My life started in the crook of small, run down Ivory Springs, Mississippi. Down here, the days were long and the nights longer with the sky coated in stars almost bright enough to wish upon. In Ivory Springs there was an unspoken rule of segregation, one not to be discussed and definitely not by those with color like me. Ivory High was the dividing point between both sides. Each day my brothers and I walked home from school, saying hello to every porch dweller we saw, mainly for fear Momma would hear we had been rude and beat our butts. It was never really quiet on my street, the kids were loud and hyper-active, their parents often screaming from their porch to quiet down. The roads toward home were always dusty from the constant cars, but whenever it snowed, our street got plowed or salted first, of course after the North Side’s, but we never really had to worry about skidding in the car. Life in sleepy little Ivory Springs was calm and simple, everyone living, working, and communing with the same people on separate sides of Ivory High.
My brick two story house sat a few yards back from the road, on a slight hill, covered in perfectly manicured trees and bushes. My favorite room in our house was the music room, my brothers and I usually spent most of our free time playing in there, getting lost in the beautiful harmonic music we made together. Our medium sized kitchen had bright green walls, simple white appliances and a small dinner table that held nothing more than mail and school backpacks. To the left of the kitchen, in a deep set cove separating the two, sat an off-limits dining room with a large table, that seats eight, on top of a lush cream carpet that I would sneak to lay on whenever I was home alone. The long hallway connecting these three rooms was peppered with the sweet smiles of family vacations, spontaneous snapshots of love, and the stiff, staged grins of our dreaded Christmas card picture. Staggering the endless collection of memories was a stairway and a small bathroom for guests. At the opposite end of the hall there was a stair case leading to the basement, my parent’s room and a small washroom. As I got older my parents stayed downstairs more and more, allowing us domain over the top floors, trusting me to be in charge.
At the top of the stairs were my little brothers’ rooms, which were next to each other, connected by a small, brightly decorated bath room. My oldest brother, Jacob, who was 16 and loved basketball, had a hoop on the back of his door and a small trophy case slowly being filled with his MVP and team captain awards. He slept in a large loft bed above a desk and a small TV, which was awarded to him this summer for passing through all of elementary, middle, and half of high school with all A’s. My youngest brother, Alex, who was six and loved trains, had a room littered with toy train parts that hurt nearly as bad as Legos and a “big boy” bed adorned in a train themed bed set. Alex was the happiest boy I knew, his sweet round face always decorated with a toothless smile, which was normally surrounded by remnants of whatever he had just eaten. At the end of the hall was my room and because I was the oldest, it was the biggest. My room had a faint lilac paint on the walls, with rich purple and navy blue accents decorating my bed and desk. My family was better off than most in our neighborhood and despite our lifestyle, my brothers and I were taught the value of our dollar as well as the old school morals of love and respect that our parents grew up with.
School life was calm in Ivory Springs. Even with both sides going to the same high school, it was still very separated, black people sitting on one side, white sitting on the other. Though I was not the valedictorian or even in the top ten ranking, I was one of the smarter students. This was my last summer in high school and as a rising senior, I was very ready to leave and study in the big city. Ivory Springs High was an extremely small school with little diversity and very few new people coming in each year. I had been at this school for four years with people I had known since preschool, people I knew better than some of my own family, which made school seem like a giant home away from home. The only down side to being so close was that, of the four thousand students in my school, half of us were not ever going to talk to the other half. Despite all the drama of high school enemies and the constant silent war between both sides, I still loved Ivory Springs High. But everything changed when Jacob was killed.
It was the evening of July 31, over two months into our hot, humid and soon to be ending summer. Mom and Dad had gone out of town earlier that week on a business trip, promising to be back to for my last back-to-school celebration the next day. That morning I went to the grocery store with my little tagalong, Alex, to pick up food for my party. Around six, after helping me cook earlier; Jacob decided to take a break from basketball and Netflix to go hang out with his friends. Nearly 20 minutes after the boys said good bye, I heard gunshots, which was very strange in our neighborhood. I then heard screaming and yelling as if someone was arguing. Immediately I walked to Alex, who had been coloring on the kitchen table, and calmly took him to his room. After making him pinky promise not to move from his bed, I went downstairs, grabbed my cell phone, and went outside to see what happened.
There was blood pooled on the asphalt, my brother and his best friend both lying still, face down on the ground. Confusion covered me in a heavy fog. I wondered why Jacob was in handcuffs and if he had done anything wrong. I didn’t realize I was crying and screaming until Alex tackled me and tugged my face down to his level, so he could wipe the tears away. As if slapped back into reality, I snapped up and turned toward Alex.
“Go back in the house!”
“But JJ, something’s wrong with JJ!” he replied, trying to get around me to see the commotion.
“Alex, please go back inside, I’ll find out what’s wrong with JJ and come get you in a minute, I promise.” I tried to reason with him “Just go finish your coloring Ally, I’ll be there in a bit.” Watching his slouching, defeated figure trudge back in to the house, I then turned back to the whole scene in front of me.
Jacob was now slumped up right with a cop was roughly handling him, the other in the car looking up his nonexistent record. It was still unclear where exactly the blood was coming from but I could see the slowly growing stain on his side, the deep red blending with the dark orange of his shirt.
“What’s happening officer, what is he being arrested for?” I pleaded with the cop for information.
“I can’t tell you anything but we have to take him to the hospital” The officer gruffly replied, as he looked at my brother with disgust.
“For what? What happened to him?” I was beginning to get frustrated; the one time my parents left me home alone for a week, all hell breaks loose within 24 hours of their return.
“We had an APB out on a black male who’s about six feet tall, with an orange shirt on. He’s going in for questioning and resisting arrest after he’s been treated.” The cop said in an authoritative, final tone. I turned to the flashing lights and loud sirens of the ambulance barreling towards us.
“But he hasn’t done anything, he’s a good kid! He’s been home with me all day.” He wasn’t listening. “Wait officer! He’s a minor, please give our parents time to get home, they would want to be here.” I pulled my phone out, dialing my mom.
“He is going to be questioned as soon as we get there, now step back little girl before I have to use this.” He brandished his Taser like a sword, keeping me from even touching my brother, who by now had passed out.
“Sir, I should hope you know it is the right of the minor in question to have their parents present for interrogation.” I said, seeing the slightly surprised look on the white cops face. “You just thought I wouldn’t know about my rights, is that it?” It’s sad to say that my parents had us all well versed in our legal rights so that things like this couldn’t happen.
“He will be placed in a holding cell after he has received medical attention for the shot wound, your parents will be called when he is stable.” The cop backing down slightly, as he realized Jacob knew he had the legal right to have Mom and Dad present for his interrogation.
“Thank you officer, I’ll see you tomorrow” I wiped a tear from my face, trying to keep calm while I walked in from the horrifying scene. I ran up the steps to the house, looking for Alex and praying he followed my instructions at least this once. I found him huddled under his blanket, audible sobs shaking the train covered mound. I held him close and whispered reassuring words until his cries died down. When he finally came out, he was so tired he just fell asleep on my lap. After tucking him in, I went back to my cooking in the oven, making sure the lasagna I was cooking hadn’t burned.
My parents rushed home, getting there the next morning, all the while looking for a lawyer to represent Jacob. When they arrived at home, I had just woken up, my hair still levitating, and I was getting Alex ready to eat his breakfast. Even though this was a difficult time they seemed calm, still trying to get the full story from me. I told them the story to the best of my ability, making sure to mention that I didn’t know who exactly shot Jacob. The confusion and hurt coloring their faces almost brought tears to my eyes; I shouldn’t have to be the one telling them my brother is in a hospital room, cuffed to bed, battling for his life. I rambled on incoherently, slightly comforted by my father’s warm embrace. That night we received a call from the hospital telling us Jacob had passed.
The first day back to school was the hardest day of my life. I had never felt the pain of being so alone. Only a week ago my brother was shot by a public figure that Americans are trained to trust. He was accused of stealing over $1,000 in merchandise from the mall near our house because he was an easy target. The news of JJ’s death traveled around our side of town really fast. Little by little every beauty and barber shop was filled with gossip, women voicing their concerns for their son’s and husband’s safety. My side of town was hurting and no one was here to help us. That’s when I realized that there would not be any change unless our side pushed for it, so I started the movement that changed Ivory Springs.