Sometimes it starts with one word

November 21, 2011
By , Duluth, MN
I’ve seen what violence can do to people. I’m not in a gang or anything but my neighborhood and I have been affected. My little brother and I were walking to school when gunfire exploded around us. Two groups of two gangs were fighting just across the street. I was scared enough to hide behind a car but my 5 year old brother wasn’t so lucky. He was autistic and never knew what is going on around him anyway. A stray bullet split his face right down the middle. There was a skull—cracking sound and then his body fell to the ground with a loud thud. I sat there covering my ears and staring at his body until the police came. My parents came soon after and my mom instantly fell to her knees crying and my father picked me up and carried me away from his body. I was only 13. I have never forgiven the gangs but then in my junior year of high school, I found an opportunity. I’ve learned to hate gangs and everything that has to do with them but I saw a weakness in one girl’s eyes. She was part of the gang that was fighting when my brother died. There was a loyalty that was forced; she never wanted to be in a gang but she had to in order to save her own life. Our eyes met one day in history and I knew I could help her. I went up to her and said hello. That’s how it all began. She glared at me every day I said until a week later, when I gave her a pair of gorgeous gold earrings. They weren’t real gold but she got the point. I told her they reminded me of her. She involuntarily smiled and I smiled back. I didn’t really say anything after that but I learned that her name was Ella. Two days later she gave me a note that said thank you. I gave her one back that said you’re welcome. The next week I began to see her hanging around my locker but then her gang would walk past and she’d be gone. She always looked back at me with a hint of sadness in her eyes. I let that go on until one morning she came in early—when I usually got to school—and asked me why I was nice to her. I told her that everyone deserves kindness and she walked away. Every class I saw her in, she had brought a notebook and a pencil unlike every other day of her school career when she brought nothing. After school that day I heard Ella tell her gang that she had something to do and couldn’t go with them to some guy’s house. They rolled their eyes and walked away. She came up to me and asked if I could help her with her physics homework. I told her to come to my house in an hour and to my surprise she did. From the moment I let her in, I saw a pain and familiar sadness in her beautiful green eyes. She looked all over the room and saw pictures of Jesus hanging on the cross, a little boy who didn’t look quite normal, a group of black people who were once slaves, and another group of people who were in the Holocaust. Her gaze fell on me and she asked who these people were. I told her that the man on the cross was my father and died to save my life, the group of black people were my ancestors who were slaves that broke away from their chains and ran to freedom. The group of white people who were in the Holocaust never gave up hope that one day they could be free and the little boy was my autistic brother who died because of gang violence when he was just 5 years old. She burst into tears and ran out of the house and I didn’t see her again for two days. At first I thought I had pushed her too far but then I saw her again. I was walking in the park when I saw her bloodied and scared face one night. She was sobbing and I asked what had happened to her and she told me her gang found out that she was hanging out with me a little and that she wanted to give up violence and gangs. They beat her because she was changing for the better. I asked her if they were her family and she nodded yes. I corrected her and said that they weren’t; family doesn’t beat you because you are doing something right. They don’t beat you at all. She cried even harder because she knew I was right. I told her that she was going to stay with me from now on and she said she couldn’t. I told her that she was part of my family now and she suddenly stopped crying. She asked about my little brother. She asked if I stood up for him like I was now doing for her. I said that I did for the most part but if I really did, he wouldn’t be dead now. I told her that he would want me to stand up for someone else. That someone else was Ella. She smiled and I helped her to her feet and led her to my house and told my parents what had happened and they instantly helped. Days went by before she came to school again. In that time she told me that she liked what was being done for her and then she asked if she could stay. I told her that she could but I mentioned something about her parents missing her and she looked away. She said she didn’t have any parents anymore. Days went by and she really grew at our house. I was helping her get the courage to tell her gang she was done and so when she came back to school, her gang immediately found her. I was standing with her and she looked at me and I gestured to the gang and smiled encouragingly. She took a deep breath and said leave me alone. I will not be part of this gang anymore. I’m done. The leader smirked and pulled out a gun and aimed it at my stomach I gasped and stared at it but told her to not back down. She didn’t, she stepped between me and the leader. She said this doesn’t need to happen. You don’t need to ruin everybody’s lives because of one bullet. Stop what you are doing and learn to walk away like I did. She grabbed my wrist and pulled me away before he could respond. As we were walking I said I was proud of her and her parents would be too. She smiled and we went home. My parents had a surprise for both of us—she was now adopted. She really was part of my family now. We both squealed and hugged and then she paused. She whispered is this for real and all of us nodded. She smiled and hugged all of us again with tears of joy in her eyes. From that day on, we never heard from the gang again and the violence subsided. Ella went to college with me unlike most of the other gang members and she isn’t afraid of anything anymore. She had made me promise to help other gang members and we did. We helped five other kids before we graduated just because I learned to forgive and Ella learned kindness knows no type, color or gender of person. Kindness belongs to everybody.

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