Dear Leo,

I hope you’re well my little brother, wherever you are now. My name is Jimmy, and I’ve lived on Burns my whole life. I went to school at Lockwood, got into my first crew on Madison, and found myself caught up in all kinds of no good up and down our neighborhood, right when I was your age.

I’m older now, though not old enough to forget what it was like. Nearly ten years later, I can still remember coming home from King to see homies posted up on the block.

They stood tall above the concrete, as they propped their chests up, and they garnered respect from their eyes, which showed fear for no one.

In a world that felt like it was trying to hold me down, these homies were heroes. Laughing and rabbling all over the street, they did their own thing, and on their own terms, and for a while it seemed like this little bit of freedom was all there was to get in the hood.

After all, whether we’re talking about Burns street or Wall Street, freedom is power. To be free of limits, and to be capable of anything means that you could step on anyone, anytime.

And from Scarface to the history books at school, if there’s anything we’re supposed to learn by the time we’re fifteen, it’s that we’re supposed to be free.

This is why being a part of the hood makes sense; it’s a claim of land and dignity, no different from what governments and businesses stamp their marks on.

Of course though, we both know there’s more to the hood than just wanting to be free.

For me, it was about revenge. I wanted to take revenge on my father for leaving my family, and revenge on my family for not being enough in his absence, and revenge on anyone who doubted that I could hold my own despite being a little man without his ole man around.

Now, I’m sure your homies want to take revenge for your passing.

And I won’t lie: if I was their age and in their shoes, I would want the same.

If I was them, I would take your death as a call to arms, just like the government did after Pearl Harbor or 9/11, when they went all out on their enemies.

And it being that you were shot on Memorial Day weekend, a holiday about honoring those who died in our name, it’d only make sense to lace up and put it down for your memory, and to make it known that nobody from nowhere could mess with our land and our people.

I know you would stand up too, if it was one of your homies on the other side instead of you.

I know it’d be about honor, and I know it’d be about respect. But I also know that it’d all inevitably be about a lie, Leo.

The fact of the matter is: none of your homies could save you when the bullets ripped through your arteries. And none of them could save you when your body hit the cement, or when you gasped for your last breath of air.

Similarly, none of them can bring you back by getting back at ‘the enemies’. The only thing that any of them could do is claim that they loved you, and claim that they’re about what you were about, but even that’s a stretch, my little brother.

Plain and simple: in this culture that we live in, most people are just using each other to get by; companies are using commercials, politicians are using slogans, police are using ‘reasonable suspicion’, and the courts are using ‘just law’. But you and I both know it’s bullshit. At the end of the day, we both know they’re tactics, meant to keep one group down while another stays up.

What’s harder to call is our own bullshit, though.

It isn’t all that clear when we’re younger, but the evidence is there. When the homies get locked up, we keep walking. And when they get shot, we still keep walking.

Similarly, when they pass away, you know how it goes. No one is wrong for moving on; they do what they have to, but the thing is, it’s hard to call bullshit on the homies. We want to believe that our homies are different, and that they’re with us for life, but let’s be honest: when shit hits the fan, the homies hit the road.

It’s alright. They’re not fake for looking out for themselves. They’re just human.

But in the same vein, your killers aren’t the enemies, or the ones to get back at. At the end of the day, the enemies are no different than we are: like us, they’re trying to be free. And like us, they feel stranded on these blocks sometimes.

And how couldn’t they? It’s a wicked world we live in, as they say. Somewhere down the line, either society forgot about all of our blocks combined, or planned that they stay locked down, behind bars, and broken.

I don’t know what it is, but I do know this: anyone who truly cares about your name values human life. Over everything. And anyone who’s truly hurt by your death wouldn’t assert the same pain on anyone else. Instead, they’d rather let life continue, and let time heal the wound, knowing that revenge doesn’t heal but only lengthens the pain.

I’m hurt by your death. And as I walk past the place where your body lied as if it never happened, I’m hurt that I have to move on like everyone else. I’m also worried, knowing that if one of the homies does take revenge, it puts all of the people in our neighborhood at risk. I know you wouldn’t want this; I know that like everyone else, you just wanted to live the life you deserved.

For this alone: I’ll continue to fight for the consciousness of the young minds who survive you. Together, I know we can build a better road for those who come after us. I know I can’t be their family. And I know I can’t be their savior. But I know I can give them a moment. And I know that sometimes a moment is all it takes.

Not only have I seen it, but I’ve felt it Leo. And I am breathing it now as I write to you. It’s my life’s work to build a better community for our people, and your death is the life pain that drives it.

I wish it didn’t have to be this way, but I give you my word that I’m working on not wishing, but making sure that it’s better for somebody else. Throughout it all, you are indefinitely in my thought, planning, and moving process. As a neighbor, as an ally, and as a brother through the ages.

With love for you and your family, and the community we all share,

3 thoughts on “Dear Leo,

  1. Personal, poignant, powerful. I am proud of you! And I’m sorry about all of our losses!

    How is your schedule on Thursday?

    Yours, Betsy

    Betsy McClellan Hall Marketing Directions Text/Call: (323) 304-8749

    TridentCommunications.com LiveWellShopWell.com BeautifulGate.LA SilverLakeStar.com

    “An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.” – Edwin Land

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