Updated: November 4, 2013 12:12PM
‘You are right,” a reader writes in response to last week’s column. “But how do you tell some kid working 50 hours a week, get up at 6:30, work all day, then see the guys that have new cars sleep ‘til noon … that working a real job is good thing?”
Here’s how: by speaking from my own experience of having seen high-rolling dope boys waxing their cars in the sun while growing up on the West Side and having also witnessed their fast-track journeys to the grave, prison and mortal destruction.
Staggering like zombies, sky-high off their own product. Or stacked in a cooler at the county morgue. Gunned down in the street. Their dead body hurled into the back of a paddy wagon like road kill.
I would tell him that I have seen them memorialized on too many T-shirts. Eulogized by preachers at a loss for a single good word to speak in their behalf. Memories of their existence soon vaporized, like the Hennessy poured out over dry earth by their homeys.
His mama and his baby’s mama — and little son — left to agonize over what might have been but never will be — because he is no more. Hopes, dreams and promise all vanished.
I would tell him I have seen too many young brothers become ghosts. I would tell him that Chicago has become the city of ghosts.
That drug dealing and gangbanging have no retirement plan, unless you count the grave or penitentiary.
I’d tell him that there is no heaven for a G. That if Tupac and Biggie, or any of the more than 200,000 black males, ages 14 or older, murdered in America from 1976 through 2005, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, could speak from the grave, they could bear witness.
I would tell him that it’s not stuff that lasts. But the substance of good character.
I’d tell him, “Easy come, easy go.” That anything worth having is worth working for honestly.
That I too have known welfare, lack and hunger. That my lights and gas sometimes were disconnected in the dead of winter. That I was abandoned by my natural father and never knew him. And that none of this was excuse enough for me to not try and make a good life for myself.
I’d tell him that as a young man I sometimes agonized while walking to church past the glistening cars of “ballers” and “shot callers” when I had not so much as a bicycle.
I’d tell him that long before I became a professor or a journalist, I worked the fry station at Burger King. That I was a janitor, an odd jobs man, unemployed, a black boy with high hopes and dreams, even if most often with little means.
I would tell him that he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword. That I’d rather have no money than blood money.
I’d tell him to be encouraged. To keep the faith. To stay the course. To hold his head up high. That hard work and doing good does pay off after a while.
I’d tell him that I have lived long enough to see it, to reap it, without ever robbing, stealing or killing. Without ever selling even one speck of drugs. And I’d tell him that it feels so good.