I Am The Child by Johnny Lake
This story is dedicated to the beautiful children who are growing up in a world much different than many of us have ever known. They are living, learning and dying by a demanding and unforgiving set of rules and standards imposed by our society. They suffer, not only from their own doing, but also bear the consequences of other’s errors, faults, choices and decisions. They are learning too soon to give up hope. And they are being robbed, often permanently, of their dreams. And we are being robbed of our future. We must help every child we can. Save the children. I am the child.
I am the child that you see in your rearview mirror, as you drive away, back to your side of town. I am the child who hungers daily for food and for safety. I am the child who watches as you gyrate about, performing a dance only sensible to you and people like you. I am the child who each day learns about dodging bullets, some from real guns and some from minds like yours. I am the child.
I am the child who is a statistic that needs many adjustments to meet your standards, only meaningful to you when I hit your radar screen, for being too poor, for being too dumb, for being too hungry, for being too angry, for being a minority, for being beaten, physically, psychologically and emotionally, for being in a gang, for being abused, for being really, really alive, in contradiction to your expectation. I am the child.
I am the child who daily gets less and soon learns to expect less. I am the child who soon gets used to grabbing for anything that goes by me because I too have learned from you that I have nothing. I am the child who learns that the real power is not given, it is taken. I am the child who daily sees that none of the teachers, none of the principals, none of the bus drivers, none of the doctors, none of the policemen, none of the firemen, none of the lawyers, none of the other people of authority look like me and that obviously all the people with power are not like me. I am the child who sees the people who look like me and are like me as the janitors, the cannery workers, the field hands, the common laborers, the teacher’s aides, but never the teacher, the 7-Eleven store clerks and the minimum wage workers of the world, second-class workers, with no power, barely making a living. I am the child.
I am the child that knows the exact day that the welfare check comes and understands well the use of food stamps, legal and illegal. I am the child who knows too well the sounds and feel of an empty, cold house and the sounds and feel of an empty, cold life. I am the child who knows too well the smell of an empty refrigerator and the feel of an empty stomach. I am the child.
I am the child who knows that the law is not my protector or friend. I am the child who knows the fear and anxiety of being stopped and approached by a police officer. I am the child who has heard and seen the consequences of police work in my own family and hear daily of the injustices and the many relatives of mine who fill prison cells. I am the child who hears the incredible stories of hate, fear, fighting and killing told with courage and pride. I am the child that soon learns that my people, the gangsters, the “vatos”, the hoodlums and the criminals are fighting for their lives and for mine. I am the child.
I am the child that soon believes that I will die before I reach 18, because so many like me die everyday. I am the child who finally does conclude that I would rather kill than to die the slow death passively being forced on me.
I am the child who unfortunately finds great power and freedom in challenging the authority and fearing nothing, though I really fear everything and everybody, I have never been safe. I am the child.
I am the child who knows the excitement and thrill of sex too soon with another too willing, grabbing at the security, comfort and love that all beings need and must have in order to survive. I am the child.
I am the child who hides himself, using drugs, alcohol and sex, safe or unsafe. I color my hair outrageously or shave it all off, dress as shockingly as I can imagine, pierce my body with holes all over and get through each day with little help and little hope. I am the child.
I am the child that you purport to know from some national statistical data, but you have never stopped to say hello to me when you pass me on the street, the glass shield insulating your world from mine is never seen by you, though I continually find it blocking my pathway. I am the child.
I am the child that you secretly fear and despise and simply must fix. I am the child who you are afraid one day soon will rob your house, steal your car, grab your purse, rape your daughter or kill your son. I am the child.
So the pressure is on to fix me before I get old enough to see the life you have prepared for me and decide that I would rather die or kill you than to live a second-class life. I am the child.
An international speaker and trainer, Johnny Lake works for the Salem/Keizer School District at Washington Elementary School. He is Research Chairman of the State of Oregon Commission for Black Affairs and a child counselor dealing with drug, alcohol, and gang-affected youth and adults. Johnny Lake lives in Salem, Oregon.