by Ernest Saadiq Morris
This weekend in Los Angeles, I had an interesting encounter with a Latino youth. I was dressed in my regular, off-duty “no court no clients” outfit of a hoodie, fitted cap, jeans and sneakers, bumping Hip Hop on my Ipod while waiting to catch a bus. I noticed this young, tall Latino curiously looking me up and down as he walked towards me, so I nodded at him as he passed me. (The L.A. Black-Brown tension is notoriously hyped, but for the most part people get along…still you always have to be ready for anything. Feeling no animosity, I remained neutral and open to the encounter.)
The young man circled back, walked up to me and started by asking me if I had watched the last Monday Night Football game, then asked me if I liked any other sports. He seemed friendly enough but also searching for something, so I humored him and answered his questions– still curious where this was going. The bus arrived and, since we got on at the same time, I decided I needed to get to the bottom of this.
In five minutes, I found out he was only 14 years old and was “done with school” because he had been “kicked out for selling weed” last year, not because he got caught, but because another student “snitched” on him — as a result, he hated police because they acted like what he did was “so wrong.” After he was expelled, his parents had wanted to kick him out of their house but he had quickly told them he would pay rent. So now he’s working (legitimately) and “doing his own thing” which includes playing basketball and video games every day. He even said with full youthful sincerity that he might go to the University of Kansas to play college basketball someday … and it hurt my heart that he thought that on his current path that was still an option.
Hearing all of this, I figured I had a limited amount of time to drop some well-disguised “jewels” that might help him. First, I told him I respected him for having a job because there are plenty of grown men that don’t work. He tried to disguise it but the pride showed on his face for a few seconds after my compliment. Also, I told him I thought he was smart for deciding to pay rent to his parents and stay at home, because a 14-year-old on the street is only going to last so long before someone tries to f#@k his life up. Then I suggested that maybe he could try to get his GED in a couple years because most people treat it the same as a high school diploma these days.
That’s all I could tell him in about 5 minutes before he said “See ya around!” and hopped off the bus. He was a well-mannered, clean, intelligent and a very likable young man that could potentially do or be anything that he wanted. Have you seen the AT&T commercial where the Latino guy meets a girl on the train, they eventually marry, and much later, he becomes the first Latino President? Well, if that guy had been kicked out of school as a 14-year-old because of zero tolerance school discipline policies, that fairytale ain’t happening! How many young lives are we wasting and how much does our society- –which latest census figures indicate will be a “majority minority” nation in 2042 –lose by not seeing our Youth, especially Black & Brown youth, reach their potential?
See ya around? I hope so, young man.