Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Dear Blog readers. First forgive me for taking so long to update this blog. In the near future you will be sick of reading all the post I’ll be putting up. Big things happening, and I’ve got a ton to talk about. But today it doesn’t feel appropriate. I, like most of the nation have spent the last couple weeks engrossed with politics, the conventions, the protest, the speeches, the candidates… After a while it all becomes white noise blaring in the background of life. Today that white noise seemed to roar a little louder in my ear then normal.

I’m working on an hour long radio documentary about violence in my home town Jacksonville Florida. My goal is to work from the bottom up. To talk to the people who experience the violence first hand, and try and understand where it comes from. Most of Jacksonville is a pretty peaceful place. But one area of town the Eastside/Springfield and parts of the Northside are plagued with violence. These parts of town are economically depressed and primarily African-American. As the rest of the city marches to the beat of the Florida sun, young people are dieing and killing each other.

If you read this blog at all, or know my work then you know I’ve got some roots in this community from my work at the Sanctuary on 8th street. I’ve been volunteering/working there for three years now, and I have a real connection with the kids there. As apart of the series I’m working on, I went back to the Sanctuary to interview one of the boys, Biko. Biko is one of the brightest kids I know. He’s got this big open smile, and always willing to help out. At 16, Biko has been shot at more then four times and hit twice. When we sat down to talk, Biko’s leg was bandaged from a gun shot wound to his knee. He was much skinnier then I’d last seen and it was obvious that the whole incident weighed heavy on him. But he still had a big smile and hug for me.

When Biko got shot this time, he was at a store talking to a friend, a car rolled by and shot him in the leg. He didn’t know who the shooter was, and no one knows for sure why he was shot. Most assume it was mistaken identity. Image that, you are minding your business, getting a soda from the store, and someone shoots you in the leg. What’s ironic about Biko’s existence is that he’s an immigrant from Africa. He moved with his family from the Congo to America to escape the wars. With the sound of gun shots breaking the silence of the night, I can’t help but wonder what the differences there are between the war he is currently fighting, and the wars his parents tried to protect him from. This is Biko’s reality. It’s not a movie. It’s not made up, it’s life and death every day in a way most of us can’t image.

Through the interview Biko keeps smiling. When I ask him where he will be in five years he says, without a smile, lowering his voice, “Probably dead… or in jail” There is such certainty in his words, the type of certainty that a grown man has from the hard experiences of life. We talked about life on the street, police harassment, having no opportunities, no hope. When we were done with the interview I struggled to not weep. I know that must sound melodramatic, but the truth is at 16 and two bullet wounds already, what kind of life is waiting for him outside that door? Most of you will never know Biko, so you will have to take it from me. He’s the type of kid that lights up any room he’s in. He could be a computer technician, a programmer, a mathematician, a physicist, but most likely he won’t. And yes there are people who can rise up from their bootstraps, but I’d argue that most people who do have much more support then he does.

I watched Biko limp away on crutches, acting like it’s all going to be okay, like what he just said was about someone else and not him. But it’s not. With five siblings, a dead father, an unemployed mother, and a neighborhood in the on the verge of death, where can he go?

It was on my drive home when that the white noise started roaring in my ears. Someone on the radio was talking about the Christian Right, and their Pro-life stand, and it infuriated me. It infuriates me because these same people who scream pro-life will do nothing about the lives being lost in ghettos of America. They stand in their Ivory Churches and protest the loss of life when it’s in the form of an abortion, but turn a blind eye to children like Biko. Is he not sufficient for God’s grace? Does the fact that he is in the ghetto disqualify him from receiving help with the same vigor with which they protest abortion? Of course not all on the Christian Right fall into this category. There are people who come into the ghetto’s everyday and give their heart, but for change to happen Pastors like Rick Warren, James Dobson, TD Jakes, and John Hagee need to mobilize their congregations for the cause of children like Biko, the same way they mobilize them for other causes.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in any way taking sides on the issue of Abortion, I’m just asking why the need to defend life doesn’t extend to the life already here. Why it is acceptable to have a rash of violence where young people are the victims? What have they done that makes it okay for them to die? I think people tend to think that people living in poverty are there because they deserve it. I do not agree with that concept but I won’t argue the point, what I will argue is if that is true, do their kids deserve it?

Please don’t point to the government programs. They obviously don’t work, or there would be no need to write this post. I think the Christian Right needs to ask themselves What would Jesus do? I don’t identify myself with that group. I’m only asking them the same questions I’ve asked myself. I am not perfect, I don’t profess to have a direct line with God, or that I am his messenger and know his will. But when I ask myself the question that the Christian Right has begged us to ask, the answer I come up with is this: He’d help the poor. He’d help the children. He’d try to save people without judgment in his heart, because it’s the right thing to do.


Anonymous said...

Amen! Finally, someone with a voice has the guts to go with it. Well said my brother.

madeleine said...

I have thought the same thing so many times...and though it sounds trite, I have always thought that giving kids a place to be and something to do helps to keep them off the streets.

It did me.

Anonymous said...

This is a SAD commentary for Americans to listen to and do something about. You are correct maybe people who live in poverty need to accept some of the blame, but children born into that life did not have a choice!!!
Write on Al Letson and pray people will have you as the motivation for CHANGE.

Anonymous said...

You are wrong in your assesment of pro-lifers. They do decry the violence in schools and in urban areas but they feel this comes in large part from the devaluing of human life. When you tell a kid in school "you are a valuable person with gifts" and at the same time society says, "any child can and should be aborted for reasons as trivial as the child is the wrong sex or will cause financial problems" the kid understands the two statement contradict each other. The underlying value is : "we really don't need any individual, everyone is expendable". That value, implicit in every abortion, leads to violence in our society at ALL levels, the home, the school yard and the street. Be logical for once.

Teresa Brennan said...

As far as I know there are many, many youth outreach programs in many parishes that go out and help children like the ones you're helping. Do those get as much press coverage as pro-life activists? No, because abortion is the hot topic of political pining. Were there as much coverage I'm sure you'd see that there are efforts being made, sincere and tireless efforts to help. I see it in my city all the time. The publicity is what's lacking not the intentions.

Mercedes Flores said...

One person can make a difference - He was nailed to the cross. Now it's your turn. When our hearts are filled with doubt and anger, we are not open to the will of God. Praying that you get your answers.