Copyright © 2016 by Innovative Arts Media
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A public viewing will be held at Langston Reigns Middle school in remembrance of the two young boys that were gunned down in cold blood. The city hasn’t been the same since. In fact, the entire eastside of Groveland was nearly burned to the ground by rioters after the officers were granted paid leave while their case was still under investigation. The schools were actually shut down for an entire week, and the city championship was pushed back until the week that followed. For now the community will continue to mourn over their losses. Malcolm Kennedy was a relative unknown at Langston Reigns, choosing rather to remain a mystery amongst his peers, but not the other child victim of just thirteen, Kedric Knox.
Kenny Knox hasn’t come out of his room for an entire week. Even when school resumes it seems like he has taken on an entirely new persona, both distant and distrusting. While Kenny was easily the more rounded of the twins, Kedric was the shot in the arm that jumpstarted their every initiative that made them go. With him gone, it was like Kenny had no real purpose of his own, everything had been the two of them, three if you included Kaleb. At football practices you were most likely to find Kedric raising the level of competition between the two of them, which Kenny always found a thrill in meeting, and usually exceeding his brother’s proficiency in whatever the challenge. Now he was arguably the most talented player at Langston, without the one person that probably challenged him the most. Even more challenging is the fact that he and Kaleb haven’t spoken since everything went down. It’s actually kind of crazy since he was the only other person there with Kenny, but just like Kaleb knew she would, and rightfully so, Ms. Blackman has ran a tight ship ever since to ensure her family’s safety. That also means that she agreed to take a pay cut in order to switch shifts at her job, and takes her lunch an hour early to make sure that she’s able to pick Kaleb up from football practice and personally escorted to their home unharmed. For many in the city though, including the two friends, unequivocal harm has already been done.
Kaleb’s brother Christian enters the Blackman’s home seemingly relieved to be escaping the ever growing drama unfolding on the streets outside. “Momma I don’t think Groveland’s gonna make it through this time,” he says. Ms. Blackman turns around almost in horror all over again. “Somebody den messed up the memorial down in front of Mr. Winfield’s. The whole neighborhood is in flames now!” Christian’s words leaves his mother speechless. Kaleb is only in the seventh grade, and although he has just witnessed death in person, he remains cognizant of everything that is taking place around him. He faces his mother who looks once again completely shaken and asks, “what are we gonna do mom?” She fights back tears, concerned about the place her family calls home. “Who would do something like that? It’s like they want us to burn this place to ground, so there won’t be any of us left(sobbing),” she says. Christian has always seemed to somehow feel disconnected from his environment growing up. Instead he’s always been the quiet reader type, or a popular younger brother away from being completely antisocial. He feels the tension now though, it was impossible not to. He demands, “we have to move away from here!” Ms. Blackman only offers silence. Christian gradually starts to become unnerved, pacing back and forth. He stops and continues, “Mom we have to leave! Do you hear me, we have to leave this place!” Kaleb has made his way to the window to get his own view of the chaos. Giant clouds of smoke nearly covers the New Mecca sky completely. His mother instantly yells out, “get away from there!” Christian starts again, “mom we have to le—,” but he is cut off by his mother at once when she reactively screams, “shut up!” A distraught Christian immediately breaks for his room. His mother is understandably fed up with the entire ordeal, with no signs of healing in sight.
On the other side of town Coach Knox, his wife and Kenny are all still deeply in mourning over the sudden tragedy. Many of their relatives have come to extend their support, many of which have rarely shown their faces over the years. Despite their company, Mrs. Knox stays locked away in her room, occasionally sobbing loudly as to draw her husband’s attention while he hosts the family. She’s barely spoken a word at all since Kedric’s death, but her cries as expected have been constant. The fact that Coach Knox has held his emotions in check thus far after the loss of his youngest son is truly a testament to both his strength and character. As for Kenny, it’s taken everything in him to just make it through each day without looking at his very own reflection, his brother. For now though, he’ll have to settle with his first cousin D’Angelo Knox, or just Angelo.
Angelo and his father Walter, Coach Knox’s older brother, lived on the lower eastside, right after the railroad tracks. In fact, he and Angelo live in the same apartment building that the two brothers had grown up, with Walter basically raising his younger sibling by himself. They’ve been staying up at Coach’s Northside residence since the entire drama unfolded. Angelo was a junior at Cleverdale, the only high-school in Groveland. The city has thought about shutting it down on multiple occasions over the years due to the rising crime rate in the area. Funny thing is, just ten years before hardly any blacks lived on that side of town at all. That’s when most of the cities wealthy families relocated to the Northside. Downtown was of course the center of New Mecca, and if you stayed on the upper eastside then you were considered a middle class black, not exactly George Jefferson, but also not too deep in the ghetto. Everything below that was nothing less than hell. Groveland encompassed exactly half of Northside New Mecca. That equates to about half of the Southside region, and the entire Eastside. Langston was located just a few blocks away from lower eastside territory, and when you finished you either enrolled at Cleverdale , or you got lucky enough, or was well kept enough, to enroll in Rapid Falls before the school enforced its zoning regulations, basically signifying that it had met its quota on local minorities. That’s where the cousins differed, with Kenny’s father having strong athletic ties to the board at Rapid Falls, and Angelo accordingly following in his father’s footsteps as a Cleverdale Knight. There’s even a tasteless joke that has floated around the city for years citing Cleverdale as the ‘Mid-Knights,’ for the large population of black kids that attended the school. That’s usually a major talking point between the two cousins, usually with Angelo emphasizing how much tougher his school was, all the while denigrating the blacks that attended Rapid Falls to nothing more than ‘Oreos,’ despite knowing that his uncle had been a big time standout there and that he intended on enrolling Kenny as soon as the new year started. It’s his first time seeing Kenny in what seems like forever, but he’s never seen his cousin like he finds him.
“Kenny Manning(jokingly)! Bro I feel what happened to lil cuz, I mean I wouldn’t be right either. But man you gotta get up out this room.” Kenny doesn’t move an inch in response to Angelo’s words. “Isn’t the middle school city championship this weekend? You don’t even look ready bro(acting excited)!” This time Kenny turns over and shoots a menacing glare at his older cousin. Angelo senses that he might be touching a nerve but continues, “I’m just saying, you think you came this far to just stop?” In a way he’s right, Kenny has been groomed every year of his athletic life for these moments, and there was no escaping it. If Langston were to win the whole thing again, it would be the first back to back titles in school history. Angelo has never even played sports though, he’s sort of like his father in that sense. Right around the time Coach Knox was blowing out his knee during the deepest postseason run in Cleverdale history, his older brother Walter was being arrested on drug and weapons charges. While his older brother was imprisoned Coach Knox, only a ninth grader at the time, became center of one of the biggest athletic controversies in New Mecca history. If you were to ask any Cleverdale alumni, or nearly every black person on the lower eastside, Coach Knox was snatched up by the New Mecca higher class who sought to compete for a city championship in the inaugural season of their newly constructed Rapid Falls High School. Ask almost any New Mecca politician or ex Bronco of Rapid Falls, aka most of the city’s governing body, and you’ll get explanations that range from sympathy and concern, to pertinent and necessary enforcement of the law. Either way, Coach Knox was accordingly moved into a foster home on the Northside and enrolled as a sophomore at Rapid Falls where he would be expected to hastily recover and lead them in their playoff push. By the time Walter was released nearly two years had passed, leaving him and his younger sibling on separate sides of the city’s socioeconomic structure. Coach Knox had led Rapid Falls to the championship game for three consecutive years, only losing in what was basically his rehabilitation year before ultimately winning the last two titles, capped off by his miracle shot against Cleverdale in the semi-final round. He reinjured the same knee in his first year of playing college ball, but was gracefully accepted back into the Northside New Mecca community. Although he was viewed as a traitor to two-thirds of Groveland, including his brother Walter, choosing to coach at Langston rather than Rapid Falls felt like a great win for the residents on the Eastside. He was almost singlehandedly restoring a community decimated by drugs and draconian city policies, and then the murders happened.
“My pops always told me one thing lil bro, don’t ever be a caged bird. This stuff out here going on too crazy for all that. I mean, even the police will kill yo a! When you start doing stuff you don’t want to do, then you start making choices that you don’t want to make. Then you end up like a caged bird in a pet store.” Angelo has never been the preachy type, but his words carry weight in this instance, even if he fails to truly notice. The one thing that Kenny has never told anybody is how he truly feels playing in his father’s shadow, the constant pressure that he has to endure to meet his demands, no one but Kedric. Looking at his older cousin who sits in front of his computer staring into the blank screen, Kenny reveals, “you know I wanted to quit right after we finished sixth grade juniors.” Angelo snaps up and says, “yo pops would’ve killed you!” Kenny looks as if he’s disappointed his father by even the thought of quitting. He responds, “I know, that’s the same thing that Kedric said, he’s really the only reason that I kept playing no matter how I was feeling.” Angelo didn’t have any siblings, but the bond that the twins shared was undeniable. He asks Kenny, “do you think he would want you to stop?” Kenny is hesitant to reply but answers truthfully when he does. “No way, he hated when we lost,” he says. “That’s what I’m saying bro, some birds was made to fly. Kedric saw that in you too.” Being overly sentimental was never Angelo’s area of expertise either, and he’s been in his own share of trouble of course. He continues, “when you get a chance out here, to make it out of here, you take it.” Near the end of his edict his voice begins breaking, almost as if he was going to burst into tears at any moment. Kenny’s never seen his cousin show the ability to be vulnerable, but he picks up on it almost immediately. He doesn’t get a chance to speak though, before Angelo makes his revelation. “It was just me and Kennedy that night, leaving our chicks house on the lower eastside. We thought it would be faster if we took the back way instead of the train, to try make it back before his granny noticed that we even left.” He pauses and sits in his own condemnation, his shame protruding. Then he goes on, “them fake a wannabe Groveland nias(sobbing), waited until we passed through and ambushed us. They almost got us real bad, then the laws showed up waving they guns so everybody took off.” Kenny’s face is left paralyzed by the information that he’s receiving, knowing that he had encountered what sounded like the same group of boys that had confronted Angelo and his friend, just moments before Kedric was killed. That means that, “we tried to get away, but Malcolm started to get tired. I was the one that advised that we hit the alley by Mr. Winfield’s(crying heavily)! I’m the reason they both got killed!” Tears have slowly started to form in Kenny’s eyes as he becomes fully aware of his cousin’s confession. The sound of knocking at the room door interrupts the two cousin’s exchange, it’s Kaleb. Angelo quickly attempts to straighten himself up before he notices and hurries for the exit. Kenny yells out, “so what am I supposed to do?” Angelo attempts to gather himself again, this time successfully, before he turns around and answers, “remember, never be that bird bro.” Kaleb has made his way to Kenny’s computer, completely oblivious to what had taken place before his arrival. “But what’s the cage supposed to be?” asks Kenny. Angelo doesn’t smile or frown at the question, one that has taken several dramatic life experiences to answer, instead he stays blank and emotionless. He answers, “the hood bro,” before swiftly disappearing into the shadows of the hallway.
Kenny lays back on the bed, with tears beginning to roll down the cheeks of his face. Kaleb knows how difficult a time it’s been for Kenny, basically dealing with Kedric’s death alone. He asks, “what was that all about bro?” After a couple of minutes, Kaleb realizes that his question will remained unanswered for the moment so he continues, “you know the police are looking for the dude that got away. They’re saying that he’s the one responsible for the murders. I just don’t understand it bro.” Kenny finally lifts himself off of the bed and speaks. “I think he wants me to turn him in,” he says. Kaleb looks at him with a blank expression, to mask his confusion. “Bro what are you talking about?” he asks. Kenny answers, “my cousin, I think he wants me to turn him in to the police.” Kaleb is still in the blue as to what has actually transpired. “Dang for real, what did he do?” he asks. Initially Kenny doesn’t reveal his cousin’s transgression, instead choosing to walk to his closet to retrieve a small box that he places on the desk in front of Kaleb. Inside is a grey Polo jacket with dark smears of red all over it. It’s the jacket Kedric was wearing the night that he was murdered. Kenny divulges, “it’s him that the police are looking for.”
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.