Monday, April 13, 2009

No Flowers Today

No Flowers Today

The sun is bright,-the air is clear,
The darting swallows soar and sing,
And from the stately elms I hear
The bluebird prophesying Spring. (Longfellow)

Sometimes there’s blood in the Georgia dusk
Left by a streak of sun,
A crimson trickle in the Georgia dusk.
Whose blood?...Everyone’s. (Hughes)

Spring is a time of planting. A season of growth and rebirth. Whether its tulips or lilacs, or daffodils- it’s a time of renewal. A cherished friend of mine sent me beautiful pictures of blooming flowers in upstate New York; the splendor, the fascination and mysteries of life. Whether flowers are blooming in Forest Hills Park, or an urban garden in my friend’s yard in North Collinwood.

As we anticipate the arrival of a full spring in Cleveland, the anticipated splendor of a hopeful spring was shattered last Saturday, the day before Palm Sunday, when someone robbed Jason Cummings as he returned from a neighborhood barbershop.

“Lay it Down,” the gunman said, in street language for “you’re being robbed”.

On a cold Saturday sixteen months ago, Ja-Shaun Richardson and a friend left home to the corner grocery store. Ja-Shaun was robbed, and as he turned to run away, he was shot and killed. In between the murders of Ja-Shaun and Jason’s, there were many, many others. In this season of birth and renewal, we must also remember and do justice in the honor of families forever affected by these terrible crimes.

I’m reminded of a ceremony held in Washington, DC in 1994, to honor the lives of individuals killed and impacted by handgun violence by displaying 38,000 pairs of shoes to represent lives loss, families impacted and neighborhoods held hostage within their homes and in their neighborhoods throughout the country.

I recall the event, and can’t quite remember how I missed the event; I should not have missed it. You see, I lost a brother to handgun violence; another brother has been involved in criminal activity involving guns and my father survived an armed robbery, but lost his grocery business.

Eric Erikson once remarked, “…that the most deadly of all possible sins is the mutilation of a child’s spirit” and I would add, the sin of continuous, death by handgun violence. Handgun violence crosses all boundaries, but within the context of this essay, I agree with The Reverend Dr. Calvin Butts, III, pastor of Abyssinian Church in Harlem, NY when he said: “I am concerned deeply that a GROUP of Americans is fast becoming extinct and I’m one of them. I am an African American man.”

These generational losses represent a collective suffering and profound pain of city residents. It is not just the loss of Ja-shaun and Jason----it is how the loss of their lives, and thousands of others, the impact on their families, communities, and their collective loss of individual potential as well as the perpetrator and their families in our neighborhoods.

Cleveland has always existed in a perpetual state of emergency: poverty, crime, educational failure, neighborhood distress, joblessness, among others. Despite past and present mayoral administrations, this state of emergency is generational; it defies seasons; the inn and box score for the Indians; and the timeline of success for the Cavs from Bingo Smith to Lebron James.

No amounts of “change” have been able to stem the perpetual state of emergency of our children and families in crisis. Whether distinguished speakers fill the City Club dining room or pack conference halls, the state of emergency exists whether no acknowledge it by small blocks of space in the newspaper or a 10 second spot on the news.

Albert Camus, in the Plague, perfectly characterized the context of the situation and environment facing our lack of an adequate response to this crisis—it is as true now, as it is his book of fiction: “…small official notices had been just put up about the town, though in places where they would not attract much attention. It was hard to find in these notices any indication that the authorities were facing the situation squarely. The measures enjoined were far from Draconian and one had the feeling that many concessions had been made to a desire not to alarm the public”.


Everyday, families cautiously maneuver on skating ponds of cracked ice, the crumbing of hope, and on the illusory promises of electoral change. Decades of callous disregard for neighborhoods, a myriad of mental health issues, ineffectual public policy, neighborhood instability, family dysfunction and general lawlessness alongside routine access to guns and the exploitative nature of violence in popular culture and in the media have brought us to the bottom.

At one point, I subscribed to historian Barbara Tuchman’s notion that “wooden headedness” by political leadership often confines one to a singular source of action despite facts and reality as the order of the day. She is right, but I think, Michael Ignatieff is more on point when he uses Shakespeare’s King Lear to argue how we chose to respond to events that happen: “…We never know a thing till we have paid the price to know it, never know how much is enough until we have had much less than enough, never know what we need till we have been dispossessed. We must be blinded before we can see”.


Somehow, someway, today, with a supernatural inspiration for the possible, we must rekindle the crumbled hopes of this current and future generation. We must do this. We have no choice.

We can continue to put smiley faces on media slick campaigns promoting regional economic development initiatives, downtown housing, the Euclid Corridor or Midtown.

Or, we can demand a policy re prioritization of what will not only save lives, but policies and programs that save our people and secure a healthy and sustainable future for all.