As a member of the violin duo Nuttin But Stringz, I have been blessed to perform around the globe, earning a living off music and the arts. I’ve experienced new cultures, met new people from all walks of life, sampled every kind of food available and participated in the kind of activities that aren’t your everyday experience – like the time I jumped out of a plane! Even if I have a bad experience, like getting my luggage lost or sick from bad water, I always enjoy traveling to new places and returning to chilled spots.
One place that makes me second guess visiting is the neighborhood where I was born: South Jamaica, Queens. I am not ashamed of where I came from at all; I just don’t like being reminded of the violence I experienced during my teen years and the violence that urban youth will continue to experience if we don’t put a stop to it.
In 2009, I took a trip to my old neighborhood to play in a basketball tournament. Hundreds of kids were playing out on the courts, laughing, trying to be the next Lebron or Melo, being kids. Shots rang out and one boy fell to the ground, dead. His friend who had been playing next to him was shot in the face. Someone was on someone’s territory, some guy looked at another’s girl, who knows what happened. It seemed so routine!People weren’t even panicking. Folks just walked off the court, took off for home or went to retrieve their own weapon. You know what the worst part, the horrible part was?
[pagebreak]A bunch of kids came over and began to film the bodies with their camera phones and flipcams. They cared more about getting hits on You Tube then the fact they were in danger of being shot.
It brings a knot to my stomach because I remember what it was like to be numb to violence. The first time I heard a gun, I was alarmed. The first time I saw a boy get jumped, I was shocked. By the time I was in junior high, I just kept walking. My classmates and I would be playing basketball, shots would ring out, we would look around, and then resume our game. I was so desensitized to violence because I saw it so much and no one seemed alarmed. I even joined a local gang.
My mother was a single mom and did a great job trying to teach young black boys how to be men, but it wasn’t enough and I soon yearned for the streets, and the streets came calling. After school was let out, I had a big block of time, It didn’t seem like a big deal to join a gang – I knew plenty of people in gangs. The gang leaders seemed so smooth with their fancy clothes and phones. They offered what they would call ‘structure’, pocket money, something to do, somewhere to belong. Who cares if there were fights, stick up, guns and people being jumped – that is just what you did – and the gang leaders told us that it was a necessary part of gang life, the life that was getting us ahead.
I was lucky because I was able to participate in music classes at PS233 where I learned how to play the violin, that along with a strong mother who at a young age instilled structure into my life was the reason I was able to pull myself out of the clutches of the streets and get back onto my destined path. My brother Tourie and I went on to appear in movies, perform on national television and release a platinum selling album. Yea, my life has more depth and structure, but it got me thinking. Why are there so many PSAs on cigarettes and pregnancy but not violence? Why are so many of the music and arts programs wiped out of our neediest schools? Who is going to tell the urban youth that there is a future and you can live a violence free life!
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