I was waiting at the train station one evening last year when a 30-something Black man approached me. I was a zombie, staring off into the distance after a long day at work. I barely noticed him until he was directly in front of me.
"I asked damn near 50 people this afternoon for some change and didn't get not $1. I'm homeless. These mothaf*ckas got cars & houses..." - mothaf*ckas alerted me to pay attention - "... they act like it would kill 'em to give me a dollar. I don't know why I'm asking you" - actually he was demanding - "but can you spare something so I can at least get something to eat?"
Based on his hostility, he fully expected to be rejected. I couldn't retreat or escape without humiliating him so I just stood there & looked at him. It felt like there was a bubble around us. My full attention was focused on him. I thought at him, I see you. Seeing him seemed important. Not withdrawing seemed important. So I turned more fully toward him, giving him nonverbal cues of engagement.
In those silent seconds, his story unfolded as if he had downloaded it directly to my brain. It was so damned frustrating. He was trying and nobody was helping. He was so angry that people wouldn't help him. Angry that when they did, they didn't give him what he needed. Angry others wouldn't give him what they wouldn't miss any damn way. Angry that they withdrew when he approached or pretended he wasn't talking to them.
I remember feeling distant alarm, but not fear. I didn't believe he would hurt me. But I was gut-certain that he would hurt someone very badly. And soon.
I gave him $2 and wished him luck. I don't think he thanked me. I boarded my train with the bubble of calm still around me.
That encounter was a deep contrast to the young 20-something brotha who stepped to me at my local strip mall on Saturday.
He called out to me cheerily,"I like your glasses ma'am. Where did you get them?"
I thanked him and told him where.
"Where is that?"
I told him the store.
"And where is that?"
I told him the city.
"How do you get there?" I began to tell him a well known route that would take him there.
"You know what bus go there? 'Cause that's the only way for me to get there. I don't have no car, no job." He was laughing. "I get food stamps and everything."
It's the phrase that comes to mind when I see the stereotypical poor, uneducated, probably recently un-incarcerated Black man. The problem is epidemic. The stats are well known. Raised by single moms. Crime. Violence. High school dropouts. Jail. Unemployment. Addiction. Deadbeat dads. Premature death.
What happened to these men's dreams?
Was there no one in their lives to steer them?
Was there chaos in their families of origin that left them vulnerable to negative influences?
Was there a generational curse?
What are their purposes in life now?
What's going to happen to their sons and daughters?
Who is going to stop this cycle?
I don't have the answers to these questions. Does anyone?