Saturday, August 22, 2009

Allright. Now let's talk about the real reason I've not been writing this past week ...

He was seventeen and expecting to enter Contra Costa Community College this fall semester. (I can still see him in my mind's eye, a handsome dark-skinned youth, neatly-dressed, seated at our conference table just two seats over listening intently). This youngster was one of about a dozen local kids from a program known as C.Y.C.L.E. Their director is Ms. Lillie Mae Jones, a feisty aging Saul Alinsky-trained community organizer and activist who is my friend, and who has been conducting a program for disadvantaged youngsters in Richmond's troubled Iron Triangle neighborhood for many years. And what makes this story the more poignant is that Lillie Mae conducts the program from her wheelchair and has done so for as many years as I've known her.

One morning just two weeks ago, my friend, and her daughter and very capable assistant, Lena, called to ask if it would be possible for me to conduct a guided tour of the Rosie the Riveter Memorial for her summer youth program. "We have our own van, and can be there in a few minutes." With only an hour's notice, my ranger partner and I quickly organized a mini-tour.

As Elizabeth and I ran through our PowerPoint and my short "Of lost conversations" DVD in our conference room, I noticed how rapt were those kids, and realized how unknowing they were about their own local history. It was a great morning, and though they drove ahead while I took care of some items waiting at my desk, the adventure ended up with my joining them at the Memorial in Marina Bay Park where we walked the time line of WWII together, and read each panel aloud and talked about meanings. It was rangering at its best, and I felt rightfully "in the moment."

Lena phoned me at home later that evening to say how moved she had been by our presentation and of how excited the kids were; how animated was the talk on the way back to their center.

Just two days ago I learned that our 17 year-old student had been accosted on the street by an assailant and shot 5 times in the back! That he had survived the murder attempt but may be suffering permanent physical damage. The psychological damage must be overwhelming. The kind of hatred that would bring 5 shots to the back might well indicate that the shooter will return at some point -- and ...what does one say or do in the face of that kind of awfulness?

And ... what are the relationships between my earlier post (below) and this one? And why have I held the story for so many hours without sharing it with anyone, not even with my co-workers?

Is it just an illusion that putting it into words makes the terror more real?

I truly don't know.

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