By Zerline Hughes
Just after nightfall, I sent my son out to the mailbox that hangs on the front of our home to get the mail. I deliberated for a good minute whether or not to ask him to retrieve the day’s mail, but ultimately decided I didn’t want to get up from the couch. When the door closed behind him, I started to panic and I cried.
Just 24 hours earlier, a neighbor emailed our community listserv. The subject line: My kids caught in crossfire of drive-by shooting Saturday. The contents of the email explained that just four blocks away in our tiny neighborhood was a gun fight. This was during our neighbors’ outdoor kids birthday party. During a Sunday afternoon where kids were at the neighborhood park that I’ve been advocating for and writing about recently. No one was physically hurt, but the family and the children that had to duck, cover, hit the pavement are definitely experiencing mental trauma. And apparently, so am I.
So maybe now you’ll get why These Two aren’t the free-range children that I’d like them to be. Maybe now you’ll stop wondering when you hear that many of our young Black men are not trained to take out the trash, help ladies across the street and the elderly with their groceries. That’s the good stuff of yesteryear when there was no threat of getting jumped, shot, or “fitting the description” once they opened the door to their home.
We don’t want to put our children in harm’s way. We don’t want them to catch that stray bullet. We don’t want them to get lured by the never do wells on the street corner, never to return to the child we once knew as motivated, inspired, promising. For too many of us Black parents, each day is filled with fear.
When I ask if the kids want to go to the park, play with the neighborhood kids, or walk to the Aquatic Gardens, I usually get a lazy “no thanks.” After two more inquiries and two more negative replies, I secretly sigh in relief. Don’t get me wrong; sometimes I do make them go to the park, get some exercise and recreation in. And they do get their share of independence every now and then taking the MetroBus or subway, going to the movies and hanging at Barnes & Noble on their own. They also are well traveled, taking buses to New York and planes to California as unaccompanied minors. I even extend the leash for international travel when I can for school trips. But when it comes to our neighborhood and certain parts of the city, that leash gets real tight – and so does my chest. Especially after last weekend’s news.
So last Saturday, I argued with myself to let the boy get the mail. He got it. He returned unscathed. Phew. Then, it was the trash. I decided I would be the one to wheel the smelly, heavy, big barrelled cans to the curb, but then decided, I’m no feminist. Let the man-of-the-house in training do it. And I did. Still, with worry. And again, he returned.
But don’t think that it was not without concern, prayer and disdain for the situation my neighborhood is in right now. Heck, the situation of our city – country, even! Just this weekend, during the National PTA conference in Orlando, someone tweeted a quote: “Children are not at-risk. They are involved in at-risk situations.” Heck, These Two are not even involved in at risk situations; they’re surrounded by at-risk situations.
Too, too many parents are sending their children out their front door, never to see them again – becoming victims of violence, police brutality, kidnapping. I have already imagined the phone call. I have already put myself in the shoes of mothers being interviewed on TV, begging for answers to why their sons are gone. I don’t have the strength to do that.
It’s so much easier to want to keep them as close to me as I did when they were newborns. One hundred percent free-range children? Not These Two!
So maybe now you understand.
Oh yeah, happy Independence Day.