Sunday, February 16, 2014

A YOUNG HERO....

MUSTAFA MCWHORTER. A name I will never forget. A face I will always remember. A voice I will hear in my head for the rest of my days. A life taken way too soon. A person I never knew but his memory I will behold forever.

Mustafa McWhorter was a young man whose tragic story was featured on one of my favorite television shows, A&E's The First 48. I've been a fan of this show since it started and thought I had seen every episode to date. When the episode featuring Mustafa McWhorter began, I immediately knew I hadn't seen it before; and I had no idea it would turn out to be especially and unexpectedly heartbreaking. Mustafa McWhorter was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. He was the youngest of eight and grew up in a close-knit family. He was very much  loved by his parents, siblings, relatives and friends. Although Mustafa was loved and treated well by most, he was a victim of bullying. He was picked on and tormented by some of his peers, causing his family concern for his safety and well-being. In spite of the bullying, Mustafa grew to be a confident, outgoing young man who lived life with a positive attitude. He had many good friends with whom he enjoyed spending time....and making music. Mustafa was a member of a local rap group, called the Band Boys. The Band Boys wrote songs, performed their lyrics and made videos that they shared on social media. They had quite a following yet, not every one was a fan. As we've witnessed with major rap artists, the Band Boys became part of an unfortunate rivalry that sometimes happens in the hip hop culture. They were at odds with other local rap groups; odds that, unfortunately, led to violence. Mustafa, in particular, was a target and victim.

He grew up in a neighborhood plagued by the many ills that too many of America's neighborhoods face; poverty, drugs, decay, sickness, violence and death. Mustafa knew firsthand what it was like to live, love and lose in an environment filled with darkness and despair. But, like a rose growing from concrete, Mustafa stood out as a ray of hope amongst the hopelessness. Not only was he a popular and well-liked young man, Mustafa was also attractive and outspoken. He voiced his opinion about his generation and their lack of morals and respect, and their fascination with inappropriate or deviant behavior. He spoke about the need for his peers to be more loving and less violent towards each other. Mustafa hoped that, one day, the kids in his community could grow up without being affected by, witness to or victim of violence. All of which he had been.

Directly and indirectly, Mustafa dealt with the aftermath of death in his community. On this particular night, I was watching the story of Mustafa McWhorter, but on a previous epsiode of The First 48, I watched the story of a 14 year old girl who was shot to death on the night of her birthday party. That little girl was Lataevia Williams, who was also Mustafa's friend. Lataevia's death inspired Mustafa to fight harder for 'more love and less violence' in his community. His mission of non-violence continued. Apparently, his outspokenness coupled with his affiliation with The Band Boys, rubbed others the wrong way. So much so that Mustafa became a victim of extreme violence. He was first assaulted on May 13, 2012, by a young man who confronted Mustafa over a 'Facebook beef.' This young man not only wanted to fight Mustafa, he wanted to 'slam him to sleep.' During the fight, Mustafa was slammed several times, causing his head to hit the concrete which eventually knocked him unconscious. After Mustafa was down and out, the assailant proceeded to punch and kick him about the head and face. This incident happened in front of a crowd of people, including at least two adults. No one tried to stop the attack or help Mustafa. Not only did the crowd watch this assault take place but someone actually recorded it with their cell phone. After he was knocked out and bloodied, the two adults finally stepped in, picked Mustafa up off of the ground and pulled him out of harm's way. Mustafa was taken to a hospital where it was found that he had severe head injuries, lacerations and a broken nose. Shortly after being viciously attacked, Mustafa recovered from his injuries and his spirit was not broken, as evidenced in this news interview (which, I must warn you, contains parts of the graphic recording of Mustafa's beating). Eventually, the person responsible for this attack was arrested and, I believe, is now serving prison time for his actions.

Fast forward to May 2013 and, Mustafa is assaulted again, according to the story told by The First 48. I found no evidence of recordings, incident reports, news coverage or arrests in connection to that incident. Just a few weeks later, on May 28, Mustafa was, again, confronted and challenged to a fight at the local library, where he was shot and killed. This incident was also caught on video, from a camera located at a business near the library, and led to the arrests of the two young men responsible. As I watched this episode of The First 48, in the moment Mustafa's mother was informed of her child's death, my heart broke.

There have been many times that I've been saddened, angered and upset by what I've seen on this show, but this episode affected me like never before. As a person who has felt the pain of loss through the death of a loved one, I could empathize. But as a mother who has never suffered the loss of a child (thank God), I can't relate. To have that loss exacerbated by the facts that your child was victimized and terrorized prior to death and their death be a result of extreme violence, I cannot imagine that pain. Somehow, I kept my composure while watching the story unfold. But, as soon as the credits rolled, I was overcome by emotion. I cried uncontrollably and my heart literally ached for this young man, his mother and his family. When I went to bed that night, I could not get Mustafa off of my mind. I tossed and turned for a while then, finally got up and turned my computer on. I wanted to know more about this young man known as Mustafa McWhorter. I searched his name on Google and links to the video of the fight popped up. I had only seen the parts of the fight that were shown in the news story which was more than enough for me. But, I tried to convince myself to watch the video in its entirety. I thought, if he could endure it and still smile & be happy, surely I can watch it and be okay. But, I just. could. not. do. it.

I then found a Facebook page, made in his memory, where I saw many pictures of Mustafa. Pictures of him smiling, laughing and seemingly, enjoying his young life. Many people posted on this page, to express their condolences and feelings after watching The First 48 episode. It felt good to know that I wasn't alone or being ultra-sensitive in my reaction. In my search, I also came across an audio recording of  Mustafa speaking about the violent and deviant behavior of his peers. After watching the news interview and listening to the audio recording, I understood why I felt the way I did. Mustafa McWhorter was not only a good kid who did nothing to deserve what happened to him, he was a beautiful, gentle soul. Although I never knew him, after learning about his story, I felt like he was a part of my family. His personality, sense of style and unbreakable spirit reminds me of some young men in my bloodline. He could have easily been my little brother, nephew, cousin or son....and I cried for him as if he were. Although Mustafa's life was terribly affected by violence, he remained a positive person. I'm sure his life and death has inspired those who knew him to make different choices and live better lives. Not only did he serve as a good role model for his peers but Mustafa was also a refreshing example of human kind. He's a source of inspiration for the familiar and strangers alike. Strangers like me. I pray it brings some comfort to his family to know that Mustafa McWhorter, the young man they raised, nurtured and loved for 17 years, is a hero of mine.



May his beautiful soul rest in eternal peace......