In a week of pageantry and somber processions through Washington, the small parade of teenagers from Sasha Bruce Youthwork in Northeast D.C. to The Post's editorial board conference room was among the most memorable. Sasha Bruce Youthwork, originally funded by Evangeline Bruce and named after her daughter Sasha following her tragic death in 1975, is a private, nonprofit agency in Washington that tackles the needs of at-risk youth and their families. The four girls and two boys from Sasha Bruce had come to The Post to interview this journalist as part of a writing project. The session, however, turned into something else.
For a good chunk of the afternoon, the six youths occupied chairs frequently filled by prime ministers, Cabinet officials and headline makers, and exchanged views with me about life in Washington far away from the pomp and rituals of the federal enclave. We talked about family, the meaning of community, personal goals and dreams. And when they left, a part of them stayed behind.
You can catch a glimpse of my visitors, Alexus Jackson, 14; MarcQuinn Davis, 15; DaSean Littles, 16; Stefhanie Ratiff, 15; LaShawn Price, 15; and Genieva Semple 14; and other young writers such as Lakia Williams, 18; Caredio Jackson, 17; and Shantel Lewis, 15, through their poems and essays, which appear in the Oracle, Sasha Bruce's new literary magazine.
Allow me to share some of their voices:
WHERE I COME FROM
I come from a place that once brought pain . . . where self destruction is part of everyday lives.
I come from a place where laughter is overcome by the never ending cries of a loved one.
I come from a place where heartache is my mother, sorrow is my father, unhappiness is my sister and eventually death is my brother.
I come from a place where poverty is overflowing but luckily where I come from has nothing to do with where I'm going.
-- Lakia Williams
Walk down the street, I hear gunshots
Crack head in the alley
Two guys jump him and take his money
Two girls screaming and arguing out a window
Kids riding bikes, it's true that freaks come out at night.
No streetlights, so dark I have no sight
Just wandering not knowing where to go
I see light and run like a roach
Someone there looks just like me
Then I wake up crying.
-- MarcQuinn Davis
Life -- is it supposed to happen this way
Are we supposed to say what we say
If you really care, do you let your loved ones feel fear
Do you hide away in jealousy with no friends or family
Does your family tear away like a book with no pages
Or are you just going through stages
Life -- is it supposed to happen this way?
-- LaShawn Price
Most likely the paths of Sasha Bruce's youngsters and the visitors in town to bid farewell to Ronald Reagan did not cross. The limousines and the horse-drawn caisson followed a route that led them through other sections of the nation's capital. In a way that's too bad. They could have learned from each other.
All of this week's heart-tugging moments in Washington weren't downtown. There are hearts that break daily in our city. And for some, so young and tender, the somber moments never go away.
Every day I wish my brother was still here
with me. It hurts so bad sometimes I can't
even focus in class.
I write his name on everything I have especially
my notebooks. My brother died three years ago
but it still hurts me to this day.
He was a good person and always looked out
for me. He got shot by somebody he knew.
My family didn't want to tell me because they
knew I was going to flip. That's why I don't
like going to funerals because I think about
my brother and cry up a storm.
-- Shantel Lewis
WHO R MY FRIENDS
I see the faces of my friendly enemies
Evil entities with false identities and penciled in faces
Meticulously they rub erasers to leave no traces of their numerous changes
I'm continually under attack from their falsified friendly barrage
But with a little Windex I see through their deceptive facade
Who R My Friends? No, What R Friends?
That's the better question.
Friends should be lifelong companions helping you learn life's lessons
Not the ones who trade in their knives for Smith & Wessons
And double-barreled shotguns
Speaking half truths behind, but in your presence act like saints and nuns.
Like Jesus and Judas, Caesar and Brutus
It's always the ones closest to us, the ones who really know us
To push the sword completely through us. . .
-- Caredio Jackson
When I first saw you I was afraid to meet you
When I first met you I was afraid to kiss you
When I first kissed you I was afraid to love you
But now that I love you, I'm afraid to lose you.
-- Stefhanie Ratiff
There was unanimous agreement around the conference table that putting feelings on paper is easier than expressing them verbally. That's where the Oracle and its editor, former Post reporter and now freelance writer Denis Collins, come in handy. In addition to poems, the Oracle's first edition contains essays, artwork and photographs of some of the authors. Its greatest value, perhaps, is the chance it gives young writers to find their voices, and the opportunity it gives us to hear them.
P.S: Goodbye, Mr. Ray Charles. Goodbye.