Happy Birthday, George! We made it to 39.
a segmented memoir by Nakeysha D Roberts Washington
Baby, you understand me now If sometimes you see that I’m mad No one can always be an angel When everything goes wrong you see some bad Well I’m just a soul whose intentions are good Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood
I met George by my grandma house when I was in seventh grade. He lived in the Parklawn, projects around the corner. He was a deep, dark brown. His eyes and his hair were the blackest black. He was just few inches taller than me. We quickly became very good friends. He was funny and sincere and I could depend on him.
For years, George and I kicked it. He was like a brother. We were either together or on the phone. Ninth grade we started hanging with this gang new in our city, the BGs or Black Gangstas, up from Chi. It ended up that this gang was legit and doing much more than I wanted to be part of. Just wasn’t what I expected. I was all about fighting, known to pull hoes and niggas cards here and there, but I was growing up. I wasn’t going to jail or no shit like that. Some of the stuff they wanted me in turned me all the way off– wasn’t for me. I began to distance myself, but for George, these people became his family. Some was. Like many niggas coming up after the crack epidemic– Thanks, Reagan– dope got you cars, clothes, and hoes. This gang, for him, was a way to make it. He would finally have all the things that he thought reflected success.
From the beginning, the heads of the gang were collecting money. Later, I realized it was to get dope. Everyday adversaries were getting they head bust. Niggas were volunteering for a higher status.
George and I still spoke, but not as often. He wasn’t at home so much anymore. He had stopped going to school all the time. He fought a lot.
He stood on the corner with the rest of them Though he knew that this corner wasn’t the best of him
He came to see me at a friend’s house.
“Nothing, Fonzie called me a bitch.”
“I’ll be back.”
He lived close enough to walk home and be back within five minutes and he was. When he got closer, I saw that he was clearly pissed. His demeanor and tone had changed drastically.
“If that nigga come down here, Ima blaze his ass.”
Could not believe it. Showing me a gun, he said, “He’s ain’t gonna disrespect you like that.”
“George! You can’t shoot him! What type of shit is that? I’ve known Fonzie since I was in the first grade! He’s just mad cause I said something to his girlfriend. We’ll be good again tomorrow.”
He left. Something changed. Provoking fear was everything. Made him feel powerful. He wanted people to respect his gangsta –literally. He thought these things made him. I just missed the person he used to be.
Hard streets and a life that crested him Dirt police domestic beefs that’s festerin He knew the President wadn’t addressin him Though dead presidents was undressin him
Four months later, on a Fall morning, tenth grade, I was getting ready for school. I switched schools because my momma was afraid about retaliation from the gang. She wasn’t wrong, but my cousin took care of that problem for me. I turned the television on. George’s face was on the TV.
I turned up the volume on the TV and heard the newscaster say, “Last night police say that Tommy George Bell, a fifteen-year-old male has been shot by an officer in a drug house. The police say that they saw a shadow of a gun in his hands while he was standing at the top of a staircase during a raid. …shots through the chest… He was pronounced dead… The officers involved in the shooting are… The boy’s mother has requested an inquest… She believes her son was shot unjustly. He allegedly was part… Black Gangster Disciples… The police say that this organization is new in the Milwaukee and has its roots in Chicago…”
He on the ground, he could feel God touchin’ him He heard the sound of his moms sayin’ “Trust in Him” At heaven’s gate, sayin’, “Lord, please let me in Or send me back to tell my people to be better men”
And just like that, he was gone.
Common. “Misunderstood.” Finding Forever. Geffen Records, 2007.