In one night this past weekend, two young men from the communities served by Shout Mouse were shot and killed in senseless acts of violence.
Bryan Perkins was 18. He had just graduated from high school. He was hanging out outside Edgewood Terrace--where the authors of Trinitoga live, where three authors of upcoming Reach children's books live--on a Friday night at 9 pm, talking to his girlfriend on his cell phone. A car drove up, gun shots rang out, and he and three others were shot. Bryan died. He was an unintended target. The reported rationale for the violence was disagreement over a game of dice.
Wesley West was 25, and a graduate of Ballou HS. He had previously been highlighted in the Washington Post for his work with Peaceaholics, a nonprofit to curb violence between youth. He was killed in the neighborhood of Congress Heights, where the authors of How To Grow Up Like Me and Our Lives Matter live. Wesley had just become a father.
The truth is that we don't often share these stories. All too often the ONLY stories told about the communities of our teen authors are of violence, or of their schools' challenges, or of outside voices shaping their reality in other ways that restrict and pathologize. We try, through our book projects, to give these authors a chance to share a different side of their world, and most importantly to showcase their resilience, humor, grace, and insight.
But two losses in one night, compounded by the sadness that these stories are so common as to pass by barely acknowledged, meant that we had to take pause tonight to say these names.
I wish there was something more to share with you than sadness. I did not know either of these young man, but I know the young people with whom we write, and they could have just as easily been the ones who are mourned today. They are of the same neighborhoods, the same schools, the same chance survival in volatile worlds where these traumas are met with sadness, but not surprise. More like, as one nonprofit partner said, "grim acceptance and resignation."
I cannot help thinking of our authors when I hear this news, and of the weight of growing up in such a world where life is taken so carelessly outside your front door. I'm thinking about the psychic pain of not feeling safe at home. It sticks with me.
I recognize that without working with these kids, this news would not sit so heavy on my heart. I know that. And that disconnect is what we combat when we write -- to make this life come alive for both those who need to see their realities represented on the page, and for those who have not imagined growing up this way. Those who might otherwise skip beyond the headline of "Overnight Shooting Claims Three Lives" because it didn't happen in your neighborhood. One recognition I've felt deeply in doing this work is that it is all Our Neighborhood. Those three lives were LIVES. How did we become so numb to this?
If you have read the stories of Trinitoga, or the memoirs of the Ballou Story Project, or the children's books of Reach Incorporated, and if you have been moved, recognize with us this loss, of young men we have not known, but to whom we have a responsibility. To do something. To not just turn the page. We have no easy answer for what that is. We fight with the weapons at our disposal, our words. Some days it feels too meager, never enough, but we write on, because we know the first step in taking action has got to be empathy. It's got to be connection. These authors write so we can stop and imagine their lives and recognize they are not so very far away. They are building bridges, so we can all think of these kids as our own.