“Are you in a gang, Malek?”
“I heard that you were.”
“I don’t know if I still am. I ‘spose so.”
I eye Malek as I hammer him with questions. He stares at his phone and fiddles with it.
“Do you still have a gun?”
“Is it on you right now?”
“No. I keep it safe.”
“So you hide it in a safe place until you need it?”
“When do you feel like you need a gun?”
“When I get nervous out on the streets sometimes.”
I picture Malek walking the streets with his friends, hood up and swag going full force as his girl friends tag along.
“Malek, do you ever wish that you didn’t have to carry a gun?”
He stops fiddling. “Sometimes.”
I sigh. “How old are you?”
“No, you’re not.”
“Twelve. I’m twelve.”
I drop him off at his house and I want to cry. What else can you do when you love a kid who is fast becoming a statistic?
Single mom. Check. Abused as a child. Check. Failing school. Check. Been to juvie. Check. Gang involvement. Check. Lives in a dangerous neighborhood. Check.
I’m dropping him off at home after a prayer meeting in an alley where a 22-year-old African-American man was shot and killed. We invited the community to come mourn with us and lay out flowers where he died. It’s our second memorial this week. The last one was for an 18-year-old African-American boy. We actually invited everyone that we knew to join us, but I honestly don’t know many people who want to visit a crime scene in an area where your chances of being a victim in one year are 1 in 9.
I bawled as I prayed. I get scared for the kids that I work with, that one day I’ll be setting up a memorial for them and no one will show up because they don’t care that another African-American boy was shot and killed by gang violence. If it was a suburban white boy who was murdered, the place would be packed and full of candles, teddy bears, and flowers. Instead, nothing marked the place where these young men fell except the CRIME SCENE tape that fell to the ground as the police took it down.
Would you believe that I live in a city that was just named the third most Bible minded city in the US? We have a church on every block and private schools around every corner, but no one seems to be able to make a twelve-year-old boy feel safe enough so that he doesn’t have to carry a gun. The most horrible part is that there is a church on Malek’s street.
I brought Malek to that prayer meeting because I wanted him to see people mourning a life that was lost to violence. The kids I work with don’t value human life. A shooting happened across the street from where I tutor inner-city kids and when I came outside to make sure everyone in the neighborhood was okay, the kids were playing next to the crime scene with three cop cars collecting evidence. I asked them what happened and they said, “Someone got shot,” and kept playing. I could have asked them what they had for breakfast and they would have answered me in the same lighthearted way.
I want you to know that my life isn’t like any inner-city movie that you’ve ever seen. I’m a white girl pouring her heart out on kids who usually stomp on it and throw it back in my face. I want you to know that I look in the newspaper every morning afraid that it’s going to be someone I know. I want you to know that after our very first prayer memorial on the spot where a boy was shot, I had a panic attack that night and had to sleep with my sister. I’m not brave. I’m not a hero. I’m not someone who changes a kid’s life in one week. I’m scared, I’m worried, and I usually feel like giving up.
The only thing that keeps me going is a supernatural love. I love these kids more than I love myself and that is the only thing that makes me able to put myself in places where I prove this love everyday by sacrificing my security and time.
I love you, Malek. Stay safe.