Annette, a firefighter, and Ronald, a police officer, say they never thought something like this could happen to them. "To lose Blair to the very thing that I fight against and enforce against has been very horrific for me, my family, friends, and everyone who knew and loved Blair," Ronald says.
"We see so much of this in the streets, and we knew what we were dealing with out here, and we just thought that we were doing everything to protect him and get him to college," Annette says. "We had dreams and plans and they're all just gone. That was our only child."
As parents, Annette says she and Ronald tried to do all the right things. "We went to movies together. Even as a teenager, I would take him to parties. I would pick him up. I would meet the parents. I didn't trust the streets to raise my child."
Annette says parents need to realize that violence can touch anyone—and it's everyone's responsibility to change things. "Everyone owns a part in it, not just African-Americans and Hispanics. All of us. Because it could be any of your children, any of your nieces, nephews, any of your parents. It could be you," she says. "If we all don't step up to the plate and do something, we're all going to be living in a world that we're afraid to go out and just do anything in life. We're going to be shut inside."
When Bill and Dr. Poussaint take questions from the studio audience, Angela, a Head Start teacher in Chicago, says she has grown frustrated in her attempts to get parents involved in students' schoolwork. "I just wanted to ask Dr. Cosby if he has any suggestions?" she says.
Bill says he learned one way from a student teacher whom he met at Florida A&M University. "She said, 'What I do is, when the bell rings, the child that I'm interested in at the time, I follow that child out of the building. The child usually leads me to an adult. And I say, "Hi, I'm So-and-so's teacher. And who are you? I've been trying to reach you all this time."' So maybe you might try that."
Angela's struggles remind Oprah of Ron Clark, the recipient of the 2000 Outstanding Teacher of the Year award for his commitment to education in Harlem. Before the semester would begin, Ron went to the parents of his incoming student to let them know what he expected. "He's a young white guy. And he said at first, the parents thought he was crazy," Oprah says. "Once they realize how much you really care, for a lot of them, it encourages them to care."
Trudy, who is white and says she lives in a predominantly white community, asks about the use of the n-word in music her children listen to. "It's not used in my home, I've never heard people in the community use it, but yet all of the kids know it," she says. "All of the white kids know it because of music and movies and they think it's like no big deal." So what can Trudy tell them about using that word?
Dr. Poussaint says Trudy needs to be forceful in telling her children what she thinks. "You tell them that it's a vicious, awful, demeaning word that has led to the killing, lynching and the demoralization and feelings of inferiority in black people—and that you can't make that word positive," he says. "It really damages our children. It's damaging all the way through. You should never justify it."
In 2005, Bill met a young man named William whose story he says he will never forget. William, a self-admitted "mama's boy," grew up in a poor crime-ridden neighborhood outside of Washington D.C. When he was just 10 years old, he says he woke to the terrifying sound of his mother screaming. He rushed outside to the driveway and found his mother's boyfriend dragging her.
"He just started immediately loading his gun and then he went over to my mother and then he put the gun up to her face," Williams says. "And he just shot her about two times in her face and she dropped right on the floor immediately. And I just remember all of this blood coming out of her mouth and just going all over the floor. And then he went to my brother and then he shot my brother. Then he came to me and he put the gun to my head."
William says he begged for his life. "I looked up into the sky and I was like, 'God, please, please don't let him kill me,'" he says. "And then for some reason, he just pulled back. And then he said to me, 'You can leave.'"
Despite everything he's been through, William will be the first in his family to graduate from college. He says his life was turned around because of the efforts of one woman—his grandmother. "She jumped right in that day and she's been going ever since," he says.
In addition to his grandmother's love and support, William says he drew inspiration from teachers, friends and his sister. Without this support network, William says he could have ended up on the street selling or using drugs. "I was susceptible to that, going in that direction," he says.
William's sister, Manyka, who was across the street at the time their mother was murdered, says she went down the road William avoided. She says she sold drugs, including cocaine, as she was growing up...until the efforts of her grandmother, teachers and coaches turned her life around.
"I was a victim, but I had a village around me," Manyka says. "I thank the Lord that he put people in my life, because I can now stand and not have to remain in that spot as a victim."
No longer selling drugs, Manyka now counsels young people who face the same choices she did. "I'm giving back to the community because they gave to me," she says.
Manyka says her experiences—both selling drugs and learning that selling drugs is wrong—inform how she helps her community. "I [say, 'I] was in your shoes, but I'm standing now. They told me that I would never be anything, I wouldn't make it. But I'm standing because I had a choice,'" Manyka says. "I did all of the wrong things, thinking that I was no one and nobody and nobody cared. But somebody reached out to me—my coaches, my grandmother, the teachers, my pastor."
Oprah says one passage of Come On People speaks to the importance mentors can have on kids. "Low expectations coming from a teacher can cause a child to fail," she reads. "But coming from a parent, low expectations can crush the soul."
High expectations must begin early, Dr. Poussaint says. "You can see it on the street [with parents saying], 'You're stupid. You're an idiot.' So even before [kids] get to school, many of them are damaged in the way they think about themselves," he says. "Parents from the very beginning have to respect and care and nurture their children and not do bad things for them."
Studies illustrate the lasting harm parents' actions have on their kids. "A lot of the inmates in jail, particularly for violent crimes have been victims of child abuse themselves," he says. "Violence begets violence in the home."
Bill says he has a friend who thinks parents can keep track of their kids by adopting the "shake down" philosophy used by prison guards. "He talks to his congregation, telling parents why they don't have to knock on a door—a bedroom door—of a child, and say, 'May I come in?'" Bill says. "Why? Because you don't pay any rent. This is not your place."
Parents need to know all about what their children are doing—they should look under beds, monitor Internet usage, know who their friends are, Bill says. "We have parents who don't know what subjects the children are taking, who don't know when the test is coming, who don't know if they're finished, don't know the grades," he says. "We must know."
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