Trenton, The Wire, and Jasper Howard

One of my past-times since I’ve moved to New Jersey is to spend time driving around Trenton.  Just to give you an idea, I live on the outskirts of Trenton, closer to Princeton than I am to the center of Trenton.  For those not familiar, Trenton is really close to Princeton but in no way similar other than they’re both located in New Jersey.

Before I moved up here, I basically knew that Trenton was a rough place that had seen better days.  It’s been rated among the most dangerous cities in the United States and is the opposite of a tourist destination – a tourist repellent, i guess.  Since I’ve been here, I’ve learned about Trenton’s better days.  It’s the site where the revolutionary war turned; that picture of George Washington crossing the delaware River was a depiction of him entering Trenton.  It used to be a city for manufacturing, even boasting on one of the bridges crossing town that “trenton makes, the world takes”.  It’s a historic city and the capital of one of our most important states.

However, I’ve also learned what happened that destroyed Trenton.  The riots of 1968 were especially bad here, as well as in Newark and Camden – two other places that have experienced massive decay.  (For some compelling reading on Trenton’s riots, check out this story).

I say all that to say, the city has seen better days and is still in the process of recovering from it’s worst days, even though they happened nearly 40 years ago.  What I see now is urban decay and it always reminds me of Baltimore….

I was addicted to the Wire for the first 4 seasons, but stopped watching when I moved here because it felt a little too real.  Literally miles from my house, I can drive around and see corner boys, graffiti depicting slain gang heroes, urban decay and poverty.  I don’t need it on TV.

What I loved about the Wire was that it depicted the harsh reality of life as a poor person in a very challenging city.  Classrooms in the schools were a disaster due to the corner kids who had been trained for life on the street corner not in the classroom.  Many of these kids were experiencing very real challenges that I cannot even imagine – crack addicted mothers, absent fathers, constant pressure from drug pushers to work, and friends who had chosen the wrong path.  The ones who just wanted to keep their nose clean and do a good job were faced with never-ending challenges as they tried to navigate this environment, many of them on their own.

Which brings me to Jasper Howard, the student who was stabbed to death after a party at the UConn Student Union on Saturday night, a story I described on my Twitter as “my nightmare”.  Jasper had a tough upbringing in Miami.  One story put it this way

“Howard, known as “Jazz” to his teammates, often talked about his tough time growing up in Miami. His mother, Joangila, worked many jobs to support him and his sisters, Keyondra and Jasmine, who is afflicted withmeningitis.

Howard, the first in his family to go to college, also spoke often about his dream of making it professionally so he could support his family.

“He was a good child, a wonderful, sweet, loving child,” Joangila Howard told CNN affiliate WSVN. “I just hope whoever did it turns himself in. [Jasper] didn’t deserve this.””

For some reason, I’m sure we’ll find out soon, someone decided to take the life of this young man who was literally THE hope of his family and was simply trying to get an education and take advantage of the opportunities afforded to him by playing football.

I guess I say all this to say – the kids who are forced to grow up in difficult environments like Trenton, Camden, Newark, Baltimore and many other places where poverty ravages lives and families need all the help they can get, from all of us so that they can have the opportunity and the choice to enjoy something different.  I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I do have hope when I see things like the young man I saw crossing the street today who had purpose in his eyes and a bookbag on his chest and was not wandering around the corners but instead appeared to be headed home from school.  It’s kids like this who will change lives and communities.

Sadly, Jasper Howard will never get that chance but maybe this tragedy, no matter what the circumstances, will help us all to pause and remember that while shows like The Wire are not real, there are literally millions of kids trying to make the best of themselves and their families.  The rest of us should be doing everything we can to help these courageous kids and keep them safe.

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One thought on “Trenton, The Wire, and Jasper Howard

  1. Pingback: My Favorite Posts from the Last Year « Jeff Lail

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