“He turned to me so much pain in his eyes Like he ain’t know being black and po came with a price…”
Outside a circle of friends, most don’t know within my 16-year career in the media business that I work as a youth counselor for a decade before officially retiring in late 2019. I was fortunate to find work that helped pay rent with a second passion for helping council youth (mainly Black) on the front lines of various group homes, high schools, and juvenile systems from ages 14-21 all considered At-Risk. I’ve pleaded with more judges for second chances than an EX when caught cheating for the 50/11th time while having more parole officer and social worker contacts in my call-log than Snoop Dogg has weed connects. The countless uncredited hours of going in Trap Houses for runaways, learning the art of ducking thrown chairs, and the unpredictable emotional roller-coaster of being told “F*** YOU B****!!!” and “I love you” within the same breath are unforgettable experiences. The job was thankless, but all the kids had countless untapped potential and gifts that I was privileged to learn from and support. Whether they went on to do great things or continue on a dark path, the bond is too strong to exclude any of them; hence why whenever I hear news of their passing, it leaves an emotional scar for life.
His name is Khadaffi Lewis
A few days ago, I received a call that one of my kids from the last final job I worked passed away from tragic circumstances. For three years, I worked with this kid and watched him grow from middle-school prankster to cool high-school teen who was the leader of the pack. All staff members agreed that he was an old soul with his deep raspy voice, broad shoulders, and slight chubby built that reminded any 35 plus year old of late comedian Robin Harris whenever he wore a white tank-top. He wasn’t an angel, but he didn’t have to be, because all of us adults who knew him admired his charisma, his side-smile that looked between mischief or deep thought, and the way he embraced you whether through a warm, gentle hug or a stern, respectful handshake dap with a grip. Respect for this kid was so high that he was the only person in the building that I confided to tell that I wasn’t returning the following year. He said he understood, primarily because, like most of my kids over the years, he discovered my other work-life through social media. He always kept his mouth shut whenever I mysteriously called off work to attend a media conference; instead, he would greet me with an extra smile. At the time, his interest in school had become limited. The money he was making elsewhere could be argued to be more than some teacher’s salary, so naturally, he was leaning towards leaving altogether. I knew it wasn’t much that I could say to change his mind, and truthfully, I knew that my professional and personal life was becoming an unpredictable storm. However, I let him know about the great potential that I and others always admired, and there is no doubt that given the opportunity, he could go further than all of us. I told him that just because I’m gone, it doesn’t mean I won’t be there for him, and if ever in need to contact directly, and I’ll forever do within my power to help. He nodded that he understood, dap me up as we wished each other the best on our separate journeys, and now nine months later, he’s gone.
Same old song
Unfortunately, I’ve lost count of the kids I’ve known who’ve died tragically over the years. Their deaths, and a frustrating system that never seems to change, left effects that impacted my decision to quit that type of work. I identified with these kids, whether personally or they were a reminder of the friends I came up with. The people that don’t want to hear “It’s all part of God’s plan” whenever devastation happens. Whether it’s the young girl who prays every day that her Mother’s boyfriend doesn’t come to tuck her in at night or the boy who pops a pill to numb the pain from not receiving insulin that his unemployed father cannot afford. Politicians and media coverage only target the high and middle-class with little to no mention for those who live in poverty. In their eyes, the neighborhoods and circumstances haven’t changed, no matter who sits in office. These kids recognize from an early age that they are part of the forgotten, and through their antics, whether acting out in class or social media, it all falls under the umbrella of the need to be heard to feel a sense of value.
The importance of self-worth and having the ability to see past your four-block radius is a lot to ask of a child who day-in and day-out see the same results. What’s more unfortunate is that these same kids, these Black kids, often are born in situations that they have to one day escape from and from their eyes to only enter a world that sees them as less than nothing. If these forgotten children are delivered the same outdated simplistic messages such as “just pray,” “just vote,” or “just go to an unaffordable college,” without any realistic, specific solutions, then society will always fail them. These children will continue not to try, their lives will be meaningless, and their deaths will be in vain, leaving their potential to be only dirt buried 6ft under the ground.
J Hall is a Detroit bred Howard Bison multimedia culture critic. An abstract thinker who believes “You ain’t wrong when you’re right,” and that his mother’s cupcakes are legendary. Check out his slight worldwide view here: https://linktr.ee/jhall