as well.
In my younger years, I remember taking my place amongst the wild wild west that my projects had become. At the time it seemed like a natural ascension for a young dude like me.
I didn’t have a natural affinity for criminal behavior.
In fact, I had a proud hardworking mom who made it her business to give me and my siblings everything we wanted; and so crime for monetary gains wasn’t really my motive.
It was, instead, just a way to prove my manhood and that I could survive the street life.
I wanted to show, if to no one else but myself, that I could be competitive. Looking back I realize how my eagerness to match my friends’ bravado could have lead to the imprisonment or death of any one of us.
I liken my experiences as a young man to Claude Brown’s experiences in Manchild in the Promise Land and Ta Nehisi Coates’ in A Beautiful Struggle.
This life was a rush we all lived for.
While it may not be the norm for most people in America, for myself and many others growing up in ghettos and housing projects around the country, entering the realm of criminality seems to be a byproduct of youthful inquiry; and so while these situations could have definitely ended up for the worst, in the end they served as lessons to guide me into manhood.
Where I’m from it’s sort of like a milestone to turn 18, you know because that’s the age boys in the Hood usually don’t make it to. A lot of us die before 18. Then once you make it to 18 you’re low key afraid as you count the next three years, hoping you make it to 21. By 21 you think you’ve made it to the finish line and that you don’t gotta worry, but still in my neighborhood, a lot of young men die before the age of 25 and so you’re lucky if you see that age. .
Once I turned 25, I decided that living more years of life shouldn’t be something you’re lucky to do. It should just be something you do.
I’m 29 and I can honestly tell you that I’ve been to more wakes, funerals and obituaries for friends and acquaintances than I have been to graduations and other joyous celebrations combined.
I am not proud of this.
I don’t wear it as a badge of honor.
I just acknowledge that this is my experience and sadly it is the experience of so many of my readers, my friends, and honestly this is true for many of the students in our classrooms.
My first summer out of high school, I lost two classmates, one of whom was a personal friend of mine; both men killed in acts of gun violence. I was devastated because, while I had heard of others passing away from gun violence, this was the first time it actually personally affected someone I had known; someone close to my own age.
After that it seemed that every time I looked up, someone I knew was getting killed. In my first 3-4 years out of school, at least 10 people I knew had been killed. After a few funerals back to back I can’t lie, I kind of got numb to it all.
Looking back now, it was all really sad and pointless.
We likened our hoods to territories over which we presumed ownership and to affirm our cause, we’d go as far as to knock the head off of another young man who looked just like us. Hov said it best: We used to fight for building blocks, Now we fight for blocks with buildings that make a killin’, and honestly most of our infighting was for what amounted to pennies, so most of this violence was solely for violence sake.
See the whole time we were vying over who was gonna sell what and who was the baddest n***a around, we didn’t realize that we were playing into the larger goal of White Supremacy which seeks to divide us at any cost.
All guns, no glory, been going on before me
We slaves in the ’40s, still slaves in the present
No toys for Christmas, ain’t get us no presents
Only made us evil, made us hungry, made us desperate
Youngin’ in the 9th grade, he got a Smith and Wesson
Grew up with the goons, now he need protection
He dropped outta school, then he got arrested
Lord with a blessing, I just hope he learned his lesson
They told us, if we go to jail, we would be respected
They told us, if we make a sale, we would run a check in
Threw a rock out in that field, and got intercepted
He stumbled, he fumbled, y’all niggas just rumble
They told you to hustle, them niggas don’t love you
– Young Black America- Meek Mill
We have been brainwashed to believe that this lifestyle of violence was something to be proud of. That it’s an honor to be a “shooter” and a “gangster” and that if you take another man’s life, that you deserve some type of fucking award.
The homies say “ United we Live Longer we are Stronger” and sometimes I wonder what if Blacks were really UNITED how much that would do for our people as a whole?
The other day in her piece, Khalilah introduced us to the The Nguzo Saba: Values we live by which are the seven guiding principles of African Heritage which undergird Kwanzaa.
Of all of these principles, the one, at least to me, that the others are truly dependent on is UMOJA or Unity.
“To strive for a principled and harmonious togetherness in the family community, nation and world African community.”
“This is the First and foundational Principle of the Nguzo Saba, for without it, all other Principles of the Nguzo Saba suffer. Unity is both a principle and practice of togetherness in all things good and of mutual benefit. It is a principled and harmonious togetherness not simply a being together. This is why value-rooted ness is so important, even indispensable. Unity as principled and harmonious togetherness is a cardinal virtue of both classical and general African societies.”
Imagine if our young Black and Brown boys lived by collective unity and harmony.
This is not about Black on Black Crime.
Wypipo push the faulty notion that this violence is about Black on Black crime, that’s not a thing as Michael Harriot from The Root.com explains in Open Letter to White People Who Are Obsessed With Black-on-Black Crime:
There is no such thing as “black-on-black crime”—just crime.
That’s right. White people kill white people. Black people kill black people. I know what you’re thinking: Yes, but black people do so disproportionately. You’re right—even though white people commit most violent crimes (which means that because of the raw numbers, if we had a choice between eliminating white-on-white crime or black-on-black crime, confronting white-on-white crime would pay far greater dividends).
I’m simply saying, just imagine how much better off we’d be if we put the guns down and actually valued each other’s right to live. If we united and realized that together we are mightier than we could ever be alone.
I get sick and tired of hearing about the loss of young Black lives in situations that clearly could have been avoided. Someone stepping on your sneaker is not a good enough reason to assault them. Shooting someone over hearsay is fucking pointless. Killing someone over material possessions makes no sense.
As I move through school spaces where a majority of the kids look like me and hail from areas like the one I grew up in, facing some of the same challenges and realities, I am worried about this generation and the continued need to prove you are somebody by way of violence. I get sick to my stomach thinking about senseless killings and it’s sad because I know this culture of violence will continue unless we do something.
Too many of us are only concerned with the welfare of our students as it relates to the school building; and we forget the dangers they face outside of our school spaces.
We must teach the youth about the power of Black unity and help them understand that the conditions they inherited, that they continue to add to, will only get worse and result in the loss of more life.
My heart goes out to all of the fallen brothers who lost their lives this past weekend, as well as this year and just all of those in general who perish everyday due to senseless gun violence.
One felony, one arrest gone wrong, one wrong turn up the wrong block could have ended my life with either death or incarceration; and knowing all I know now, I can’t sit complacent and accept this as normal.
I’m ready to help shift the mindsets our youth around ideas of manhood and the preciousness of life and living.
I and we can not continue on this way.