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In the hallway of the hospital, Kaleb’s mother and brother now patiently await the doctor’s emergence from the operating room. On the walls of the emergency room are several watercolor paintings, or portraits rather, of several prominent African-American figures from throughout history. There’s a pretty large piece of Madam C.J. Walker, a smaller, more personal portrait of Huey P. Newton, and of course a magnificent piece of Dr. King. Considering that Thurgood Memorial was in Groveland, or the “other side,” of the railroad tracks, it seemed as if the emergency room there had been specifically designed to comfort the hundreds of dying young black kids that were coming in each day from the neighborhood. With that being said, it’s exactly the reason why most people that have to sit and wait there are anything but comfortable. Maybe all hospitals are like this, minus the paintings, but this was more like a morgue.
An elderly black woman has now began to make her way down the hallway, slowly approaching. “90 years dealing with this madness, thank God it’s almost over,” she exudes as she takes a seat next to Kaleb’s mother who, unsure of what she has said replies, “Mam?” The old woman continues, “this neighborhood was a beautiful place, good jobs, good folks, and plenty of money.” Kaleb’s mom begins to intensely observe the woman, who closely resembles the majesty of the Madam Walker, listening to her story, her wisdom. “All of the young ones just run around doing whatever, making all kinds of trouble, looking for a way to escape this madness. My last grandson made it far away from all of this, and it still come back on him.” Deeply intrigues by the woman’s words, Kaleb’s mother, still sobbing heavily asks, “and what happened to him?” “Made it all the way through college, and signed up for the service. He come home on leave one fall and got to staying over some gal house. Something just didn’t sit right in my spirit with all of that. Didn’t sit too well with the girl’s boyfriend neither.” After hearing her words, tears slowly begin to trickle down the face of Kaleb’s mother, she knows that her son’s life is in grave danger. “Shot him dead, the both of em. The family hasn’t been the same since. His momma got on drugs and his father was always in and out of prison. Malcom was the last one. If this the end, an entire generation will have been washed away to nothing.”
The door to the operating room opens suddenly. The last surgeon exits followed by the doctor. Kaleb’s mother jumps to her feet and immediately runs over, picking up where she left off, “I need to see my baby!” The surgeon turns to his contemporary and explains, “I’m sorry, we did the best we could.” After they both agree, the surgeon turns and heads down the hall. By this time the elderly woman has stood up and started over to join Kaleb’s mother, his brother awaits on the bench with his heads in his lap, noticeably beginning to weep. His mother screams, “so what about my son? I want to see my son!” The doctor is genuinely sympathetic, “I’m sorry mam please, let me explain.” A group of three men enter the room as the doctor begins his explanation, “your son suffered from multiple gun shot wounds.” Kaleb’s mother instantly enters a manic state, frantically screaming as she attempts to fight past the doctor. Her eldest son has now rushed over in an attempt to restrain his mother. The doctor, no longer calm and collected, pleads with the woman before further explaining, “two of the gun shots were to his chest cavity which caused immediate heart failure. We tried our best to get him to come around mam I promise.” The elderly woman places both of her hands over her face. Kaleb’s mother pauses in terror. One of the men emerges from the room, guiding the stretcher in front of him. The body on top is covered from head to toe, and the feeling of death proceeds to consume everyone in the moment. Kaleb’s mother cries out, “my baby!” When the last person exits the room at the foot of the stretcher, the doctor instructs, “gentlemen wait a second please. Let her see him.” As Kaleb’s mother approaches, one of the men slowly pulls back the cover, revealing a young boys face, lifeless, yet far removed from pain. She pauses, almost as still as the body. “That’s not him,” she explains. The doctor looks befuddled, thinking that he may have misheard her. “Mam?” he replies for clarification. She then begins to point to the name tag that has been placed at the foot of the stretcher, before reiterating “that’s not him.” As the doctor looks down at once to see the name, one of the men explains, “he only had a gym membership on him with his photo and first name.” The name on the stretcher reads Malcom “X.”
2552 SOUTH GROVELAND DRIVE. Back in 1994, six years after the birth of Kaleb’s brother Christian, his grandmother passed away after a long battle with cancer, leaving his mother Cherise the house on Groveland as her only inheritance. After years of struggling in Memphis with the boy’s father, the three of them had finally found place to begin anew, building a solid foundation. Cherise had left home pregnant at sixteen and never looked back, until now, and she was again pregnant, this time with Kaleb. For the first six years after Christian was born, Eddie Blackman enjoyed being a father more than any other thing in the world. I would say even more than his high school sweetheart Cherise Witherspoon. He would take Chris(Christian) with him everywhere, somewhere that he could preserve the little joy that life had provided him. Eddie was the oldest of three boys, born in the Mississippi Delta. Their mother died giving birth to the last of the three brothers, and their father had basically abandoned the family before the birth. Eddie was fourteen at the time. They were lucky enough to have one living relative in the state, an aunt that had previously been found innocent in a case in which she had stabbed her husband to death in self-defense, sixteen times. There comes a time in every man’s life when he must make a choice, to step up, or fade away. His father had abandoned his family, and left Eddie to carry the weight, too burdensome for any teenager to carry, but Eddie sure tried. He worked two jobs, owned two cars, including an absolutely stunning Cadillac, and carried the torch as “head of the household,” as he had provided for his brothers like a father would.
He maintained that dignity and diligence, as a brother and a father, all the way until Cherise was pregnant with Kaleb. Over the years, a lot had changed about their relationship, and Eddie had slowly began to withdraw. He had lost his brother to murder at the hands of a Mississippi State Trooper just four months prior to the pregnancy. Understandably, his youngest brother’s death seemed to cast Eddie into a deep depression. After taking a two month leave from his job as lead supervisor at a construction company, Eddie never did return to work, he rarely even returned home to Cherise, Christian, and a newborn Kaleb. Then all of a sudden he stopped showing up.
The front door of the Groveland home swings open, a forceful presence behind it. It’s Kaleb, and he’s covered in blood. He hurries inside, quickly shutting the door behind him. Once inside to what he assumes is safety, he drops to the floor and exhales. It was as if he had held his breath through that entire ordeal. The day had started so perfect, the pregame celebration at school, the perfect game against Johannesburg, the complete adulation of Langston Reigns. What had began as a trip into euphoria had suddenly turned into a nightmare, that of which now forced Kaleb to question the reality of it all. How could death be written in blood all over his hands and clothes, yet and still he was home, and alive? A bullet from one of the officers gun had been released with deadly intent, ultimately ripping through the neck of one of the older boys that had been fleeing down the sidewalk. Even though his neck was mostly covered by the ski-mask that blanketed his face, the blow from the shot not only dropped him instantly, it also splattered all over Kaleb who tried only to digest the horror. This was the matrix, a seemingly endless cycle that had nearly swallowed him in his youth, but instead of him it would be another young black child to meet that devastating end, there always is.
You would never know after a box score like the one that the boys posted tonight, but tragedy would strike even closer to home than just one of the boys being killed unarmed, which really makes the word “excessive “ a rather shallow description. Then again, life is a lot like a box score, rarely is the complete story ever told. This was another case where voices would be silenced forever for reasons unwarranted. During the ambush, Kaleb was knocked to the ground by one of the victims in the shooting. The second victim, also unarmed, was the recipient of a single gunshot to the back of the head. Actually, the bullet had ripped through one of the umbrellas on the tables in front of Mr. Winfield’s, right before lodging itself into its victim. The reality of the situation is that referring to the boy as simply a victim would in itself be a crime, a dehumanizing of sorts. Kenny Knox stood the furthest from the window, in back of Kaleb and Kedric, as the older boys had approached. Being the person that he was, even at such a young age, he immediately began to position himself in front of his brother Kedric. That was why, no matter if they were the same age(although Kenny’s technically 7 minutes older), Kenny was the quarterback, the architect. As it had often played out in their lives together, Kedric would present the challenges, or utterly ridiculous situations, and Kenny would topple and solve them accordingly. For a set of twin brothers only in the eighth grade, they had in so few words, “perfected the lob pass.” Except on this night, there would be no lobs, no warnings, nobody there to circumvent what can’t be described as anything outside of cold blooded murder.
The danger in front of Kenny didn’t frighten him a bit as he braced for the encounter, but the barrage of bullets from the two officers, was something that even he couldn’t prepare for. It was something that none of them could prepare for. One of the two older boys darted across the empty lot that was beside the burger spot, amazingly escaping unscathed from the hail of police gunfire. To make it to the lot, he would have to make it through the group of younger boys as bullets dauntingly zipped past his head, a path that he, unlike his friend, would successfully navigate, but not without the expense of a life. Kenny didn’t fall when the older boy raised his forearm up and into his nose, but by instinctively being a leader, he had stepped to the forefront, making the vital mistake of leaving only a slight opening behind him. In that ghastly instant, a miniscule tenth of a second, one of the bullets cut into the back of his brother’s head.
Arguably the one thing that makes life itself so beautiful, yet so devastating, alarming yet so profound, is its distinct nature to be altogether insensible, logic at its most cataclysmic. As they await for the ambulance Kaleb stares into the vast nothingness of the night, traumatized, but definitely more grief-stricken for his friend Kenny. His harrowing cries are best described as simply heartbreaking, Kenny’s, as he rocks with Kedric in his arms. For the friend of the boy that escaped across the empty lot, no one was there to hold him as his life was being taken away from him, for that it was already too late. The only trace of his identity that could be found by the perpetrating officers was a partially faded photo ID that was now smeared in blood. It only contained his name, Malcom.
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 the many vices that often 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.