Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Mother To All Lost Children

My son was fine in April, and by that, I mean he didn't freak me out or anyone else with another suicide attempt when he couldn't get his way.

One of his friends, a very nice young man, showed up at my door, complaining that Xavier had stiffed him for quite a bit of money. We had a nice, long chat and it didn't take long to discover he'd gotten into the moonshine business, or in today's language, dealing weed to keep from being flat-azzed broke.

I asked him how they began doing this. The kid had a friggin' business plan, and is awesome in math. I couldn't keep up with him.

The interesting thing about him is that he doesn't fit the stereotypical profile who deals cannabis. Like his father, he's bright enough to get college degree. He had, in fact, made it to the 11th grade with A's and B's. His life hit a major bump in the road at age 17, when his racist and abusive gym teacher cursed him one time too many, and he cursed him back.

"I told him what I really thought of him," he explained. "I said he was a mean, redneck son of bitch and he could go fuck himself."

The teacher jacked him up in the gym in front of another teacher and student. By jacking him up, I mean this literally. The guy grabbed him by the neck and slammed him against the wall. It was even caught on film. But you know how it is with these videos. Folks cover their azzes and say, "you can't see the part where he swung on me while I had my hands around his shoulders - not neck - to keep him under control."

The young man's mother saw marks around his neck and the video on the afternoon of the incident when she went to the school to pick him up. That was the last time she saw what happened, too, because the video was mysteriously lost.

Teachers get cussed out from time to time, but they aren't supposed to put their hands on the kids. As for the other teacher who witnessed it, she wasn't going to allow some lil' darkie to get rich suing the school system, even if he was assaulted. I haven't a shred of doubt that if the races were reversed, a black teacher would have had his black azz fired and his white victim would have enough money to attend whatever university he desired.

And the other student witness?

She's black. She called him at home and apologized for being unable to help. She said she'd been warned that if she opened her mouth, she could kiss any scholarship recommendations goodbye.

The problem wasn't only that this young man had been bullied for the school year and assaulted by the bully teacher, but that he had to be expelled so the school could justify the teacher putting his hands on him.

"What happened after you were kicked out?", I asked.

He looked really sad.

"I was depressed for a long time, two or three years. My parents were depressed too. They felt as victimized as I did."

I thought about how psychologically hard it is for black folks to sue white folks. Been there myself and know how horrible it feels when they gang up on you with one lie after another to conceal what they did. This is true even when everyone is black, but it's a little different when the aggressors are white, because you have all the historical baggage and know that shit hasn't changed that much.

You know that the system leans heavily in siding with authority and whoever has the most social status. The stress is incredible, and you know that fighting a legal battle will be expensive and the outcome uncertain. This adds to your worry, and if you lose, not only will that re-open the pain from the original wound, but you will have lost money you really can't afford to lose.

Our conversation was an unexpected therapy session in disguise. I explored his hopes and dreams. The kid is intelligent, the real thing, and has always reminded me of someone who could be a math or science teacher, as opposed to a C student jock who was lucky to become a coach in a school. I pointed this out. He smiled.

"People say that all the time," he replied. "I liked school. I did well there. I recently took the ASVAB (the military vocational exam) and they said my scores were great and they wanted me, but I had to get my GED before I could enlist."


"I started an online program for this two weeks ago. It's easy."

"Think you'll follow through with it?"

"Oh yes," he said, nodding. "I researched all the branches of the military, and something about the Coast Guard is appealing. By the end of the summer, I should be in."

I thought of long, hot summers, and how shit has a way of happening.

I asked, "What will happen if you get busted between now and then?"

"I'm too careful for that."

I looked him dead in the eye and said, "Not if you're hanging with my son. He'll fuck you over and fuck you up. It won't even be intentional, 'cause shit just happens with people like him."

He blinked.

I said, "When someone's mother tells you this, you should listen. Walk away. Forget about ideas of him being your partner. He can't add, subtract, and he smokes up the inventory. As for the $200 bucks he owes you, think of it as tuition for a class in life."

He gulped.

"That's a lot of money," he said haltingly.

"Cheaper than a felony or paying a lawyer. You do the math."

"Actually," he said, "I have. You're right, but I've thought that I could keep doing this for only another two or three months. I already saved up almost $2,000."

"Remarkable," I replied. "A racist white teacher set a trap for you and other black boys to fail. You were an unknowing child and fell into that trap. This led you to the trap you're dangerously close to now, but this one is filled with money. In the last one, your anger caught you. This one is different. You got some cheeze without being caught. If you can walk away now by not being greedy, you'll avoid getting caught in a bigger trap, one that will hurt you far more."

Kids don't always listen, but this one, not really a kid anymore and now 22 years old, seemed to be.

"I never thought of it like that," he said finally. "I have one, no, two friends, who just when they were ready to quit the game but were going to do it one last time, they got caught. They're in jail."

"There ya go! Greed gets ya every time."


I prayed for that child. I know the odds of my son surviving well in this tough world are thin, because he has significant mental health issues and learning disabilities, but this one can make it.

The next few days I noticed Xavier was a little more irritable than usual. One guess: no weed. A few days after that, I asked him if he paid back his friend.

"That mah'fucka can kiss my azz," he yelled. "How's he think I'm going to get money to pay him? I don't have a job!"

"He said you was his partner."

Xavier's eyes shifted away, knowing instantly that I had once again talked one of his friends out of their secrets about him.

I asked sarcastically, "Did he fire you?"

"Fuck him! I hate him! He quit!"



  1. That's really, really messed up. But I'm glad this young man had someone to try to talk sense into him, and I really hope he listens because it sounds like he has a lot of potential.

    It makes me glad that my brother was lucky enough to be born mild mannered , skinny, and they type of guy who would rather play soccer than hang around on the block. I know that his ability to assimilate into white culture (if you called and got his voicemail you wouldn't believe he was black), coupled with his intelligence and work ethic has only helped him succeed in life. He recently secured a promotion that should have taken him five more years and a Master's degree to get, but he's just that sharp :-)

    But having parents who both graduated college and know how to work the system counts for a lot too. It's sad that so many kids fall into the cracks just because they make one mistake...middle class white kids can get caught running a meth lab and get sent to rehab instead of prison.

  2. Carey, Hope you don't mind, but I have moved your comments about that other post (Rethinking Our History, And The Future Of A Nation That Produces Nothing), there because after thinking about it, this sort of stuff tends to derail conversation about the post at hand, and confuse people due to lack of context.

    They should show up soon there.

  3. Brownbelle, "It's sad that so many kids fall into the cracks just because they make one mistake...middle class white kids can get caught running a meth lab and get sent to rehab instead of prison."

    So true, lower income to middle class black kids, and we have to add poor white kids do catch hell in the system. Even then, the white kids still far a little better. One of my son's white friends was stopped in his junky-looking care by a white cop late last year; I forgot why. He had no drivers license on him. The cop let him go with a verbal warning. This child told me he was so relieved because he had been drinking! This isn't to say white cops never give black kids a break, as a few have mine, but they do come fewer.

    Same with the school system. My daughter, who is a goody-goody, already has noticed how in general, her school is more reactive to black kids in trouble than whites and Latinos. But once again, there are still enough fair and compassionate teachers who talk to the kids rather than using a mistake to hurt them.

    If the system could weed out those who can't handle power w/o getting abusive, there'd be more trust in it, and I think fewer social problems.

  4. Kit,
    Reading this, it seems you were intended for your profession. You did the right thing for a kid who was teetering on the fence, you pushed him in the right direction. And you are realistic and understand your children. As a single parent who raised them I understand their reactions and their personalities, but maybe because they were daughters who I cherished-there are things I don't want to understand. Your dealing with the young man the way you did, I don't think I would had your empathy to perceive him as a person as precious to his own, as your son is to you. Much respect to you.

  5. Wow, Kit, you might have changed that young man's course. That's awesome of you.

    I have no doubt that white teacher wasn't truly threatened. That part of your story is a great illustration of how much easier it is to bump black kids off the tracks of success than white kids. Damn shame how few white people realize that.

  6. Macon, Well, I hope so. His parents are rooting and probably other relatives are rooting for him too. I think that if anything, I acted as a reinforcement for their belief, in the style of 'it takes a village to raise a child'... can be an effective tool when some in the neighboring village have tried to destroy that child.

    Oso, Thank you so much. When I was in my 20s and in social work school, I met an unusual black woman who did palm reading as a hobby; she's the only one I ever knew who did this. I was very maternal and my first question was how many kids would I have.

    She said, "This is weird. It says you will be a mother to many children but they will not be your own."

    I can't count the number of kids and families I've helped through my profession. I hope I nudged this kid, along with whoever else is trying, to as you say, the other side of the fence. I hate seeing intrinsically good people get messed up, and he's so smart, gentle and well-spoken that it would really pain me to see him go under.

  7. Xavier is a troubled young man; and as the father of a young man who doesn't always make the right decisions, I can't read this without feeling for you as a parent.

    We struggle with our children, but they're worth it if for no other reason than the fact that they are our children.

    I wish you the best of luck with your son.

  8. Reggie, Thank you. He is a young man with many limitations, and it doesn't help that he can be extraordinarily difficult to reason with and live with. The only reason I haven't kicked him out to date is because I know he can't make it without some very strong safety nets.

    I'm still fighting with SSI to get him approved. He'll then have medical insurance for hospitalizations and medicine (if he takes it), and have money to rent a nice room nearby me when I move.

  9. You are incredible to say the least. You have such a wonderful spirit to want to help and guide these knuckleheads.

    Peace, Love and Chocolate

  10. Kit,
    I'd been thinking of this the last couple days.I commented on your actions to help that young man, without expressing my good thoughts for your son, and your hopes and dreams for him.
    Please excuse my belated comment. I know it's hard, my daughters have had their share of problems, youngest facing some charges that I hope and pray will end in fine/community service.
    Guess we all got our crosses to bear. Keep up your extraordinary work.

  11. Redbone Girl, Knuckleheads they are indeed! I used to be one too... not quite that bad but still clueless in so many ways.

    Oso, Aww, Oso *looking down shyly and kicking pebbles*

    Thanks. What has made it so hard for me is that I've helped everybody elses child more than I can my own. I suppose this where adolescent rebellion comes into play, along with his other baggage. His psychiatrist once said that if he can make to 25 or 26 w/o harming himself or his life irreparably, he'll probably be okay.

    This is more true than not for most people, and I hope for you daughter, who is having problems now. You have my empathy.

  12. This was good Kit. Somehow the description of the actions of Xavier in the end gave me images of Walter Mathau in the the movie The Odd Couple.



Hi, this is Kit.

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