The Lost Generation, Part II: Portrait of a Detroit Youth

Many parents have abandoned their parenting responsibilities for a life of personal happiness. Sure, there are still some great parents out here, but there is an influx of bad ones that have greatly affected our youth.

Detroit is the city I love. I grew up here and went to Detroit Public Schools. I grew up in a single parent home and in a mostly single-parent neighborhood. I thought growing up in a house with roaches, rats and no money was hard, but it was nothing compared to the challenges our kids face today.

Sure, we were poor, but I knew my mother loved me. I just knew it. When she had kids, she dropped her personal life to raise us. I don’t ever remember my mother dressing better than us or leaving the house for days while we were unattended. She cooked almost every night and would call us in from playing outside to eat dinner.

Dinner used to be the meal that the family had together to finally relax and debrief the day over a hot meal cooked with love.

But for my mentee, "Tim,"-he did not have a clue what dinner time was; breakfast or lunch for that matter. This teenager was living and trying to navigate this mean-ass world alone, on an empty stomach.

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After our conversation, it was as if the light bulb came on. I couldn’t keep Tim out of my office after school. I saw to it that he did his homework and ate a meal from the café in our youth development center. He never talked about wanting to die anymore. We talked about other teenage male issues, such as girls and puberty. Rob was even happy to see his friend coming around.

I guess I can say now that I was so thrilled to see Tim improving academically and socially that I didn’t think much of his home life. I wonder if I had focused more on his home life would his outcome have been different.

One Friday, Tim asked my advice on basketball. He said that he could hoop and wanted to play on the team. So, we went down to the gym and I put him through a few drills. Needless to say, he needed some work. We  worked out a commitment plan for him to work out and get better. We would start workouts on Monday after school.

When Monday came around, he didn’t show up for school. I was kind of busy and didn’t think anything of it. He had no cell phone and the number he gave me was his mother’s. Tuesday comes and no sign of Tim. I tried to call his mother’s cell to no avail-it was disconnected.

Tim missed a whole week of school. I worried throughout the weekend hoping everything was OK. I even called Rob to see had he heard from him and he said “No,” in a very worried tone of voice. 

On Monday, he still didn’t show up for school. At that point, I went and spoke with his principal, who told me that this is all too common with Tim. She said that Tim has not given us one full month of school attendance since he enrolled.

I left perplexed and confused. I thought all the positive energy and encouragement he was getting from us would be enough to keep him motivated.

Around 5:45 p.m. that same evening, Tim ran in my office. I immediately asked him where he had been for a whole week. He responded, “Mr. Marquis, I can tell you everything tomorrow, but I need a serious favor right now.”

He asked me if I had $25 that he could borrow; he said he would pay me back. He said that he hadn’t seen his mother since last Saturday afternoon and the guy next door brought him up to the center and was waiting for him.

I asked him what he needed the money for, and he said "to buy some food." I loaned him the money, not even thinking about him paying me back because he didn’t have a job. However, I made him promise me that he would come to school tomorrow. He said he would be there.

Tim kept his promise and returned to school. After school, he came in my office with basketball shorts on, like he was about to hoop. I noticed marks on his lower legs. I asked him about them and he whispered, “Bed bug bites.”

He said that was why he wasn’t in school the previous week. He was sharing a mattress with his sister on his mother’s ex-boyfriend's one bedroom apartment floor. Tim told me the last time he saw his mother, she was getting dressed to go to Flood’s Bar and Grille with a cousin. He said she always does this kind of thing.

She takes many vacations and he watches his sister. To reward him, she gives him $30, if she has it. I asked him where his little sister was now and he replied that his mother came home this morning.

I reiterated to him that I needed him to focus on school and graduating.

The next day, Tim came to me and told me that he had discussed his relationship with me to his mother and he told her that I was like the father that he always wanted in his life. He told me that there were not many men like me walking around Detroit. I replied that there were-he just needed to seek them out. He then asked if he could go to church with me one Sunday and I said, “Of course, if your mom says it’s OK.”

Tim forgot to tell me that his mother asked him for my number. Almost minutes after Tim left, this heavily intoxicated woman calls my office and asks for me. It was Tim’s mother.

She says that Tim told her about me. She then said, “Are you cute, married, or single? I need a man like you in my life.” I started laughing and before I could answer, she said, “Why don’t you send me a pic?” I replied that I couldn’t do that and that I couldn’t have a relationship with my mentee's mother. She replied, “Hmm. You must be a good ole boy. Well, alright then,” and hung up.

The next day, Tim came to me as usual after school and mentioned that his mother told him that I was trying to romance her. I didn’t know where this was coming from; she was clearly lying to him. I told him that it wasn’t true and that his mother may have got the wrong idea.

After that day, Tim went missing again. This time, for two weeks. I would run into him in one of the most unlikely places in Detroit.

Look for the conclusion to this series in upcoming weeks. 

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