Crime and violence

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.

3 comments Add your comment

M. Kubis

October 18th, 2013
12:36 am

Kate is so right. I lost my son to heroin 9 months ago after he was clean for four months. His battle raged on for 10 years and I can tell you there was no hope to be found. He was arrested and offered the drug court program which worked very well for him until they gave him a 3 day leave. At the end of the 3 days, he was dead. This has completely destroyed me and I fight every day just to survive. I am so ready for change. My son was buying drugs at his high school over ten years ago. I can only imagine how much worse it is now. I know way more about the availability of drugs in Atlanta, Gwinnett, Forsyth & Fulton County than I care to think about and most people are clueless. I see how people look at me differently now, just feeling glad it wasn’t their son or daughter and so sure they are doing what is needed to prevent it from every happening to them and also so sure there must have been some flaw in the family system of mine that allowed this to happen. I myself have examined my entire life over the last 9 months looking for anything I could have done differently to have had a different outcome to my son’s life. I have learned a lot and I assure you that living in a safe neighborhood, having a good income, education, religion, strong family ties and responsibilities – whatever you think will protect you – none of it will guarantee your children’s safety. I don’t have any answers and fought the battle for 10+ years. I lost my first born son who once played baseball, football, was a cub scout, National Honor Society member, belonged to a hand bell choir at church, once ran a sport program for Bible School, delivered newspapers, babysat for many families, and even while battling his addictions, graduated from GA State. All of these things I thought would grow a strong and healthy young man but instead I watched as he transformed into someone unrecognizable. Drug addiction will destroy your entire family. I have seen countless lives ruined by drugs and families destroyed. The only thing I know for sure is when the addicted person dies, their pain is over; the families pain is really just beginning. For as bad as you think your life is living with a drug addict that you cannot help; losing them is a million times worse. I have joined the club no Mother wants to belong to and have not been able to find any solace nor meaning to any of it. I have been reading about drug addiction and why rehab centers and health centers are not getting the job of recovery done. I do know that drug prevention measures and rehab facilities are not getting the job done. I could say a lot more because I have seen so much more, but if the police and court systems can’t do more with all of their resources, what can a parent do? Counseling and rehab are very lucrative businesses whether they produce results or not. You can even get drugs in jail. Nothing can shock me any more after all I’ve seen. I don’t believe there is any help out there. My son attended counseling, AA and NA meetings several times a week. I didn’t know about FA. I will check them out.

Barbara Exley

October 17th, 2013
11:28 pm

Just want Kate Boccia to know she is not out there alone trying to find a solution to the pandemic of addiction. I know that when parents find out their children are doing drugs of any kind and that addiction is in control of them, feelings of despair shock devastation isolation and hopelessness grub us and make us feel there is nowhere we can turn. But there is hope for us – there are support groups that are not just well-intentioned but valid, helpful & hope-filled! Families Anonymous is one such group with over 5 groups meeting weekly in metro Atlanta including a group in Alpharetta. The reality is addiction is in every family everywhere be it the city, the suburbs or ant country in the world. But there is help. There is hope. There is a better way to live but it isn’t with the help of government/politicians/school systems etc. it is found in the fellowship of others who’ve gone down this road before and know that today there is a better way. I hope Katecwill connect with FA!

Starik

October 17th, 2013
4:16 pm

As the lady from Alpharetta points out, there are problems with youth generally. Partially mature brains, all of them, make bad decisions and some are catastrophic. One thing we can do is help the kids by repealing the Zell-Miller-era law that mandates treating kids as young as 13 as adults automatically, based on the category of offense. If a 13 year old experiments with sex it should not be presumed that they deserve to be charged, labeled, and punished the same as a 40 year old who does the same thing.

Black kids obviously have additional problems, based on where they live and how they live and the awful, awful criminal culture that developed originally to fight slavery and Jim Crow but has now become for these kids and everybody near them a disaster. Probably, the best we can do in the short term is to segregate the worst and most hopeless kids in our prisons until they grow out of their criminal culture or not, and if not to put them back in prison.