The War Zone… Downtown

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I don’t know if an op-ed has ever brought tears to my eyes. Black, Dead and Invisible by Bob Herbert in today’s NYT did: “I once had a young black girl, whose brother had been murdered, tell me she was too old to dream. She was 12.”

My church has had a ministry for black inner city kids since the 1970s. In the early days, the weekly meeting was at my parent’s house. After finishing my undergrad degree, I worked with a group of kids for 10 years. They were between the ages of 7 and 9 when I first became their teacher. One of my first exposures to what a different life these children had, who grew up less than 10 miles away, happened one night soon after one of the students lost a parent (to natural causes). This was the student’s first time back with the class after the death and the student was still in mourning. The student started to cry over their loss as we pulled up to the building where we had our meetings.

This was to be expected. But then things got weird. First one, then another, then finally all dozen or so children started crying. Well, I thought, these kids must be awfully close for them to all cry in sympathy, (I had seen small children with tender hearts cry out of sympathy with each other before). But then it got weirder. They continued to cry, so hard that they couldn’t stop long enough to explain to me what was going on for 30 minutes. At first they held each other, then they wandered to different corners of the building each continuing to weep alone like I had never seen. I had no idea what was going on or what to do. Finally calmed down enough that she could explain. Between sobs she told me that they were crying for all they had lost: cousins, brothers, friends. Some shot down in front of them.

It was then that I realized that these children, even though they also nominally grew up in St. Louis like myself, had had an entirely different experience. They had grown up in the emotional equivalent of a war zone and had the trauma to prove it.

It is one of the rarely spoken, crazy ambitions of mine that all this learning of economic, social and political theory will help me someday to figure out how I can help these dear friends of mine downtown more. These children that are dying, and dying inside.

11:47 am on April 8, 2005