A Letter To The Friend I Never Got To Say Goodbye To

A Letter To The Friend I Never Got To Say Goodbye To

I will take your memory with me wherever I go.
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Dear Justin,

I'm sorry this took so long, but I wanted to make sure I obtained the platform that both of us could be heard on before I even considered writing this. For so long you ran through my mind because I felt I never properly got to say goodbye to you, but now what better way would there be than to let everyone know how much you meant to those around you, and for anyone else feeling the same way to know that it's going to be OK.

Throughout our lives, you were always teaching me lessons on the block. Among the big kids, we always tried to fit in. We played basketball, football, man-hunt, and boxes on the Brooklyn sidewalks of Washington Avenue between DeKalb and Willoughby for years. We were the little ones of the group, as we always tried our best to fit in with those who were years older than us. Bumps, bruises, cuts, and scars on our bodies were the gifts that the block that raised us, left on our bodies as memories that we would hold dear for years to come. I know you remember just as much as I do being laughed at, and enjoying the summer days because we had nothing to worry about as kids. You were one of my best childhood friends, whether it was inside playing Xbox, or outside creating mischief, no adventure was too big for us to embark on.

July 2017 was a period that helped me grow much more than I thought it would. One of those reasons was because of your passing. I remember seeing you two days prior, and everything being well. Of course, with time we didn't talk as much as we should've, but we both knew what the deal was. Whatever you needed I was there and vice versa; it was always just good to see that youth we grew up with was alive and thriving. The news soon came and sent disbelief throughout the building we grew up in, and the hearts of those who raised us. You know it doesn't really hit you at first; one day you're making sure everything is good with each other and the next you realize that was the last time I'd see you. We got together, made a vigil, and parted ways as we tried to retain our best and most important memories with you.

These memories, these events, helped me grow in ways you may have never realized. For a while, I forgot what it was like to lose someone so close to you to senseless acts of violence, not that I wanted to remember, but it reminds you sometimes of the things you fight for on a daily basis. Prior to losing you, I lost my cousin in the same fashion. By a gun and the hand of someone who can only be defined as a coward. This reminds you that as a black male, or black individual in general, life can be very short. One thing I never expected at age twenty was to lose someone who I called my friend for pretty much my whole life. You never expect to see something like this. You expect to grow, watch each other succeed and be there at the end of the day to say "I got you, no matter what." But sadly, that isn't the reality youth like you and I get to see because of the world around us.

I watched your mom shed tears like I've never seen, and hope to never see again in my lifetime. Every time I see her, I know that there's a piece of you that she carries everywhere, and every time we speak, I know that I'm speaking to you too. If I could tell her one thing, it would be thank you. Thank you for playing a pivotal role in my childhood, and thank you for letting me grow up with your son, as all the memories we made are memories I'll cherish for years to come.

For months I continued to battle with myself on how I should remember you, and why I couldn't get over the fact that you were no longer going to be here with us. Every day I credit you for my successes and growth as a young adult. I wore your memorial shirt underneath my button-up and tie to my interview for Hunter College, and I credit a big part of my acceptance to you being with me throughout the whole process. Wherever I go I keep your "In Memory" card in my wallet, and your spirit in my heart.

During your vigil, while your mom was speaking, she talked about how she wanted the youth there to succeed and carry on a legacy that you didn't get to. Out of emotion, I yelled and said that we would, and we would carry you in our hearts and on our backs. It was that promise that I will never forget, and it's that promise that I will hold true in every walk of life that I embark on. For you, I will continue my fight against gun violence, continue to fight for the empowerment of Black youth, and continue to become the social worker/psychologist I know I can be. You are my inspiration because you help set the blueprints for my life.

The 1000+ words in this article only capture a glimpse of the adventures and tales we would leave behind in our journey to adulthood. For anyone who reads this, I want this article to be immortalized so all know not only how much you meant to those around you, but so they also know that it's OK to mourn. Everyone is different, and losing a friend is hard, therefore no one should judge how one deals with the loss of a friend. Let your story be a message to those who need it. Remember to put down the weapons, and enjoy the moments you'll always remember with your loved ones.

Justin, I love you, and I will take your memory with me wherever I go.

Cover Image Credit: Kory Longsworth

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10 Reasons Why My Mom Is My Hero

She's also my best friend.
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My mom is pretty darn special. And I'd be kidding myself to say that I tell her enough how much I appreciate her. There aren't enough breaths in the day to thank her for all that she has done for me, and all that she will do for me. So this is for my momma, these are just a few of the reasons why I think she's pretty great.

1. I can talk to her about anything.

I know for a fact that no matter the issue and no matter the story, my mom will listen to the entire thing with nothing but compassion in her heart. I don't ever need to wonder if she will judge me because I know for a fact that she never will.

2. She gives the best hugs.

I don't care if I saw her yesterday or if I've been away for three months; my mom will always hug me like she hasn't seen me in years, and there isn't a better feeling in the world.

3. I have never met a more selfless person.

She has such a heart for others and I am constantly blown away by her devotion and passion for serving those around her. If I (or anyone else) needs anything, my mom is the first one to jump up, drop everything, and run to help. If I have half as much generosity as my mom someday, I know that I would be making a huge difference.

4. I am inspired by her.

Always.

5. She cares so much for me.

I know that no matter how old I grow to be, and how mature I may become, my mom will always be there for me. She will always be waiting with open arms to either congratulate me or console me. I have never felt more loved by any other human than I do by my mom.

6. She loves me unconditionally.

I will never ever need to worry that she will stop loving me. No matter the circumstances, no matter the phase of life that I'm in, my mom will always be there for me, loving me every step of the way.

7. She is my number one cheerleader.

I don't think I will every meet another person more dedicated to my success and ready to celebrate my accomplishments than my mom. She is hands-down my biggest supporter and will always be standing at the finish line of whatever race I may be running. I could be crawling across that finish line and she'd still be cheering for me the whole way.

8. I can always count on her to point me in the right direction.

My mom will pray for me. She'll encourage me. She will lead by example and through the counseling that she is always ready to provide. I know that I can always count on her to push me in the direction of my dreams.

9. She has the best laugh.

I could pick my mom's laugh out of a crowd of hundreds. Her ability to laugh at herself (and at her own cheesy jokes) are part of what makes her so amazing. But the sound of my mom's laugh has the capability to make anyone's day, including mine.

10. I never stop learning from her.

See points 1-9.


Mom, you are such an amazing woman, and there is simply no way that I could put it into words. So I'll simply say thank you. Thank you for all that you do for me, day-in and day out. Thank you for loving me, and showing me what it means to live like Jesus and everything else that you do. I hope that one day my daughter might love me as much as I love you.

Love,

Me

Cover Image Credit: Ashley Burton

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Don't Stress About Finding Your BFF's Freshman Year Of College

You'll find the right friends at the right time.

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Freshman year. So much excitement. So many expectations. Such a sense of entitlement. It's a wonderful time.

Freshman year is a season that will never come again and this is a year you will most likely always remember. Maybe not for the reasons you expected, but you'll never forget it, whether good or bad. You entered college thinking you knew exactly who you were as an individual, and you had a perfectly laid out plan in your mind.

You thought you would study for a specific degree, only to change it multiple times. You thought you were firm in your beliefs, only to challenge and question everything you were taught your entire life. You thought you could balance work, life, and school miraculously without getting burned out. And the biggie: You thought you and your new roommates would instantly be friends for life and always agree on everything and your room would be oh so Pinterest perfect.

Let's all laugh now, shall we?

Some of you may have lucked out in the roommate/friend department. I personally still think I got pretty lucky freshman year and got to do life with some amazing girls that I am still friends with today. But I still wouldn't say the group I hung out with freshman year are still my besties to this day.

I didn't meet my best friend soulmates until almost junior and now senior year of college.

Which is 100% okay, so don't stress if you haven't met your besties just yet.

You might not even meet them until after college, which is also 100% okay. You have so much growth to do, both on your own and with your friends. You'll see who sticks it out with you for the long haul, and the ones who fade away. I've seen both sides, with some amazing friends who have helped me through my darkest moments, and those who disappear or never make it past small talk conversations. I've also been that friend who sticks around and the friend who fades out. Whoops. So don't be too hard on yourself, or your friends either. We all change and become different people who may not mesh anymore, and that's okay.

You never stop growing in your identity, in your beliefs, in your priorities. So don't be afraid to stick close to those friends who always have your back no matter what. But also don't be afraid to let go of certain friendships that aren't helping you grow into the person you were meant to be.

Some friends are placed in our lives to help us through a certain season, and after that, it's time to move on. Now is the time to be picky about who you spend all your time with. When else are you going to spend 4 years living on a campus with thousands of people your age? So love people fiercely, but know that at the right time you're going to find your lifelong buddies. Because when you know, you just know.

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