Medcalf: A love letter to the young Black men in Minneapolis I failed

·5 min read

To the young Black man at a crossroads in Minneapolis:

I'm worried about you.

I was thinking of you after I got off the phone with north Minneapolis activist K.G. Wilson. I could hear the heartache in his voice. His 6-year-old granddaughter, Aniya Allen, died in a hospital last week after she'd been shot while riding in a car in Minneapolis. "I told Aniya that 'Papa is gonna get some justice for you,' " Wilson told me. "I'll die trying to make a difference if I have to."

On Thursday, Trinity Ottoson-Smith, a 9-year-old who was bouncing on a trampoline when she was shot in the head this month, also died. Ladavionne Garrett Jr., 10, who was riding in the back seat of his parents' car in Minneapolis when he was struck by a bullet, another victim of gun violence in Minneapolis, continues to fight for his life.

No parent deserves that pain. Our children have a right to live.

To the young Black man at a crossroads in Minneapolis: I've been thinking about you and the decisions you might make in the coming months and years. The decisions made by some young men I knew growing up that led to prison sentences and stole their best years. The decisions family members and friends discussed at the funerals of young men whose lives ended in violence before they were old enough to drive a car.

To suggest they had a choice, within the environments that nurtured them, is an incomplete explanation of the circumstances many young African Americans encounter from birth. Violence is not a Black thing. It's a human thing. When combined with easy access to firearms, systemic inequities and the racism that sustains them, poverty, misguided policing and unprocessed trauma, violence disproportionately affects our young men.

I don't get to judge you. To say I understand the daily choices you have to make or consider would be unfair. As a young man, I never felt like I needed to carry a gun to feel safe. But I believe those who did when they tell me it was a necessary accessory in their worlds.

"These are issues you can't solve overnight," said Korey Dean Sr., founder of the Man Up Club mentoring program who is also known as local rapper XROSS. "I believe African American males and African Americans in general, I think they have to have an extensive amount of hope beyond their counterparts."

Dean said he's constantly "tearing down those walls of depression and hopelessness" for young Black men searching for a reason to be optimistic.

"I want to give these young men something they haven't experienced, which is legacy," Dean said about his commitment to his work. "I think we're obligated to leave our kids a legacy."

To the young Black man at a crossroads in Minneapolis: The generational despair, accompanied by the burdensome experience of being Black in a place that never loved us, has fueled tragic decisions and violent resolutions of disagreements within our communities. But you can go anywhere in the world — Europe, South America, Asia — and you'll find that the neighborhoods most plagued by scarcity also endure the greatest challenges, including violence.

Minneapolis is no different. D.A. Bullock, an award-winning filmmaker and community organizer, speaks to young men who feel trapped in a "very tiny box."

"They're not seeing the open door out of that box," he told me.

He also said the youths who might participate in the acts that could cost them or someone else their life need more than feel-good speeches or threats of punishment from law enforcement. They need an opportunity.

"We really need to make them a grand offer," Bullock said. "To me, it seems like they don't have a lot of hopeful ideas."

Bullock and I also talked about our experiences. He's from Chicago. I'm from Milwaukee. We shared reverence for the elders who guided us when we were young. They cared about our futures.

To the young Black man at a crossroads in Minneapolis: I am ashamed to say I have not done enough to prove I care about what comes next for you.

When I first arrived in the Twin Cities, I had a heart to make an impact. Back then, I was a reporter who spent my nights on Minneapolis streets speaking to distraught mothers and concerned neighbors after another shooting or homicide. I vowed then to do my part. I volunteered at a charter school. I spoke in classrooms. I connected with young men.

Then, I allowed life to swallow my ambitions. I don't know if I could have made a difference in the lives of young Black men in the area, but I know I didn't try hard enough to ever find out.

For that, I'm sorry. I owed you a better effort.

More than anything, I just want to tell you now that your tomorrow matters and your life has value. I can't guarantee a bright future, only the opportunity for better days.

To the young Black man at a crossroads in Minneapolis, I don't know if you have a gun or if you're thinking about carrying one. I don't know if you've had to navigate gang activity or tense encounters that could send more child-sized caskets into the city's funeral homes and churches. Your predicament is not one I live through each day, so who am I to act as if I have the answers?

But I know this: I love you. And I hope you discover enough self-love to allow yourself to dream.

Trinity and Aniya lost their chance.

Myron Medcalf is a local columnist for the Star Tribune and a national writer and radio host for ESPN. His column appears in print on Sundays twice a month and also online. Twitter: @MedcalfByESPN

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