Do You Know What a 5 Percenter is?
I grew up in Co-op City located in the northeast section of The Bronx. When I was a teenager I had a good friend named John who lived in the building next to mine. John was a nice kid and we had a lot of fun hanging out and running around our area which was called “Section 5.” One day, I was walking out of my building and I saw John from a distance, I waved hello and he put his head down as if to avoid seeing me. I started walking toward him and he ran into the building and disappeared.
A few weeks later something similar happened and John avoided me. I couldn’t understand what I did or what was going on and I was confused. I was walking past our shopping section and John was there hanging out with a bunch of other kids. I waved and said, “Hello,” and he yelled back, “Devil.” I thought he was joking around with me so I just yelled back at him and laughed it off. That didn’t work out for me. You see, John and his new friends ran down and cornered me. He said “My name ain’t John … it is Justice and we aren’t friends.. Devil.” I told him that I didn’t understand, we were friends growing up all these years in the same section. We ran to Mr. Softee together and played in courts and..
Because I was his friend at some point, he asked the other kids to let me go without beating me to a pulp. I was lucky that day, but he told me to stay clear of him and know that he was a G-d and his friends would kill me if needed.
Lasting Memories of Pain
I was walking out of school through the backdoor and my friend Sean and a few other kids were walking out behind me. I heard, “Hey, Devil! You know what you did to the slaves, Devil?” It wasn’t long before a few kids turned into 12. I was about 125 pounds soaking wet and carrying a back pack that was as heavy as me. A few girls that I was close friends with saw what was going on and ran over to stop whatever was about to happen. It was too late. It started with words and one kid that was of Spanish decent started to charge me and circle me like a vulture. They slapped my bag down and started shoving me. I was scared, but at the same time, I knew that no matter what I did, this thing was going to happen. I said, “I’m Jewish, I had nothing to do with slaves. In fact, my people were slaves too.” Sean looked at me with great sadness in his eyes and said, “I’m sorry.” He didn’t hit me, but the fists where flying and all I could see was a mix of hands, light, dark, and … nothingness. I think sometime during a beating like that, you go into shock and pain stops. Everything slows down and you are just living in the moment of trying to figure a way out of the situation or just survive. The girls were screaming to get off of me, fighting back for me stopped after I realized that I couldn’t hit anyone. There were just too many people hitting me. I remember when it stopped and the girls walked up to me as I was laying on the ground trying to get up. Remember, there were no cell phones, no pictures and no cameras outside, just me and a bunch of kids kicking my ass. The girls got me to the bus stop and I took the bus home, I must have been in shock for a long time because I didn’t feel pain for a while. When I got home, my mother took me to the hospital. My tailbone was damaged and my back was pretty hurt. The back pain and pain in my tailbone never went away 100%. I have a reminder of their hate for me and the person they think I was every day. They were indoctrinated Five Percenters and wore the symbols and changed their names too. I don’t remember the name Sean took, I was just thankful that he didn’t hit me and sorry that he submitted to it.
Growing up in NY, people were pretty tolerant and generally most people respected each other. The kids used excuses to hurt each other and hate just needed a reason. My parents grew up in The Bronx and never did in my entire life did I hear anything negative about a type of people. In fact, I learned about hate from people sitting in lawn chairs lined up across the building as I would walk in. People would call me over to talk and I would listen. It was Holocaust survivors sitting with Cubans who escaped or WWII veterans and others. It was black men and women just sitting in the chair enjoying the afternoon with others, willing to share a memory. It wasn’t long into my teenage years that I started to experience hate against me, however it was the Navy that taught me how much I am hated as a Jew. I dealt with religious people from different groups telling me how bad I am and how evil the Jewish people are. I had my sheets cut up and swastikas drawn on them. The assumption that I have a tail and horns was something that people believed and asked me about. On my ship until I made a name for myself, the only group of people that would even talk to me were kids from NY. I was very alone and the Navy at the time had less than 1/2 of 1% of sailors of Jewish decent. Let’s say that the chaplain was not a Rabbi.
I have pain today from getting hurt and fighting mostly to protect myself from others. I have pain from stuff I did in the service as well, but mostly beyond the physical pain, I am sad. Our world is a beautiful place that we are destroying and we are fighting with each other and creating more division between us than ever. We are going to a place that we can’t come back from when we kill people. I imagined a world with much more tolerance and respect, not this. When I think about people and the world we live in, I think about how I grew up in Co-op. I think about my friends in my childhood before I was 13 and how we played and how we didn’t care about color or race or religion. We just had fun and played or fought because of something stupid, but we worked it out and played again the next day. I went to high school where I was 1 of 5 kids that were white and I am sure I was the only Jewish kid there. I was accepted and it wasn’t always easy, but we did it. The complaint back then as I remember and the quote, “Black on black crime, was way before our time, we need to reach for the heights.” The name of the school was University Heights. As I think about how we have created ways to hurt and hate throughout history, I realize today that there is very little hope for peace. It will be an act of G-d that will bring us together or destroy us all. It may very well be that the acts of man will destroy us or our children before then.
As I go through my daily routine reminded by the pain in my back and tailbone of the children that hated me for something that I was not, I think of the only things that I can do to make things better.
- I look to do at least one good thing in a day.
- I teach my children about reality and how they need to behave better and aim to do what is right even under harsh conditions.
- Practice kindness even in the face of those who hate me.
Very Little Hope
I said there is very little, but there is hope. Even if it is a sliver of a slice, I will hang on to it. I hope that Justice / John has changed his mind about me and realizes that I am not a “devil” and I hope that we can find through acts of kindness as individuals the pebbles to fill the jar of love for humanity. If we do, we can turn hope into a reality.