I was walking home from school with about ten other elementary students like we did everyday. We lived less than a mile from our low-income neighborhood and our norm was to walk to and fro together or alone. The route was safe and open; we could see each other in the distance and we just knew to watch out for each other.

It was another long school day. A group of us neighborhood kids were walking and talking about Pokemon and every other contemporary cartoon trend, when all of a sudden, we saw danger.

A greater mass of individuals were walking towards our neighborhood from the local high school. It appeared that their steps were synchronized like an army. There uniform was all red or all white. I felt squirmy, confused and all of a sudden super aware of my surroundings. I looked behind us and along the road there was another group of individuals with similar uniforms marching along. We walked faster, a lot faster; our senses heightened. I knew something really, really, really bad was about to happen.

The gaps between the groups of us, elementary students, decreased. We seemed to all cross the street into our neighborhood together. We were united and only separated as we entered our homes.

Home, sweet home, I realeased a deep breath. Mom was making lunch and everything felt normal, safe. I sat down to eat my sandwhich and chips only to be interrupted by a knock on the door.

I got up to answer and to my surprise there was my sister’s friend, a sweet twelve-year old boy that we loved dearly as a family. His face was bruised and bloody. I stood stunned looking at him.

My mom rushed to my side and kicked into full mom gear. She grabbed him and within thirty seconds was icing his face and washing his wounds. Meanwhile, asking him what happened.

He was attacked by the mob. The same mob that intimidated me minutes before.

Our friend’s brothers and cousins were all apart of another gang that did not favor the red army. There was a mass battle at our local middle school and since they could not find his family members, they knew they could hurt them by hurting him.

He was seen as an “opportune” taget. Apparently his age, personal affiliations, I would argue his life, were not of value. Afraid to go home, in case of being followed, he ran to our house knowing they wouldn’t dare knock on unknown territory.

I think of this friend often.

I knew deep down my innocent and victimized friend would soon have to make a decision. He would need to be protected. He would choose protection and not because of his own decisions but instead based on the family he was born into. Law enforcement did not enter our neighborhood, we had an hour to two hour response time. We never called law enforcement. Sadly, school administration did not have jurisdiction pass a certain distance. His options were limited. His option was to trust those who were willing to protect him, to fight for him and to give their lives even. His family was willing to do that for him.

Without saying anything aloud, he made a decision that day and secrelty, so did I. Our only difference was that my family moved several months after this incident, he did not have that same luck.

I realize I grew up with a different perspective of gangs, drug dealers and criminals. I love them. I see their perspective; I do not agree with it but when I chat with them I see the world the way they do. I do believe in justice but I cannot ignore their reality. I consider him and all of the other individuals with a different reality. I consider their families.

People look at gang members and we have tend to have two response. We allow our fear to ostracize them as monsters and dehumanize them to the point that we forget they are a son, daughter, aunt, grandson, etc. Or we romanticize their lifestyle and glorify it. Regardless of our perception, may we always remember that every life is valuable. May we grow to understand that often times our lifestyles do not always reflect our true hearts but are testaments of the different realities we live.

I courageously shared my “reality” with a mother in my life and in my vulnerability, she looked into my soul and said, “Julyeth, that to me is crazy. I could not imagine living that life. However, that is your normal and you are now trying to find a new normal, that is OK.”

We don’t always have to have answers. We just have to embrace the fact that crazy, dangerous, wild or simply different realities are some people’s normal. Even if they are trying to create a new normal or not… may we find the courage to allow mercy to triumph over judgement.

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