I read a heartbreaking news story yesterday about an 18 year-old young man who was killed while walking to school earlier this week( see story here ). According to family and school officials, he was a beloved student who was on the honor roll, involved in track, ROTC and his school modeling club. In the words of his school principal: “This is a young man who deserved to live.” Sadly, this is one of many stories that occur in many cities; some we hear about and others we don’t. Every story touches me in a way, but there was something about this most recent one that really spoke to my heart and makes me think more and more about a dream I’ve had. How does the senseless murder of a young man tie into a dream? Well, let me explain…
As life would have it, I was born during the same year as my first-born nephew. For the purpose of this particular blog, I won’t get into the math, but he, in fact, was born 5 months before I was born. I have a small group of friends who became aunts and uncles when they were kids and we all often tease about having had nephews or nieces while we were in middle school. We try to one up each other, but I always win with “Hey, I was BORN an aunt!” Being that we were born during the same year, my nephew and I grew up together more as first cousins or even brother and sister than we were aunt and nephew. We went to the same schools, had the same friends and took family trips together. And just like any brother growing up, he teased me mercilessly and loved to poke at my sensitive nature. He was definitely the comedian of our family. However, when we reached our teenage years, our paths began to diverge. I was becoming more into school and teenage girl stuff and like many young men his age, he wanted to hang out with the older boys and sometimes found himself in situations that he didn’t need to be in. Ultimately, he moved from the town where we grew up and started a new life with his mother in a new city. The hope was that the move would be beneficial for him.
After he moved, my nephew and I didn’t see each other as much. The city where he lived was some 3 hours away from our hometown, but we always kept in touch and I always knew that I’d see him at some point in time. He still found himself caught up in some not-so-great situations, but we all knew he’d find his way eventually. Just before my nephew’s 18th birthday, he had a son. And that was when he decided to find his way. At the time, there was the general disappointment of dealing with teen parenting, but we had no idea that his son would turn out to be one of the greatest blessings for our family. My mom had gone to visit my nephew and the new baby when he was just about 3 months old. I didn’t go on the trip, but my mother called me while visiting and my nephew told me that he was looking forward to building a good life for himself and his son. He told me he loved me and that he couldn’t wait to see me soon. I told him I loved him in return and was definitely looking forward to the visit.
A few weeks later, the next phone call I received about my nephew was from a family friend telling me that he had been shot and killed. He was 18, just like the young man in the news story, and although he wasn’t on his way to school, he was on his way to the bank to establish a savings account for his son, followed by an appointment with the Job Corps. At the time, I was 17. I was about 2 weeks off from starting college and 2 months away from also turning 18. In the town where we grew up, drive-by killings didn’t happen, so I had no idea how to wrap my arms around this one. My stepfather had died less than a month before and that was my first experience of death. I didn’t know how I was going to deal with a senseless murder, much less the murder of a family member who was the same age as me. My eldest brother who was my nephew’s father knew of course, but my other brothers, our mom and my nephew’s and my friends had no idea…and I was the one who had to tell them all. During the days and weeks following my nephew’s murder, I remember wondering if I would still feel the pain when I was 30 years-old. I am now almost 35 and yes, I still do. Losing my nephew has left a void in our family that will never be filled. Although we do talk about him and laugh fondly at the memory of his childhood antics, it is not something that we discuss often. It’s not for the sake of not honoring his memory; it is honestly just still too painful at times.
When I left for college, I knew that my nephew’s death had impacted me in a major way. Outside of simply learning how to live with the loss, it would be a matter of time before I would figure out how to really deal with it. I chose Criminal Justice as my major and after taking a Juvenile Justice course and a course on Urban Minorities and Crime, I began to dream of having a community center where young people would have a safe space to thrive and grow. The statistics I had learned about young people not having such a place where they can learn about making positive choices, made me wonder if life would have been different if my nephew had such a place to go to. I wanted to open this center so that one less family would suffer what my family has had to suffer. I wanted to do something in honor of my nephew’s life. I have held on to this dream every day since.
After graduating college, I moved to the DC metro area to pursue my Master’s degree and ended up working in the housing finance field. While my dream was still present, it wasn’t becoming the reality I wanted it to be and I began to accept that perhaps it would be a dream deferred. But this summer I was off work for two months as a result of a bad car accident and I took that time to have some real conversations with my “self.” It was during this time that a friend asked me about what had happened to my dream and I knew this was an “Aha” moment for me. As you can see from previous blog postings, a common thread has been my search for what I call my “free.” Amongst many other “perfects,” I have been searching for the perfect career and have met with frustration time and time again at not being able to figure out what that career is. When the question was posed to me about my dream, this became a moment of awakening and I knew the time had come to take my dream off the back burner and do something about it. Since then, I have received signs of confirmation from the Universe that this is the direction in which I need to head. These signs might have been completely insignificant to me even just a year ago and I am grateful I am able to recognize them now. This tells me the Universe feels I am ready to accept this great task. While it is an overall amazing feeling, it is also quite scary. My mind is shifting from one way of thinking and the process of the shift is mighty uncomfortable. But I continue to think of my nephew, his son, my brother as his father, our family and all of the young people who have been lost to senseless acts of violence and I know this is a mission I must complete. So when I learned about the 18 year-old student killed on his way to school, it definitely spoke to me. I was at work when I read the story. I closed my office door and allowed myself to shed tears over the loss of this young man’s life. While my dream is still currently just that, a dream, it now also feels like a responsibility I must fulfill. I know of the pain that young man’s family is experiencing and I know it is a pain that will never go away. You just learn to live with it. For all these reasons and more, I must see my dream of having a community center come to fruition.
In the book, “The Alchemist,” author Paulo Coelho interweaves a lesson of finding ourselves by going back to where we started. This was part of the “Aha” of the moment I had this summer when my friend asked about my dream. I knew right away that with all the searching I was doing, I had to go back to the beginning. It was in the beginning where my nephew and I were two peas in a pod. When we lost my nephew, I was just starting my life, which was another beginning. Now it is just me in that pod. And I have made a vow to do all I can to keep my nephew’s memory alive.
I love you, nephew. I will always reminisce over you.
Peace and Love.