Saturday, September 6, 2014

My Goodbye—A Call to Action

Today, we laid to rest Nizzear Rodriguez, a young life gone too soon. A life taken by individuals not much older than his own. Upon watching the funeral procession drive away from the church to the burial site, I shift from consciously knowing that Nizzear is no longer here to acceptance and then belief. Today, 6 September 2014, Nizzear's death is real to me. Though his death didn't garner national headlines as Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Jonathan Ferrell, or Trayvon Martin, it did wake up our sleeping little town and for that I am forever grateful. An act of senseless violence took him from his family, friends, teachers, coaches, those whose lives he touched, those lives he had yet to touch, and all those that loved him. 

Nizzear's death has forced me to revisit a conversation I had with my oldest nephew back in 2008. While talking to him, I could have just reached through the phone and slapped him for squandering his innate drawing talent to chase the elusive rapper's lifestyle. To understand my frustration, I offer you a little about my nephew. By the time he was ten-years old, he was drawing freehand. While watching taped Dragon Ball Z cartoon shows, he would pause the video and draw the image on the screen. Once doing a visit home from college, I asked to have a picture he drew of Chuckie from the Nickelodeon cartoon
Rugrats. Before I accepted it, I made him sign his name at the bottom of the drawing. When I returned to school, I hung it up in my dorm room and later in the room of my first apartment. To this day, I still have his drawing. It's tucked safely in my keepsakes folder. After ending our conversation that night, I cried for the next forty-five minutes to an hour before writing the following in my journal. 
18 February 2008, 8:21 p.m.
Why? What happened to our black males? What happened to their pride? Their awareness of being who they are? Why is it hard for us as a people to work together? Why is it that we do not recognize that we are our brother's keeper? (responsible for reaching back...pulling up...encouraging) Why do our young black males feel that it's okay & quite acceptable to play into the stereotype of the ignorant, thuggish, pant-sagging, dope-dealing, baby daddy black man? Why are these parents not pushing these kids? Why are we so happy being complacent? Parents, why do you allow your children to settle for much less than they are worth? Why? Why? Why? I will continue to push, motivate, empower, encourage, enrage, and teach them to fight back. NO SETTLING!!
Still there was more to get out. There was more that I had to, no, NEEDED to say. The words flowed out shaping themselves into a poem. 
Little boy, little boy 
Are you okay?
I hear your scream
I hear your cry
Why do you bury it so?
I hear your voice calling to me
So what are you going to do?
Are you gonna mold yourself to media standards?
Are you gonna bend to the ways of others?
How about conforming to the next big fad?

Little boy, little boy
What are you to do?
Are you gonna dance to the beat of your own drum?
Sway to the rhythm of your own song?
Allowing your talent, your special gift to lead the way?
Little boy, little boy
You are not so little anymore
A young man you have become

Young man, young man
 what do you know?
Do you know who you are?
Legacy, oh legacy, what will yours be?
Young man, young man
I still hear your silent cry
Free it, free it, let it go
Throw back your head releasing your fierce roar
I am here
nowhere have I gone
Drawing out your gift is my aim
Point to yourself, lay a hand on your stomach
and say, “Rise My Gift, RISE!”
As your gift comes forth the stereotypes, negativity, insecurities, self-doubts, fears,
low expectations, and confusion fall away
Young man, young man
which will you choose,
a life of conformity or individuality?

As I transcribe these words from my journal to this post,  I'm reminded of a scene from the movie Akeelah & the Bee, after Dr. Larabee is no longer coaching Akeelah for the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Tanya, Akeelah's mother, says to a disappointed Akeelah, "You know Akeelah you ain't short on people who want to help you. I bet if you just look around, you got 50,000 coaches, starting with me." When our children look around, will they see 50,000 coaches or 50,000 unapproachable, too-busy-for-me adults? 

Too many of our young black boys and men have lost their lives to death or the prison system due to criminal activity and/or foolish rivalries. There is a proverb of the African Bantu people that states, "The child in the mother's womb is the burden of one person, outside it belongs to everybody." You and I, are everybody. We are the community, the village. Our job is to love, nurture, support, awaken to work, and provoke positive action in our young. 

Nizzear, though we mourn your passing, we rejoice in your transition. You are once again with our Divine Creator and now stand among the ancestors. Nizzear Rodriguez you will never be forgotten. Your death is not in vain for it shook up Carroll County and sparked life into a dormant community.  Farewell my friend, I will always be your Ms. Stephina. 

Akeelah and the Bee. Dir. Doug Atchison. Perf. Angela Bassett, Laurence Fishburne, KeKe Palmer.       Lionsgate 2929 Productions, 2006. 


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