But I’m not sick of hearing the awful news because I think it casts our city in a negative light, paints a skewed portrait of one region of our community, creates racial tension, is a hopeless situation or because I’d rather focus solely on the positive. All of those reasons, which I’ve heard expressed over the past few weeks, have merit and at least some validity, but they’re not why I’m weary of hearing about the violence.
I’m tired because I don’t have a clue how I can help, despite an innate, immediate desire to do so. You would too if your teenage godsons resided in Beecher Terrace, a neighborhood that has garnered much attention because of the violence and despair happening there.
Two weeks ago, after several murders in the West End became the top news stories locally and beyond, I called my godsons, Terry, 17, and Tyrone, 19, whom I’ve known and loved for seven years. After their initial, usual silliness – “Hi, Godmommy, how are you?” “You best be ready for another round of air hockey, Miss Angie. Gonna whip you this time.” – I asked their thoughts about the shootings that have stunned so many. The normally talkative teens were subdued, even apathetic. I was alarmed.
“Do you know what an incredible world is out there waiting for you to join it?” I demanded.
“Yes, ma’am,” they both sighed.
“Terry, are you studying hard to pass your classes?” I pressed, both of us knowing how important this is, since he’d recently returned home from what we call “jail-ordered boot camp” after getting into trouble with the law.
“Yes, ma’am,” he mumbled.
“Tyrone, have you filed the paperwork to go back to college?” I asked.
“No, ma’am. But I’m going to,” he answered, quietly.
“When?” I responded sharply.
“Soon,” said Tyrone, his one-word answer belying a masterful, mature grasp of the English language that he expresses in raps that, without beats, read like the most beautiful poetry.
Exasperated, my voice increased in volume and intensity: “Do you guys care? Do you? Your mother and I can’t make you, and we can’t do this for you. We can’t make you care or see beyond today to tomorrow. Do you understand you can have more than you have now – careers and happiness and the gift of waking up in the morning excited for the day? Do you get it? Do you get it at all?”
“Yes ma’am,” they answered as if their mouths were filled with marbles.
I was incensed. And terrified. “Dang it, Terry and Tyrone!” I cried, desperate for even a small hint that they felt even one tenth of the sense of urgency that I do. “I need to know: What can I do to help you see?”
The seconds of silence felt like forever.
“I don’t know,” Terry finally said, and I could almost see him shrug his shoulders through the phone.
“Nothing, ma’am,” Tyrone added, and I imagined him rolling his eyes.
“Nothing? You don’t know?” I asked, my voice loud and growing louder. Listen to them, I reminded myself. LISTEN. “Do you remember when you moved from the shelter to Beecher Terrace and we were all so happy you finally had a home?”
“Yes ma’am,” Tyrone said, his brother echoing the same unimpassioned response.
“It’s home and it’s been a good home, but do you want to live there forever?” I pressed, taking a deep breath. “Don’t you ever want more? Don’t you ever want out?”
“Do you want out?” I almost whispered.
“No ma’am,” they responded, their quiet, collective answer feeling like a sucker punch to the gut.
That night, a young man was gunned down in Beecher Terrace in the small yard of one of the housing units directly behind where my godsons reside. When I woke up and learned the news about the killing, I stopped what I was doing and held my breath. Again. When I heard the name of the man who was murdered, I sank into a chair and cried, relieved my godsons were safe – this time – and horrified for the people who had lost a 22-year-old son, a brother, a friend.
But I was also tired. Tired of holding my breath, tired of feeling helpless to do something about a seemingly hopeless situation in my community, tired of waiting for someone to tell me what to do.
That afternoon, Terry called to say hello, an unusual gesture since I usually have to initiate contact with him. Tyrone sent a text. “I wrote a new rap. You should hear it,” he wrote. “And I’m going to get back in school. Oh, and I wanted to tell you: Yes, I want out.”
After responding to them, I called community activist Christopher 2X and asked for a favor: Would he please take the time to come with me to meet my godsons and their mother? What transpired was a candid discussion. So did much, much more.
The boys talked honestly with me, Christopher 2X and The Voice-Tribune’s Chief Photographer-Designer Chris Humphreys about their everyday lives and fears. They also shared how important it is to them to know that people who don’t live in their neighborhood genuinely care about them. That struck me, though I’d already known this. In previous conversations, both boys had essentially said, “We believe that people care, but how come no one comes here to show it?” They were right. We hold festivals and 5Ks and events all over town. Rarely do we hold them in the areas deemed most dangerous, for obvious reasons, but what if we considered for a moment that our lack of including certain areas of our community in events that celebrate our community might be exacerbating the situations occurring there? How would it feel to you and to me if people were afraid of our neighborhoods so much so that they completely avoided them? I’m guilty of this avoidance. Unless there’s an emergency, I won’t go to the boys’ home after dark alone. But yet, that’s where my godsons live.
The afternoon of my visit with Christopher 2X, I showed Terry and Tyrone a Facebook status update I’d posted asking my friends on the social networking site to click “LIKE” in affirmation of their support and desire to see the violence cease. The boys were astonished at the nearly 400 people who had taken the time to do so. “Do you see that?” I asked them as I watched their excitement build. “All of those people care. And so do many more. They think you matter, and you do. You just have to believe them – and then prove it to yourselves.”
“True dat,” Tyrone cracked, correcting himself when I feigned disapproval. “I mean, true that, Godmommy,” he smiled. I smiled too.
After exchanging fierce hugs, Chris Humphreys, Christopher 2X and I left Tyrone and Terry. As we walked to where we’d parked our vehicles near Eleventh and Muhammad Ali, a car stopped in the middle of the street and a young man rolled down the window. “You should have been here before the killings!” he shouted angrily. “You should have been here!”
Christopher 2X swiftly walked over to the man and handed him a card with his contact information. “We’re here now, brother, and you can be a part of the solution,” he said. “We’re here now and we love you, I love you,” he added, gripping the man’s hand before he drove off.
For a moment, none of us spoke. Then I did, addressing the community activist. “What are we supposed to do, Chris? Seriously, what is the average person living in Louisville supposed to do?”
Christopher 2X smiled. “The mayor has put together a task force to address this–”
I interrupted. “–I know and I think that’s fantastic and going to be beneficial, but what about people like those of us who work at or read The Voice-Tribune? Most of us don’t live here, and I’m not alone in saying we are so tired of the violence, tired of feeling like all we can do is watch the awfulness unfold. What are WE supposed to do?”
Christopher 2X smiled again. “Love them. Like you all did the people of Henryville. There’s a tornado going on here everyday. Love them and listen to them, and don’t let the violence of a few affect how you can impact many.”
I stopped walking and turned to look him in the eyes. “It’s that simple, Chris? It really is, isn’t it? We have to just come here and love.”
Plenty of others feel the same – including Sanctuary Church – and so we will come and show love on Saturday, June 16 from noon until 3 p.m. You’re invited. The rain date is June 30, but we’re hoping that doesn’t happen to a grassroots, unsponsored event now called Love Louisville: Beecher Terrace that will occur noon to 3 p.m. and includes free food, music by DJ Z-Nyce, Sonny Fenwick’s Bubble Truck, a cotton candy machine, Santa Claus (aka Walt Queen), Dare to Care, Brightside, Baxter Station, The Brewery, Wick’s Pizza, a crew from Henryville Community Church that wants to give back the love they received when in need and so many others. All we need – all we want – are people to show up and care.
Will we affect change because of what is essentially a block party being held Saturday afternoon in one of the toughest areas of our city? Of course not. But can it matter? My 19-year-old godson says so.
“I care about stuff, but I think it’ll prove to Beecher Terrace that people care,” Tyrone text me last night.
“But will it prove anything to you?” I typed back.
“Yes ma’am. It proves that you care, I care and it shows (others) do care, too,” he text.
We do. I do. Care with us. June 16 noon to 3 p.m. at Baxter Park. Please, just show up if you can.
Love Louisville: Beecher Terrace
- Noon to 3 p.m.
- Baxter Park on Jefferson between 10th & 11th
- Free; All are invited
- Rain date: June 30
Angie Fenton is the managing editor of The Voice-Tribune. She’s also the daily entertainment correspondent for WHAS11’s “Great Day Live!” and dishes with Ron & Mel on 84WHAS — 840 AM — every Saturday morning just after 8 a.m., in addition to being the on-camera entertainment talent for Churchill Downs, which debuts their second night racing event on June 16. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 502.551.2698.