“Just made me a dolphin!”
I looked at my friend. I think she recognized the confusion on my face. I am usually up on terms…but I missed “dolphin.”
“They shot my nephew in the head. You know…a hole in the head…like a dolphin.” All I could do was sigh. I felt badly for my friend and whispered a silent prayer. My head jolted when she said, “I’m praying for the guy who shot my nephew.”
Her pastor was even more shocked than I was. He knew she worked with people in prison and jails, as well as their families. We both knew that she had written letters to persons convicted of crimes–violent and nonviolent–encouraging them as they did their time. She had organized a group of church ladies to assist her in the work; a team of women visiting, writing and advocating for people behind bars.
But praying for the dude who shot your nephew? Your family member?
“Yes,” she told her pastor. “All these young men need us. It could have been the other way around. My nephew could have shot him. So, I love my nephew, but if the guy who shot him needs us from the church. We’re there!” She meant it. I thought about the gospel song, “Somebody Prayed For Me.” Who knows how many people prayed for me when I was locked up? Who knows how many people prayed for you? Are still praying for you?
So, she is praying on both sides– healing for her nephew and restoration for his shooter. But is it really two sides? Aren’t we in this together? One community, one cause? My friend could pray for both sides because she only saw one side. Two young men who needed help and healing–spiritual and physical. If there are two sides, it’s two sides of the same coin…and we need to focus on the “coin.”
“Young people know revenge and violence because we live in a violent world and a violent country. They pick up the culture because they don’t see anything else,” offers Will Latif Little, a Philadelphia barber who did ten years for third degree murder before turning things around, and providing mentoring and programs for local youth. “A lot of them don’t want to hurt people, but there’s peer pressure and all kinds of expectations on them from the culture.” Will’s story of redemption will appear in full next week. But I needed him to tell me how to deal with forgiveness and not appear to be a punk, not be soft.
“We can show them how our lives have changed,” he said, “and as guys who’ve been on the streets, we have credibility.” I thought about the DC anti-violence initiative “Credible Messengers” that turns the voices of older men toward the lives of younger men and adolescents with words designed to stop the violence, heal the divisions, interrupt the conflicts and show new ways to build the community. It is happening, and around the country, people are saying, “It ain’t got to be this way. I ain’t got to be this way!”
The National Institute of Justice just published a paper exploring the causes for the rise in recent homicide rates. The author, a professor from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, named Richard Rosenfeld, considers three popular explanations: rise in heroin markets, more people coming home from jail and prison, and general animosity toward law enforcement made worse by recent police brutality (they call it the “Ferguson Effect”). Any way you slice it, all three explanations blame you and your community (“you out there slinging heroin to White kids, you shouldn’t have been let out of prison,”; “you got a chip on your shoulder that says ‘F*** law enforcement! Hell F*** laws!”) No one’s willing to look at an unjust system, racial bias, and economic hardship. But at the end of the day, with all the madness around you, you can still decide your own path. My friend chose prayer over revenge, seeing that the two sides of the dispute are two sides of the same coin…and she’s about saving the coin and making things right. Next week, a full interview with Will Latif Little, Charles Hodges and Qadir on how they made the shift from violence to peace, from the desolute to the resolute. In it, there’s a glimpse of answers to my friend’s prayers.