Burnings Bullets and Full Scholarships

Author's Note: I wrote this post on June 12th but I did not publish it until today, August 7th. Last night, I found out that one of my former students, only 15 years old, was murdered by a 13 year old, while I was unplugged in Cuba. Allegedly, it was over a cell phone. I am dedicating this post to him and the other 11 children who are apart of the 145+ homicides that  have taken Baltimore lives since the start of 2015.
Dear Josh, we love you. 

***

"I rathah surround myself with people who doin’ good or tryna’ do good… Everybody not there yet but as long as you tryin’." 

I listened to Ajee, as she drove, telling me about the funeral she just left before picking me up. A boy, about her age, 18 or 19… Hadn't even graduated from high school yet. Shot in the back of his head in an ally near the cemetery on Belair Road over an ounce of weed. A set-up for less than $300. Less than $300 was all his life was worth. Her boyfriend was close-friends with him. The culprit is only 17 years old, "…trying to prove a point - like he hard out here", was how she described his motive. 

I listened to her voice fade as I watched her, a girl who seven years ago could barely walk in heels or fix her hair, was now an almost 21 year old women, in a fully-beat to perfection face of natural Mac make-up and a summer maxi dress, modestly showing her curves. Where had the time gone? How is the same fifteen-year-old little girl that I used to drive home after fashion show practice driving me around now? 

"She was pretty. Only sixteen. They…they tried covah up what they did by burnin’ ‘er body. It…it's crazy, Ms. Clay." Her voice was broken and she still had a mild speech impediment that caused her to stutter. I was stuck in my thoughts. The description that she gave felt like a scene out of Native Son, except for Bigger never raped Mary. 

"This aint even the most killings… when I was youngah’, it was worse but it just feels worse now be…because I'm more conscious of it. It makes me wanna get outta Baldimore. It's bad that people gotta leave where they from to be safe but that's just how it is. Me and boyfriend gon’ save up an…and move out the county somewhere. I nevah’ thought I would leave the city. It was his idea but I'm wit’ it.

"It's just too close to home. Wha…what if my little brother or…or some body in my family gets killed? I think about these things. I don't want to know that feelin’ of my little brother bein’ killed and dyin’ of anything ‘cept natural causes. I think about ‘em sometimes ‘cause they have nice things that people really kill over out here: phones, tennis, name brands you know? And they really kill and rob over clothes and Jordans." 

Truth, sadly. She had every right to want to leave and every right to believe that her little brothers were at risk of being hurt by someone who deemed the materialistic items of these young boys more valuable than their young lives.

Before she picked me up, I read bell hooks quoting John Bradshaw 1 in saying, “Envy in the form of greed is exploited by modern advertising, which offers the posthypnotic suggestion that we are what we possess.” Hooks 2 followed that quote with, “Among the poor this envy-based greed has produced a predatory culture where young people randomly slaughter each other over material possessions.”

The king on king, brother on brother, black on black crime in our communities across the country is a misdirected and misplaced form of a hunger for more and anger for what we lack. Instead of seeing our brothers coming together to combat the drug abuse or gun violence that was purposefully designed by our oppressors to control and annihilate our communities, we are forced to witness them further destroy our neighborhoods by selling those same drugs and murdering one another with those same guns. Young black soldiers are going to war for the top spot on the block, not for an end to the deprivation that caused them to opt for selling drugs in their own cities in the first place. How do we expect the world to understand how much Black lives matter if they keep seeing us, as Black people, not even treating them as if they do?

***

I had been promising Ajee that I would take her to the consignment shops in Hampden for a while. After we left one of my favorites, Milk and Ice Vintage, we made our way to the Charmery for ice cream.

I was surprised to see Vestina, one of my favorite students from my first year at the Baltimore Freedom Academy, standing behind the register, ready to take our order.

"Guess what?! I got a full scholarship to Clark!!! And I got another scholarship for $30,000 that I don't even need so I am getting a refund check!"

"Of course you did!” Vestina was always valiantly intelligent, even when her classmates yelled at her for reminding me to give homework. She would read as many books that she could get her little 6th grade hands on. She would always tell me that reading and writing were her only ways of escaping. I could totally relate to that feeling. Like Ajee and me as well, Vestina was raised by her grandmother – for the same reasons that Ajee and I were both raised by ours.

“I didn't expect anything less from you. I am so so soooo proud of you babygirl!" 

Dawnya's dark black skin skinned and her fat cheeks lifted when she gleamed from ear to ear. “Thank you Ms. Clay. Thank you for everything.”

"And don't forgot what we talked about either!"

A few months ago, I ran into her at the Terra Cafe on St. Paul. She was telling me how disconnected she felt from being Black. Between her explanations and my inferences, it was evident that she was beginning to lose herself. She told me that she didn't even want to date Black guys. She was ashamed of herself and that in it’s self was a shame. I told her I wanted her to begin reading about her culture. I gave her an extensive book list that I knew she could handle. There was no way that she could disconnect with her blackness before she even had the chance to embrace it. I needed her to understand why her young plight as an educated, woman of color who overcame adversities that so many of her peers face, was so important to the lives of Baltimore's youth. Her city needs her to be more than educated. Her city needs her to be awakened. Her city needs her to be aware.

"I’m not! I'm actually reading Angela Davis right now!" I didn’t notice that the three of us were the only black people in the ice cream shop until after she said, “Angela Davis”. Simultaneously, the curious eyes of the white people that were standing on the line waiting to be helped by her shifted from her lips to mine. 

"Good! Read Assata next!" 

"Shakur?" 

"You got it!" 

The bells on the door echoed for the last time as Ajee and I walked out. I began to cry tears of triumph because it was my last day of residing in Baltimore and here I was, witnessing the fruition of the seeds I sewed as a teacher. I looked up to the Sun and could find no other words than, “God, I thank you.”

***
Pictured captured and post via http://chamspage.blogspot.com/ - The website that lists all Baltimore's murders of 2015.








1. John Bradshaw, Healing the Shine that Blinds You, 1988.
2. Bell Hooks, Where We Stand: Class Matters, 2000.

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