Many times our stories won’t be told until we’ve left the earth. Nevertheless, every story is worth telling. This is the history of the neighborhood that I was raised in. R.I.P. Crystal Sweet, may you always be the angel that watches over your daughter. I’m sorry that we lost you.
The wind is stale and harshly cruel here. It has a personality of nothingness and it finds oneness with darkness. It blows with ferocity at times and its occupants can become just as angry as it. Every now and again there’s a gentle hint of laced marijuana blowing in its harshness; just enough to make you want to gag if you don’t find that type of aroma pleasing. God left this place a long time ago and now the only thing that remains here are the countless scaffoldings and the angry men. The angry men were cheated out of life and some might even think that they were cursed to remain here within these four corners forever. They inherited the four corners debt-free when their parents bought into the bargain of its cheap rent and free utilities. To their parent’s credit, this was once a quite lovely place to raise a family. It was once filled with the laughter of happy children playing. Budding green trees and grasses once grew here too! The squirrels weren’t as aggressive back then as the ones I see here today. These squirrels today should be fitted for motorcycle jackets and smoke cigarettes. This place was once filled with neighbors that actually cared enough to never mind their own business. Minding one’s own business back then might mean that someone’s child could be lost or even worse, hurt. Everyone looked out for everyone back then. That was always an unspoken rule here. We were all as tight knit as a cable sweater. Those were the days that someone shouted, “Barbara, does your Mutha know you outside?” A follow-up telephone call was made to my mother just in case I might be lying in saying that I had permission to be outside. If I didn’t have permission, I guarantee you that in less than 5 minutes my mother was downstairs in her large bifocal glasses searching for me. I felt so well-protected here at one time that it makes me cringe as I look around today. The wind blows differently here.
I’m deep in thought now and I’m thinking of the culprit and then it finally comes to me. Something terrible happened here in the late 1980’s. Crack-cocaine entered our dynamic and a neighborhood that once blossomed with enough was now quickly turning into a place of lack, destitute, despair and hardship. Some of our beloved neighbors were now running amuck selling their VCR’s, and gold jewelry in exchange for crack. Their faces were barely recognizable at times as crack began to suck them dry of any signs of life. Every man here now was out for himself. Sons turned on their mother’s and spouses began having love affairs with the tiny white rocks. Children lost their parents in the chaos too. Small residue filled red and white empty crack vials began turning up all over our once clean neighborhood streets. Poverty and police sirens blow in the wind here now. The good ones weren’t spared either. Some good sons became drug-dealers and some smart daughters became trophy girlfriends for the big time dealers that weren’t even from the neighborhood. If crack bypassed your household completely, then you were blessed to escape Satan’s wrath. Many children were robbed of their youth during those years as the wind just continued to blow with its fury and destroy everything in its path. Some were committed to a life of crime that only guaranteed one of two outcomes; death or prison. Some gave birth to babies while they were still babies themselves. This one-way ticket to hell wasn’t what any of us had signed up for during the young, peaceful and hope-filled years. Crack was like the onset of a terrible earthquake. A nightmarish tornado and there really was no place like home. No one had ample time to prepare for the hit. We had big dreams and aspirations before the crack came. We claimed the cars we would have when we grew up and we played manhunt in the street without fear. The experiment we were in was unknown to us and unfortunately it ate some of us alive. Many of us became dry leaves blowing in the wind. In 1990, I pleaded with the YMCA to keep funding, “The Fresh Air Fund Summer Camp” a summer camp program that would invite inner city children to attend sleep-away camp for free for two-weeks. In my essay, I explained that sleep-away camp would serve as an outlet of freedom for our innocence; freedom from drugs, drug-dealers, rising crime and fear. My essay won 1st place and The New York Times, covered the story. It wasn’t enough to save me from the neighborhood.
“Where are you God, It’s me Barbara”. “This isn’t what I wanted or expected for my life”. “I’m smarter than this; I can see above all the destitute here”. God didn’t hear me back then or maybe I couldn’t hear God because the haze that surrounded Satan’s playground was thick. Some of us made it out but we’re scarred with the kind of trust issues that will last us a lifetime. Let’s fast-forward 19 years or so; the fierce wind is still blowing. You see where the wind blows differently you can leave but the wind has a way of trailing you. Someone you know is always still in the wind and you will always hope and pray the best for them from a distance. You pray that they get out because this place isn’t safe for anyone. I can remember a day that the wind bought the rain with it. It’s the end of May, in 2011, and I’m lying in bed in my quiet Queens neighborhood when I receive a very disturbing early morning telephone call. The caller is frantic when she says, “B, two people were murdered last night behind my building. I have to get out of here!” The caller advised me that I knew all of the victims involved; a third victim was fighting for his life in critical condition. I couldn’t wrap my mind around what she was saying and I couldn’t picture any of the victims. There was a very long silence after learning that one of the victims was a young mother. I wasn’t used to that. I wasn’t prepared to hear that a young female became a casualty of a war that was underway for nearly 20 years. I selfishly thought, “Thank God I don’t live there anymore”, but that was cowardly. The caller was so shaken because as if to add insult to injury, she was at a local restaurant just hours before and the young woman was also there…alive and enjoying her life. 22 year-old Crystal Sweet was murdered outside of her family’s apartment window within the confines of the four corners. Her daughter was instantly robbed of her right to have a mother by the neighborhood where the wind blows differently. Crystal Sweet was a drug-dealer’s girlfriend and she was me just 19 years later. In an Epicenter of opportunity like NYC, a melting pot where dreams are stirred and structured, it saddens me to think that there are still tiny little pockets of neighborhoods in areas where the spirit of success and wealth don’t ever blow their wind. Young men have no vision here because this wind has blown the vibrant colors of life away from them.
The wind blows differently here…
James 1:19-21 “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger*does not produce the righteousness* God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.”
It seems like we don’t even care…