Shocked: You're Still Alive!
I was wandering around town as I usually do on my days off and after doing what I had planned. It seemed like an average day. The sun high in the sky, hot, humid -- just a normal summer day.
There are times when you run into people you haven't seen in years and nothing special occurs. But this meeting shocked me. It wasn't shocking to see the brother after five years. It wasn't the fact that he had a mouth full of gold teeth. What was shocking, was the reason why he was surprised to see me.
"John, John!" a voice rang out.
I swung my head around to see where the familiar, yet forgotten voice was coming from. Out of breath from running me down, I saw that it was an old classmate. He looked at me... wide-eyed with a huge grin on his light-skinned face.
"Damn man... it's been years ain't it?"
It took me a few seconds to recognize him. "Oh! What's going on bruh... how you doing," I yelled, but still not sure of his name.
"Coolin man... I can't complain," he said.
All seemed well at first and we talked about the things we were doing in our lives. We talked about how we were both struggling, how we both had children, and how we both wanted to get back into school. But then he said something that made my mouth drop.
"Damn cuzz... you still alive? I figured you'd be dead by now like most of the cats we went to school with."
Lost in a moment of shock, I wondered how he could think I wouldn't be alive by now. He began going down the list of people we went to school with that are now gone. I then realized that I'd heard about most of their deaths. Sadly, this wasn't anything new. But the part that still shook me was the fact that in his mind -- I should've been on that list.
"Yeah... I'm still here and have no plans of leaving anytime soon, and hopefully not in a violent fashion," I finally spoke.
We shook hands, exchanged numbers and went on with our lives.
But something about his words cut somewhere deep within me and I just couldn't let it go. Why would I be dead? Is my life or was my life that far on the edge of destruction that no one figured I'd be around today?
I later met up with another friend who I attended school with and told him what happened. He was more shocked that the brother who thought I should be gone, was himself still around.
All this seemingly nonchalant talk about the demise of other young black men was really getting to me. I turned on the TV and as usual, one of the first things we see on the news is some story about a young black man being killed or thrown into prison. I was never shot, nor did I ever go to jail. I was never even accused of a crime that would land me in jail, or put in a position to have my life end with a bullet in my head. So why me? Why was it a shock that I'm still alive?
Then it hit me like a race car slamming into a pit crew at 60+ MPH. Young black men in America are prone to death. We are always being killed by someone for something. Whether its drugs, robbery or police brutality -- a black man's life seems to be "collateral damage."
Our lives are expendable in the eyes of the American public. Even if I know many more brothers who are alive instead of dead -- the whole, "Wow... you're still alive?" feeling beats us over the head.
We are expected to be dead by age 27 or sooner... (I will soon be 24). That is -- if we aren't incarcerated or in my case, struggling to survive to make ends meet.
The thought of this ran around in my head for days. Night and day, hour after hour. Why are we dying like this? If I could answer this question straightforward -- someone would be out to kill me. Come to think of it, when you look at the statistics... SOMEONE IS ALREADY TRYING!
Black men suffer the highest rates of unemployment, occupy the lowest paying jobs, and deal with the greatest amounts of stress. Stress due to bills, lack of work, and seldom being promoted in our jobs. In addition to that, we possibly receive the worst education from the worst schools. No wonder our numbers are dropping at such an alarming rate.
Not just that -- we are usually public enemy number one in: (A) the media; (B) the fears of middle class white Americans; (C) and the fears of middle class and poverty stricken minority communities all over the country. Even after all of these stats, the causes of our deaths -- as well as the potential answers for why the causes become the effect, still make me wonder why we are falling so drastically.
Well -- I'm still wondering. Yes... I'm still alive, working my figures to the bone with no gain and only making payments to others. I have the mental capacity to be someone much greater than what I am. Yet at times, I feel trapped and not free. I feel dread and I worry -- yet I deal with it in a positive way. I never touched a cigarette or a bottle of alcohol, and would never touch a drug. (I don't even use aspirin).
Instead -- I read any and everything. I write poetry and articles like this one. I put forth a positive effort to educate younger black men about the threat that is the world. I tell them to work hard and to block out negativity, but never completely ignore what is said about us. I tell them to use those negative words and statistics as motivation to prove the world wrong.
As I often tell them... "Make them bastards mad because of your success. Work together and stick together. Love our black women and raise our black children. Even if your child's mother wants to keep you from your child, don't let that stop you. Find a way to take care of your children... even if it means getting a lawyer and seeing them any way."
I have also come to terms with the comments of my former classmate. If I see him again and we have the same conversation, with the same opening remarks -- "Wow... you're still alive?
" I will tell him "Yeah my brother... you can't always believe the hype because we are survivors and I'm glad your still alive too."
Keep surviving my brothers; keep surviving.