I spent a couple of hours earlier this week walking the neighborhood around Foote Homes (near Vance & Lauderdale, up the street from Booker T. Washington High School). I met a number of people and did several interviews for Connecting Memphis, but the man whose words impacted me most was not willing to have his photo made, so we just talked. He identified himself as an O.G. ‘What is an O.G.?’ I asked him. ‘Original Gangster,’ was his reply.
He’s lived in Foote Homes since the 70’s, and he talked at length about the cycle of despair: poverty, inadequate education, kids not having anywhere to go, gang activity, drug-dealing, not having enough to take care of one’s family, unemployment, petty crimes, incarceration, pay-offs within the legal system, single parent homes, the entwinement of wealth and political leadership, having no future. There was so much pain in his eyes. He wasn’t looking for a handout. He was desperate for hope. Not only for himself, but for the young kids in his neighborhood who are coming along behind him.
An older woman, Vickie, joined us after a few minutes, and O.G. left to get something from the corner store. While he was gone, she told me that O.G. had “grown up nice”, but that he hadn’t done so well since his mother passed away a couple of years ago, that he was just lost. She offered to walk me to my car, and I accepted. A few moments later, O.G. came back across the street and walked through the housing project with us. When we got to my car, the three of us talked for another minute or two. I hugged Vickie and said to O.G.: “You know, you’re lucky to have someone in your life who cares so much about you. I can tell she really does.” O.G. held out his arms and I hugged him too. Vickie told me to ask around for her the next time I was there. I will.
God must cry himself to sleep every night.