Teenager Lamajhe Miles wants to be a professional football player one day. And he has the talent. But without a bed to sleep on, poor grades and bad influences all around him, all he has is his will.
The Man Of Meadowview
[sound of teenagers walking around hallways]
Pauline: Luther Burbank High School…It’s a center of life here in South Sacramento… And where a lot of Meadowview families send their teenagers to learn the basics of science, literature and math.
[sound of teacher: “Alternate exterior angles. Alternate of what? What do they alternate?”]
Pauline: But it’s also where students in this low income neighborhood get other basics.
[theme music begins]
Pauline: Free meals, mentors, and other supports to make them thrive.
Lunch Server: “You want salad with that? Cheese?”
Principal: “Two minutes, two minutes! Good hustle guys! About a minute and a half!”
Pauline: For some kids, it’s the start of a career that will launch them out of the neighborhood.
[sound of bat hitting baseball and crowd cheering]
Pauline: ...if that’s what they’re looking for.
[sound from sports game: “Eddie Elder, who’s had a couple of big hits tonight, the Rookie from Arizona State… Wow!”]
Pauline: A few Burbank kids have become professional athletes over the years.
[Announcer: “Terrence Mitchell on the outside is making a difference over there…”]
Pauline: Pro football, baseball, even an Olympic women’s rugby. Burbank gave birth to these athletes.
[sound of olympic rugby team playing]
Pauline: Many kids dream of being a pro athlete, but the dream comes true for only a few. Young people in Burbank have a steep climb to success
Pauline: At least 40 percent of the kids here are in poverty, and for black students at Burbank High School, almost one in five never graduates.
Pam Davis: The students, there’s a lot of stuff stacked up against them...I will never see in my lifetime stuff that these students have already experienced.
Pauline: So for this next half hour, we’re following a 16 year old at Burbank who dreams of being a sports star.
[sound of football practice, Lamajhe: “down! ready hit!”]
Lamajhe Miles: “I’m Lamajhe Miles, we’re at Luther Burbank High school. What day is it?”
Lamajhe: On the football field, coaches say, Lamajhe Miles is a natural... He’s not a huge guy, at maybe 5 foot 10 and 160 pounds. But his talent and leadership could win him a full-ride college football scholarship…
Eddie Elder: Lamajhe is definitely, he could be a rising rising star here…
Sandra DeAnda: “He definitely stands out. But if he graduates, then we did something right.”
[Sound of Football practice: “down, ready hit”]
Pauline: In the third episode of CapRadio’s podcast, Making Meadowview, we explore what some kids are up against in this South Sacramento neighborhood... and what helps people thrive despite troubled circumstances. I’m Pauline Bartolone.
[theme music comes to end]
Pauline: When I first met Lamajhe, it wasn’t on the football field or at school. He was at his home in a South Sacramento apartment.
[sound of door opening]
Lamajhe: This is my room, I got no bed right now. I done popped the bed, broke it, you feel me, messed it up.
Pauline: Lamajhe was just 15, and sleeping on the floor. His air mattress somehow got deflated. He lives in this low-income housing complex just south of Burbank, with his mom and little sister. She didn’t have her own bed, either.
Lamajhe: Right now, my sister don't got a room, because when we have her room she was never in her room she was always in the living room or sleeping with my mom. You feel me, she a little mom girl.
Pauline: Lamajhe’s mom, Shakita Brown, is raising them on her own. His dad isn’t around. Lamajhe doesn’t seem to think of himself as a kid in this household.
Shakita: He thinks he both our Dad.
Pauline: Is that true?
Lamajhe: Mm hmm. You know you got to be like that man in a house. You have to...No I just really like take care of my sister. I like, you feel me. I want to raise her good, raise her right.
Shakita: He’s like really overprotective. And I'm a single mom and I've always been single for a long time so. He's even overprotective of me even having a friend.
Pauline: Shakita and Lamajhe have moved around a bit, but they landed in this housing complex called Phoenix Park…in the Meadowview area, where residents get by with public housing assistance.
Lamajhe: I describe Phoenix Park... the whole apartment like it's like your typical hood really. Gun violence. Gang bangers. Bay-bay kids. Just bad little kids running around. Hood life, you feel me, struggle, poverty...people want to shoot, all of that, fights.
Pauline: Phoenix Park has a history with gang violence and drug dealing. The notorious G-Mobb, a local Sacramento gang, got their start here and were active 15 years ago. Armed guards patrolled the entrance for safety. City officials say, in the past decade, the neighborhood has started to get better. Lamajhe says he doesn’t worry about it all that much.
Lamajhe: No, I'm not afraid to walk around but you always gotta keep your head on a swivel, look around, make sure you're OK. Make sure nobody gonna do nothing.
Pauline: Shakita is a little more concerned. She says all sorts of things could set him on the wrong track after school.
Shakita: The only thing I really worry about with him is just being in the wrong crowd and something happening... kids are always walking in groups and hanging out after school..different places. And that's when a lot of bad shit can happen. You know what I'm saying, kids have to walk to where they're going. In certain parts of Sacramento, Meadowview area, Phoenix park, they have different cliques and gangs but they all are in the same area. They see each other all the time. You know I'm saying. So in an instant, somebody could pop off, fighting, shooting at each other, stuff like that.
[music comes up for transition]
Shakita: Don't get caught up in the wrong crowds on your way home.
Shakita: You can't stop him though. You know what I'm saying. Once your kid is out these doors, and at school. For eight hours they are gone away from you. Anything can happen. So all I can do is try to teach them well, verbally. School ‘em myself. Game them up the proper way of our life. And hope you sticks while they're out there in the world with the wolves.
Pauline: Lamajhe walks to and from school most days... about a 25 minute walk. But in the long term, he has at least one way out of this neighborhood. Sports.
[sound of football practice in background]
Lamajhe: Football right now is my favorite sport... Because it's more physical. So I can let all my anger out if I'm mad.... And it’s just fun, you could really like get things off your chest in football... and I know I'm good at it so I could really make it out make it I'll go to college NBA, NFL if I really put my all into it…
[sound of football practice again]
Lamajhe: The plan really is to just keep my grades up. So colleges could see me, come out to the field, watch me play, scout me out.
Pauline: But this part about keeping grades up, that’s not so easy for Lamajhe... and a lot of other kids. In order to be eligible for the team, students have to keep a 2.0 grade point average or higher.
[sound of football practice at Luther Burbank HS]
Coach Ed: My name is Eddie Elder. I’m the head coach of Luther Burbank High School...this is going on my third year coaching here and I love every bit of it.
Pauline: In the Spring of 2019, it wasn’t football season. But Coach Elder was still training his players, hard… They met a couple of times a week on the field outside Burbank, sweating through strength training and drills.
[sound of football practice in background]
Coach Ed: You always have to worry about the kids not being eligible ... because they don't know how to keep girls from football they're not keeping their family business from football you know …. Last year I lost a lot of kids from grades and from moving, and from transfers, you know…
[sound of Coach Elder coaching, “catch it, throw”/sound of practice continues]
Pauline: Lamajhe plays a number of positions, but today, he was quarterback, setting the entire drill in motion. Lamajhe yelled a command, his teammates ran 30 feet away, and Lamajhe tossed them the ball in hopes it connected with the other player down the field.
Coach Ed: Lamajhe… He's a great athlete you know and he's a great leader. You know kids definitely migrate to him just based on a very vocal and and he's very observant. Just like every other kid at Burbank, the obstacle is what's around the school. Burbank is in the middle of South Sac, and that could be very challenging for a lot of kids.
[sound of school bell]
Pauline: At school, Lamajhe’s obviously well liked...he swaggers through the halls like he’s the boss, knowing eyes are on him.
[Lamajhe walking, kids interacting with him]
Lamajhe: See, I got hecka kids. These are all my sons over there. These my sons over here, too. What’s up son?
Kid: Hey, don’t call me your son! Don’t disrespect me like that.
Lamajhe: Don’t flex at your pops, bro.
[sound of lunch time at Luther Burbank HS]
Pauline: A lot of my interviews with Lamajhe took place in these halls at Luther Burbank… often during lunch break. You’ll hear him eating throughout this episode. He likes apples.
Lamajhe: We got some nerds, we got some popular kids, regular kids, stoners..
Pauline: I asked him, what category of kids does he identify with?
Lamajhe: Popular. It always been like that. Since elementary. Fo sho’.
[sound of school bell]
Pauline: Inside the classroom, the scene is a bit more humbling for Lamajhe.
[sound of classroom: Ladies and gentlemen! Shut your phones off!]
Mr. Peters: My name is Mr. Peters, Robert Peters, and this is class D2, which is world history. Tenth grade world history.
[Sound of Mr. Peters: “The capital of Israel is… Jerusalem. Very good!”]
Lamajhe: This is the class that I had an F in. But I had an F because I was being lazy, like I didn’t care about anything, that was in the beginning in the year.
Mr Peters: “Alright guys, you can work together and talk together.”
Student: “What this used to be, I mean that? Israel?”
Lamajhe: “Mr. Peters, is this Palestine? I don’t even know how to say that. It’s Berashiba… Gaza…student: Berashiba, Gaza…”
Lamajhe: I be doing so much work in this class, I swear, so much work.
Lamajhe: The book is not right. It’s not telling me the answers.
Mr. Peters: Well you gotta do a little research.
Lamajhe: But...I be doing all my work, and it’s like hard to get my grade back up.
Lamajhe: Mr Peters, I’m dang near confused.
[sound of school bell]
Pauline: What are the hardest classes for you?
Lamajhe: Math, but that's like the hardest subject.
Pam Davis: “Ok, I should not see people moving around. Alternate exterior angles are congruent. What does congruent mean?”
Pam Davis: My name is Pam Davis and I teach mathematics here at Luther Burbank.
[sound of Pam teaching her math class]
Pam Davis: The students, they have a lot of challenges. Personal challenges, educational challenges. There's a lot of stuff stacked up against them that they're trying to overcome.
[sound of math class continues]
Pam Davis: I have a student who, it was Thanksgiving and it was write something candidly about what you're thankful for. And I was reading them out loud to the class. And I came across this one I'm thankful for my aunt and uncle because they took in my brothers and sisters after my father killed my mother.
[music comes up for the transition]
Pauline: So tell me a little bit about the Lamahje. How would you describe his performance as a student?
Pam Davis: He has so much potential and I feel that he doesn't give all of himself to it.
Pam Davis: “Lamajhe, do you remember what corresponding means?”
Pam Davis: You know, day to day I don't know which Lamahje I'm gonna get... First semester I had some difficult students in here and he was the person that would stand up for me. You know the students would come in really loud and wouldn't settle down and he's the one that would tell them shut up and sit down and get to work. Which was nice in some ways, but in other ways it's like...you’re not the parent, I am, type of thing.
Pam Davis: Lamajhe, I want you to give me a pair of corresponding...
Lamajhe: Is 2 and 7 one?
Pam Davis: There’s been times I’ll call Lamajhe and I know that he doesn't know it and he'll jump right up and run to the board. OK, come on, Miss Davis, let's do this together...Other days he comes in and he walks and he puts his head down and I can tell this is one of those days where if I try to encourage him to get out of the I'm-going-to-sleep-through-class, it typically becomes a battle that I choose not to fight anymore.
[Sound of Pam teaching class]
Pam Davis: So this is a group of 4. Look where 2 is at and…
Lamajhe: Oh - 2 and 6!
Pam Davis: Good.
Pauline: Do you think he’s grasping all the material?
Pam Davis: Not right now, because he’s done a lot of heads down stuff. .. Now I think he’s lost. I think some of that head’s down is because he’s lost.
[sound of lunchtime at Luther Burbank HS]
Pauline: Did you feel like you understood everything in that math class?
Lamajhe: Nope. For surely didn’t. But if I really put my mind to it, I can.
[music transitions and comes to end]
Rick Godnick: I can't say why he's struggling academically. His answer always comes down to putting in the effort.
Pauline: That’s Rick Godnick, he’s a vice principal at Luther Burbank.. He’s known Lamajhe for a couple of years now, and has seen him struggle in school, get into fights, and be suspended for them, a couple of times. He says Lamajhe acts mature for his age, and gets along with older kids. He projects an image of self-reliance, and he hasn’t asked for help with his school work.
Rick Godnick: Some students will quickly go to I don’t understand, I don’t know, or the teacher doesn’t like me. I never hear Lamajhe putting that forward as a reason for his struggles...For some students, home life issues are related to the struggles but they don't quite yet see how those connect especially if at home they've been dealing with issues like that for a while. And then there’s some unique pressures about growing up as a young black man in Meadowview that that are just hard to explain.
Pauline: We’ve heard about pressures that kids face in Meadowview and in a lot of other low income neighborhoods. One basketball coach we talked to said... some of his athletes come to practice hungry, in need of clothes… or their families are living in a space that’s too small for them. Although neighborhood violence has gotten better over the years, he said, people still get shot and jumped in the park.
We wanted to know what kind of stress this puts on young kids growing up in poor neighborhoods, especially black kids. So we reached out to Dr. Howard Stevenson, a clinical psychologist and director of the Racial Empowerment Collaborative in Philadelphia. We’re going to play a snippet of our conversation, and you can listen the rest after the credits. We asked him about some of the reasons young black males growing up in poor or rough neighborhoods, would be struggling academically?
Dr. Howard Stevenson: If you have identities being constructed in some communities that being an athlete in many in many respects and being a scholar or opposing identities and you don't get the socialization or feedback that these kind of ideas and identities can actually be merged you will start to think of yourself in the context of being an athlete for example as not somebody who could be associated with being a nerd.
The problem with the lack of exposure or practice around academics homework and completing those issues and getting tutoring getting more feedback asking for help is the clashes with the manhood dynamic if you don't appear weak so that the stress of proving that you're not weak clashes with the need in education and scholarship to be able to work hard but to work on the things you're not really good at and to admit that you're not good at them and to ask for help. So in some respects many young men and boys that we've been working with avoid any context in which their identity could be challenged or they could appear weak and school classrooms sometimes are those contexts.
[music comes up for transition]
Pauline: We’ll hear more from Dr. Stevenson after the ending credits. You’re listening to Making Meadowview, a podcast from The View from Here and Capital Public Radio. When we get back, we’ll find out if Lamajhe is able to play football at Luther Burbank, which could win him a college scholarship to launch him out of the neighborhood.
[music continues and comes to end]
Pauline: One thing Lamajhe knows he is up against are his grades… And especially, Math class. If he doesn’t do well his sophomore year, he won’t be able to play football his third year of high school. That’s when a college football recruiter would most likely notice him, and Lamajhe could win a scholarship. In the spring of 2019, time was running out for Lamajhe to turn his grades around.
[sound of Sandra DeAnda counting]
Sandra DeAnda: My name is Sandra DeAnda, I am the athletic director at Luther Burbank High School. We are in my classroom.
[Sound of Sandra continues]
Pauline: DeAnda is crunching numbers on a calculator to figure out Lamajhe’s grade point average.
Sandra DeAnda: So the eligibility for next year will be determined on the last day of school. So on June 13th, we will be able to see if he qualifies to play football this upcoming season. As of right now, he has an F in math and a D in P E. So as of right now with his current grades. He would have 1.83...he wouldn't be eligible. He needs the 2.0….There’s only 32 school days left of school.
Pauline: That ticking clock until the last day of school, Lamajhe didn’t seem to feel it. When he found out the status of his grades, he didn’t see it as a setback.
[sound of teenagers in hallway]
Lamajhe: It wasn't no surprise. But like. When they wasn't going up as fast as I thought they were supposed to go up that was a surprise because I was doing hecka work..
Pauline: So are you worried that you might not be eligible for football?
Lamajhe: I don't know. I be thinking about it. You feel me but. I feel like I still might be able to play though. Cause my grades gonna come up.
Pauline: Lamajhe’s performance in one class is particularly baffling. A ‘D’ in gym? He’s a star athlete. Turns out gym is first period, and Lamajhe often comes late and without the right clothes. One day, I told him, I don’t believe what he often says about being lazy, and that that’s why he’s struggling in school.
Pauline: I don’t know if I believe that, that you’re lazy.
Lamajhe: What do you believe then?
Pauline: Is it possible you just need a bit more help? Like with Math, do you have trouble asking for help?
Lamajhe: I mean, I do need a little help in math though, but really if I put my all into learning it, I wouldn't need no help. But I ain’t put my all into learning and so that's why I'm struggling...I mean before I get help from somebody else I've got to help myself.
Pauline: Do you get a lot of support from anybody. Like your mom? or teachers?
Lamajhe: I mean, I don't really got nobody, I just got my mom you feel me. So really my mom or my coaches, and that's it.
Pauline: Lamajhe says he doesn’t have a lot of homework, but when he does bring some home, his mom is on him to do it. But he also says she doesn’t always help him get up for school in the morning.
[sound of Lamajhe’s mother Shakita: “I’m just doing whatever…”]
Pauline: When I first visited Lamajhe and his mom, it was dinner time.
Shakita: Tonight is left-over night. As of right now I'm making my daughter a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you know. And I'm warming up the rest of our soup that we had from yesterday.
Pauline: I sat down with Lamajhe and Shakita in their living room, and asked about why Lamajhe had been struggling in school. She said he’s distracted.
Shakita: Distracted meaning, distracted by girls, distracted with yourself. Thinking that school is just the place to be after three. You know what I’m saying, to hang out.
Pauline: Shakita half talked to me, half talked to Lamajhe. He listened openly and obediently, unphased.
Shakita: You can't just be thinking like school is about sports and girls. You know saying because if you're failing then you're not going to be able to play sports. So you know, sometimes I have to knock ‘em upside the head, not literally but sometimes literally. And so he can get back on track. If you want it, want it, nobody would have to tell you. You would eat sleep and shit football, basketball or whatever you gotta do to get there. Nobody would have to tell you what to do.
Shakita: I talk to my kids all the time. All the time, straight up. I let my kids know that I don't owe them anything. I don't have to do anything for you but...that's another thing when I say keep it real with my kids. You know, the only thing I am is to raise you right to the best of my ability. And I don’t even gotta do that if I don’t want to. Just so they know don't depend on nothing. Don't depend on nobody. Don't expect anything from nobody. You know. I gotta keep it to them hard core so they can already be raised on their own like that. So they won't be disappointed.
Pauline: Shakita shared with us her own feelings of disappointment. She says, no one from her family met the educational goals she has set for herself. She moved to Sacramento from a nearby town to get a fresh start, but the for profit college she attended closed down and she discovered she’d have to start all over if she wanted to get a four year degree. She doesn’t want to get stuck she says, like the rest of her family is back where she grew up.
[music comes to end]
Pauline: We tried to talk to Shakita more, about her background, her financial situation, and what it’s like to be a parent in Meadowview. We reached out to her many times but we were never able to sit down with her again. When we talked to Dr. Stevenson, he had thoughts about how Shakita talked about parenting Lamajhe.
Dr. Stevenson: “I could just hear in the mother’s voice, her fear as she’s stating things she’s staying about trying to get him right in a particular way. In the back of her mind, there’s still that larger fear. Sometimes we have to be hard, but what we’re really saying is we’re scared to death.”
Pauline: We talked to Stevenson at length about how racial stress can affect parenting. Stay tuned for that conversation after the credits.
[Music comes up for the transition]
Pauline: Half-way through the last quarter of his sophomore year, it wasn’t clear if Lamajhe was going to make the grades he needed to play football, let alone win a college scholarship, even though he’s one of Burbank’s most talented players. So we kept following him to see if he’d make it to the first game of the season late the following summer.
[sound of Coach Elder talking to players in background]
Pauline: Luther Burbank’s football coach, Eddie Elder, whom we heard from earlier, stayed on Lamajhe throughout the year. The team practices all year round. On Wednesdays that spring, Coach Ed held what he called a character talk in a classroom beside the gym. There he taught life skills to the teenage athletes. A couple of dozen student athletes were there, looking up at Coach Ed standing at the chalkboard.
Coach Elder: AB! Give me your schedule!
[sound of student telling the coach his morning schedule]
Coach Ed: A lot of these kids don't get the morals and values at home, you know. Some kids don't even know how to fix their beds. Some kids just don’t know some things that would seem as normal, they don't, cause they're not getting taught home you know for whatever reason.. Some parents work a lot. You know some parents don't care at all. It all varies.
Coach Ed to class: “Because, if you’re not preparing yourself for what you want to be in the future, then don’t really wanna be that person in the future! So if I want to be a scholarship player, I gotta carry myself like a scholarship player. If I want to be an architect, I gotta carry myself like an architect.”
Pauline: There was one notable absence at practice that day. Lamajhe.
Pauline: I noticed Lamajhe's not here. Do you know why?
Coach Ed: Yes. He said he I have to get ready for a wedding in LA. So he's going to the wedding. I don't agree with it. But you know.
Pauline: Coach Ed’s disappointment was written all over his face. He said recently, Lamajhe had been slacking… he hadn’t been coming to practice regularly.
Coach Ed: He is a great leader, you know, but he got to know what cause he want to lead for. He has all the attributes and skill, you know, to be a good person, a good football player. His potential to be extraordinary is extremely high. But he's settling just to be below average.
Pauline: Coach Ed says his players don’t just need the skill, but the will to be a star athlete. And that will - to learn from yourself and others, to get better that’s what Lamajhe needs, he says. But there was something else complicating Lamajhe’s life around this time. It came up during lunch one day.
Pauline: Lamajhe got into trouble with the law.
Lamajhe: That's the thing we can't talk about.
Pauline: Oh, ok.
Pauline: Because Lamajhe’s under 18, we decided not to investigate what happened... to protect his privacy. We don’t know if he was even convicted of a crime. When it comes to the gang activity Lamajhe sees in his neighborhood, he says, even though that’s all around him, he’d never join up.
Lamajhe: I ain’t never join no gang, because what’s the gang going do for me? A gang not going to give me no money. The only thing he's gonna do for me is cause trouble. Probably get me killed, get me in jail. So that's stupid. All my friends, everybody I mess with or whatever, most people I know is gang-bangers but you feel me, but that don't mean I'm gonna join a gang... I don't follow people. I'd rather be on my own anyway.
Pauline: Lamajhe’s attendance at football remained spotty at the end of the year. And things weren’t looking better with his grades. That last day of school came on pretty fast. I ran into Mr. Peters, Lamajhe’s world history teacher.
Mr. Peters: Lamajhe did not show up for his final exam, which I believe he failed the class. Which isn’t why he failed the class, but it contributed to it. Why didn’t he? I don’t know. Tired, didn’t care for it, wasn’t interested, I really don’t know. You’d have to ask him.
Pauline: I ran after Lamajhe in the hallway that last day. He didn’t look happy to see me. Or maybe he just wasn’t eager to share his news. Summer school.
Pauline: What’s going on, it’s the last day of the school. How do you feel?
Lamajhe: Uuuuh… I mean, it’s regular. I’m going to summer school though.. Make sure I get all my credits... Grades is bad. So I gotta get ‘em up.
Pauline: Lamajhe may not have been happy about it, but at least summer school gave him another chance to get his grades up and be eligible for football his junior year.
[sound of football chant in background]
Player: Family on me, family on three. One, two, three!
All players scream: Family!
Pauline: In July, football training continued. But Lamajhe only showed up a few times at practice that summer. He spent his days at summer school, and playing basketball. Coach Elder said at the end of the school year, he had a chat with Lamajhe about getting his grades up.
Coach Elder: I was one of several people on him to do so, but we only can only do so much. You know at the end of the day, that person has to do what he or she needs to do. You know, at the end of the day, we try not to make cuts. We try to let kids cut themselves.
Pauline: Coach Ed continued training the players he still had, as they worked up to the first game of the season in August.
Coach Ed: How you feeling fellas?
Coach Ed: I seen you all struggling, you all good?
Players: Yes, coach.
Pauline: Coach Elder went to Burbank High School, too, and he eventually played professional football. And he admits, he also had troubles in his youth, like Lamajhe. He picked fights, he had friends go to jail, others he knew died in the streets from shootings. He said he got through by surrounding himself with kids that were as focused on football as he was. They held each other accountable. But, Coach Ed said, Lamajhe’s whole life doesn’t depend on choices he’s making right now.
Coach Ed: It won't be it will be like that his whole life, if the light come on. You know sometimes the light come on later than sooner for others sometimes it's sooner than sooner than later for others you know. It all depends on the individual.
[sound of cheerleaders at football game]
Pauline: The first home game for the Titans, Burbank’s football team, was in late August this year. Lamajhe was there. He stood in line on the sidelines with his fellow athletes, in blue and gold. But he was in plain clothes, in a white sleeveless shirt.
Pauline: What’s up, are you going to play today?
Lamajhe: Grades! Crazy. Ain’t made grades last year so right now I can’t play.
Pauline: Even after summer school, Lamajhe still needs to make up his math class. If he gets his grades up, there’s a chance he can be on the field during the playoffs.
Lamajhe: Now this year I gotta be on my stuff….
Pauline: Lamajhe watched the game. The weather was perfect outside, the sun was going down.
[sound of Lamajhe reacting to the game: “Come on!”]
Pauline: The game got intense rather quickly… The other team vastly outnumbered the Titans, by at least 30 players.
[Football game Announcer: “Intercepted by DeShawn Brown”]
Pauline: Burbank’s kids had fewer breaks, and they were tired.
[sound of football game in background continues]
Pauline: Some of them looked no more than 100 pounds. One Titan was taken away in a stretcher before half time, he said his knee popped.
Lamajhe: We got a lot of little kids on our team now to be a varsity football team. It’s a lot of tenth graders cause we aint got nobody like that. I’m one of the main people that should be on the team right now, and I’m not..
[background sound of the game comes to an end]
Pauline: It struck me… these kids, many from Meadowview, had to put in so much more effort than the other team, just to play the same game.
Coach Ed at players: Fellas talk! You gotta talk!!
Pauline: Still, Coach Elder continued giving commands at his players, pushing them to do their best.
Coach Ed: You know, every week, we’re going to be the smallest, we’re going to be the least amount of players, but one thing we always brought was that heart, that determination to get better.
Pauline: Burbank had to forfeit that game… They were down too many players that night. But day to day, what’s on the score board, or which team wins or loses, that’s not what Coach Elder is here for. He’s on the field to help these kids get a winning chance at life.
Coach Ed: You know, I love it, because you changing the future, all the kids that you touch, they’re part of the future. You’re trying to make these young men, gentlemen.
[music comes up for the transition]
Pauline: As for Lamajhe, he’s not on Burbank’s football team this year. But he says, lately, basketball’s been growing on him.
[sound of basketball game, crowd cheering, music continues]
Pauline: That’s it for this episode of Making Meadowview. You can learn more about the neighborhoods history on our website, capradio.org/meadowview. Stay tuned after the credits for an in depth conversation with Dr. Howard Stevenson of the Racial Empowerment Collaborative about how racial stress affects young boys of color.
Making Meadowview was edited by John Biewen and Joe Barr. Jen Picard is our senior producer. Jesikah Maria Ross heads up community engagement. Olivia Henry, Erica Anderson and Mounia O’Neal were part of her team.
Sally Schilling, Gabriela Fernandez, Paul Conley and Linnea Edmeier also helped produce this episode.
Our Digital Editor is Chris Hagan. Our web site was built by Renee Thompson, Veronika Nagy and Katie Kidwell.
Our Chief Content Officer is Joe Barr.
Special thanks to the Sacramento Public Library, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, the Listening Post Collective and Sac State Professors Ernest Uwazie, Arthur Bowie, and Robin Datel.
Our music is from blue dot sessions.
Make sure you don’t miss any episodes... look for “The View from Here” on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
I’m Pauline Bartolone…. Thanks for listening to Making Meadowview...from The View From Here and Capital Public Radio
[music comes to end]
Pauline: You folks who are still listening, probably want to hear more about what this all means… about the unique pressures we heard about growing up a young black teenager in Meadowview. So, we spoke more with Dr. Stevenson, a clinical psychologist, and director of the Racial Empowerment Collaborative in Philadelphia, which trains leaders across the country to promote healthy schools and communities.
Pauline: So we just heard someone in our program say that there are unique pressures of growing up a black male teenager in Meadowview… Have you worked with young boys of color in low income neighborhoods and can you speak to some of those unique pressures?
Dr. Stevenson: Yeah, most of my clients have been boys of color and young men trying to navigate difficult neighborhoods. And it is not uncommon, given the history of racism in our society that has led to a host of structural inequities like industry moving out of neighborhoods that have left some neighborhoods in urban environments struggling over resources. In the struggle, different economies, drug economies, and gangs develop in the spaces that have been left. One of the struggles of manhood in these spaces that has both racialized and gendered that in order to be a man in these spaces or to become one, in some respects, not demonstrate weakness, do not show weakness, do not admit to weakness. And the other issue is when any threat or acts of disrespect come at you, it’s your right to defend those threats or acts. And this is often against or with people who look like you. And so the narrative about what black and brown boys and even men have to deal with is a national and historical narrative that there’s something wrong about you because you’re black, or there's something inferior about you because you're brown, or there's something scary and criminal and sexual about you and we find the boys and young men that we work with for three decades literally have swallowed the Kool-Aid of some of that.
Pauline: Earlier in the program, we heard Lamajhe say he kept his head on a swivel. I take that to mean that he felt that he had to constantly watch his back while he’s walking through the neighborhood. Have you heard that before from some of the young men that you have worked with? And how does that affect them emotionally or psychologically?
Dr. Stevenson: Yes, I’ve heard it quite a bit. And I believe Lamajhe said he both has his head on a swivel, but he also said, but I'm not worried. There’s a both and connection in the way he's framing his own experience. It’s different than the outsider who might come to the neighborhood and is just always scared that something is going to happen. Now the problem with being hypervigilant still means your systems in your body are working overtime. You know, cardiovascularly you’re using a lot of energy and some of that hypervigilance and that swivel when you’re on, in that regard. And that can take away in terms of issues with health, regarding attention and focus in school. It can take away from how well you sleep and so in that sense, living in a neighborhood where violence goes down, where shooting goes on, put your whole body, mind and soul on alert. Some of the research suggests that it continues even into your nighttime sleeping hours.
Pauline: Lamajhe also describes himself as the man of the house. Do you see that self identity as beneficial or harmful for a child to have?
Dr. Stevenson: Again, I see it both and. I see that many of the young people that I work with, both boys and girls who have had to take on, some call it, a kind of parenting roll or overidentified as a parent in some respects. We see it as both a strength and challenge. The strength is that you have learned to manage stress and time in a way that adults sometimes have to. And we see some of the young people who had to play the roll for their younger siblings or for their parents, that they have learned skills that other students just don’t have in terms of organizing or managing a crisis. The opposite side though, that also occurs is that you’ve had to squelch some aspects of childhood and youth where you want to be taking care of yourself in particular, unique ways. And if that’s not happening, being in charge doesn’t necessarily have its emotional benefits. You need both as a child growing up, the affection and protection that you may play in your role towards younger siblings or other family members.
Pauline: I wanted to bring in some of the larger context here. The historical context with the enslavement of African-Americans and how African-Americans have been historically oppressed economically and politically in this country. I wanted to ask you how that has an impact on modern day families of color and men of color.
Dr. Stevenson: My brother who is a famous lawyer, Brian Stevenson, makes this comment, you know, the north won the Civil War, but the south won the narrative war of war. In many respects, the narrative of black people being inferior. It’s a dehumanization narrative, it persists today and we can see it in the structures of employment, the structures of health, the systems of how people are treated in systems of health, justice, and schooling. And its really the narrative that continues that allows people to first dehumanize a group, to call them criminal, or rapists, and then policies that follow that dehumanization.
Pauline: I wanted to ask you how racial stress affects parenting. Earlier in the program, we heard from Lamajhe’s mom, Shakita Brown, kind of giving Lamajhe tough love, saying she teaches her kids to not depend on anyone, not to expect anything so they won’t be disappointed later. Does that come from racial stress?
Dr. Stevenson: Yeah, but it also comes from a hurting place where you’ve tried to rely on people and they haven’t been there for you and I hear that in her voice. I would argue that, you know it’s funny we live in a country that spouts rugged individualism, but it seems that black or brown people are the only people that actually have to live individually. Other people who spout it, still have others to help them move up the latter. They’re not doing it on their own and honestly, the best health outcomes are gonna come in community. Right? And the questions we have, in terms of making life different for folks of color is to talk about, we know it takes a healthy village to raise a child, but what does it take to raise a healthy village? Is the bigger question in community. And so, I think she’s saying that from a place of hurt. But what she needs and what we all need is a group of folks we can rely on. And young people need that as well. Now unfortunately when we talk about parenting stress, and this is a research problem, a lot of our colleagues are not really considering the racial stress of being a parent. Some parents can have a child and move from home and to school and to library, to the park and then to the store and never worry about somebody mistreating their children or seeing them as a monster, or somehow criminal. She talked a little bit about the burden of her son getting caught up in something. And I think parents of color are literally, particularly or parents who have children who have color are racially stressed in a different way where they also have health problems related to that. And being in community with people you trust, that can help lighten the burden. And I think she’s coming from a place of hurt where she hasn’t had people she can rely on.
Pauline: I wanted to ask you a little bit more about racial stress and how that translates into parenting. What have you noticed with some of the families you have been working with about how racial stress affects parenting style?
Dr. Stevenson: Well one issue is this fear that when you’re not with your child, you’re worries that somebody might misinterpret them. So, an example I give to some folks, would be like, if you’re a parent of a12 year old daughter who looks like she’s 18, shes an early mature, she’s budding in different ways and you will parent differently. Cause you’re worried, what if somebody sees my 12 year old as an 18 year old. And in that sense we know parents may hover more. They might be worried that adults who see her as older might enter her orbit, her physical orbit. And I would say the same applies for parents of color in which their children are gonna be perceived as not human. There’s a lot of research that looks at the distortion of children and childhood for boys and girls of color, as early as five years old. That we interpret their behaviors differently, in play groups. So parents that have that worry are going to go through a different set of burdens.
Pauline: You work a lot with schools, with your organization. Is there anything that you recommend that school that Lamajhe goes to, anything they could do to support him better.
Dr. Stevenson: You know, schools aren’t just here to teach you something. You could learn something in school, but they ought to be teaching you stuff that will help you transform how you see yourself and how you find your voice. You know, not just dumping information or giving you old narratives that put you in inferior spaces. I would argue that in some respects, Lamajhe needs an addition to the support he gets around athletics, but a sense of understanding, how do you think, where’s your voice, in how you see what’s happening to you in this context. And some of that is gonna hold his own behavior accountable, but it’s also going to allow him to reflect on the schooling experience in a resistance way, in an oppositional way that also might be healthy.
Pauline: And if you were to counsel Lamajhe Miles directly, how would you work with him?
Dr. Stevenson: Well first I would find him a tutor or somebody who understands him. And I would go at it personally and emotionally, the racial and gender stuff. Everywhere else people were saying he has a strong voice whether its on the field, socially, at home, he takes care of people, he’s a wonderful protector, and then even in the classroom he even helped to protect one of the teachers I believe. But when he gets to the classroom, around the academics, he kind of falls back. And I want to know what’s going on with him in that moment. And what we do in our work around racial literacy, we teach kids about what's going on with your body? I notice you shrinking back. And part of the work we know, is how can we help him admit to what he doesn’t know? And still see that as part of his racial manhood. To be a black boy, to be a black man, and to becoming. What if you noticed that you were strong when you were on the field but you got a little, you shrunk back when we came into talking about math. And in that sense, getting into the identity stuff as a way for him to embrace a different sense of manhood that you could be strong by asking questions, you could be strong by admitting to what you don’t know before we get into what does his grades look like. So I would challenge him on his becoming a different kind of man who’s strong enough to admit that he’s struggling and then from there build a superpower that he could use anywhere. On the field, court, classroom, Congress, doesn’t matter.
Pauline: Dr. Stevenson, thanks for being with us.
Dr. Stevenson: Thank you.