Doris Wells Williams Mullen lost her younger brother in 1992 when he was shot and killed while walking down a sidewalk at Glen Oaks High School, and even 22 years later, her voice gets thick with emotion talking about it.
“It was a Monday morning. I’ll never forget. He was shot in the back of the head, he was 17, by a young man who was 18,” Mullen said slowly and carefully to a room full of concerned residents gathered for The Loss of Young Black Males meeting at the Charles E. Kelly Community Center on Saturday morning.
“No one in this community won anything out of that tragedy, because this young man lost his life to Angola for the rest of his life, and my brother is buried in a family cemetery,” Mullen said. “What we need to do right now is to come together and get involved.”
The meeting, hosted by Metro Councilwomen Donna Collins-Lewis, District 6, and Ronnie Edwards, District 5, featured emotional testimonies from family members of violence victims and ideas for solutions from mental health professionals, several clergy and members of the Coroner’s Office and Police Department.
“Every time we turn on the television, there is some young African-American male who has died in a violent altercation with another young African-American male — so we need to bring an end to this nonsense,” Collins-Lewis said. “To me, they are a precious commodity, they are to be treasured and be valued, but they need to value their own self-worth.”
Edwards said the recent death of Terrez Coleman, 7, “who was killed in a drive-by shooting,” prompted her to call the meeting. “We all have an active role to play in solving this problem.”
Dezmion Barrow told how he lost a cousin to violence and how his younger brother “started hanging with the wrong people, got tattoos, was dealing drugs” and is now incarcerated.
“The real issue is a lack of leadership,” Barrow said. “When I went off to college, my brother lacked my leadership. They say the grass is greener on the other side, I say the grass is greener when you water it. If you pick one young man and water him, you will make sure he has direction.”
Renetha Buckley told how her brother was fatally shot at the age of 20 because he was working as a club bouncer instead of playing college football. He couldn’t pass the ACT test, she said, and “people lost patience with him” in school and tutoring. “We need to show these young men patience.”
Brenda Young, grandmother to Terrez Coleman, brought some in the audience to tears describing the grief they have endured from his senseless death. “He was only 7 years old — all he had to do was grow up,” she said as tears welled up in her eyes.
Several men in the audience, including Byron Alexander, told how they strive to communicate with their own sons or boys in their circle of influence because, Alexander said, “small talk grows into big talk and we can find solutions.”
John Daniel, executive director of Boys Hope Girls Hope, and BRPD Cpl. L’Jean McKneely stressed the importance of black men mentoring and tutoring young black boys to teach them life skills and keep them on the right side of the law.
Judge Bonnie Jackson, 19th Judicial District Court on the Criminal Bench, was blunt in her assessment and advice after decades of observing this issue.
“There has been a cultural shift in the last 40 years, two generations, where the expectation of young black males is that a female will take care of them — that is the only dynamic they have ever known,” Jackson said. “I believe the key to changing the dynamic of the black male is to change the thinking of the black female.”
“We have got to change and elevate the expectations of our young black women so they can have expectations of the men in their lives,” Jackson said. “When you don’t expect anything you don’t require anything and when you require nothing you get nothing.”
She told how a young black man was in court recently and when she asked him if he had a lawyer he replied that his girlfriend, who worked at McDonald’s, would find him one.
“How is someone who works at McDonald’s going to find $10,000 for a lawyer for you?” Jackson said she asked him. “He had no concept of funds and what it takes to pay a bill because he’s never had to do that.”