It was so long ago now that it doesn't feel like mine to tell, but I'm here to try.
I'm also here to tell a new story. One I've not strung together before. But I'm here to tell the truth, as true as I know it to be, and I am scared. As Anne said... "if people wanted us to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better".
It was over seven years ago. When we ventured down Second Street together for the first time.
Miranda and I remember stopping at one particular house with all the squeals and barking coming from inside. The sound of frantic footsteps pounding, screen door creaking as it was thrown open.
I ended up with a child in my arms that night.
We evolved from a tiny group in a clinic on Lexington's east side, to throngs of people on Tuesday nights. To dozens-- almost a hundred some nights -- of children on Friday nights.
We delivered food. Furniture. Played kickball. Ate pizzas. Told stories.
Every time there's a tornado siren i remember sitting there, with all of them, feeling the most protective I've ever felt in my life. Remember David driving the truck. Remember standing in the gravel with Marcus.
I remember when the cars got broken into.
I remember getting chased out of houses.
I remember attending graduations.
Goodness was there. Goodness is still there. Relationships were built and foundations were laid.
But we didn't know better. Because we weren't asking the right questions. And we weren't asking the right people. I didn't know that back then.
I just remember when things started to not feel so pure.
I ended up leaving. One of the first to do so. In the middle of a storm, when it hadn't rained on a Tuesday night in years.
I begged who I knew to be God. There had to be another way than leaving. Leaving felt like abandonment. It felt like a cop out. It felt like failure. But staying felt wrong too. What I had watched happening around me was no longer harmless. Most were not doing the right thing for the right reasons anymore. Most did not understand the implications of their beliefs and actions. Most did not understand the systemic racism and bias and covert prejudice we were engaging in.
But the God I knew back then was shutting doors. He was redirecting traffic, and that last night he let the heavens open and let me know, at least for now, I was done there.
It was not my place to engage in the power struggle. And it was not my place to watch grassroots overtaken by agenda or corporate organization. It was not my place to pretend I could save anyone. And all the helping we were doing was hurting.
I didn't leave everywhere though.
Earlier in the year I had started a practicum with a local non profit agency. I had been helping all year, in the after school program, in and out of the school systems, and we held camps that summer.
I remember crying in the car with him, after a particularly hard day.
I remember tables being flipped.
I remember cocaine being cut.
I remember spelling words that somehow changed my life.
I remember lessons about leadership I teach my own child to this day.
Coming around the bend was my last year and a half of undergrad work.
Everything I knew about culture and race and poverty and outreach and being a helper would soon be tested. Would be challenged.
Every ounce of privilege I have would be exposed.
It would take meeting people who'd lived the lives the children were currently living for me to understand. It would take falling in love with people who had lived this journey but did not need my help.
It took me laying next to him on the floor on fourth of July that summer, to know the true need.
It took me traveling to the another country and watching with trepidation and... disgust... as I realized we were well-intentioned voyeurs.
I have so many stories. They're swollen inside of me right now. Hurt, to the touch, as I walk through the memories lacing this together.
He is why I am here though. Eight or nine years old. Riding down Second Street on a RipStik with his little brother, with an identical haircut, trailing along behind him.
It's scary to tell the truth.
I was seeking. And hurting, deeply. I was alone. And I was young.
Bad things happened.
I was overlooked and thrown around and turned down.
And in January of 2012 I found out I was having my son.
It wouldn't be long after that that I was asked to leave.
The one place I had left. Where I had chosen to invest myself. Where I had found a home. They no longer needed me. They no longer wanted my help or influence. They no longer respected me.
This hurt me worse than anything had previously. I was lost without my family and felt like, again, I had failed my kids.
But my focus had to shift.
To graduating. To having my son. To being a single parent. To providing for us.
I became determined that my child would not ever be labeled an at risk youth by any sort of white helper who came barreling through the door.
I moved into... or as close as I could get... to the neighborhood I had once worked in. And familiar faces showed up at my door.
They met Judah. And my heart burst, having them there together.
Sat on my back porch and ate popsicles.
Sat on my front porch and ate cookies.
Rode through the neighborhood on bicycles and I got to listen when they taught each other about leadership.
One by one, familiar faces moved away and landlords increased rent and people were driven out of the neighborhood and I had fraternity boys and single, childless women for neighbors again.
It was last year that I felt this raging passion and desire to become involved again. To participate in meaningful work. I was working in a job, which gave little fulfillment, and I had just ended a horrible cycle of interpersonal violence and abuse. I searched my heart for the last right place and mustered all my humility.
I reached out to someone in the area who was in charge of a non profit which works with single moms.
Could I help? Did I have anything to offer?
I was responded to with more venom than I knew was possible.
Her women were God's children. And I was a quitter, she said. She remembered I had issues. And she wouldn't let me hurt them.
Without knowing the whole story, someone had looked at the timeline of my life and just assumed that I left whenever I got bored.
Not knowing the power and control taking place, the hurting, the enabling, the exercise of privilege had been what pushed me to the door.
Not knowing I had been asked to leave.
Somehow, as a single mother of a beautiful child, I was not God's child. But her single mothers were.
Something in my heart closed.
I ventured into a job where there was promotion but also so much distrust. No one trusted my voice anymore. No one trusted my leadership. No one trusted my intuition. I began to believe not only was I not wanted, I was not capable.
However, I continued to learn more and more about how deeply the systemic injustice was rooted in our culture. I learned about the hard conversations. I learned what it means to advocate. I learned to listen. The part of my heart that hated what was going on so many years ago... it grew. I became more passionate about killing the idea of white saviors. I paid attention to those who thought Jesus could save the Black people but voted a tyrant into office. I paid attention to who pushed back against Black Lives Matter but quickly hashtagged the support for the blue lives. I paid attention to people who used the word "obey" and "division" and those who made subtle implications about the broken world and its need for us and Jesus to save it. I paid attention to whole congregations and staff who were complicit with their silence.
I paid attention to who used pronouns like "they".
And I sorted through my own shit. The part of me that felt defensive, the part of me that felt hurt. I had my own to work out. I had to get to a point where I recognized how what I had done before was not helpful. How I had contributed to the problem. I was trying.
How to raise a sweet brown boy into a strong brown man. How to protect him from wolves in sheep clothing.
This week there was a mama who couldn't protect her baby.
And that's why I am here.
She was the mama seven years ago who expected, required, her boys to ask permission before they left the house. They had curfews. They were grounded. They were disciplined. The two of them had matching haircuts and he... he rolled up and down Second Street on a ripstik with no shirt on. We love him.
And Saturday night, his life was taken.
And I was catapulted back into a memory space where everything aches.
There are times, with all its dysfunction, that season is still my last right place. The last place I felt whole. Because of them. Because of children like him.
But I have learned so much since walking those streets.
These last two days I've done nothing but mourn my mistakes.
My inability to learn and stay simultaneously.
Mourning the time with them I lost.
Mourning my hesitation to take initiative in certain ways.
Mourning what was ultimately maybe not the right decision but was the only and hardest one.
Mourning that I've never found my way home.
Mourning that as I watched a community respond I still hear the same...
"you need us", "let us help save you", "let us help fix you".
I made mistakes. I should have said fuck them all and stayed. I should have been more brave.
I shouldn't have let the opinion of a few, separate me from the ones I love.
I should have been creative and courageous and I was not.
I was not.
Because the one truth I have learned in the last seven years is that at risk children, the urban poor, don't need me.
I cannot save anyone.
I can educate people. I can advocate. I can fight. I can lobby.
I am an ally. I am an advocate. I am a friend. A sister. A listener.
But I am not a hero, because that's not what anyone needs me to be.
They don't need me to take pictures of them for likes. They don't need me to make a production of our relationship. They don't need things. They don't need me to announce our time together. And they don't need me at all if I refer to them as the work I do.
But we needed each other.
We needed each other and I let others get in the way. I let myself be edged out because I believed the lie there was not room for me. I believe the lie that whoever God is had placed love in my heart but it was not as good as what the next person was contributing. That because I do not have the privilege of flexibility in my schedule and I do not have the privilege of having no bills or because I have not had the privilege of turning my passion into a job... I wasn't welcome or wanted.
I let myself believe that one or two people's hatred could be enough to keep me away.
I needed the time.
What I've accomplished in the last six years has changed who I am and it has changed my heart.
Redemption is a thing all its own, where even the wrong decisions, even the pain, can transform us.
I needed that time.
But I can still mourn what was lost.
And tonight... I am mourning him.
Mourning a life lost so young. Mourning everything he won't have the opportunity to be. Mourning his joy. Simultaneously mourning and celebrating his bravery and courage. Mourning a precious life lost. His precious life.
Mourning I wasn't there for him. Not because I could have saved him. But because I truly loved him.
Truly loved so many I've lost in different ways.
I don't want to make the same mistakes again.
Falling for the lie that what I have is not wanted. The love I give is not needed. That the opinion of a few should be able to drive me away.
The memories hurt tonight. Exposed nerves. What does grief do to us when you are grieving not just life lost but life missed?
How do we make it better?
I could sound like my child and say, "I have no idea". Which would be the truth.