What If?

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?”


Anonymous said...

People are to use to children dying in the hood. It like turning the tv channel when we see starving children. People need to see all children as our children.

Anonymous said...

Let me say I was part of Reginald's campaign and I knew Jabonta. I did not know until now he had passed away. This is so sad. He was such a wonderful kid. It's hard to believe this is true! I am so angry. How many more of our young black youth must die before people say enough!

It is estimated that this stupid war in Iraq will in the end cost the U.S. over 3 trillion dollars! My God. Think of the impact this amount of money could have had on our poor communities.

Funny how they were willing to spend this money to rebuild another country but not to rebuild our cities here in America. It makes me SICK when you see some idiot with a George Bush sticker on his car. How much more damage can this fool do before these people are willing to say enough.

This is so depressing. What is becoming of our world? Jabonta was such a bright young man. It is difficult to even looking at his picture without breaking down and crying.

Anonymous said...

Was this the young man that was with all of you on Elvis Presley and Brooks Road waving and holding your sign? Please tell me it's not. I remember saying to my sister how sweet he was. He came to our car and give us one of your flyers.

Reginald Milton said...

To 12:25

Yes, that was Jabonta. The street rallies were one of the things he enjoyed the most.

Reginald Milton said...

To 7:48

Yes I feel the frustration as well. The Bush administration wanted to kill social programs from the start. The way to do it was to dry up the funding. This war was his opportunity and it is working.

That is why you hear so much "Sky is falling" rants from the neo-conservatives about Social Security. They see SSI as the soft underbelly of welfare. If they can gut that sacred cow then they can kill any social program they want.

As an executive of a nonprofit I have seen first hand the wonderful work that these nonprofits do. In recent years they have all suffered due to cut backs. Many people who could have benefited have been left in the cold. We are seeing a growing increase in social problems after years of improvement.

Take our Family-2-Family program. SMA, working with the Department of Children’s Services will come in and act as an advocate for the family in crisis. We will get them the services they need to correct the problems that caused DCS to remove their children. We have helped to shorten the time children stay in DCS custody, but with budget cuts we are down to two staff members that work on this program; a program that involves hundreds of families each year. We must turn many away because of our staff shortage. This is a tragedy. Tragedies that will be visited on this country as these homeless children grow up and are the new problems we must face.

Anonymous said...

Just visit the Med where I'm working and you see how poor the people in Memphis are. These are people that wait until they have no choice but to come here.

Our health care system is falling apart. I know doctors who are quitting. They just have had enough. If things don't change there will be two health care systems, one for the rich and one for the poor.

Anonymous said...

President Bush will go down as a great president. After 9-11 he rallied this Nation to action and has been fighting the terrorist that would love to come and destroy our great Nation. If Al Gore or John Kerry had been elected they would be begging the terrorist to forgive American for its freedom. We must stand up against our enemies.

Reginald Milton said...

Jabonta wake will be from 4:00 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. Friday the 14th at NJ Ford Funeral Home on Parkway.

His Funeral will be held at Independent M.B. Church, 890 Woodlawn, this Saturday the 15th at 10:00 a.m.

Anonymous said...

Walk down my street any day of the week any time at night and you will see kids just walking around. It's the parents. They are messed up and they don't know how or don't care about taking care of these kids. That's why you have all these problems. Look at those kids that killed that tattoo artist. Their parents want to hire some high price lawyer. They should have used that money to better raise their kids.

Anonymous said...

Parents should handle their own children, not "kids". A 'Kid" is a goat. How can we expect our children to perform according to their abilities when we are calling them goats.

Parents, train your own children and keep a watchful eye out for them so that the sexual perverts will have to stay away from them. The problem is the lurking perverts who have nothing better to do to satisfy their ill minds put prey upon children. All kinds of lewd and sickining actions take place when these ill thinking perverts are loose. People should be told how to check their community for sexual perverts. Many are right in our community and we need to know who they are. They look like ordinary citizens but are sick in the mind. Advise readers to be ware of them.

Anonymous said...

we need to do more for children in our country it is sad to see so many lost souls.

Reginald Milton said...

Jabonta funeral brought hundreds of mourners. Saturday it rained constantly as if Heaven itself was crying. I am working with Jabonta’s grandmother to insure the Department of Children’s Services steps in and provide protection for the other three children. I will keep you informed.