It’s time we understand the role of community in the rise and fall of our sons.
I have pointed out on numerous occasions that our children–particularly Our Sons–emerge from the womb as “whole souls.” They do not emerge from the womb as emotionless automatons, gang members, drug dealers, drug addicts, murderers, robbers, truants, and emotionally and mentally unbalanced souls. Life slaps them around a few times as they make their journey from childhood to adulthood. It is the “slapping around” that they receive during their journey that causes “the lights to go out” in their eyes…
- that makes them decide not to strive for academic excellence…
- that causes them to lose interest in academics and drop out of school… that causes them to doubt their self-worth…
- that causes them to wreak havoc in our communities and create public safety issues…
- that pushes them to stop trusting and stop loving, and plunges them down the deep dark abyss of depression and mental illness.
The village suffers when its children–its “Promise Of A New Day”–are allowed to get “slapped around” by Life, to doubt their self-worth, to feel unloved and unwanted, and to lose their sense of purpose and forget the real reason why they are here on this space and place we know as Planet Earth. When we allow this happen, the village loses its soul.
Not too long ago, I discovered a TED TALK video entitled, “Why Your Worst Deeds Don’t’ Define You” on You Tube which featured Mr. Shaka Senghor, whose hour-long interview with Ms. Oprah Winfrey, was aired on Sunday, 20 March 2016 on the Oprah Winfrey Network. By all accounts, Mr. Senghor was a brilliant child who excelled academically. His goal was to become a doctor. Why did he want to become a doctor? He offered the following explanation to Ms. Winfrey during the interview as tears formed in his eyes:
“My mother was always nice to me when she took me to the doctor. I guess I imagined if I became a doctor, she would be nice to me.”
But he took a “left turn” on the road to medical school and the medical profession. He began taking the “left turn” when he came home from school triumphant and full of pride because he received an “A” on a test. He burst into the kitchen and shared the good news with his mother. According to Mr. Senghor, his mother picked up a pot, whirled around, and threw it at him with such force, that the pot violently struck the kitchen wall and tore the tile away from the wall. Senghor recalls that when he saw his mother pick up the pot and hurl it in his direction, he ducked. He was too young to understand that his mother was having an extremely bad day and that her reaction to his news had nothing to do with him but with something else that was going on.
Mr. Senghor attributes the physical and verbal abuse he received during his journey from childhood to adulthood as the reason for his downward slide from an “A” student to a child who had little or no interest in education—a child who abandoned his dream of becoming a doctor. He left home at the age of 14. To earn a living, he became a drug dealer. He also became addicted to crack–the drug he sold. Senghor was robbed several times and nearly beaten to death and left for dead on the floor of a crack house. These experiences moved him to carry a firearm. He recalls being shot three times at the age of 18 and says that after going to the hospital and having the bullets removed, he was sent back to the neighborhood where the shooting occurred. Listening to Mr. Senghor, it was obvious that the experience severely traumatized him:
“I didn’t know what to do with all the feelings that I had. I did not know what to do with the anger and the fear. No one hugged me. No one counseled me. No one told me that I would be okay. No one told me that I would react hyperviolently to being shot. I felt unloved . . . abandoned . . . that no one cared.”
At the age of 19, in the middle of a drug transaction, he shot and killed a man. Convicted of second-degree murder, he received a 17 to 40 year prison sentence. He served 19 years in prison, and 7-1/2 of those years were spent in solitary confinement.
With the help of his father who supported him unwaveringly during his incarceration, a number of prisoners who were serving life sentences who became his mentors and encouraged him to read, study, and prepare himself for a life outside of prison once he was released, his wife April, a startling letter from his eldest son Jay, and a letter from the godmother of the man he killed, Senghor embarked upon the arduous journey of reclaiming his soul. He took his first step in reclaiming his soul by accepting full responsibility for the decision he made which caused him to take the life of another soul. Taking the life of another soul is an act that Mr. Senghor will wrestle with for the rest of his life.
If you have ever wondered why bright little boys get caught up in the streets when they become teenagers or why when you look into their eyes it appears that “the lights have gone out” or why so many of Our Sons end up “behind the wall”, Senghor’s story provides many answers. It is heart breaking to hear him talk about how his young life took a downward slide–how he, an “A” student began receiving failing grades, losing interest in school in plain view of the adults in his world and no one stepped in to stop his downward slide or at least ask: “Hey, what’s going on with you?”
We need to tell Our Sons what Mr. Senghor longed to hear when he was 18 years old and having bullets removed from his body: You are going to be okay. You will get through this.” We need to affirm Our Sons, hug them, counsel them, make them feel safe, and show them how to love and trust. That is what the “Shaka Senghors” of our global village long for. That is how we can begin to embark upon the journey to reclaim Our Sons. Reclaiming Our Sons is a critical “piece of the puzzle” to helping the village reclaim its soul.