To the Boy that Killed My Friend

To the boy that killed my friend,
I don’t hate you.
For months, yes, I did in my anger and grief.
I yelled at you, cursed you, sometimes I still do
when I cross that fateful Marshfield street.
For a year I tried to understand you,
I tried to imagine your grip on that trigger
and how you slept that night with sounds of sirens
rushing past to clean up your mess.

But whenever I imagined
all I could see is him.
A kid.
Facing the barrel of a gun
held by another kid.
Not in this country, you’d think…
not here, you’d think.

To the boy that killed my friend,
I don’t pity you.
For months, I wished his same
lonely, fate upon you
hoping you get what you “deserve”
but who truly deserves that?
Through eyes engulfed by tears,
I’d cry aloud for vengeance, for answers.
Yet, silence remained.

But then I remembered
that blood
that blood that now has been washed
clean from the street
will remain with you,
stained into your conscience.
For you must now live regretfully with something
more painful than death’s immediate relief.

To the boy that killed my friend
I do not fear you.
Maybe once I shivered at the dream
of your all-too-steady trigger finger
pressing again, again, again.
And then silence.

But that has stopped and all I can see
is you, or how I imagine you
a trembling child as fearful as he is feared
holding a gun bigger than his own hand
hoping his purpose, his meaning, his life
will come with each consecutive shot.

To the boy that killed my friend
I do not know you.
Maybe I could assume or guess
that you didn’t look much different than him
but I don’t know that.
You live only as an idea, a representation
of life’s quick cruelty and evil, uncontrolled.

But that’s not who you are.
And I don’t know who you are.
I know you have a mother.
I know you have a name.
I must believe you have experienced love.
And for a year I have tried to see you,
understand you as more than just this choice.

To the boy that killed my friend,
I don’t blame you.
For too long I have hated you.
I have seen you as other, evil, worthless
but I can no longer hold that excruciating hate within me.
But instead each day I must let go
and live forever in his memory instead of my pain.
I hope that this moment has defined your life
not so you live in fear and shame
but that you hold precious each breath and hope for change.
For you deserve this hope, this chance
because my friend can never have it again.

To the boy that killed my friend,
I love you.
Not out of my own will or choice
for with those alone I have hated you
but because in moments like this there’s nothing left
nothing left but to recklessly love in hope’s that
things will change and that you will be the
last
the only
boy that will ever kill my friend.


Please read my original poem dedicated to Omar here: https://mackenseycarter.com/2013/09/04/omar/

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Why Do We Say “Classrooms Can’t Make Men”

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Teach a man, he’ll conquer the world.
What if this man must conquer such world to be taught?
One child in a classroom.
One plus one does not equal two.
As his stomach grumbles with only remnants of last night’s frozen dinner.
“Something ain’t” not “something isn’t” right
As his deep, muddy eyes strain to see scrawlings on the not too distant chalkboard.
Lincoln was Martin Luther King Jr. on that morning at Gettysburg
As he tries to remember the winter morning he last saw his daddy
but can only see those flashing lights
The classroom bleeds onto the streets.
Teachers become brothers.
Grades are issued with the finality of a bullet.
Yet if only this young man could conquer the world.
A world that provides the lessons he must learn to survive.
Then maybe, just maybe the classroom would teach his brilliant mind

The Cup of Endurance, It Surely Will Spill

“There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair.”  As I read these words that Martin Luther King Jr. wrote decades ago from the Birmingham jail, I couldn’t help but think of their continued relevance today.  Racism, racial inequality, and even institutionalized segregation continue to plague cities throughout America, especially my beloved city of Chicago and yet many times when these issues are brought to the surface, by brown, black, or even white organizers, we are told to stop being controversial or “playing the race card” or, most outrageously, that this country has moved beyond racism and, for some extreme few, even beyond any discussion of race.  Well I think the time has come and “the cup of endurance” is surely and swiftly spilling over in neighborhoods were the hope of getting out of the cycle of poverty has yet to be seen or experienced. 

When you read the headlines of another man of color being shot, killed, arrested, or imprisoned, unfortunately we tend to not even think twice about these instances because this devaluing of black men has become the tragic norm.  The chilling and piercing words of MLK Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail remind me that this norm has a historical foundation that far extends my own lifetime.  My question is, what will it take for this issue to change? Maybe Sharon Welch is right when she writes in her book After Empire that those of us that work for peace and justice are “content to denounce the structures we see causing harm,” but are unable to use “creativity” to imagine a tangible world that functioned any differently. The fact very well may be that even myself who is dating a black man, has a black nephew, and calls myself an activist for racial equality can’t even imagine a real, tangible world outside of the “tout autre,” or ideal, that would include structures that would fully foster racial reconciliation and equality.  While I think that theory could very well be true, since it is easier to critique something while leaving no suggestions for future action, I do not know if that was is holding our country back from racial equality, which has improved only slightly from when King wrote his iconic letter.

What I see as one of the major setbacks in reaching a more racially just society is the apathy, indifference and even discomfort of a growing majority of Americans, even those working within the church and community organizations to have hard discussions of racism of the past and present. King calls the “white moderate… the greatest stumbling block” for the cause of racial justice at that time and I would echo King’s point for the present situation. In fact, it has gotten even worse in some ways because racism is often hidden within institutions and structures as opposed to the obvious segregation.  Therefore, this increased subtly has allowed a growing indifference or even refusal to acknowledge the issue to fester within the American public. For at least those on the extreme ends of this dialogue of race are within the dialogue, but those that fall somewhere in the middle would many times prefer to end the conversation altogether because they prefer, like King states, “a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”  For, I believe, it will take living and working within such a tension for real change or advancement to begin happening.

Justice will begin once all parties are engaged in a conversation and understand the impact that such conversations have on themselves and fellow human beings. Just like Alice Walker spoke of in a short video clip of everyone needing to allow one’s identity to be molded by a story different than white privilege or middle class success, like indentured servitude or working class poverty, in order to even begin to understand the history and perspective of people of color in America.  Do not get me wrong, having such conversations will take perseverance and determination. This open dialogue about race and struggle will force people to be honest about bias, privilege and prejudice, which can be extremely uncomfortable and vulnerable, but King preaches that such “injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.” For no human should be forced, like many black Americans both today and in the past, to accept despair and hopelessness as his or her lot in life. My prayer for this continued work for justice is that we all would begin to live uncomfortably within a healthy tension not necessarily for the end goal of destroying all racism (which would be the ideal, obviously) but to recognize more and more each day that we are united in our humanness or what Welch calls the “the ‘vibrantly imperfect’ possible.”

I Pray the Lord My Son’s Soul to Keep

Now I lay me down to sleep…
as the news
hangs heavy around my bed.
A boy, with a face sullen and cold,
like the face of my own son,
was shot tonight.
…I pray the Lord
but, oh Lord, I pray much harder.
Much harder than I imagine my fellow mothers pray.
I pray for my chocolate-skinned son.
Long, silent nights. Alone. I pray.
My God you have blessed me
not with peace
but with this unbearable burden.
For the freedom and unending mercies
of each new day wrought from your word
seem not enough to release my son from this:
a life filled with violence at the hands of sons
of other mothers,
backs broken by the same humble position of prayer.
The weight of the minutes I endure
tick. tock.
when my son is late from school
crush my knees
calloused, bruised
even harder into the ground
once again burdened by a load not my own.
My soul unsettled by the guilt
that my very own flesh and bones
bore this young man into this
daily battleground.
…my soul to keep
from questioning whether with each prayer
I am stealing away the minutes from
thousands of other mothers
pleading for the protection of their children.
keep my soul, oh Lord
from questioning why some black mothers
both young and old
must devote hours, years, lifetimes
to this unbearable burden
when other mothers
yes, both black and white
can sleep in relative peace
knowing they can save their prayers
for such extraordinary things:
success, satisfaction, and happiness.
…and if i should die before i wake
I pray my Lord my sons life you will not take
and for the years that he may be alone
I pray even harder, even longer for
Lord knows
oh Lord, you only know
I am the one and sometimes the only one
that knows the value of the life of my son.

**This poem is loosely inspired by a recent movie I watched called Fruitvale Station, which shares the tragic and heartbreaking story of a 22 year-old black man that was accidentally shot and killed by a BART police officer a few years ago.  As I was watching my attention kept being drawn to his mother who, despite her many efforts and prayers, could not keep her son safe that night.

It’s Not Enough

Two young boys playing cops and robbers in the summer heat
How do you tell them it is more than just a game?
The dichotomy of good and bad, criminal and innocent are alive and real.

Sweat pouring down a young mother’s brow in labor
this moment of joy almost overshadowed by the fear in her heart.
Her future filled with conversations prompted by questions of why…
“Why does Billy’s mom not let him come over to play at night?”

It’s not enough to say things have changed.
To raise a fist, post a comment, write a poem.
It’s not enough.

A father fingers a wad of sweaty cash on the corner
waiting for the next round of fiends to pay him for the
single moment of peace he supplies.
All the while his mind ponders the familiar thought
How to teach his son another way of life.

It’s not enough to tell young men the way of their fathers
does not have to be their own.
To speak of education, bootstraps, and potential.
It’s not enough.

Brothers working two jobs, hustling on the side
providing money for their babies and baby mamas
hoping their babies remember their faces,
sweat dripping, wrinkles deepening
unlike their own dad’s unknown, empty silhouette.

It’s not enough to simply hope for men to become fathers.
To theorize about responsibility, parenting style, pride.
It’s not enough.

The smile of a baby born with the skin of his father.
The skin of his grandfather; like any other infant.
Now unaware that this same skin that carries the pride of generations
marks this child as different, other.

It’s not enough to be colorblind.
To claim the skin color of that child does not matter and in the same breath
dismiss the centuries of hurt, pain and journey experienced in that skin.
It’s not enough.

Such skin color reckons back to the generations of survivors.
Men and women born in quicksand with the screams of
“pull yourself up… and quickly.”
the only sound echoing through their conscience.
But they remain. But they persevere.

And each generation of young men playing a simple game
of cops and robbers faces the reality.
With each game, they are rehearsing life
but instead they never choose their role.
BANG!

More Than Conquerors

Teach a man, he’ll conquer the world.
What if this man must conquer such world to be taught?
For a child in a classroom.
One plus one does not always equal two.
As his stomach grumbles with only remnants of last night’s frozen dinner.
To that child “something ain’t” not “something isn’t” right
As his deep, muddy eyes desperate for assistance strain to see scrawlings on the not too distant chalkboard.
Lincoln might as well have been Martin Luther King Jr. on that morning at Gettysburg
As he tries to remember the winter morning he last saw his daddy
but can only see those red and white flashing lights
The streets bleed into the classroom
painting its once white walls red with innocent blood.
Brothers become the only true teacher.
Grades are issued with the finality of a bullet.
Yet if only this young man could conquer his world.
Then maybe, just maybe the world would actually teach him.

A Second City

A tale of two cities except there’s just one
City streets tell a story but only to some
One child marvels at the lights around him
while others get chills as the nights surround them
People come and people go each day, each year
Unaware of the prison walls that lock some in fear
Freedom, not an unfamiliar sight or fable told
But for those in the second city its something uncontrolled
No visible chains, no locks keep these citizens bound
yet their escape a distant dream to never be found
The same city that imparts hope and opportunity
for the forgotten it provides a desperate, hopeless unity
Citizens of the first city preach to these children to leave
To make something of themselves and just believe
but each sermon leaves these youth still enchained at their feet
With commands to run the race, but do not cheat
If cheating means merely hoping for the day
when the invisible chains will finally appear and fall away
Then cheating is the only way that this neglected city
will see their dead-end wandering as more than just shitty
But, hear this, we won’t stop until it is shown
that through a little invisibility and magic of our own
we can strike down the structures and chains that bind
and leave the tale of two cities far away, far behind.
Only then will the black son of God no longer face Abel’s fate
and maybe then the heart of the unaware Cain will choose to relate
Only then will a child’s prison of great lakes: despair and self-pity
turn this second city of beauty into my city, his city, our city.