Feb. 23—There was once a time when death fueled a therapeutic, collective pain. Death, loss and grief, the great equalizers, allowed us a way to feel hurt, not spread hurt.
Those days are gone.
Now even the great equalizers aren't immune from heartless public comment — as family and friends of Ronde Ford are learning.
Ford, 17, is a high school kid from New London shot and killed last week in the area of Grand and Elm Streets. The Human Comments Section has taken to dissecting his life and circumstances with more bluster than compassion.
And Dom Griffin, a young man from the city who was a mentor to Ford, can't stand it a minute longer.
"To see those comments about Ronde in the paper, people are so insensitive," said Griffin, who mentored and taught Ford for some time at High Roads, the alternative middle/high school on Garvin Street.
"He was still a child. Whether he was an at-risk youth or not, he was still somebody's kid that lost his life. No kid should ever lose their life like that. What I read bothered me. I had him for two years at High Roads. I knew him before that. Ronde deserved a second chance."
Nobody else around here knows about second chances better than Griffin, a former Whaler, a two-sport athlete from the class of 2008, who used rock bottom as a means to turn his second chance into a happy life. He is now a graduate of Springfield College with a degree in Human Services.
Griffin's story: He ping-ponged among some colleges upon high school graduation, from Husson in Maine to Saint Augustine University in Raleigh, N.C. He was back home for a while and got accepted to Western Connecticut, while living in the city with some roommates.
Then the best/worst thing of his life happened. It was five years ago now.
"Our house got raided. A mess," Griffin said.
He was charged with possession of cocaine, possession of marijuana, possession of marijuana with intent to sell, possession of narcotics within 1,500 feet of a school, operating a drug factory and possession of drug paraphernalia. During the search, police said they found loaded firearms, crack cocaine, marijuana, packaging materials and digital scales.
"Embarrassing, man," Griffin said. "Humiliating. I disappointed the people who cared about me. I was in court every month for a year, seeing guys I grew up with getting sentenced."
Griffin's story is told to illustrate he's walked the metaphorical mile with at-risk kids. He works with them. He knows them. He knows you never give up on them. And then this: You try hard not to judge them, lest you understand their history.
"I think the reason Ronde ended up at High Roads is that he's a big kid. He wouldn't physically harm a teacher. But his mouth sometimes ..." Griffin said, not really having to finish the sentence. "If you don't take the time to get to know him, you'll be intimidated by him. He's one of those kids who had generational talent who couldn't get it together. I was one of the few guys who could challenge him. He knew I really cared about him. He just wanted you to listen. He just wanted to be heard. We bonded quick because of my athletic background in New London. He wanted to go to college and play football. He was too young to be written off. He still had a chance. I'm one of the people who actually worked close with him."
And one of the people whose opinion of him counts the most.
"If you ask the teachers at High Roads, they would tell you Ronde had a lot of bad days. But when he had good days, they were great," Griffin said. "He changed the climate of the program. The whole tone in the building was different when Ronde was good. He made Student of the Month two months in a row. He was so uncomfortable getting positive praise outside of athletics. He didn't even want to take a picture for Student of the Month. It just wasn't cool to him."
Dom Griffin knows that Ford wasn't on a healthy path. But then, neither was Dom Griffin at one point. Griffin learned the difference between being in a proverbial hole and getting rid of the shovel that got you there. He believes Ford would have found his way.
"I used to tell him you don't want that certain type of lifestyle," Griffin said. "You are talented and smart. But you know what's going to happen if you continue to go down this route. I didn't think it would come to anything like this. Ronde was a popular, likeable kid. The youth is really shaken up by this. I hope they learn from what happened."
They're not alone in having to learn something. If there must be a next time something as tragic as this happens, some of you ought to have a little respect for the family, friends and the grieving process.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro