Dear Mom and Dad,
I am writing this letter because I finally understand my life. I know now that you were just kids too and you did not understand what having a child was about, that I was a human being, not a play thing or an annoyance.
You gave me the material things that I wanted. The latest video games, fashionable shoes and clothes came in barrels from auntie Nen in the states. You thought I didn’t appreciate them, but I did. I just wanted more, I wanted more of you both.
Mommy, I understand now there were things you had to do to survive. You had to work, you felt you had to have a man to support us and you needed to keep a connection to your own youthfulness through your friends. But YOU need to understand that I needed you with me, some of them Friday nights when I was left, barely attended to, while you were out at the club. I needed some of those minutes you were on the cell phone sharing the latest gossip with your girls. I needed birthday parties that were about me, not afternoons of adult music, drinks and inappropriate games. I needed to see you respect yourself by the way you dressed and your attitude so that I could grow up to respect you, my little sister and other women in my life.
Dad, I now understand that you were still growing up just like me. You wanted to have a life, hang with the boys, move when you felt like it, check the girls. I wanted you to stay home and play those video games with me. When you finally came around and I screamed at you “I don’t care” I really meant “I don’t know if you care, so stay and show me.” When I was disobedient, it was because I wanted mom to call you, for her to say “Come talk to yuh son, see!” to hear you speak to me, even if it was to shout at me; to have you touch me, even if it was in anger.
But someone gave me the attention I craved. You know him. Johnny who sat on the step across from the rum shop on the next street. He would be sitting there every afternoon when I was on my way after school to the empty house. Sitting on the steps, ready to play a game of cards or just talk. He treated me like a man, with respect, as if I had something to say. He introduced me to his friends, and soon, I felt I finally belonged. We had a purpose and even though I knew it was wrong, I defended it with my life.
Mom, you seemed not to notice I was gone. You never asked where I was or who my new friends were. Maybe you were relieved that someone had finally taken me off your hands. No, that is not fair. But between your two jobs and your personal life, there was not much left for me.
Mom and Dad, you are not all to blame. I was not a good kid in the wrong place at the wrong time. As I lay on the street bleeding that night, I thought of you both, but I knew that ultimately I was killed because I joined a gang. It was my choice, but as you move on with your lives, you must acknowledge your part. Watch over my little brother and sister, love them, guide them and ensure that they don’t look for love outside on the streets.
Peace out, Jimmy.
This commentary is not intended to criticize any of the families who have lost love ones to gang activity. Many parents who are attentive and caring still lose their kids to gangs. Some of the young people killed as a result of gang activity are actually innocent bystanders. But there is a message in there for each of us, so don’t write it off completely. Listen still, and if it reminds you even a little of your relationship with your child, see what you can do to turn it around each day. This is Carol Mitchell, thanks for listening.