Sad to report...

I'm sorry and sad to report that the father of the triplets, named Lamarr in the book, has died. It was a car accident. He was thirty-four. The boys were seventeen when it happened a few months back and have just turned eighteen. There was insurance. Tahija always carried life insurance on him but the insurance company is fighting the settlement. I don't know all the details. I know she's a vulnerable person who seems to attract exploitation, the way a fish attracts water. I mean she and her family live in a sea of it. But she's a fighter too and has found a pro-bono lawyer. But fighters get worn out. Send prayers and Light. Good news is her mom stepped up big time and is a steady presence now. She loved Lamarr very much, knew him from way back when he was 13 or so.

He never thought he'd make it to 18, and he did, and beyond. Not as far beyond as we might have hoped, as his sons needed, but still they had him the whole time they were growing up. They're tough. They don't take crap. Tough and smart. And still soft too, caring and questioning. Please world stop being so hard on the Black men because they'll be Black men soon. Please Lamar reach back, reach down, reach out and continue any way you can as best you can to guide and father and love. Inshallah.


give this map to the children

So a family with five kids aged 4 or so to 12 moved in on the corner. I was walking by last week and called "Hey neighbors" and one of the little ones, a black-white pair, maybe 4 maybe 5, called out "We're not neighbors we're children."

They were worried about the dogs of Cohoes. Apparently one loud one lives in the apartment beneath them. I told the oldest child, a girl of I'd guess 12, Cohoes didn't have many dogs and the ones I'd seen anyway were behind good strong fences. We have a lotta of cats though I said. Were they afraid of cats.

Little boy one said a grey cat jumped right into his arms.

"Maybe cats will always like you," I said back. I don't know why. Something in me says of a family group like this give give give. Of your best.

Then tonight,why I came here, is I met another Lucille, a different Lucile, down the other end of the block, on the steep downhill toward the falls.

I've seen her before and said Hello. This night we had our longest talk. She's had 2 heart attacks though she's not very old. She hates Cohoes, grew up here. She knows my Lucille, my closer neighbor who inspired The Clotheslines of Cohoes, but she's not Arcadian French she's "Italian and Indian" mixed. Father-mother.

I asked her her complaints and was sorry I had. Long story ends with "I don't like white and black mixing and I don't care who knows."

Hmm. Just now I thought Does she know who I am? Does everyone know and are the watching?

But before that, why I sat to write is, I thought, I need to make a map of Cohoes showing known racists. Might as well get sex offenders in there too. And give this map to the children.

Still walking

After a recent visit to the family, little stories bubbled up. I realized, remembered, this blog. Maybe its the surface where the bubbles pop. So I resume. And I allow myself all topics loosely related to race, racial healing, and all the taking ourselves so seriously stuff.  I allow myself 2) to take myself less seriously.

Ok here's a little story I just told Kaki, Damear told me when I went down there to watch Dawn of the Planet etc.

Damear's in the Howard Street neighborhood, has a friend who lives near the house Kaki still owns and which the three lived their first year. So Amear walks by and sees one day the front door's open. He knows the folks who've rented  there now a decade or more--former housemates of Kaki, all in advanced recovery and loosely linked to the renegade nun's recovery community where Kaki used to lead AVP workshops. Anyway, Mear's been to the house, knows the folks inside. He calls but no one answers. He goes in halfway into the livingroom calls again no answer. Sounds like they're home but whatever busy.

So he goes into the kitchen--Kaki loves this part--and get some juice out of the fridge and pours a glass. And drinks it I suppose and goes back out.

Damear has a medium?serious girlfriend. Gabby.




The split picture


At a few readings from the book I told this story. We were all going to the New Jersey Seaquarium, meeting on the Philly side and taking the ferry across the Delaware.  The boys were only about 8. As they walked toward me, Lamarr ahead of his brothers and parents, I noticed a little dip in his walk. Looked like one of his uncles. I felt an aversion stirring in me, and a little fear. Was he going to start having some attitude, talking the white man this and the white man that.  He looked older, scarier. My joy at seeing them and my unconditional love were sullied.

When he reached me, he said "Do you know how to skip? Watch, I'll teach you."  And he skipped along the walkway, so cute, young really for 8.

one of Lamarr's facebook photos
Recently he changed his facebook photo (they're 15 now) to a camcorder shot of him close to the computer screen looking up, the small bedroom behind him, a bit rough, the light poor, his gaze serious.  And the same thing happened to me. A sliver of me recoiled. With adolescence his nose has taken on a little character, widening and flaring, and his strong wide jaw can make him look much older and bigger than he is.

In my mind's eye the screen was split. One side held 15 year old Lamarr, the baby whose diapers I'd changed many times; who earned the nickname Wah because he cried so much; who sucked his thumb; who didn't like to fight though his dad taught them all to fight and his mom punished any one who left the other two in a fight; who liked to teach random grown-ups how to skip; who was of the three always the most helpful to and interested in adults; who I loved with all my heart.

The other side held a scary young black man who was mad at the world and meant to get even. In that dim light and odd angle he could pass for 20. In fact, he looked older, scarier and darker than Trayvon. Indeed, he is darker, they all are; few of their great grandmother's Cherokee features have been passed on to them.
Little matter, any black is very black in some places, many places; and very black = bad and scary, violent, assumed guilty.

Is Lamarr violent? More so than the average white 15 year old who grew up in urban America? He may be. He lives with a sense of being under attack, because he has been under attack. And this sense was passed to him from his parents and theirs, who were all under attack. His mom's mom has told me about "kill a nigger day" at her high school, in the late 70's. But the attack didn't always come directly from white people. There was just much more violence when and where the triplets' parents grew up, with little or no help from any of the authorities that intervene in white neighborhoods when children are in danger. Big Lamarr had to fight to and from school as a matter of course. He saw several deaths close hand by the age of ten (I re-tell one in the book).  He felt he had to raise his boys to be tough.

He started early. For a punishment he had them punch a punching bag for long stretches of time. Hard. They'd punch away as the tears streamed down. This at 3 or 4 years old.  He spoke roughly to them, teasing and taunting, insulting, toughening them up, he said, against the insults and humiliation that would come.  How could I say he should not?

I don't know if Trayvon was raised to be that tough, that ready to defend himself. I know when anyone is cornered they may feel they need a burst of aggression to quickly disarm their attacker. I believe Trayvon feared for his life. People say he contributed to his death. Perhaps he should have run. Probably he could have outrun George. But could he have outrun a bullet? We might wish he had tried first to talk, explain. But he knew he'd already been profiled and that his words would likely be taken as lies. A different young man might have been able to "shuck and jive" and humble his way out of it. Yes sir, no sir. We might wish he had done that. Maybe his parents wish it. I feel certain that Lamarr, the most ingratiating but also the most hot-tempered of the triplets, would not have deigned to talk his way out of the fact that he was walking home to his father's house from the convenience store.  He would have been confrontational. Damear might have run; he's very fast.  Mahad might have gotten the larger man into a headlock; he's an excellent wrestler.

Or they could as easily have died there on that sidewalk where Trayvon died. A victim of racial profiling, the stand your ground law, and a picture split down the middle: 17 year old innocent young man, a citizen with rights, on one side; 20-something thug who deserve what he gets on the other.

Looking at Lamarr's Facebook picture, I see first and mainly the Lamarr I love, but I do glimpse the stereotype too.  I was after all raised a white American in a racist time and place, and no amount of reading, thinking, praying and changing diapers completely erases that. It's a daily struggle to see clearly and the work of my life to live in a love that can counteract or even erase the racism.

Which side of the picture did the jury see? Were they able to see clearly, when I who cared for those boys when they all three of them weighed less than four pounds cannot consistently see clearly? I think they saw Trayvon through George's eyes, but could not see George through Trayvon's eyes.  If they had, George would be in prison now, and millions of African-American boys and those who love them would perhaps start to feel that maybe America is becoming a place where Black boys don't have to be raised to daily defend themselves from attack.

Jobs in Triplicate

I guess the other two like the idea of cash in their pocket and being able to help mom with school uniform costs and fees. Because Damear and Mahad have jobs now too. Lamarr called me last night on his very first phone, bought with his hard-earned dollars. Amazing.

I AM old

Jammar just got his first job. Little Jamarr, aka Jamarr junior, aka THE BABY. It's helping out at a store on The Avenue. He's very excited. Me too, I think. Anyway I'll be down there on the 15th for the 8th grade graduation party. It's an all day affair; the block will be closed; the DJ will be loud. The boys will be on their way to high school, and other jobs, other milestones. Just wow.

To the next level

Ahmad and Jamarr (Mahad and Lamarr in the book) are in the state wrestling championship today. The whole family left at 5 AM for weigh in in Pottstown PA. Getting farther from the city. I hope they feel safe there and can concentrate on their matches. I know Jamarr senior did not let getting up that early. He's definitely not a morning guy.  I wasn't able to go thanks to the flu or some croupiness hanging on here and the hours and hours of grading awaiting me, but Tahayyah is keeping me posting by text. I'm excited they have something their passionate about and have good coaches. They'll stay at the same school for high school and so can really settle in, learn and grow. Amear likes the social aspect of the matches and of course roots for them. He says he'll play basketball or football once he's out of demerit trouble enough to be let to. The school is strict about that. One benefit of Mahddy and 'Marr being sports stars could be that the school will be more likely to keep Amear, who's likely to get more rebellious before he gets less.

The High School team (trips still in 8th)
The school by the way is Mariana Bracetti Academy Charter School, founded in 1999 and housed in a Save-A-Lot where tahayyah and I used to shop when she lived with us.  That makes it sound industrial and small. it's not. The grounds also cover a row of shops and the school looks quite nice. They're moving next year though to an old Catholic School much closer to Frankford, where the family lives now. Coincidentally, this school, North Catholic, had one of the top wrestling programs in the city.

2/3 are wrestling today

The trips are fourteen now. Today Mahad and Lamarr are at a wrestling meet, with Damear in attendance because, well, girls will be there. Mom and Dad too. I thought I might find the time to drive down there but my car started making suspicious grinding noises and a rental is just too much. But I'm getting point by point texts. They love wrestling and have great coaches -- a blessing. Their parents got them into an excellent charter school a short walk from the house where they were born (that you met in the book if you read the book). It goes right thought to 12th grade. Damear hopes to play basketball and the other two will wrestle and, if mom lets them (I hope not) play football.  Everyone has good grades with occasional runs on the honor role. Damear is his mom x 10, she says, when it comes attitude. He's the only one who gets in trouble, for sassing teachers and questioning their credentials and such.

Well, let me get back to the phone so I can see how they're doing. Thanks for stopping bye. Birthday next week.

For the First Anniversary of the Sandy Hook Massacre


Imagine it . . .

We saw the lines of children running. We counted the souls flying from shattered bodies.  We counted bullets – between 2 and 10 in each body.  We tried not to think of the Christmas and Hanukkah gifts that would never be opened, because those they were meant for would never play again and those who had wrapped them could not bear to unwrap them.  

“Martyr” is a strong word, and it implies choice. Those children and the adults who tried to save them chose nothing but their last thoughts, which we can never know. It is rather we who made the choice to give their sacrifice meaning by finally banning the sale to civilians of military style semi-automatic and automatic weapons.

In the weeks between the massacre and New Year’s Day, we came together miraculously. The One Million Child March brought more than a million children and nearly as many adults and teens to D.C. in an historical call for sane gun control. NRA-backed and anti-gun senators met in the now famous Valentine’s Day Accord that enacted many of the changes the children had called for. Sales of unbanned guns increased, but in a breakthrough that may win them the Nobel peace prize two college juniors  at the University of Connecticut devised a test that quickly reveals, with high accuracy, evidence of violent mental illness and pathological anger. Gun shop owners embraced the test even before required to by law and gun shows followed suit after 6 months of unrelenting pickets and virtual campaigns. And in a bold action dramatized in the Hollywood movie Sanity (released Thanksgiving Day), gangs in all major U.S. cities collected and destroyed thousands of the popular AR-15 style assault rifles (an estimated 3.3 million of which had been sold domestically in the 25 years prior). And in acknowledgement of the wisdom of the adage “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” savings from modest cuts to military spending were used to provide free, high quality, prolonged mental health care throughout the country.

If this wasn’t a day for grief, we might be celebrating.  Since Sandy Hook, the homicide rate has plummeted. After four terrible killing sprees in 2012, we endured not one in 2013. No one can say how many lives the Sandy Hook children have saved. Those who might have grown up to be researchers, doctors, nurses and other healers could probably not in their lifetimes have saved so many. Those who would have become teachers could not have taught more than they taught us on December 14th 2012. And the boys and girls who might have become soldiers, medics, policeman and fireman could not in a very long life time of devoted service have protected us with their lives more than they have protected us with their deaths. 

We mourn them as we mourn our past apathy.  We wish we had changed sooner.  Let us take comfort from the thought that though we could not go back in time and save them, at least we acted to save children and others in future classrooms, malls, movie theaters, homes and streets.  We changed in ways we never thought we could. We chose to make sure their short lives gave our nation a better life, so that this holiday season every wrapped gift can be opened; every promise kept.


Pi times five

So I went down to Philly the Saturday after Thanksgiving to see the family. We went to see Life of Pi--in 3D.  The movie is closely based on a book a gave big Lamarr years ago. Tahija and little Lamarr read it too. We had a good time. Played a 5 hour Monopoly game after the movie. Tahija served a great pasta dish that fueled me up for the drive home. Everyone is doing well in school except Damear. Little Lamarr won awards for math and English, and Mahddy's doing good in English while recovering from s broken growth plate in his knee. A football injury, it sidelines him for the wrestling season, which is a bummer since he loves wrestling and excels at it. Have to wait for next year.

Big Jamarr and I talked a bunch about movies.  I wish we could get back to our movie review blog. I'll campaign for it. Really enjoy his views on films.  Here's the blog.

Mahddy hurt again


I gave Lamarr Life of Pi years ago and now that's it's
a movie Tahija says  we have to see it all together. Yes!
Tahija invited me down to go with them to see Life of Pi when it comes out. I gave Jamarr the book years ago and he love it and passed it on to everyone. He has a little bookshelf (in the bathroom) with novels I've given him plus his video game magazines and Tahija's copy of Cloudsplitter, the very thick historical novel about John Brown that she complained about having to read for her freshman comp class (and yet read, and loved, and talked about all the time).

I'm worried about them now. Sandy's about to hit and Philly last I heard was in the path. Just hope the basement doesn't flood again. They lost 2 furnaces that way.  (Same house as in the end of the book.)

Wrestling camp

Readers of the book will he happy to hear that Mahd (little Mahddy) is spending this week (in July '12) at a wrestling camp in Stroudburg. He made the team in a meet in which he broke his foot.  That made mom put her foot down and say no more wrestling, but Dad persuaded her that his hard work and talent (he's really good) should be encouraged. Yay Lamarr! I'll try to get a picture.

They start 8th grade next year!!

Update

People ask me how the family is doing. The trips are fourteen. Mahddy just broke his foot making the wrestling team. Other than that not too surprising mishap (he's always been the dare devil) everyone is good. They go to a charter school a short walk from the North Philly house where we all lived together. They have the take the El a few stops from their current house, in Frankford. Tahija is working toward her BA, dealing with some heath issues but overall pretty good...more serious about her religion (judging from Facebook posts anyway). She and Lamarr are still together, officially married now and -- I can't believe it -- both past thirty (just, but still).  They're the hub of a big network of friends and Lamarr's twin brothers are often at the house just hanging out or practicing their R&B music with him. Every summer I ask for the boys to come to the country and visit me but it's been 3 summers now since that happened. I contemplate a long soul-bearing letter that will persuade her to let them come or to come herself, but I don't write it. Why don't I write it? Is it too hard to stay  in the relationship? But how could it ever be harder than it was when we shared the same house, and I cared for the boys?  But I'm older now...the broken heart mends more slowly, less fully. I'm afraid someday soon they will say Where were you? I should try harder. Maybe I should never have left Philly. I guess that's when I said--it's too hard. But I was called to "walk with her" and nothing has shown me clearly that the walk is over. People still come here, hits every day. I don't know why they come. The book's not selling much. Probably spambots wandering blindly leaving their droppings, mimicking eyes, ears, human minds. Is anyone there?

I Am Troy Davis


I've been doing slam-style poetry at Albany's nitty gritty slam. I was inspired to write a poem about Troy Davis and his case by his sister Martina Davis Correia. She died on Dec. 1 just ten weeks after Troy's execution. Please read about them on-line if you don't know the whole story. He was certainly innocent. His death was a righteous death and should end death as a penalty.

Phily Starz

Hey the trips' twin uncles Shay and Nique are working on a mixed tape. Here's a sample. Check it out. I remember hearing them sing two floors up while they worked on a room in the house with the trips' father Lamarr. Whenever I came up though thy'd quit. Gotta love you-tube!! I finally get to hear a whole song. Such sweet voices. Lamarr sure can sing too but he mainly manages and coaches them.

Tahija wrote her own book

It's called "My Life As I Know It." It'd deep and real. We're hoping my publisher will publish it. If you read Walk with Us, you know most chapters open with an excerpt from an earlier version of "My Life as I Know It." I'm proud of her! If you want to see this book become a published book, give it a shout out to the publisher at publisher@cddbooks.com. Thanks!

Another Road Trip

Much shorter this time. Not Wisconsin, not even New Jersey. Going' with Sue again to Elmira, NY Friends Meeting to talk about the book, worship with them. It's been awhile. I feel no pressure to sell books, as at the start of the reading tour. Just be there. Witness as led. I wish I could say the boys would be coming to the country this summer. I should ask, again; try, again. It hurt too much when the parents says no or, worse, nothing. Worse yet when they say yes and then change their mind.

How I want them to have summer memories of the country. Well they do. Two visits' worth. It may have to be enough.

Enough for what? To fend off addiction, despair, alienation from nature, from God. I'm always trying to parent and repair my childhood self. Without the country, woods and fields, from the age of two, I don't know who I'd be; how I would have found joy.

Philadelphia has its parks. I gave them an appetite for trees, running water. They'll find their way.

They saw in the pond but didn't learn to swim. Seeds planted that weren't let to grow. May other plants grow, healthy ones. Let the soil of their spirits not lie fallow. Let them find, whenever they need it, the inner Light. Let them flower, as Galway Kinnell says in "St. Francis and the Sow," "from within, of self blessing."

He's Irish-American too

Obama I mean, who earned an honorary apostrophe this week in Ireland.

Why did his words and the very sight of Michelle and him moving through the crowds move me so? I'm not sure. What Ireland's gone through recently. But deeper than that, my own longing to go home--to Ireland and to an unabashed acceptance of myself as Irish (half) and white (full).

White guilt again...hello old friend. Healing around that is the healing next in line I think. Because I'm living in Cohoes NY, cotton mill town that siphoned potato famine survivors, preferring (the mill owner Robert Johnson is said to have said) lone mothers and children as workers. Easier to manage. The spirit of the place, the stories, the wrecked and (fewer) thriving descendants of the mill workers surround me. I want to write about them, this time. Or, is it, for them?

Seeing him in Ireland, hearing him speak the tongue my grandparents rarely let me hear them speaking--the banned language--something in me connected. The one who'd always loved Black culture and courage, who found in it a way out of personal victimhood, met the girl who longed for "my old Irish home, far across the foam." Who in her longing reached not for a place but for a people--someone to be part of, to be proud of, to be strengthened by.

I don't know how my grandparents and great grandparents got by. No one's told me. The Irish writers are love are mostly of the upper classes. I value their art. I believe historical tensions and horrors compressed them into being--Swift, Joyce, Becket, and the great modern poets.

If it's not too late, I want to come home, too. And help tell the stories.

My grandmother had died suddenly and fairly young. I found a thick '78 in her closet and played it all one summer. Ballads and hornpipe tunes, tap dancing like snare drumming, long lonesome cries for home.

It's old ground, the immigrant stories. I'll make them new. I'll find a way. Is féidir linn.

I've got to write about Egypt


Islamic terrorism is dead. Although the body still seemed strong, in its prime really, an insidious cancer set in on June 4th 2009, when the newly elected President, the grandson of a Muslim, went to Cairo and spoke to an enthusiastic, youthful crowd about freedom. About America not as empire — he flat out denied that — but as a youthful nation with something, perhaps only one or two things, to give the world, even an ancient nation like Egypt. Here's that speech.

What we have to give, he said, is freedom and equality. And he said again what the white slave-holding founders said. All men are created equal. A vegetable peddler in Tunisia, a beaten wife in Afghamastan, a black man in Chicago, a modern Pharoah in his coterie of smart billionairres.

Listen to the speech again. Listen to the enthusiasm. And if you think me idolatrous, contemplate this fact. Mubarak did not attend Obama’s speech. He sent his brother. He said he was sick.

Indeed he was. For the organ that the sickness that has killed Islamic terrorism first strikes is the dictators (let’s start calling the VP Retraction Biden). But they are not the terrorists, you may say; they stabalize the region and help us catch terrorists, they help us transport them to locales more conveient to information extraction.

That “help” I would argue has been like the chemotherapy that kills. Mubarek oppressed his people. He impriosned, killed, and tirtured his opposition. This solidifies and motivates the survivors. A dictator also steals from the people or, only slightly less benignly, allows his lackeys to steal – through bribes, privatization, one-bid bidding, and a variety of other creative methods that may look, to those who don’t want to see, like stabalizing forces.

Mohammaed Atta was an unemployed Egyptian engineer. By all accounts, he was highly intelligent. In a free country he might have run for office, run some wacky Mosque, developed apartment complexes, or who knows become an avante guard writer denouncing the west to his heart’s content.

Most of the other 9-11 operatives were from that other dictatorship, Saudi Arabia. Not long ago, the one phone company was about to go under because the plethora of princes weren’t paying their bills and there was nothing that could be done to make them pay their bills.

That organ of oppression will shut down soon. And it may be destabilizing; certainly it will be. The price of oil may even go up, more. But now is the time for our values to stand above our fears and our needs. That’s what the black grandson of a Muslim standing before the gathered youth of Cairo said, by his very existance. And with his words he said we will, we can, act according to our values. Yes.

Did you see the banner in the crowd on Tahirir square? Yes we can, too.

If they can risk their lives for freedom we can do what we can to be free of fear. For in truth, the oppression that breeds terrorism has been on life support for sometime. Oh it can spruce itself up for the cameras. Dump a can of shoe polish on its head and have the blood-stained white robes washed again by a hunded virgins, but it’s been lying in a hospital bed with an IV in its arm, and that IV bottle has held and steadily dripped American dollars.

We should be flooding the capitol crying shame: no money for bridges and school lunches, yet money for despots and their secret police? No money for body armor at the start of the Iraq war, but 1.3 billion a year for Mubarek?

Shame, and a stain on our values. But they survive, and because they do Islamic terrorism is dead. Sure, there will be pockets of psychotics for some time. There will be visionless Muslim leaders who mine the old lode of Anti-American paranoia and hatred. It was such a rich vein once and as long as Israel keeps killing with American helicopters there’s hope. And there will be visionless American leaders desperately digging in dangerous mines of American paranoia and hatred.

But it’s just not going to work anymore. We’ve seen those faces; we’ve cheered for them and them with them. Some of us even prayed with them. Their outrage and joy is a wind that’s blown across the airwaves to fan the flames of our own love of freedom, equality and justice. Those faces, those cries, the jubilation should heal American’s fear.

Islamic terrorism is dead. We were brave to elect a largely untested Senator from Illinois. And the young people who are his strongest supporters should stand with the youth of Egypt and celebrate. The realization of a vision. A hunger for freedom combined with sustained non-violent action must always win out in the end. Putting our values before stability, comfort and profit will always put us on the side of the winners.

__________

A CNN Opinion piece says “The Obama administration's response to the Egypt revolution has been, from beginning to end, indecisive and incoherent, leading one to wonder who really minds the shop at the White House at times of crisis.”

We tend to wonder that about black leaders. Which president said changing america's course is like turning an aircraft carrier? There are no sharp turns. We’re a huge slow-moving giant with clay feet dug deep in imperialistic wars. I think Obama is trying to balance powerful entrenched forces. We may have had more influence on the outcome than we can know. A Bush in the Whitehouse gives the army the red light and Mubarek doesn't leave. Maybe the courage of the masses would have trumped that but I for one am relieved that Obama is there. Like Lincoln, he's a realist and a politician, while at the same time holding to values and ideals. And maybe even some vision.

From a reader in Elmira, NY


I just finished the book Walk with Us. I bought it after hearing you talk at FGC in Altoona, PA. It is such an interesting book, once I started I could not stop reading it. By the end I was thinking how well you did not blame the parents at any time for any problems. I think they did make decisions that caused themselves problems.

I enjoyed the sharing of your faith questions and leadings. I liked how going to Friends Meetings helped you find answers.

It was nice to see the picture of the whole family on the web site.

I am glad I bought the book.


I'm still available for readings. Let's keep spreading the word until Oprah (or maybe Ellen!) hears.

We Miss Him


Sethe was a close friend of the family, at the house most every day. Last time I saw him he was standing beside the front door, the strong silent type, red cap, long red t-shirt. I remember I admired the tattoo on his shoulder.

Sethe grew up in foster care and Tahija and Lamarr and the boys had become his family. He was 28.

We don't know was it a straight robbery or something more, maybe someone venging on Lamarr from his wilder days. But the biggest crime wasn't the crime--one bullet, on the front step of the house, in the middle of the day. No, the biggest crime was why that one bullet killed him.

Lamarr wasn't home. Tahija rushed out when she heard the shot and went to Sethe, who was on the sidewalk right in front of the door. No blood. He was conscious. Someone called 911. The police and the ambulance came. There was one hospital .7 mile away and another, Temple, where the triplets were born, 3.3 miles away.

Temple hospital had the trauma unit. But he wasn't taken to Temple Hospital or to the other, closer one. Sethe was interrogated, by the police, about what he was doing when he was shot and who shot him and why.

He said he didn't know. He described the guy to Tahija and pointed the way he'd gone, on a bike. Then he started to tell Tahija he was going. Dying. She held his hand and pleaded with the police to take him to the hospital. Crying and pleading and Sethe calmly saying his goodbyes and ignoring the police who he had no reason to believe would life a finger to help him.

In this way precious minutes passed.

Trauma doctors doctors have a term - the golden hour. It means the faster they can treat a trauma victim the better chance they have of saving him. The first sixty minutes are crucial.

The police knew that. The one bullet shot into Sethe entered his liver. He probably had less than an hour before septicemia set in.

We don't know for sure if he died in the ambulance or on his way to the operating room. The ER doctor at the trauma unit where they finally did take him claimed there was a pulse. A chance.

But maybe he never had a chance. A young black man with a bullet wound in a city that's probably gunned down more black men than saved them. "They put you in a whole different category," Lamarr told me, "when you're shot around here." An expendable category.

But to Tahija and Lamarr, to the triplets and the others who knew and loved him, Sethe was not expandable. He was vital. Mahddy in particular is taking it hard. Sethe like to draw and he'd draw with Mahad, teach him things. And it'll be a long time before Tahija gets over it, though she created a beautiful memorial that went a long way to healing a lot of people. There were candles, pictures of him, and red balloons--red was his favorite color--that we all let go of at the end.

The wind took them east, toward the ocean. Even though the ceremony was over, about a dozen young men stood out of the wind beside the house shielding their still-lit candles. How many dead, I wondered . . . how many shootings so far in their short lives?

Lamarr told me last time I saw him the police picked up someone but probably not the right guy. Just someone, another young black man for their prisons.

Here's a poem for Sethe, written by Tahija

I feel you

When the wind blows
I know you are there.
When I hear a noise and see no one, I know it is you.

No one can ever replace you in my heart.
I feel you every day, the things I do and the words that I say
remind me of you.

I wish you were here in more than spirit
but I will take what I can get.
I feel you and your presence will never be forgotten.

A bond that could never be broken is still intact.

The Three

First day of sixth grade at a new school - middle school. It's a big building that includes the old Sav-a-Lot grocery store building where Tahijah and I used when we didn't have time for better (farther away). Around the corner and up the Avenue, less than half a mile from the Howard Street house where the book is set.

When I saw them last I took them around to the house, and then the park where they rode their first swing and climbed their first trees. They played baseball with some adults from the block and played well, Damear hitting a grandslam.

I hope he remembered it walking into that big new school, where they were the youngest and not the oldest and mom was a bus ride not a short walk away.

"Your dad drive you?" I asked them when they called last night. "No!" (we're not babies). "We took The Three."

The three bus. I remember the three bus. If I write another book about all this, which I am not believe me planning on doing (but...), I'll call it The Three. Three was one title option for WWU, an option my publisher didn't like much.

They'll be okay. Their parents raised them to survive in North Philly's tough streets and schools. But thrive? What is thriving in a place like that, in a time like this? It's enough that they should keep loving one another, their parents, themselves. Keep growing.

I'll ask what I asked before, in the book - can you do more, to make this a world worth growing into, for young black teens (almost), and men (eventually).

Which leads me to comments on Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow. Soon.

ps - 1st day pic when/if Tahija sends me it.

Congratulations Horace Seldon

White anti-racist activists have a hero and role model in Horace Seldon, founder of Boston's Community Change, Inc.

Seldon recently received the Public Citizen of the Year Award from the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.

My niece Jenny and I were fortunate to to receive a tour of Black Boston from Seldon, who is semi-retired from his years with the national park Service giving tours. It was a cold windy day but we were glad we were there. Hard to keep up with Mr. Seldon, in more ways than one.

A new school

Mom has managed to get the trips into an in-demand charter school. I know - the teachers aren't unionized, they experiment on students, they abet segregation - but in the Philadelphia public school system they're a life raft in choppy seas and it was not easy to secure three spots on the same raft.

Art, sports and music - this school has 'em. So look out junior high. The triplets are on their way. And guess what - the new school is in their old neighborhood; where you were born, I told them when we visited a few weeks back. And that park, Norris Square? Your first park, your first trees, your first swings.

They'll be taking the subway or a city bus a few miles south, back into the Badlands. That's why I walked them through it, reminded them - this is yours. You can feel safe here, or as safe anyway as you feel up where you live now, where you know everyone.

And then we walked back from the school to Kaki's house, where five adults in recovery live now. The boys know them, played checkers with them.

"Leslie and Vince, and Mary - they'll be right close by. If there's an emergency at the school or something."

"Yeah like if someone gets shot," said little Lamarr.

That's the sort of thing they're thinking about, worrying about, as they enter--not high school--but sixth grade.

Arts, sports, music and (I pray) a way to make peace.

They're making it official

Lamarr and Tahija (their pseudonyms in the book) are getting married in March!

To commemorate, here's a passage from Walk with Us where Tahija describes meeting him:

That year in sixth grade I had a real chip on my shoulder. I had questions for everyone and everything. I remember asking a guy with a Kufi on in the hallway at school a bunch of questions [about Islam] and he answered them, I don’t know why. I guess it was God’s way of stepping in and just letting me know he was seeing everything and I wasn’t alone, but I didn’t realize it was a sign until the next year. I was walking up the back hallway and I see my cousin fighting some boys and I thought they were serious and I got into it with one of the guys named Lamarr. A few days later the guy Lamarr asked me if I would be his girlfriend. At first me and my cousin made a pact that I would go with him and she would go with his friend but we never told them that was why we said yes. We got together on October 28th and I remember that because it was exactly two weeks before my birthday which is November 8th. After awhile my cousin and her boyfriend broke up so without thinking I broke up with Lamarr. I thought it wouldn’t matter because I thought we could still be friends but I actually had feelings for him. I thought they would go away but they didn’t. A few months later I asked him whatever happened to that guy with the Kufi, and he said, “Are you serious?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “That was me.” Now you see we were meant to be.

One day Lamarr seen me drinking. He grabbed my drink and threw it away. That same day he seen me smoking and he threw my whole pack of cigarettes in the middle of Broad Street. I was so mad. I bought another pack and I hid them thinking that he wouldn’t find them, but he caught me taking it out and threw that pack away and after that I could have easily got another pack, but I didn’t, I quit.


An amazing couple and an amazing story. Hear Lamarr at the end of this radio interview I did with radio personality Bill Jakes.