Black Boys #RIP
NO ONE WILL be there to hug you in a coffin when you leave this unforgiving world. Nor will they care that you lived and died in an environment where it was easier to get a gun than a home cooked meal.
Some nights I scroll the social media hashtags trying to find something opulent and optimistic to escape those cruel realities. But on this night something goes wrong. The face I scroll past is a familiar one.
It’s a 16-year-old I’ve known since 2010 from occasionally teaching in his middle school. His smile in the pic is flashier than the brand name clothing and dirt bike with which he poses. On the bottom of his pic is the hashtag #RIP attached to his name.
The mental shock drops my jaw while simultaneously punching my heart. The gravity in the room is all I know as I scroll down the timeline to look for confirmation. Hoping it’s a hoax, I find more images that validate my worst fears. He is gone, on the other side of life.
What happens when death hits home
As an educator, youth developer and activist, I see these stories from time to time. They come without warning, and they always stir memories.
[blocktext align=”right”]The mental shock drops my jaw while simultaneously punching my heart. The gravity in the room is all I know as I scroll down the timeline to look for confirmation. Hoping it’s a hoax, I find more images that validate my worst fears. He is gone, on the other side of life.[/blocktext]
“You staying out of trouble?” I asked the last time I saw him.
“Of course Corbin. I’m just staying out the way.”
It’s frustrating knowing that the potential to do great things is in everybody walking the planet, but is irrelevant if a person doesn’t see it. Unfortunately, the person behind the trigger didn’t see or care about the potential of my former student. The anger of the moment was more important.
“This kid couldn’t even make it to 18,” one of my colleagues said when he heard the news. “He just came up to the school saying how we made it through the summer.”
Well … almost.
Amid the bloodstains, chalk lines, guns, funeral services, flowers, obituaries, and many more manifestations of death in the community, there is something else that brings death even closer—social media.
Social media and modern grieving
Pics and quotes serve as virtual obituaries. They are online memorials that commemorate lives gone too soon. The details spread faster and the impact becomes a visual and auditory experience. Through these digital headstones, people get to see that they are not the only ones mourning the situation.
[blocktext align=”left”]Pics and quotes serve as virtual obituaries. They are online memorials that commemorate lives gone too soon. The details spread faster and the impact becomes a visual and auditory experience. Through these digital headstones, people get to see that they are not the only ones mourning.[/blocktext]
Imagine shaking up a test tube with all these elements and then pouring it out on an entire community. His friends will continue to interact with social media to express their grief for the next month, and then his death will fade, but never he will never be forgotten for his jokes, smile, and laid back voice that resembled the rapper, Ma$e.
He was a thin kid—an unforgettable one—like most of the kids I work with. But it’s that word “unforgettable” that makes this body bag of pain so much more demanding to carry. We all are walking a certain path to create individual legacies that only we can live out.
That word “unforgettable” is the reason his face will sit on the bookshelves on our minds subconsciously and consciously. It’s the beauty of his smile that will become haunting to so many who are close to him. His mother now has the toughest task she will ever face, burying a son she has outlived. Now that’s haunting.
The lingering effects of his death, and the deaths of other young people in his community, will ricochet off the minds of his peers. They are the ones who will have to find creative ways to get to and from school to avoid the coming violence and retaliation.
Meanwhile, the education system will push curriculum down their throats, smothering them with information they may never use. They may be neglecting the life skills of mourning and grieving from a hot summer of death and violence in a community that often resembles a war zone.
These students need education, but they need counseling more.
Photo: Honor guard at the funeral of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager killed by Police Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo. funeral, Aug 25, 2014. Flickr Creative Commons (Brett Myers/Youth Radio)
Greg Corbin is a poet and activist in Philadelphia