One day after the southern style Atlanta cold kept teachers and educators inside, I dressed my son in corduroy pants, turtleneck, sweater, his thickest winter coat (Ezra Jack Keats Snowy Day Peter style), hat and gloves while the car warmed for at least 15 minutes before we set out for school. All this for about three minutes worth of time between our house and the car and then from the car into his school. Given all the clothes I wrapped around my son, it was heartbreaking seeing middle-school aged children wearing either sweatshirts, or sweaters, or just plain t-shirts waiting for the school bus. It was especially heartbreaking to see so soon after Christmas. Does Santa not bring coats to middle-school children in the South for Christmas?
My thoughts didn’t immediately turn to Santa when I saw these freezing children, I thought of their parents. Honestly, I cursed them for buying video games, non-essential things, instead of coats as Christmas presents for their children. Given the thinking and the writing that I’ve been doing about black boys in American culture, I uncritically associated the parents of those inadequately dressed children with some of the parental cruelties I witnessed in some of the trials that so many black boys had to experience alone. For example, Antron McCray was one of the wrongly accused and convicted teens in the Central Park jogger case. Bobby McCray, Antron’s father, convinced him to
confess despite Antron’s denial of guilt. His father believed it best to tell the police what they wanted to hear so that he could go home. By the time the trial began, Bobby McCray could not tolerate the harsh, venomous anger directed at his son, so he abandoned his family. Antron idolized his father and never forgave him–even after his father and mother reconciled. Eventually, Antron’s father succumbed to illness and it was only at the funeral that Antron regretted not forgiving the man who had been the coach of all of his Little League teams and an overall superhero to him before the wrongful conviction.
Recently, I started listening to Thomas Cahill’s book, A Saint on Death Row: The Story of Dominique Green and the tragedy made of his life breaks your heart from his birth to his
execution. Green was physically abused by his mother, raped by a priest while attending Catholic school, raped by guards at the juvenile detention centers where his mother suggested he be kept. Eventually, his mother, who was diagnosed as mentally ill, was allowed to testify at his trial of her son’s probable guilt concerning the crime. The psychologist who was supposed to testify on Green’s behalf, maintained that black people were more likely than others to commit violence.
Despite Green’s many betrayals, the murder victim’s family contested his execution and Archbishop Desmond Tutu called him, “a remarkable advertisement for God.” Although these examples offer only a faint glimmer of hope for such abandoned and neglected children, it is a flicker that suggests the possibility of warmth when it’s cold outside.