The igbos have a saying that “Uwa bu afia,” the world is a marketplace and when your transactions are complete, you will return back to where you came from. I have been thinking of this saying ever since a young man pulled a gun at a local school in Saint Louis. That he felt lonely, unloved, and without friends meant that when his time was up, he preferred leaving chaos and sadness behind, taking two innocent lives too, while the rest of us are left wondering how long do we engage in this chaotic marketplace. While we are at it, Jean Kuczka and Alexandria Bell deserve to be alive too. But the are gone because we failed to do the necessary at this marketplace, call out the public health impact, life and death impact too, of guns on everyday people.
I find myself wondering too, how long it will take before we truly account for the public health impact of gun violence for a generation of children that continue to see this as part of the norm and not an anomaly. We shouldn’t live in a constant state of fear of our lives, not in our streets or churches, not in our movies or hospitals, and certainly not where we are supposed to nurture and protect the next generation of scholars.
As a teacher, one that interacts with college students every day, I see the toll life brings on them. I had my own share of burdens, having dropped out of my first year of college because we could not afford the tuition at the time. I was out of state and the only thing that made sense was to stay away from school for one year so that I could pay in state tuition. My grace has never been without struggle so I know struggle. But this style of struggle that this generation is experiencing is heavier than the ones we experienced. I wasn’t barraged with violence in the way this generation of students are facing. I had friends and didn’t need social media likes to validate our friendships. Ours were deep, insightful, full of fistfights if you knew the spirit of girls from Philadelphia, but genuinely full of love. I miss my Philly crew as they helped shaped the person I became. I haven’t even spoke for years to many of them, but if and when we see each other, it would be like we were right back to the streets of state college, Pa. Penn state was love and will always remain that despite my many real struggles there.
I share all this to say that we need to do better for this generation for children and students. We need to help them even if they are struggling and feeling empty with the world. Violence is never an answer. Killing innocent lives is never a solution and I don’t know yet what I will do but I will keep writing until something gives. Keep knowing that guns are intimately connected to the public’s health and when shootings at schools or anywhere occurs, saying enough is enough will not do. Not when lives keep ending for things we could account for while we still have time at this marketplace called life.
I’ll rather do as Baldwin says and rejoice in the force that is life now. This tasteless and blasphemous rubber we continue to chew and subject ourselves too, is costing lives and if we do not act now, do not then be surprised when this comes knocking close to home. This week it did for me. This week, I choose to keep taking of the mask that we fear. I choose love and life for all. Everything we want, even in a marketplace called life, is in our hands.