Sometimes, raising children is a collective act. Whether you’re the parent, grandparent, uncle or aunt, it really can take all of us.
All of us because one moment you’re combing their hair, the next they’re styling their own. One day you’re celebrating first steps, and soon after, their young feet have walked them straight into young adulthood. One day you’re packing a diaper bag; the next day they’re packing for college.
Kids grow up. That’s what happens. And if we’re lucky – no matter their path – we live long enough to see them shine bigger and brighter than we ever did.
When the 2008 presidential election was called, the first person I texted was my youngest niece Elisa. It seemed fitting; I, a voting rights attorney, and she, having turned 18 that year, voted for the first time.
“America has her first black president. Congratulations!”
“Yes!” She responded followed by, “This has to be my Tia Yoya.”
For some reason she didn’t have my number in her phone. I called her. We laughed about her text. “Maybe you’ll be next mija. The nation’s first AfroLatina president.”
“A Blaxican in the White House!” Embracing the possibilities already, she was clearly on her way to shining big and bright.
On September 20, 2009, I noticed a post on her Facebook page. Now 19 and a sophomore in college, she could not wait to get back to school to see her friends, her books and her boyfriend, she said.
My baby niece – the one who convinced her grandma to give her my most favorite kid sweater from storage and who proceeded to wear it at every opportunity, the one who played with my old dolls – now a young adult.
“I still have the dolls in the little box…” I said in a reply post. “Now, if I could just put your boyfriend in there too. The books you can keep.”
“Lol. I don’t remember what dolls you’re talking about,” she replied almost immediately. “The sweater I remember I loved it…YOU should let me keep the boyfriend,” she went on. “He makes me read the books. Lol.” Smart, funny and clever, that was her.
Nineteen days later that boyfriend, very recently her ex, killed her with a gun.
When law enforcement responded, they found her in the front seat of his car – seat belt still on – with multiple wounds. She had struggled for her life as he shot through the passenger window.
Turns out, not all kids get to grow up.
Not even those who aspire to help foster youth go to college. Nor those who, while still a teenager, are wise enough to want to do something about gender-based inequities. Not even those who are smart, funny and clever.
But if we’re lucky, those who live on find the strength to begin healing self, family and nation. After all, ending gun violence is a collective act, and it really will take all of us.