On Tuesday evening, at approximately 10:50pm, 27 year-old Darryl Washington died of a fatal gunshot to his head, literally feet from his Harlem residence. Just 15 minutes earlier I stood feet away from where he drew his last agonizing breath.
This young Black man was killed by other young Black men, because he intervened to protect his family member from being assaulted.
During the days following this incident, relatives, childhood friends, neighbors, and even passersby acknowledged this young man’s life with a shrine including beautiful flowers, candles, his pictures and large sections of oaktag with various R.I.P.messages of other heartfelt expressions.
Everyone I spoke with – and I mean EVERYONE – noted how Darryl (also known as “D-Wash” or “LeBron”) was a law-abiding, humble, and well-raised gentleman undeserving of his fate. Tragic.
But this individual tragedy unfortunately represents one teardrop in a mighty ocean of mangled Black bodies, blood-stained streets, and emotionally charged funeral services all over the United States. with disturbing frequency.
Cruise through every city with a sizeable Black/Latino population, you will find hundreds of shrines like Darryl’s, or colorful portraits of Black people (typically men) spray-painted on the walls of barbershops and corner stores honoring the slain. Funeral after funeral along with floods of news reports, neighborhood tributes, and the horrific wailing of mourning parents demonstrate this sad truth: Perhaps the greatest tragedy outside of the obvious, is that incidents like Darryl’s are occurring far too frequently in American cities.
Black violent death – whether by racist law enforcement, white vigilante, or ignorant Black hands – is not a few isolated incidents, but rather an EPIDEMIC.
It makes me cringe to note that according to a 2013 report by the Children’s Defense Fund, gun violence is the leading cause of death for Black children and teens.
I am no expert on this issue. I come with no specific legislative remedies. What I do know is that Black households, schools, places of worship and community organizations must place this issue high on their priority list (along with domestic violence, mass incarceration, the miseducation of our youth and rising unemployment). Alll of us, must leave our political and religious bubbles and begin teaching our children to value life, beginning with their own, and to develop nonviolent ways to mediate their conflicts with peers.
This greed-driven and shamefully misogynist and racist society, along with our own negligence and failure to exercise leadership, is mass-producing generations of young brothers and sisters who lack confidence, feel hopeless and lost, or like the Tin Man character in “The Wizard of Oz,” have no heart.
Patriotic Black folk waiting for federal agencies or corporate sponsors to effectively address this problem should not hold their breath. Booker T. Washington’s call to “Cast our buckets where we are,” is most appropriate at this time. Right in our communities-turned-battlefields, we must create local and national movements to literally save our youth.
No college degrees are necessary for those that volunteer for this task. No long list of past accomplishments, impressive resumes, or claims to divinity needed here. The antidote to this epidemic will be the stuff of which all social movements are made: fearless, optimistic, clear-thinking, spirit-intoxicated, sincere and committed Black men and women young and old who are prepared to spread the Social Gospel of character development, self-love/empowerment, skill-building, cultural connectedness, and emotional intelligence through individual or organizational efforts to young people throughout this nation. As the phenomenonal reverend Dr. Charles G. Adams once noted, “We will either live and work together as intelligent women, men and children, or die separately like fools.”
Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.