Introduction and closing by Sister Donna Liette
“How long, O Lord, I cry for help, but you do not listen.”
These words are taken from the Book of Habakkuk and the experience of more than 900 Chicagoans murdered in 2011 and 2012. They were the inspiration behind a play and a book, How Long Will I Cry: Voices of Youth Violence. Students from DePaul University in Chicago interviewed youth whose lives were directly affected by the bloodshed of the Chicago streets and challenged us to listen. How long will our children cry for help and we do not listen?
One of our own PBMR youth, Ronald Sims, was among those interviewed. He gives his story the title: “A Message for Stupid People.” Here is his story, in his own words:
All I got to say is you don’t got nobody else but yourself. Even me. I’m a twin, but no matter what, you still by yourself.
I was born and raised in the neighborhood. It was tough, rough. I been shot, gangbanged, but I’m not in a gang no more. I ain’t been in a gang — all right, you could say I’m affiliated, yeah, but I don’t sit on the corner no more. I don’t hang with the wrong crowd anymore.
I live with my grandma. She my guardian. Me and my brother had drugs in our system when we was born. That’s why my grandma got custody of us. My parents, they on drugs, both of them. But my mama, she straightened out a little bit. She live a block away. She got a little job at a little junkyard. But I don’t really see her that much.
When I was growing up, there was a lot of us in my grandma’s house. Like, 10 or 11 peoples. And the sad thing is — three bedrooms. Me and my brother used to sleep on the let-out couch. Grandma used to sleep on another couch in the dining room. And my uncle and his friends, they used to smoke weed in the house. He would leave ten of them in one room, playing games and shooting dice for money, so we’d just go outside and play basketball.
Me and my brother, we were just raw with basketball. We used to play ball in the cold. We used to bring shovels and shovel the snow so we could play. We couldn’t really bounce the ball, it was so wet and cold. And then, in summer, we used to play tag, throw water balloons, then we’d go back playing ball. Ball, ball, ball, basketball, basketball. We was just outside having fun. Then, that’s when all the drugs, all the guns, came to the area. And that’s when everybody just became bad. Became negative. It’s just the hope, like, went away.
“Rough twins,” they used to call us. Bad twins. Like, if anything would go wrong, they’d say, “They did it.” But we ain’t never used to do it! We would just steal bikes, but we were never going in people’s houses. But the more we grew up, the more stuff we seen, and the more we wanted it. It’s like, you see people with new shoes, so you want new shoes, so you want this, that, that. We seen drug dealers; they had females and cars. So we just wanted to make a name for ourselves.
That’s how the bad stuff started. There wasn’t no joining no gang. It was just, you born in it. The guy that shot me, we used to be friends. I probably know him all my life. We used to be cool. One of my close friends be his cousin.
Then, when my close friend moved out of town, that’s when he stopped hanging with us. He went back across the park. You know how it is. The gang split. Divided. And it was just them against us. They hated us. I don’t even know why. Me and my brother and my friends had summer jobs, and we had bought two cars. We used to just drive around there, everything looking good. We had new clothes, but we wasn’t really stunting. We weren’t showing out. We were just — us. We wasn’t thinking about them. Them —they be thinking about us.
June 16, 2010 — it was daytime. Sherman Park, kids was out. It was hot. It was a sunny, sunny day. Everybody was out. So he approached us like, “Hey!” And he said something, so we got to chasing him. He just shot, like bam. I think he wanted to shoot one of us, but, like, he didn’t care if it was me. He just finna to shoot. He shot like at least nine times. Doon, doon, doon, doon. Doon, doon, doon, doon.
I didn’t know I was hit. I thought it was a paintball gun. I was laughing: “Take a look, they shooting paintball guns!” But then, I felt it. I get to the alley, and I felt a burn, it was hurting. And I just seen the blood: “Dang, I been shot. I been shot.”
I remember everything. I thought I was going to die. I was like, “Yeah, this could really kill me right now.” But I wasn’t really panicking; I was just calm. I was walking slow. I walked two blocks. I sat down when I made it back on Bishop Street. And the ambulance people, the paramedics — they wasn’t trying to help me. They was just, “Who did it?” That’s all they wanted to know, the police and all of them.
I was in the hospital for a day and a half. They wanted to keep me for a week, but I didn’t want to stay in. I knew I was in pain, but I just wanted to go back home.
So I went home. And after that, when I tried to walk to the store, I’d just have to pause and stop for a minute or two, ’cause it would get to burning and stuff. I’ve still got the bullet in me.
After the shooting, that’s when I started getting mature. I had a friend named Martez who got killed. A lot of people in the neighborhood were getting killed. Before that, we ain’t killing anyone. We just thought it was fun, you know.
Then, it went to killing people, so that’s a big change. That’s a big difference. People right now are still getting their friends killed, and still just wanting to do dumb things. Don’t wanna make a change.
Sometimes I’ll say, “Forget the community, man. Forget everybody. I just want to go away, be rich and never come back.” But then I got my other good side when I feel like I ain’t going to give up on the community. I’m just going to go do good and come back and help the community. I think about the time I get grown — like 25, 26 — the violence will probably have died down. I don’t think the violence is going to be here forever. It’s going to be violence, but not like how it is now. There’s a lot of violence, because it’s the money, people broke, the poverty. It’s like hot water. Steam. You know, when steam needs to just open up the cap and you just let it go, and you see the hot air and stuff. That’s like people, and they just shoot you — boom, boom, boom!
From now on, I got my eye on the future. You shoot at me, I’m not finna come back and shoot at you. I’m telling you, you shoot me, I’m running; you ain’t going to see me no more. You trying to make me get a felony. You trying to make me throw away my future. You just want me to fall for you. And I’m not going to fall for you.
Stupid people, I’m wise. I’m just going to focus on school, get my grades back up. I been trying to get in college. I think I’ll study marketing. I’m hoping to go to Saint Joseph’s College in Indiana. I been there three, four times. They’ll help you out. So it’s up to me to be successful. I ain’t depending on nobody but myself. I gotta make that change.
You want the jewelry, you want the girls — but I want the future.
This is one of the many stories of our youth; violence and crime do not just happen. These stories come from pierced hearts and souls; from abandonment, fear, pain, loneliness. As Ronald so powerfully acknowledges, even though he is a twin, he is alone. At PBMR, we see our mission as building a restorative community where all are welcome, where families support one another and neighborhoods are safe, where there is healing of wounds and hope for a future without violence.
This story originally appeared in the November 2013 issue of the Cincinnati C.PP.S. Newsletter – reprinted with permission.