An Inner City Reality Check
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An Essay by Katie Davis
Katie Davis is active in her Washington, DC, neighborhood, and works with youngsters who live there. For many of them, September 11th was scary, but no more so than some of the events that transpire in their daily lives.
Oct. 25, 2001 -- For days after September 11th, I wait for the kids to come and talk about what happened, reassuring myself this will be my contribution, to help sort it out. Not one of them out of a dozen brings up the Pentagon, the World Trade Center or the threats of more terrorism. Not once.
Don't get me wrong -- the kids are still coming to see me. On that same Tuesday of the attacks, a teen-ager I'll call Victor tells me he's run away from home because his father picked up a baseball bat to hit him, instead of the fist he tends to use when he's drunk.
"I have found a daily rhythm again, working in the morning, spending time with the neighborhood kids after school, and I am grateful for that. I am newly aware, though, that 'normal' is often a numbing and fearful place to be."
The following week, a week I stockpiled bottled water, 15-year-old Juan knocks on the door to say that an eighth-grader pulled a gun on him at the school playground. It started, explains Juan, when he made a mouthy comment about the boy wearing the same clothes twice.
“And then he came up to my face and when he got to my face, then I was like, `OK, man, this just got personal,' 'cause he was cussing at me in my face. So then I cursed at him back and then at that same time, I thought he was reaching for a knife and when I seen he pulled out a gun that looked like a little .25. And then he got mad and looked like he was about to shoot me, but then like I just stood there and he was cursing at me, so I was cursing him back.“
While he had the gun you cursed at him?
“Yeah. So then his friend's like, `No, leave it alone.' And then afterwards he left.”
Guns, baseball bats, knives -- normal in my neighborhood.
“Basically I think the difference was that this attack fit into our kids' world view,” says Chris Drier. He runs the Good Shepherd Teen Learning Center, two blocks away, and we often work with the same teen-agers, double-teaming them. “And it didn't fit into ours.”
Drier adds that of course the kids care about September 11th. Some even want to raise money for the victims. It just, says Chris, it just didn't rock their world the way it rocked ours.
“Look, man, their whole lives is just like senseless violence interrupting things and changing things -- you know. It's like, `Hey, what's new about that?' They didn't live under any kind of notion that they're supposed to be protected by God or by their families or by society from senseless violence.”
Chris says out of the 40 kids in his center, there are only about three who haven't lost a parent, a sibling or a relative to death, prison or addiction. That's why when he hears people say the world has changed forever, he wants to interrupt, to qualify.
“You know, your world has changed,” Drier says. “My world has changed. But the reality is we're just having to now share a little bit of the perspective of kids who grow up poor in our country.”
I have found a daily rhythm again, working in the morning, spending time with the neighborhood kids after school, and I am grateful for that. I am newly aware, though, that “normal” is often a numbing and fearful place to be.
Katie Davis lives in Washington, D.C.