Click photo to enlarge. Jabonta is in color.
Allow me to introduce you to a very special young man. His name is Jabonta (J’bon-tā). While I was running for City Council he and his grandmother became very active members of my campaign. At the time Jabonta was 12 years old and was one of the brightest young men I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Before he would become part of my campaign he quizzed me. He asked, “Why are you running for office?”, “What do you plan to do for my neighborhood?”, and “Are you a good person?” You would think he was a reporter for the Commercial Appeal. Well I guess I said the right things because he stayed and later I made him my adjunct campaign manager. He would do street rallies with me, pass out fliers, and make phone calls to voters. Everyone at my headquarters adored him. He gave his all to my campaign. His grandmother could not stop bragging on how well he was doing in school. He made the honor roll several times in a row.
If you met Jabonta you would immediately say to yourself that this young man will grow up to be a good citizen. He is engaging, polite, friendly and always happy. I asked him what he wanted to be when he got older and he told me he wanted to help people. Clearly such a person has a bright future, but unfortunately things do not always turnout the way they should. A few days ago Jabonta turned 13 and a few days later Jabonta died.
Children in the inner-city die all the time and many like Jabonta never make the evening news. His death was not sensational enough. He wasn’t killed by a white cop who confused a toy gun for a real one or mowed down in a drive-by shooting or anything that could keep the viewers glued to their TV for an entire 30 seconds. No Jabonta death was caused by something far too boring, but all too common; he died from neglect. He died because good people so busy and so consumed by their day to day life could not be bothered to ask, “Are you ok?” As I look back I see the signs so clearly. He would stay late helping us with the campaign. WHAT IF we had asked, “It’s getting late, will your mother not become worried?” He would sometimes lack that spark. We would pass it off as just him having a bad day. Instead WHAT IF we had asked, “Is there something wrong?” What if?
It turned out this seemingly happy child was living in a nightmare. His parents were never married and his father was not part of his life for many years. Jabonta lived in abject poverty. He was the oldest of four children. A few years ago Juvenile Court decided to remove him and his siblings from their home due to the mother having “issues.” Jabonta, his brothers and sister became debris in a whirlwind. They were tossed between the court system and family members. During this time Jabonta was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease, a chronic inflammation in the bowel resulting from immune system malfunction. Crohn’s Disease is manageable, but it requires careful attention and strict adherence to medication. His medical treatment was spotty at best; medication, depended on if there was money on hand and in most cases it was not, was often lacking.
His grandmother did her best. She fought for custody, but her poor health made it difficult. Over time the court moved on and somehow Jabonta found himself back with his mother. His grandmother stated that by now his mother was consumed by her drug addiction. Trying to be the man of the house Jabonta was more concerned about his mother and siblings than his own health. One day his small body could take no more. He slipped into a coma and never regained consciousness.
When his grandmother told me of the circumstances leading to Jabonta death I was angry that she had not informed me of this earlier. My nonprofit heads a successful program that works with the Department of Children’s Services, maybe I could have done something. But then again maybe she had had enough of the System’s good intentions.
Every day I see families in crisis come through our doors. Be it drug addiction, unemployment, physiological problems, or abuse the true victims are always the young children. I want you to know that Jabonta was a good soul. I can only imagine what a great man he would have been. We will never know. I recall him wanting to help people. We may not be able to help Jabonta but we can help the many others that are in need. Never be afraid to ask questions. Never hesitate to step in on behalf of a child. Never be left with the question, “What if?”