This is a true story about black youth living way out on the fringes. I have changed some of their details out of respect and for their protection.
The girl is 16 and angry; she carries homemade mace and a bag of rocks to protect her from the packs of young men that wander the neighborhood. She was un-raised by a mother addicted to crack. She and her fourteen year old brother used to watch their father beat their mother. The boy tried to protect her but he would get tossed like a rag doll until he finally gave up bruised and bloodied. Most of their days were spent watching their mother work the streets and the rest of the time waiting for her to get out of jail. There is no extended family willing to take on the financial and emotional burden of caring for two angry teenaged kids, and the trust was broken long ago for everyone concerned.
The young man joined a gang at 10 and is now awaiting sentencing for attempted murder. The court appointed white male therapist asks him why he stopped going to school and the young man tells him that he was being threatened by older boys in gangs. The therapist seems to think he young man is inherently violent and antisocial given the fact that he frequently displays outbursts of anger and rage effectively frightening most of those around him. Yet the young man’s behavior appears to be quite the opposite of thiswhen he is in the presence of people that show sincere interest in him. The young man has not only witnessed violence but has been an intimate victim of violence. He complains of feeling so anxious that his chest hurts and his hands sweat. t times he becomes so overwhelmed with emotion he is unable to speak; the tears flow, but he denies ever being depressed.
The therapist finds it strange that a seemingly gentle boy resorts to aggression and fighting and is perplexed as to why an obviously distressed young man would deny his struggle with depression. Let’s check this you and me. Do you find it strange that a young black boy growing up surrounded by other angry black boys stands his ground, and asserts himself aggressively in a world where the rules for a man-child is to “never show fear?” And are you surprised at all, that a boy trying to figure out what it means to be a man, refuses to acknowledge that he is afraid, and overwhelmed by sadness?
Could it be that this young man actually suffers from trauma? Are there any indicators in his life experience and behavior that might suggest why he carries a gun, why he might be anxious or feel panicked? Would you be surprised to find out that this young man eventually started using drugs in an attempt to cope? Is there any indication in his family history that might suggest that he might be especially vulnerable to stress related illness? Perhaps it’s just me, but this seems pretty straightforward to anyone with an ounce of understanding about the cultural realities for black boys growing up poor and abandoned in urban America and the role that respect, dignity, and masculinity play in African-American male development. But far too often these days psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and social workers, don’t feel they need to know anything about African American culture to know how to help. They insist that they are competent to serve black men and boys who remain one of the most vulnerable groups in the country, that are facing the most formidable social problems.
This is indeed a sad tale about human failure but before you jump to conclusions, note that there are no villains among these characters. That is not to say that these individuals bear no responsibility for their plight, after all, we do have ‘free will’ to make our own choices don’t we? Let us look more deeply into this story.
At age 13 the mother in this story was raped and became pregnant. Her own mother blamed her for the violation and beat her without restraint. So to escape her mother’s abuse she boarded a bus in Texas bound for the Northwest with her 4week old infant girl. Still whirling from her violent rape and her violent mother, she cried most of the bus trip. Still a child herself, she didn’t know how to care for her baby so she fed her small pieces of bread and water.
She arrived at the bus station cold alone and frightened. She loved the sweet innocent baby girl that she held tightly, the two of them stood shivering both with inadequate clothing. She relied on those who were living on the edge for help. She feared that going to the authorities would result in the two of them being separated and placed in foster care or worse, being sent back home. She reasoned that she would be better off going it on her own.
The only work she could find was selling herself and drugs but she took pride in having never stolen anything from anyone. She managed to take care of her child without a pimp, pay for child care, a place to live and food. She took care of the necessities and basic human needs for her baby, but what about the internal stuff, care, nurturing, guidance, discipline? Of these things she was negligent. But what well of knowledge could she draw from?
After a while her strategy for survival began to take its toll. She could not escape the daily pain and humiliation of having strange men sweat on her body. Night after night she woke up screaming unable to breathe. Her past and recent experiences tortured her and panic drove her from sleep. She drank alcohol to rest and calm herself and each day she smoked crack in order to face her fears. You can probably guess what happened from here.
Now, in walks our youthful characters, the angry 16 year old girl and the gang involved 14 year olds boy, and it all starts to make sense doesn’t it? But where is the villain here? How far back must we go to find the real villains? And what does it have to do with you or me today?
For those of us lucky enough to be raised in healthy families or with healthy people around us this story may seem foreign. The fact is there are many of us that are just one loving person removed from this experience. Sometimes all we have or need, is one somebody to help us make it through the toughest of difficulties. Once again, it’s called “Village”!
Our ancestors saw their way through together very ancient civilization has seen its rise and fall as a result of the advancement or dissolution of family, home, and culture. Our capacity as human beings for love makes family possible; but our human frailties and cruel inclinations makes love “essential.”
Let’s try to love more today and forever. . .