I tried to write this letter to you last night, but the level of sadness in me would not allow me to sit at this keyboard and compose these words.
How much more can my hometown take? How much more do the people we love have to suffer? How much? How much?? HOW MUCH!
Isn't it enough that tens of thousands of lives in Flint have been wrecked, destroyed by the greed of General Motors? Isn't it enough that my wife and I and tens of thousands of others who love our home -- love it more than any of you will ever know -- have had to leave Flint in the past 20 years to find work far from family and friends? Isn't it enough that Flint suffers the highest or near-highest per capita rates of murder, rape and theft in the nation?
What else do the people of Flint have to go through while the rest of country mouths the propaganda of the evening news claiming "the economy is the best ever!"? The top 10 percent just get richer and richer and the next 30 percent of you keep the CNBC stock ticker on your screens all day and toss out all sections of the daily paper but the pages that tell you how well your portfolio did yesterday.
I thought there was nothing else left for Flint to go through. Like Job, it seemed that every imaginable sorrow had been visited upon its people. I guess I was wrong.
I look up at the TV and a helicopter is hovering over a school while the words "Buell Elementary" flash on the screen.
Buell? Buell! At the end of "The Big One," when I twisted Nike chairman Phil Knight's arm to match my $10,000 contribution to the kids of Flint -- that $20,000 went to Buell Elementary.
Yesterday, a 6-year old boy brought a semi-automatic gun to that very school in Flint and killed a 6-year old girl in their first grade classroom.
Six years old.
A little girl whose name was Kayla Rolland.
That's about the only thing the national media got right about the story. Twenty satellite trucks now ring the school, but with all that technology, they cannot find the way to bring you the truth. Of course, they have been spun and snookered by the local officials in Flint who try to hide from the responsibility they share in Flint's destruction any time a tragedy like this happens.
You have probably heard that this school shooting took place out in the "suburbs," in a place called "Mount Morris Township"... "somewhere near Flint."
There is no such place.
Buell Elementary, where the shooting took place, is in the Flint Beecher school district, the poorest school district in Genesee County, Michigan, and perhaps the poorest in the entire state. Eighty-two percent of its children, according to the federal government, live below the "official" poverty level (meaning the number of kids in total poverty is even higher).
Beecher is Flint's dump. It is where you go when you have nothing left to your name. 60 percent black, 40 percent white. No municipality in Genesee County wants to govern Beecher, so it exists as a No Man's Land on the northern city limits of Flint. It covers a small portion of two different townships (one of which is where my wife Kathleen is from). But folks, when you hear the word "township" used in the case of Beecher, those of us from Flint mean it in the way the word was used in South Africa. Buell Elementary in the Flint Beecher school district has a Flint address and a Flint phone number, but the black officials from Flint on the news yesterday tried to point out that "this school really isn't in Flint!" It is amazing how deep oppression takes its roots when even black leaders find themselves in bed with General Motors and, like Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane, repeatedly deny that people of their own race have anything to do with them.
Poor, poor Flint. The media blowhards babble on about how "this is the youngest child to kill another child in a school shooting" and the few anchors who started to look at their own helicopter shots showing the school sitting in the middle of a bombed-out neighborhood commented that "this is actually the first of all these school shootings we've had lately that has taken place in an 'urban' school." Wow. Two records for Flint in one day.
When I was a senior in high school, the assistant principal of Beecher High -- the first black man in the area to hold such a position -- became despondent over his inability to quell the racial disturbances in the school, so one night he went home, wrote a heartfelt letter to the kids in the district, then put a gun in his mouth and blew his brains out. As my friend, Jeff Gibbs, who went to Beecher, told me last night, it's sad that the only two times that Beecher receives the attention of the nation is because of a gun (Click here to read Jeff's letter).
I heard from relatives last night that the family of the little boy who killed the girl had been evicted from their home just last week. Evicted, I wonder, by Deputy Fred, who 10 years after "Roger & Me," still spends his day at the behest of Flint's landlords.
Homeless and fatherless (his dad is in jail as 30 percent of all black men in America will be at some point in their lives), the boy was staying at his uncle's. In the house were guns, as there are in virtually every home in this devastated and desperate area. The gun, that the boy found and took to school, was not some "junk gun," the kind that Al Gore promises to get rid of. It was a gun with a brand name bought initially at a sporting goods store (I wonder, were the bullets bought at K-Mart, as they were at Columbine?).
How do Mr. McCain and Mr. Bush feel this morning? Just seven days prior, John McCain's "Straight Talk Express" bus rolled past Beecher on I-75, but it didn't stop. It rolled on down near Ann Arbor where McCain blasted those who seek gun control, saying that he opposes ANY ban on ANY assault weapon, and opposes ANY waiting period for a background check when one purchases a gun. Mr. Bush never stopped in Flint either.
I guess we all feel sorta proud that they both avoid us like the plague. There is not -- and has not for nearly thirty years -- been a single Republican state or federal representative elected from Flint. Another reason, I suppose, for our neglect and punishment. But we're proud of how we've made it almost a crime to support a Republican in Flint, proud of the fact we elected the country's first black mayor in the '60s, proud that we voted for Jesse Jackson 9 to 1 over Michael Dukakis in 1988 (and 4 to 1 for Jesse in Flint's all-white suburbs). So I guess the gun crazy presidential candidates made the right decision to take their hate-filled campaigns elsewhere. And, in the end, I was proud to see that the people of Michigan, like the people in Minnesota, have kept their sense of humor intact as a way to express their sense of outrage. 51 percent of those who showed up to vote in the Republican primary were Democrats and Independents! They took the time to go the polls to plunk down for McCain just to, in good ol' working class fashion, stick it to the Bush with the silver spoon in his mouth.
I'll end by repeating what I have said many times before -- the handguns have to go. 16,000 gun murders last year in the US and 15,500 were killed by someone they knew (husband, boyfriend, neighbor) or by someone at work. Approximately 500 were killed by a stranger who broke into their home and 300 of those were killed by their OWN gun. Those are the facts. Easy access to guns by a species that often responds irrationally and with intense emotions is a lethal combination. Great Britain, a nation of 60 million people with a violent history of conquering the world at the barrel of a gun and now full of drunks and hotheads who eat up violent American movies and TV shows -- last year they killed a grand total of 12 -- that's TWELVE! -- of their own citizens with handguns. That's because handguns are TOTALLY banned. Let the hunters keep their rifles after a serious background check, but the handguns, whose only purpose is to take a human life, must go. The Brits have done it, the Australians have done it, the Canadians have done it. Even New York City mostly did it -- and the number of murders there has dropped from 2,200 a year to 600.
We look like a bunch of idiots. Let's do something about it and about the poverty in which so many of kids still dwell. We have never been in a better place to make it happen than right now.
What are we waiting for? Another Kayla Rolland? God help you if you ever have to live in a township that no town will claim and is forgotten by everyone else as soon as the next gun nut enters a McDonald's and a Burger king on the same day. Fried or flame-broiled, it's all our own unique American Hell.
On behalf of the six of us from Flint who work on The Awful Truth,
P.S. If you would like to contribute to the Kayla Rolland Memorial Fund please send donations to:
Kayla Rolland Memorial Fund,
c/o Calvary Assembley of God
2518 Delaware Avenue
Flint, MI 48506
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