The morning after the President gave his State of the Union address, a young mother prepared for one of the most difficult moments of her life. She has spent many days over the past three years not wanting to get out of bed, today was especially hard. Justice was never a word she thought a whole lot about, but since the death of her 13-year-old child, justice has been part of her everyday routine. Last night, as the cheers echoed from the halls of Congress through the TV sets in living rooms across America, the silence of her son’s absence was deafening in Donna Hood’s Queens, New York home. She awoke this morning, hoping that she could stay strong for Kevin, as she anticipated what it would be like when she listened to the judge deliver the prison sentence of the teenage black boy who killed her teenage black boy. In the county of Queens, a prince’s mother will struggle to get through the day.
Kevin Miller grew up in an America where too many boys and girls who look like him have not celebrated their eighteenth birthday. For so many years, these deaths were rarely mentioned. Hardly written about. Never discussed. They were part of the untold history of the urban wars that have raged in the streets of Chicago to Camden to Compton, with more causalities than the wars we fight abroad. The Chicago-born poet, Kanye Omari West once said, “We at war. We at war with terrorism, racism, and most of all we at war with ourselves.” Yes, we have been at war with ourselves, but for far too long, it appeared that nobody seemed to care, except for the local heroes from the communities under siege. The mothers, the grandmothers, the violence intervention workers, the teachers, the basketball coaches, the hard working fathers, the corner store owners, the ones who lost too many. They have all waited for someone, anyone, to recognize the destruction of this vicious, violent war.
Last night, the untold was told. The shadows were given light. The voiceless’ voice was no longer unplugged. The significance of the presence at the State of the Union address of the parents of a 15-year-old girl who was shot and killed just two weeks ago in Obama’s hometown of Chicago, may not be felt for quite some time. The numerous invitations by members of Congress of other parents and relatives from around the country who have lost a loved one to gun violence was significant. The acknowledgement that their pain is equal to any other parent’s pain who has lost their child is somewhere located on King’s arch that bends towards justice. We may not be able to stop the bullet from leaving a gun intended for another young black child in the coming days, but we certainly have taken the first step to ending this nightmare. The President’s invitation of Hadiya’s grieving parents made a loud statement that dead black children are Americans too, and their deaths should never be in vain. We should invest as much time and resources to stopping the next child being killed in the streets of Chicago, as we should trying to stop the next child being killed in the classrooms of Connecticut.
Hadiya loved lip gloss. Sandy Hook Elementary School student Emilie Parker loved pink. Kevin Miller loved Air Jordans. Sandy Hook Elementary School student Jack Pinto loved Victor Cruz. It does not matter what race or creed these children were born. As a nation, we embrace them all, as our children, America’s children. Their zip codes in life might have been different, but in death, they rest in peace in the same town.
President Obama ended his speech making sure we understood our responsibilities to each other, when he said, “We are citizens. It’s a word that doesn’t just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes the way we’re made. It describes what we believe. It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations; that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others; and that well into our third century as a nation, it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story.”
Donna Hood knows the pain of the parents of Hadiya Pendleton. Her child was shot in the back too by a bullet that was not intended to be the author of his death certificate. Nothing prepared Donna Hood for this moment. And nothing prepared Hadiya’s parents either. But, as a nation, we must uplift these incredible people with compassion and generosity and author that next chapter of our story, where black children are no longer living in fear of gunshots, but rather living with hope of a promised tomorrow.
Michael Skolnik is the Editor-In-Chief of GlobalGrind.com and the political director to Russell Simmons. Prior to this, Michael was an award-winning filmmaker. Follow him on twitter @MichaelSkolnik