He was just 6 years old when I met him. Our churches had joined together for an MLK function and his AME church was hosting us. He was just a slip of a boy, with the classic high water khakis and crisply ironed white, yet slightly yellowing short-sleeved shirt that all little boys seem to wear to southern churches. He had never seen so many white people ascend on his church and his eyes grew round and wide as he hid behind his relatives, peeking at me as I waggled a finger or winked an eye.
I found out his name was Dionne. The service began and he sat entrenched in the curve of a large woman's arm, afraid to move and shame his family. But I could see that he wanted to wiggle and run free. When I walked to to the front of the church and sang my solo, his jaw dropped in surprise. I had won him over at that moment and after the service I was able to get a shy, whispered "hello." Nothing more, but that was enough.
We met up again a few years later. This time he was a member of our church. He was a budding teenager with a brain too big for his life's position. He was stuck in the worst of the worst Projects. But he stayed away from the gangs and he tried to rise out of the muck. He has the IQ of a doctor or a scientist and knew what he could achieve, but over the years he had developed a huge distrust of anyone white. He was after all, a black, poor teenager with braids. He looked the part and he got in trouble with the law. The judge wouldn't listen to his side. The judge believed the illegal immigrant felon drug dealer who wasn't even supposed to be in the country over the word of a 15 year old boy. He went to juvie. He came out lost. Hubby tried to reach him over and over and over, he pulled farther and farther away.
Yesterday, that sweet little shy boy who could have gotten out, didn't. He should have gotten out, he asked for help to get out. We tried to get him out, but no one from our church would help us. We gave him rides, tried to get him a job. They turned a deaf ear to our plea. So the pull of the gangs and the despair of the Projects won in the end. Yesterday that sweet little boy was arrested for 1st degree murder. He was an accomplice, not the actual murderer, but he is still going away for a long time. I'm sorry for the family of the dead man. I'm sorry for their loss. And I know that Dionne was wrong and has committed a grave sin. But society and our church has committed just as grievous a sin against Dionne. We created this system and we perpetuate it. We turn away because we are scared or it is not our problem or someone else will take care of it. We don't get involved. And we reap what we sow.
Today I cried as if my heart had broken.
He is not a picture on the news or a person to cross the street to avoid. I trusted him with my daughter when she was 3!
He is the Joseph from my Christmas pageant.
He is the kid who gave up food so his sister got enough to eat.
He is the kid who made his baby niece laugh for the first time.
But he is a murderer.
And now he is a number.
May the Universe help us all for not helping him.