It is no secret that I was born and raised in Mount Vernon, NY.
Thanks to the Overweight Lover, Heavy D, we were once known as Money Earnin' Mount Vernon. These days we are known by the moniker Murdaville. My, how things have changed.
And changed they have. I can remember my block being full of boundless energy of young people. We had a pool in our complex. It was on and poppin' there during the summer. Hartley Park was at the end of my block. The youngest chocolate children played on the swings and the big-slide, the oldest Italian men played bocci ball, and all ages in between gathered there to play basketball, ride bikes, and sneak kisses in The White House. Although my parents didn't let me, you could stay out all night in our neighborhood. It may have gotten loud—with arguments about Michael Jordan or EMPD wafting through the air—but it was always peaceful. I remember the parties at the Church of the Ascension on Friday nights when I was in high-school. Young people gathered from all around. We partied hard—gyrating bodies, sweat dripping, funky teenaged boys, choreographed moves like we were filming House Party II—hard. The church was around the corner from my building and my mother could see it from her friends window. In 1992 there was a party that I begged my mother to let me go to. She said no until a good guy friend of mine assured her that he would keep his eye on me. She let me go and at some point before 11:00 p.m. shots rang out. No one was hurt, but when I got outside, Lois was there with a head full of hard pink rollers to get her daughter. That was bad, but it seemed like an isolated incident. (The shots, not my mother's rollers.) And then things changed. In 1996 a friend of mine—Warren—was shot and killed across the street from my parents building. This was not the first shooting in Mount Vernon, but it was the first act of violence that—literally and figuratively— hit close to home.
Like dominos falling, things haven't been the same since then. I woke up on Monday to pleas on Facebook for the violence to end in Mount Vernon. I looked at the local online newspaper for Mount Vernon and learned that there were three separate shootings in a five hour period in the city on Sunday. Three shootings? Five hours? Four square miles? My how things have changed.
According to Citydata.com, the murder rate peaked in 2008 and 2009, with ten murders committed in each year. Assaults, robberies, and thefts also hit a high point around that time. When I was growing up, we were a village in the truest sense of the word. If children were caught behaving badly, any adult could chastise them. And trust me, when I was doing something I had no business doing, in places I had no business being, Lois knew about it well before I got home. And now, grown people are silent in the face of children for fear of altercation with their parents, or worse yet, fear of being killed by a child with a gun. My how things have changed.
And in the midst of all of this change, an old song is stirring in my spirit. With that, I leave you with Self-Destruction from the Stop the Violence Movement. A timeless message for such a time as this...
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