“Look for the Helpers”

Juniors Mural

The incident of slain teen Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz continues to devastate me and so many others I’m sure. It’s a story that is so horribly tragic and it leaves at least seven families forever traumatized.  There’s Junior’s family, overcome by grief, struggling to understand why a “good student and good kid who enjoyed playing Nintendo” met such a gruesome end.  There are of course the families of the six young men who dragged Junior out of the corner bodega and ultimately murdered him; then there’s store owner Modesto Cruz, who despite trying to hide Junior from his attackers, came under boiling hot criticism from the community that he hadn’t done anything to help Junior, and was forced to close his store. The only comfort I can find to lean on in all of this is the belief in spiritual agreements, and that this senseless and brutal taking of what seems to have been such a tender young life, will bring about something extraordinary; something necessary; and/or something beautiful. At the very least, that is my hope.

On so many levels, there are lessons to be learned from how Junior’s death came about; so many teachable opportunities.  I mean here we are, living in the moment of a thousand hashtags:  The #metoo and #timesup anti-sexual assault movements, as well as the #noslutshaming twitter movement,  are all aimed at empowering women.  Yet, the young woman involved in the sex tape tied to Junior’s murder now shoulders the weight of the death of a friend, because she felt the need to lie to her brother about consensual sex that she had with her boyfriend, a young man who Junior unknowingly took the ultimate fall for.  And then there’s the obvious cost of #hypermasculinity: a psychological term for the exaggeration of stereotypical male behaviour, with an emphasis on physical strength and aggression in particular. There are countless movements that simultaneously call for justice, and now, in the midst of them all is probably one the most tragic calls for justice, the #JusticeforJunior story having to do with all of these very complicated elements.

Above all, this is a story of the fear and pain that so many families feel on a day to day basis:  Coming to terms with the harsh reality that despite our natural instinct to keep our children safe, there are simply some things beyond our control, for each day we send our children out into a world – out onto these streets, that we never hoped for them, and couldn’t possibly have prepared them for; and though we won’t admit it, a world that we help create either by the things that we do or the things that we don’t do. There is a reason why a young girl engages in sex with multiple partners and at least seems ok with it being videotaped, and then lies about it.  There’s also a reason why not one young man in the group of the six who murdered Junior, fully understood that there was nothing “just” and nothing “manly” about the street justice they were seeking.  Somewhere along the way, we all failed these young people.  We are all complicit.

There’s always the line in the retelling of any story that gets you.  The line that leaves you with a serious lump in your throat or that causes you to burst into tears.  It’s the place in a story where all the big stuff falls away and you’re left coming to terms with the sheer vulnerability of life.  Likewise, there’s always that moment in the aftermath of a story that also gets you.  That reminds you that amid the injustices, the trials, and the sorrows of life, there is what I like to simply call “Goodness.”  It’s similar to the place in a story or happening where the late and beautiful spirit Mr. Rogers beckons us to “look for the helpers.” It’s the place of tenderness, love, rebuilding, and restoration.  Two days after Junior’s murder, I read a statement from his mother online: “My son stayed under me.  He was always with me.  He didn’t even know how to fight. He was a good boy”  After having read that, a huge lump formed in my throat.  It reminded me of the picture I’d seen the day prior; the still frame of Junior’s horrified face, his fingers clenching a wall or pole or something, literally holding on for dear life.  He[was] a good kid.  I could tell. He wasn’t ready to die, and had the world been a world that his parents had hoped for him, the world that the parents of Junior’s murderers had hoped for them, that Modesto the bodega owner hopes for his children (if he has any), and that you and I hope for our little ones, Junior would still be with us.

Yesterday, I read the New York Post story about Adela Moreira.  Ten years ago Adela’s 15-year-old son was killed in a random drive-by-shooting as he headed home from visiting a friend.  She reached out to Junior’s mom Leandra Feliz to let her know that she shares in her pain and to encourage her to “call on God to give [her] strength on a day-to-day basis.”  Adela says that after things settle down, she is going to visit Junior’s mom and try to give her support and help her heal. I also read a follow-up article about Modesto Cruz.  He’d known Junior since he was a boy and had, in fact, tried to help Junior on the night of the ordeal.  In addition to two confirmed calls to 911, surveillance cameras show Cruz pulling Junior over the store counter in an attempt to hide him from the killer gang. In the video, he seems just as panicked as Junior, yet, I can see he is pulling with terrified strength to get Junior over the counter.  These are the two moments in this emotionally harrowing story where I burst into tears.  This is where we can find the “Goodness” that still exists.  Modesto Cruz and Adela Moreira are the helpers.  When all the big ugliness of this story falls away, this is where there is tenderness, love, rebuilding, and restoration: two strangers who however small their efforts may seem to some, are doing their part to create the type of world that we are all still hoping for; a world where amid the injustices, the trials, and sorrows of life there is kindness.

One thought on ““Look for the Helpers”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: