Moderated by Rick Badie
Today, we present the third installment of a series discussing crime and violence, particularly among young black men. This broad topic can also encompass serve as one example of societal struggles among all our young. To that end, an Alpharetta mother writes about the growing use of heroin by white teens. And a motivational speaker shares his experience attending a recent event for young black males at Morris Brown College. Comment at: http://blogs.ajc.com/atlanta-forward/.
Elephant in room: heroin and our kids
By Kate Boccia
On Aug. 15, a 16-year-old Cumming boy died of a heroin overdose in his house. Police don’t know who supplied the drugs. Friends and family, no doubt, are devastated and mourn an unimaginable loss.
This is a story that is near and dear to my heart. It’s about my 21-year-old son’s heroin addiction. It’s also a story of how suburban families are alone in a battle that is not discussed in the PTA, classroom, town-hall meeting or board room. This is the elephant in the room:
Heroin and our kids.
As a 20-year resident of Alpharetta, I knew my family would thrive in our cul-de-sac suburb. I knew raising my kids in this area would give them the jump start needed to create a life. What I didn’t know were the dangers that lurked in my children’s’ schools and their friends’ homes. What I didn’t know was that Roxy’s, Xanax and Oxycodone were their drugs of choice. What I didn’t know was that all are gateway drugs to heroin.
When you first begin to realize your child is an addict, you go through all the stages: fear, anger and denial are constant companions. Your greatest fear, besides death, is that your child will eventually get arrested and caught up in the criminal justice system with little or no hope of finding the help he needs. You and your child are on a path to a personal hell. It’s like trying to single-handedly stop a speeding train.
Of course I knew about “Just Say No,” “Red Ribbon Week” and the well-intentioned activities and programs that deal with substance abuse. What I didn’t know was that when I discovered my child heading down the wrong path, there would be no support or place for help. I learned I would be alone.
Searching the Internet turned up expensive and sometimes untrustworthy options. I became so frustrated I decided a meeting with community leaders was the answer. I found out they were unaware of the heroin issues in our community and were unable to offer any solutions.
Our community leaders, school principals and public safety officials are unaware of the magnitude of this issue. We are losing our children to drugs at an alarming rate; the suburbs are the new battleground.
By telling my family’s story, I have become a go-to person for fearful parents in hopes I have the answers they need to save their children. I don’t. But I do know we need more support for families, better resources and a safe house for children.
Just ask the mother of an addicted child what she needs and she will tell you she simply needs help.
Kate Boccia lives in Alpharetta.
Need to share skills, strategies to survive
By Al Wiseman
Norma Jay Barnes, CEO and president of the Community Council of Metropolitan Atlanta Inc., set the stage for the event:
“The voice of our country has spoken loudly and passionately about the plight of young black men,” she said. “The national conversation has included town hall meetings, legal debates, political arguments, academic assessments, petitions, marches, calls for boycotts and more. Young black men aged 18 to 28 find themselves in the center of this controversy, but your voices are not being heard. We want you to tell us how you feel and what you need to overcome the odds you face in society.”
And tell us they did.
They told stories about smoking weed daily; wrestling with being young fathers; having trouble finding jobs; readjusting to society after incarceration; growing up fatherless and in some cases without a full-time mother; alienation as a minority on a college campus and in corporate America; and wanting to be business owners. Many stories were heart-wrenching, full of despair, and due to poor choices.
It was obvious that the younger black men were open to feedback and input from the older men. The older men relished the opportunity to hear what was on the young brothers’ minds. In one discussion, we talked about developing the ability to cooperate with people and take responsibility for one’s actions.
At one point, one young man asked: “So what questions do you what to ask us?” My response was: “What’s up with all of the violence? What has happened in your life that makes you so angry and cold that you could shoot another person or a mother and her baby in a stroller?”
The response: Some young blacks have been so marginalized and alienated that they feel nobody cares about them. I told them many of us are afraid to say anything to them, like “Pull your pants up,” because they look so angry and menacing.
This is exactly what’s missing – open dialogue – the opportunity for older men to talk to our young men. It was evident many of the young men had grown up in single-parent households without male role models. Many of the male role models they did have were negative influences.
Our young black men are in pain. They hurt and have nobody to talk to. They have something to say and stories to tell. As older brothers, fathers and leaders in the community, we have to come to the table and listen.
Barnes’ program has the potential to become a national model for a dialogue between old and young black men. Let’s keep this going. Let’s talk, and hear what’s on their minds. Let’s be there to share skills and strategies to survive as black men in America.
If we can’t be there for them, who will?
Al Wiseman, a motivational speaker, is founder and executive director of Atlanta-based Young Speakers, Inc.