This is different from my other blog posts... way different. I'm not worried about tarnishing my professional reputation. the thing about this post is that the things I discuss here have helped shape me. The things that I have had to overcome mentally from being the victim of gun violence have given me an unquenchable thirst to help other people.
December 4, 1993... It was my senior year in high school. Two of my very close friends sat in the car outside of my home while I put my overnight bag in the trunk. We had just come from a party at Hales Franciscan High School, and I was going to crash at T. Cook's house and leave for work at Footlocker from there the next day. The trunk of the car was raised and I was organizing my things in the cargo space as I was approached by a guy with a 9mm handgun. Since the trunk was up, he didn't notice my buddies in the car. Just writing this now has elevated my heart rate. Twenty-two years later, I can still feel the slight chill in the air. I can see the evil in the eyes of the guy who was pointing the gun at my chest. The laughter inside of the car made him realize that I was not alone. He walked to the passenger side back door and tried to break the window with the butt of the gun. He then let off three rounds towards my friend in the back seat. My friend in the front hopped out the car and started running. I crawled around the car so that I could put a barrier and some distance between me and the shooter. As I stood up to take off, I could hear and feel several shots whizzing by me.
Imagine a runners stride... my right hand is in front of me about 2 inches from my face. A bullet crosses my face and goes straight though my right hand. Had I been a millisecond faster, the bullet would have gone through the back of my skull. Whenever I look at my right hand, I am reminded of how fortunate I am to still be alive. I was mad at God for a long time because of the whole ordeal, but I realized that it was a necessary part of my evolution. I will not go into full details right now, but I know that it is a major reason why I am the way I am today. This experience helped to shape my ideologies about life.
Chiraq. Long before the film was shot, I was shot. Long before There were auditions for this Spike Lee Joint, the name was uttered in the streets of Chicago by the people who live here. In January of 2012, I remember one of my fellow spoken word artists calling me to let me hear a piece that she wrote called Welcome to Chiraq. For those of you who may be confused by the term, it basically means that Chicago is a war zone just like Iraq. The original use of the term was in reference to gang and gun violence in our city streets. However, Chiraq has its fair share of police brutality as well. The recent shooting by police of nonthreatening civilians has been heart wrenching. It's not just "black on black" crime anymore, it's simply murder across the board. The film simply exposed the rest of the world to the term which has been used for years before the thought of the film ever surfaced. Politicians tried to fight the name of the film, but they didn't try to fight the cover up of the murder of 17 year old Laquan McDonald by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke. The death and cover up of this kid has done far more to hurt the reputation of the city than the title of the film has.
As my heart and mind are bombarded with emotions and frustration, I sit here typing. I don't totally understand what has happened to the city that I love. Yes, it was rough 22 years ago when I was the victim of an attempted carjacking. My thought process lead me to believe that things were going to get better though. I had this idea of a utopian city full of love, prosperity, and opportunity. I do think that those things exist in Chicago, but there is also a dark side. I don't want to go on and on about my feelings on the topic, but I will share a few things that I think are key in the training and development of this murderous mindset... in no particular order.
I can't even make this a black culture vs white culture thing. Hip Hop music has transcended the color lines. What I do know is that the music of today is poisonous to a degree. What do I mean by this? Well, people learn things through spaced repetition. Music that is derogatory, promotes killing and the use of drugs, degrades women, condones irresponsible behavior, and uses extreme vulgarity gets planted into the minds of the people who listen to it. Once it is learned though spaced repetition (listening to it over and over) the subconscious picks up on it and begins to do two things. First, it commits the words to memory to be recalled without thinking or effort. Second, it desensitizes the listener to the harshness of what the words are actually saying. In other words, it normalizes all the behavior that is talked about in the music. There are studies done on the effects of music on the brain, and how it even alters behavior, mood, and emotions. This programming of the mind by way of music, in my opinion, is a serious part of the problem. If they are popping Mollies and killing people in the songs, then it must be ok. Even if the listener isn't inspired to go out and physically do the activities, they are less sensitive about it when it happens around them.
2. FAMILY STRUCTURE
Call me old fashioned, but I know that kids who grow up with both parents in a loving home are less likely to become a threat to society. Yes, there are some exceptions. In the inner cities of Chicago though, and in communities around the world, there needs to be a stronger male presence. When I talk about family, I don't just mean immediate family either. I have several friends that I grew up with who were from single parent homes, but they still were raised by the village. Proper guidance by responsible adults at an early age can put a kid on the right path.
3. RESOURCES & EDUCATION
I've seen the difference between people that had resources and people who did not. I've seen the difference in kids that came from schools with computer labs and state of the art equipment, and kids that did not. Some may argue that everybody has an opportunity and work hard and make a name for themselves. That may be true to a certain degree or extent. Think about it like this though... If you had to plow a field would you want to do it by hand, or with sophisticated machinery that will do the job better and faster? It seems that there is more of a focus on individual advancement over collective advancement. The cream always rises to the top. The playing filed is not always equal though.
4. POLITICAL & INSTITUTIONAL ACCOUNTABILITY
The service sectors of our cities are getting away with murder... literally. Politicians have power without compromise. Police have authority without accountability. I think that government is necessary. I know that there have been political leaders that had great intentions and wanted to serve the people that put them into office. I know that there are policemen and women out there that honestly care about the communities that they are assigned to. The flip side of it is that the ones who abuse their power get away with it far too often.
A friend of mine made me aware that I got shot on the same day that Fred Hampton was killed. He was shot to death in 1969, and I was shot in 1993. By no stretch of the imagination am I comparing myself to him. What I do know is that some of the challenges that he faced and fought against back in the 60's are still prevalent today. Change starts with you though. People think that they can not make a difference, but that is a lie. One man or woman can make a difference if they decide to. When they do, it catches on. When enough people stand up for what is right, what is wrong will be challenged and destroyed. One becomes the few... the few become many... many become the masses... change happens!