The 8th grade found me at a different jr. high than the 1 I started the 7th grade at. When I got there I knew no one & the 1st person I met walked up to me & told me he remembered me because he held my blocks at a track meet that past summer & would recognize me anywhere. I didn’t know whether to flee or smile. I was just shy of 12.
After I got better acquainted with the layout of the school & a better feel for my new classmates & peers, I had an opportunity to take in the scenery. As jr. high school scenery goes, this particular school must’ve been farm-raising cuties because if it were a cup it surely runneth over. While I had quite a few crushes, there was only 1 dude who completely put my heart on pause. I lovingly referred to him as MyShawni.
‘Shawni was a mutt. The son of a white mom & a black dad, neither of which was directly there at the time. If I’m not mistaken, ‘Shawni lived with his brother(s) at his white grandmother’s house, on the south side of town. I keep making a point of mentioning who’s white so that you can understand the world in which he grew up in. No disrespect to my own family members who are biracial, friends who come from different ethnicities, but ‘Shawni was really a mutt. His racial brew wasn’t what did it but his circumstance & the fact that he was essentially a throw away trying to make it in the alleys of a city that cast his ilk aside, as all cities do.
& it was Colorado Springs.
I swear I never saw another white person when visiting my friends in the magical land called The Hood. This is not to say that I grew up with a silver spoon in my mouth. Our silverware was real silver but it could’ve come from Goodwill for all I know. We lived in a nice house on a nice street in a suburban community. With my grandmother. Who owned it. We didn’t have shit. By the time I met MyShawni my mother was renting in a less affluent neighborhood with a good school literally next door & an a’ight school for me to go to in bike riding distance. We were on the best-I-can plan with Ma on the extended recovery program from the split from my father. & when they were together we lived on the south side of Chicago. Still, I was little & way too young to recognize how much we didn’t have. By the time I got to jr. high I was able to point directly at the differences between 1 community & another. The Hood had all the hotties. The Hood had the basketball courts & the rec centers where the hotties hung out. The Hood had fewer parents with watchful eyes making it easier to look…thirsty…for all the Hood Hotties. Now’s a good time to pour out a little liquor for my fallen dignity. At 12, I had some but not enough.
‘Shawni was a troubled soul, mutt that he was, who had hooked up with a “rich” Greek girl from the other side of the tracks, where I lived, but down the way a piece where things got even better. There was no struggles happenin’ on her block. I HATED this chick. She had the heart of my “man.” He smiled at me like he wanted me (WTF did that mean at 12???) but recognized how much more she could do for him than I could. The funniest thing EVER is that she actually didn’t do ANYTHING for him except hang off of him. I went to the mat, stayed up to bat & gave him everything but my cat—did you go with me on that journey?—in an attempt to save him from the pound. By 9th grade he stopped playin’ with my emotions, walked away from My Big Fat Greek 8th Grader (cuz yes, she had the nerve to be a grade below) & joined me in some type of mutual…something. At that point he had me & basketball. Literally…that’s it.
My own personal mission, beyond doing what my parents required of me, well past doing the best I could for me, was to even the playing field for MyShawni & help him get over his mutt status. I sacrificed my grades & risked being skinned alive by Mama & Baba K for this dude. Skip ahead to Mama K seeing the ridiculously whack options waiting for us in C-Springs & her hightailing us up outta there quick. fast. & in a hurry. She was on a rescue mission, saving her girls from mediocrity & army wifedom as a career. Shortly thereafter, following some real deep phone calls (for 15 year olds) & a couple of letters (that I still have in my mama’s attic) he wound up in jail. I want to say it was either a drug or a murder charge. I honestly could be mixing up people at this point because going to jail was en vogue then & was receiving more than 1 letter from folks who went by numbers & not names. As the love of my very short life sat in a juvenile jail, I continued to ask after him when on the phone with my best friend, whose cousin was ‘Shawni’s best friend. I also silently celebrated his birthday, 2 days after my mother’s, annually
On one of those phone calls, years later, it was revealed that ‘Shawni was out of jail. It was arranged for he & I to chat 1 night on a call to my 8th grade best friend. My heart still paused when I heard his voice. Skip ahead some more. With the help of the FaceBook Gawds, 1 of MyShawni’s closest friends has become accessible. We’ve been engaging through status updates, “like” buttons, & picture comments. One day last week I decided to ask after my 1st love. My heart broke, minimally, as Former Classmate informed me that according to MyShawni’s sister he’s back in prison. Former Classmate told me to forgive myself & let it go cuz everybody can’t be saved. I always felt that if enough people cared, ‘Shawni would’ve been an NBA contender. Instead, laced weed & that Erk & Jerk joined forces with wild influences & directionless living to guarantee the boy a place in the penal system. I feel like it happened early on; that after his parents walked away from he & his sibs (at least as the story was told to me) that he stopped living. #SadFace
MyShawni clearly is a product of the Cradle to Prison Pipeline. One of those blatant examples when you can see the design put in place for black males. Modern day slavery prevails & many of us are donating our boys to the plan, offering them up on platters, begging to have them taken off of our hands. I’m often told that I’d make the best mother to boys, rather than girls. & as I watch some of my childhood friends transitioning from prison & coming back for my mother’s smile at their progress—as 1 of few adults who didn’t cast them aside, while still having great expectations—I can only pray that my friends are right about my supposed magical powers. In the meantime, it’s my mission to convince as many brown boys as I possibly can of their self worth & pray that they believe me.
Watch me move.