"Father God I need answers." ~ Lil Boosie
It’s only a week until I move into my first college dorm, but I can’t stop thinking about Jaquan Moore’s death. All the new adventures that await just have to wait a bit longer because I am still mourning the loss of my classmate. To say I was a close friend of Jaquan would be a lie. To be completely honest, after the second period Art class ended, I didn’t see him much. We lived in different worlds—now more than ever. Yet here I am distracted from the educational opportunity of a lifetime, while Joaquin's body is lowered into a grave next to many others from the Westchester neighborhood in James Island, South Carolina. It is a neighborhood that I pass by on the way to my friend’s house in white suburbia—crammed between the wealthy and the middle class. It is the neighborhood where Jaquan was killed. In the same park where his former football team was practicing, he was killed by another young African American male. They had the same struggle, same neighborhood, but different endings. As Fat Trel said, “Same struggle we hustle, that my braves.” But does brotherhood last forever? Matter of fact, is anything eternal for black men who only see 20 years?
“The critics are calling me conscious / But truthfully, every shooter be callin’ me Compton / So truthfully, only calling me Kweli and Common? / Proves that ignorance is bliss.” ~ Kendrick Lamar
Jaquan’s face became the profile pictures of his friends—the young men who actually knew his struggle. They featured captions such as “Father God I need answers,” words spoken by Lil Boosie—I knew the song. It’s a song about cancer, survival, and the face of death, a song that is played all along Fort Johnson Road, a song that helps me understand. To be brutally honest, I don’t know anything about being black. The only thing I know is what I’ve been told in hip-hop. This form of music is a way for white people to really hear the pain in black people’s voices. The lyrics are sermons anyone can access. It’s like picking a church. You pick one based on your beliefs, and in this case, I believe that black lives do matter. Sure all lives matter, but these are the lives that need saving right now. They are the lives that turn to ghosts—or angels—too quickly. Music is how we cope, but it is also how we understand. Even though I listen to the same rappers Jaquan did that doesn’t mean I knew his pain. I will never know his pain, but with the help of music I can recognize it and do something. Ignorance is bliss. It’s too bad I’m no longer ignorant.
“I talked to mama today, son do you rather live or die?” ~ Young Scooter
After finding out about Jaquan’s death, I asked my mom, “What do I do now?” She said that it was sad, "It’s hard to know what to do because it’s very complicated.” She was right. Situations like Jaquan’s are easy to define but hard to resolve. As a white male—living as practically the easiest type of person you can be in this country—it’s hard for me to envision a life of such strident struggle. I wish I could give my opportunities to those who resort to violence, drugs, or dropping out of school. Unfortunately in a city like Charleston, the “solution” to the “problems” in the African American community have been disguised as gentrification. Many have been forced out of their homes downtown, to make way for college students, like me, and have to move further from the city—somewhere their problems cannot be seen as evident. Their people’s past—the neglected history—is disguised by the abandonment of a neighborhood they once called theirs, which now belongs to The Ignorant, those who don’t know the struggle.
“I understand the ups and the downs, street n****s gon’ relate / It’s a struggle man, I’m with you all the way / This for all the soldiers fell victim to the system / Everyday that goes by they so close to losing faith.” ~ Kodak Black
If I don’t understand the struggle, then why does Jaquan’s death hurt so much? The answer is Kodak Black, a 19-year-old singer/songwriter who preaches to young African-Americans across the nation. He’s known as the Project Baby from the 1800 block of Pompano Beach, Florida, and known by the government as a threat. But deep down he’s just a kid who likes to smile. He’s the storyteller for young African American males stuck in a game of life or death—a game where the way out is as tough as the way in. Kodak’s message allows me to confront the guilt of being a white man. A guilt that is innate like a black man’s struggle. Sure I can’t help how I was born, and neither can he, but I can decide what to do from here. The only thing I can do is fight. I fight for all of us. As a white man I have the ability to be heard, especially in places other than the streets. It is my civic duty as a democratic citizen to resolve the wrongs done to others. What I can do is push for better education for those in the downtown projects, instead of forcing them to leave. An example of this effort is Meeting Street Academy, which is a school for children whose parents have too little an income to 1. live in a good enough neighborhood and 2. afford a good education. It’s a private school education, for publicly invisible individuals.
“Don’t worry about me I’m in God’s hands. I just hope the world understands who I am.” ~ Kodak Black
To understand means to know the meaning. I think white people should know the meaning of a black death. But without being directly involved in that community, it is hard to truly understand. Therefore we must see these rappers as storytellers. We must hear the pain in their voices. We must dig through music streaming websites—such as the underground favorites like Spinrilla, Datpiff, and Soundcloud. They are libraries with stories we haven’t truly read. I still can’t pretend that I know “the struggle,” but I can say that I know the lyrics associated with the struggle. Those lyrics are how we begin to understand. Please listen.