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“Noooo! Not my baby! Lawd nooo!” The screams are those of a woman in peril. “Mam, I’m gonna have to ask you to step back so that we can do our jobs,” the doctor replies. “I gotta see my baby! I need my baby!” Her desperation has only now just begun. The doctor continues to plead, “mam please! I’m sorry about your lost, but we have to do our job!” The doctor has seen scenes like this many times before, over the years his compassion has worn thin, to say the least. The lady, an African-American woman in her late thirties, continues frantically, “no Lord don’t so me like this!” The doctor, who has now been joined by a team of three surgeons, forces her into the hall before closing and locking the door. “Lady please!”
In the hallway she takes a seat on the bench, rocking back and forth, sobbing loudly. Her cries eventually grow strong enough to travel through the entire hospital. They are tears that a mother should never have to cry. After about ten of the longest minutes of her life, her tears slowly begin to come to a halt, a final submission to the heartache. She sits and waits, rocking still. A couple of the surgeons open the door, causing her to leap to her feet and sprint in their direction. “Is he ali—.” Before she can reach them to finish her question, the surgeons bend the corner and are down the hall.
“Mom!” What turns out to be her eldest son has spotted her from down the hall. He proceeds to sprint over before asking her, “is everything ok?” “It’s Kaleb!” she screams in a panic. Her son, beginning to sense the seriousness of the situation asks, “is everything ok, what’s going on?” His mother, who has began to pant heavily again, continues, “my baby! No lawd, not my baby!” Her son, now realizing that she’s talking about his younger brother, places his arms around his mother, knowing that she needs his support more than ever.
Kaleb Blackman is a 12 year old, on the verge of entering the 8th grade, yet by all accounts he is the most popular kid in the entire school, Langston Reigns Middle School. His friends Kenny and Kedric Knox, or the Knox Twins, or “Twin 1” and “Twin 2,” are both already 8th graders, who like Kaleb, excel in the social arena. After all, their father is the head football coach. Kenny plays quarterback, Kedric is his favorite target, and Kaleb, as the only 7th grader on the A Team, picks up all of the scraps, and he’s really good at it! Ironically, together they are effectively known throughout the school as “BlacKKK,” or, “the Black KKK,” Kenny, Kedric, and Kaleb.”
I know, I know, kids most definitely shouldn’t develop monikers associated with an organization dedicated to bringing death and disenfranchisement to an entire populous of people, especially their own, but on the field, that’s exactly what they were, devastating. In their last game, against Johannesburg, they won 52-0 after the referees ultimately decided to stop the game, and it was only in the third quarter! Not to mention that it was the game to go to the championship round. Kenny threw five touchdowns, and ran for two more, with four of them going to Kedric and another one to Kaleb. Kaleb’s touchdown dash up the sideline seemed to rock the entire stadium more than any other play though, because as with most things, Kaleb was the youngest person on the entire field, but he was exceptional.
After the game, the three of them walk home together, a custom they’ve developed since they’ve been on their latest winning streak, which now sits at 12 games. Usually they are accompanied by a group of at least three or four other kids. As I stated before, they were the ‘Crème de la Crème,’ of Langston Reigns, and as of their latest victory, they would reign for at least another week.
“Hey kid, you ran like yo daddy’s Challenger out there tonight bro,” spews Kedric. Kenny is confused by his brother’s compliment, not really sure what he means. “My daddy?” he asks. “Hell yeah bro, seems like he was calling your number all night long!” “Man I called my number all night long!” Kenny retorts. The three of them all begin to laugh. Kedric then begins to focus his attention on Kaleb, “but this dude here, he was the talk of the entire game!” “My n*gga for real!” chimes in Kenny. “I mean c’mon, the n*gga was zigging and zagging, some of the sickest cuts ever!” adds Kedric. “Straight up n*gga, you sure you just twelve?” Kenny’s question can actually be used to describe Kaleb’s life in a vacuum, people’s reaction to most of the things that he does. Like seriously, the kid was playing 7th grade B Team in basketball as a 6th grader, and starting! All three of them are pretty big stuff for their ages though, ranging from Kedric’s 5’5 to the wiry 5’8 frame of Kenny.
Tonight after the game, the trio decides to stop for food on the way home after their decisive victory. “Mr. Winfield always keeps the burger spot open an hour later on our game nights, sometimes two if we win. If we hurry we can make it in time before the last call rush,” advises Kedric. Kenny, not really feeling up to his brothers plan asks, “n*gga didn’t momma say that she was gonna cook tonight?” Kedric, who loves to feel like he’s the brother in charge, probably because Kenny is often the more acknowledged and admired of the two, shoves the question aside, instead offering, “man n*gga, we about to be the champs. I’m sure momma won’t mind her sons stopping to get food.” Kaleb adds, “man let’s just hurry and do something before it gets too dark out here. I don’t know about you two, but my momma would die if something happened to me.” While the twins had come from a home with both of their parents, Coach Knox had married his high school sweetheart Crystal, Kaleb came from a single parent household that included only his mother and his older brother Jacob, a senior headed to the University of Texas next year on an academic scholarship. Kedric responds to Kaleb’s request by jabbing, “dang okay momma’s boy, I said we’re going!”
Continuing down the street and over the train tracks, which really separates the quality of life within the city limits, the boys come across a group of older teenagers, none of which look like they still attended the local high school anymore. One yells out, “say lil homie, I think yall lil n*ggas might be on the wrong side of town!” Kedric, who definitely isn’t the bravest of the three, turns to Kenny and Kaleb and says, “yeah man he’s right, let’s just turn around.” Kenny looks at his brother with utter disgust on his face. “Man shut up and keep moving!” he says sternly under his breath. The three attempt to keep moving, but another one of the older boys joins in with his friend asking, “aye little n*ggas, don’t yall hear us talking to yall?” By this time the three young boys have began to pick up their pace, but it’s no use, the other boys are older, bigger, and faster. One trips Kenny! Kedric immediately breaks into a full stride down the street, but Kaleb stays behind. One of the boys pin Kenny to the ground and demands his name, “what’s your motherf*cking name lil n*gga?” Kenny, who is noticeably more angry than scared, refuses to answer so the boy slaps him. “Say your name n*gga!” he demands once again. Kenny is now infuriated, and definitely looks like his lips are staying sealed no matter what. The boy that has been holding Kaleb yells to his friend, “man just do it to him!” Keeping a firm grip of Kenny, the boy reaches into his pocket, withdrawing a long dull blade from it. Kaleb instantly screams out, “Black! Don’t do it bro we’re black!” The knife wielding boy turns to Kaleb and stares at him intensely, studying his features closely. “Oh sh*t!” he yells out. He seems to recognize Kaleb. “You’re that little fast n*gga that returned that ball for a touchdown today!” Kaleb shakes his head in acknowledgement. The boy continues, “aye good sh*t lil n*gga! I told my n*ggas Langston was gonna win. Yo a was looking like me out there today!” Kaleb smiles, relieved that the drama was over. The boy helps Kenny off the ground before explaining, “my bad for all this sh*t, a n*gga trying to come up(laughing). Yall some good lil n*ggas, but yall gotta be careful around here dawg for real.” He then shifts his attention to Kenny, “and let n*ggas know where you from!” After his talk he let’s the two boys continue on their journey, first to find Kedric, then to the burger joint, and hopefully back home. Just as they reach a couple of car lengths away, the older boy yells out to Kenny once more, “so what’s your name?” He looks at Kaleb a brief second, then responds loud enough for the entire neighborhood to hear him, “BLACK!”
Happy to be finally out of that sticky situation, and with Mr. Winfield’s less than a block away, the boys use the empty street to race to the next light. “Go!” yells Kaleb. He loves to challenge Kenny whose the most physically mature of the two. The two begin sprinting at a break neck speed down the street. With a quarter of the distance left before Winfield’s, a voice yells out, “slow down ladies! They’re not chasing you anymore!” The voice belongs to Kedric who has been hiding underneath an old parked car that looks as if it hadn’t moved in a couple of years. Kenny, still upset that his brother chose to abandon them, instantly runs over and leaps on top of the old vehicle, jumping up and down relentlessly, rendering his brother helpless. “Stop! Stop! Stop! Ok! Chill bro!” yells Kedric from underneath the car. Kenny, usually the more reserved of the twins, obliges and jumps off. After rolling from under and dusting himself off Kedric declares, “bro you play too much!” Kenny refutes, “n*gga you ran!” Kedric, absolutely hating to look bad, retorts, “but yall ran too,” to which his brother immediately responds, “no, we raced, you ran! There’s a difference.” Kaleb notices the embarrassed look on Kedric’s face and brings a stop to their bickering. “Ok, now that we’re at this window, I vote dinner on the quarterback!” he yells. Now if it’s one thing that both Kedric and Kaleb both know about Kenny, his flaw so to speak, it’s that he’s famously cheap. So much so that on his first date he actually brought a homemade lunch from home. Kenny always claims that it was only a lesson from his father on the value of appreciating money, but it’s still the subject of many jokes.
Mr. Winfield himself comes to the window to take the boy’s orders. “How may I help you young brothers this evening?” he asks. Kaleb’s mom brings him and his brother a burger home from there every Friday after work. He orders his regular double cheeseburger basket and the twins order the same thing. Mr. Winfield, an alumni of Langston Reigns, surprises the boys with a free meal for their victory. “Boys, I want yall to bring it home next week now ya hear? These burgers are on house, you boys will become some special young black men, just stay at it and stay out of trouble. Wait here for a second.” He disappears into the kitchen to retrieve the burgers. “My n*gga I told you he loves us!” exudes Kedric. Kaleb, who is now checking in with his mother, concurs, “hell yeah bro!” Maybe about ten yards away in the darkness is a pair of silhouettes, fast approaching. Once again, the two boys are older, and headed straight in their direction. “Dang man, not again,” says Kaleb. The two boys appear to be yelling something, but neither of the three can make out what they’re shouting, until it’s too late. “Watch out! Watch out!” one demands. “Move n*gga! Move!” yells the other. Just as they reach the boys standing in front of Mr. Winfield’s, two officers who had been sitting in the shadows, exit their squad car and open fire!
In what has become a way of life all too familiar where the three boys have grown up, his story will determine if their loss was in vein. If they are indeed destined to overcome the stereotypes, the peer pressures, and the trials determined to rip them apart, it’ll be because they stuck to their principles and by each other’s side. This is the journey of a friend, a son, and ultimately of a survivor. This is to remembering a life before everything became only a synthesis of color, before everything had a price, and when each child was truly a blank slate of potential. This is remembering a life, Before I Black.
Kaleb Blackman and the Knox Twins are big time, the best that Langston Reigns Middle School has to offer. Like most boys, they love the spotlight, totally ambitious, yet unaware of what all vices come with it. In what has become a way of life all too familiar where the three boys have grown up, their story will determine if their loss was in vein. If they are indeed destined to overcome the stereotypes, the peer pressures, and the trials determined to rip them apart, it’ll be because they stuck to their principles and by each other’s side. This is the journey of a friend, a son, and ultimately of a survivor. This is to remembering a life before everything became only a synthesis of color, before everything had a price, and when each child was truly a blank slate of potential. This is remembering a life, Before I Black.