Sunday, September 05, 2010

Damian Jenkins, R.I.P.

A week ago Thursday a little after noon, an eighteen-year-old African-American boy climbed up the football stadium bleachers and over a chain link fence at Franklinton High School here in Louisiana and jumped thirty-five feet to his death. He was always dressed to a t. The starting center on the varsity basketball team. A jokester. The class clown, some said. And described by one of my students (who had classes with him last year before she graduated and came to college) as "just SO nice to everybody all the time." And now Damian Demario Jenkins is dead.

I got an email about it the morning after the event occurred. Questions were being asked. The word was out that Damian had wound up in the Vice Principal's office for cutting in the lunch line. What happened there is, of course, a matter of conjecture. But folks are saying that the Vice Principal told Damian he would never amount to anything, that he was always going to be a nobody. The way it's told, Damian responded, "Well, if that's the way you feel, I might as well just go out and kill myself." And moments later, he did just that, over the objections of a friend who tried to stop him.

Needless to say, the family wants an investigation. They want to know if the school administrator made such a statement. And I don't blame them. Though I've also heard that Damian had problems at home, as well. And if that's true, he might have been especially vulnerable to an authority figure's verbal attack.

Still, the Vice Principal is White. Damian was Black. And Franklinton has had a running dialogue on an internet forum for the last two years under the title, "How racist is the town of Franklinton?" Why am I not surprised?

In any case, the latest addition to the story is that, at a memorial service at the school, a woman who also lost her son called out to him, saying, "If Damian is okay and with you, send a rainbow." And the result is all over the internet. Which makes for a lovely ending. I guess.

Except that, according to the Center for Disease Control, suicide is the third largest cause of death for African-American males ages 15 to 24 and the rate has doubled since 1980. Why is that, I wonder? I write much on this blog that paints a very dark picture of the life chances for people of color under the default position of White Supremacy in the U.S. I actually had a Black student write me a note last semester, saying "Lighten up on us. Most Black students know how bad it is out there."

But do most Black students know it's bad out there NOT because they're a "nobody," but because that's the okey-doke, that's the way it's been set up to keep them "in their place"? I've been thinking a lot about this lately because I'm priming up to do an event on our campus in a couple of weeks on retention of minority (read: Black) students. From what I've been told, overall, six out of ten of our Black students never graduate from our institution and only two of ten Black males finish their degrees before leaving.

The fact is, I would argue, that they don't quit school or choose to die because someone else is going to make it hard for them. They quit school or choose to die because they suspect deep in their souls -- in the face of all contrary evidence -- that they really are lacking the most basic kind of worth. They're bombarded from birth, every time they come into contact in any way with the White world that surrounds them on all sides, with the idea that they somehow missed the boat by being born Black. That they are less than. That no matter how hard they try, they do not deserve to succeed because they don't have what it takes. That they are hopeless.

Psychologists call it "stereotype threat," the fear that you will be judged and found wanting because you're perceived to fit the steretypes you've always heard others apply to your ethnic group. This is quintessentially tidy for those with the power to define and their attendant academic lackeys who always seem to find ways to make institutionalized oppression the problem -- and the responsibility -- of the oppressed. It's not that the White Power Structure WANTS him to see himself as incapable, you understand, it's that he erroneously sees himself this way. So you explain to him that the exam is fair or that he can really get the job and he'll do fine. Or not.

On the other hand, I see the problem as the result of infecting Black children (and most especially Black boys) at a very young age with the virus of internalized racism, a vision of oneself as so flawed -- because of the skin tone with which you were born -- that no amount of effort or talent or style or intelligence can ever make it right. The only hope, then, is in telling them the truth: that the locus of the problem is not deep in their souls, but deep in the psyche of those with the power to define White as human and all else, at bottom, an unfortunate failure to be...well...White.

It is a brutal vaccination. But when they get it and it really sinks in, their heads raise, the terrible sorrow leaves their eyes, and a joy I would do anything to see creeps up into their faces. Soon, of course, they find their rage and that is a delicate moment. But they finish school and they don't self-destruct and I, for one, think we have no other choice.

30 comments:

Christine said...

This is so sad. I felt horrible after reading it. I hope that a thorough investigation is done into this principal and the school.

Interestingly, I looked up the highschool this child attended and found their webpabe... their "Contact Us" link was disabled... hmmm... wonder why...

a-holes.

Changeseeker said...

Apparently, their "Contact Us" link was disabled before this happened, Christine. I mean, it doesn't sound as if they were very open to being connected, at least not with the students. It reminds me of the principal in the film "Dangerous Minds" who sends a boy to his death for not knocking before entering his office...

Anonymous said...

I attended the school myself and personally knew Damian, he was a great guy. Christine the schoo;s site has always had issues its run by students in a multimedia class so yes it has issues.
changeseeker i was at fhs for four years and was under the current administration at the school there was no student that could not go a speak to the administration about anything their doors were always open to students and they were very envoled in helping students they really care for the students of franklinton high school.

Will Capers said...

I just found out about this, and I will keep the family and friends in my thoughts.

I read that some depressed black males choose ways to not off themselves by their own hands, but by someone else's as another form of suicide that resembles homicide. I read an example that one student was bullying another, both of them were black males. The one who was bullied got fed up and took a loaded gun with him to school and pointed it at the bully. The bully said, "You think I'm afraid to die? I ain't afraid to die."

The gun jammed a few times, but the kid eventually shot the guy. The bullying kid survived though. Still, the bully showed how much he devalued his own life enough to have someone else take it away from him. As such there are other black males who put themselves in the position to lose their lives not just by their own hand but by the hands of others as a way of suicide by homicide.

Changeseeker said...

The term that's being used, Will, is exactly that: "suicide by homicide." And one of the most sure-fire ways to pull it off: get the police to do it. Sigh.

Changeseeker said...

Sometimes, I remove comments that are trying to sell something or are attacking someone I've written about. Right after I posted this, an anonymous commentator posted a very negative comment about Damian Jenkins. I didn't know Damian personally, but I have been informed by people that did (both Black and White) that he was an upbeat, positive influence. His coaches spoke highly of him and it would be very unlikely that he would have been so successful on the basketball team if he had been carrying himself the way the negative commentator described. It wasn't until a member of the family responded to the negative commentator that I realized how painful it must be for them to read such a thing and know that others were reading that negative comment, too. Consequently, I've decided to remove the negative comment and the family's response to that comment -- not to squelch the dialogue, but out of respect for the family and the deceased. If the family wants to contact me directly about this, they may do so by emailing me at changeseeker (at) gmail.com

Anonymous said...

That's my picture I took of the double rainbow! I miss that boy so much. Everyone still misses him. I'm actually still in shock.

Leland Yates said...

Here's the deal. Damian DeMario Jenkins was my best friend. I am white, and he was black, but not like that mattered one back. I gave him rides anywhere, lent him clothes, tutored him in school, and was always there to just talk to him. ANYBODY, and I mean, ANYBODY who will try to make this an issue of racism is sick. I am a senior of franklinton High school, and believe me when i say there is no racism in our school. Our vice principal LOVED damian, I know that for a fact. They can investigate all that they want, but they will find nothing out of the ordinary. I do now know why my brother did it, but I would give anyting to have him back, and to even make ANY insinuations such as the ones you are making are just insulting and tarnishing the memory of one of the greatest friends and fellow men i knew. DJ, your still my boy. And you know I still got your back.

Changeseeker said...

Leland: If Damian was your "best friend," then it seems odd to me that you never noticed any institutionalized racism in your school. I've heard all manner of stories about your community and school since I wrote this and from what I can gather, while it's not worse than a lot of other places (North and South), it nevertheless manifests White Supremacy just like all the rest of them. I've been studying the socially-constructed, political notion of "race" for forty years, Leland, and I assure you that Franklinton is NOT somehow different from the rest of the communities in the United States.

I don't know what happened to Damian that day. But I know what he did and where he had been immediately previous to his action. I'm sorry for your loss and that of anyone else that was close to Damian Jenkins. I'm not trying to make things worse. I'm trying to prevent it from happening again.

Anonymous said...

I as well go to FHS and there by far is NO racism between the administrators and students. Our school happens to be one of the better schools in our whole state. Look at the accomplishments we've made and how well the students and teachers present themselves. Honestly, you dont kno any of us therefore, you have no reason whatsoever to judge us or call us racist. Damian was loved by EVERYONE. fact is, you need to stop talking crap when you have no idea about anything tht goes on in out school. I'm sure that just about any other student would be happy to tell you the exact same. Check yourself before you judge us (:

Sage said...

This is a lovely piece of writing. Do you mind if I print this post off for my class? I teach a social science unit on discrimination, and this speaks volumes.

Changeseeker said...

I'd be delighted, Sage. Just credit it, please, so they can read more if they like. And thanks for the kind words.

Anonymous said...

Leland,

I'm Damian's first cousin and it bothers me that you say you know why Damian did it, but still in all the family still doesn't know.... Our family has many unanswered questions, and I would greatly appreciate it if you and I can talk on a private level so we can find out what happened, or what the problem was... I know we hear he say she say in the media, but if you have info. please help us PLEASE!!!!

Summer Gibson said...

This makes me mad. FRANKLINTON HIGH SCHOOL IS NOT RACIST. Our class was really close, and we all loved eachother as if we were family. Damian wasn't lacking on friends, BLACK, WHITE, LATINO, ASIAN. We have them all, and we all get along. You probably aren't even from around here. I am WHITE, and me and Damian were good friends, and I miss him still to this day.

Arthur "Rayne" Hicks said...

Hell Yeah Summer,

Forget About These Immature People Saying Crap Bout Racism... Thats idiculous Cuz DJ Was A Friend To Everyone Of Any Race And These People That Write Crap On Here Didnt Know Him Like We Did... He Was Friends With Anybody And Everybody At Franklinton High School... These People Need To Grow The Hell Up Cuz They Dont KNow What The Hell They Are Talkin Bout... He Was A Good Man And A Good Friend And He Would Go Out Of His Way To Help Anyone Of Any Race Whether It Be The Principal Or Vice Principal Or Any Body For That Matter... These People Dont Know Him Summer So Just Ignore There Ridiculous Bull$hi+ Cuz Thats All It Is... I Got Your Back Damian, Leland, Summer, And Anyone For This Matter Of ANY RACE!!! Cuz Franklinton Is One Of The Friendliest, ANTIRACIAL Places On The Freakin Planet!!! Lata Everybody And Dont Worry Damion Yah Home Bois Got Yo Back!!! And Fo You Sorry Ass People Got Something To Say Bout Racist, Come To Franklinton And Say That Sorry Ass $hi+ And Youll See What The Hell Your Talkin Bout!!! Peace Out!!!

Danielle N. said...

YHow can someone twist this around?? No one understands how close FHS is we are all like a family.. If the principles didn't care y everytime they would talk to us about graduation they would cry? It's because our dear missed brother dj. in the envolope with our diplomas we all got a letter from our principle saying how she really cares about our sr. Class and how we are all so close, and we been threw a lot and she will never stop thinking about us! I promise no one is left out at FHS and how dare u say if Leland and him were so close he should have noticed something! No one could have even guess Damien would  have done this! He would be the last person I would expect! We all wish we could change it and talk to him.. Damien knew he was loved. For the whole week after the accident the whole school was so quiet u could hear a pen drop and every now and then just crys! And EVERYONE comfort EVERYONE! My guess.. He was comfterble at school we was his home. To kill himself the way he did it was thought about. I believe he did it at school because this is where he felt most comfterble since ur all smart with knowing everything y didn't u ever think about that? Y don't u look at our year books? Then u will be able to tell no racism by all the pictures! And at his funeral we were All there! The place was packed (with black and white) we love him and miss him dearly it hurts knowing people think like this! Get a life!!! Leave FHS's alone! 

Emily Phillips said...

Damian was and still is a big part of everyone at FHS. Obviously, you do not go to FHS or have ever visited our school or you would know that. There is NO racism at FHS, everyone treats everyone equally. We do not care if you're black, white, asian, latino, etc. So before you go assuming things, get your facts straight. You know NOTHING about Damian or about FHS. Our whole senior class was and still is a family, we're closer than close, and we all miss Damian more and more everyday. Some of the comments on here are ridiculous, and the ones that are saying rude things about FHS, do not even go to the school. Do not say things about a school or person you know NOTHING about, because you're opinion DOES NOT matter!

THANK YOU!

Channing D, James said...

TO ALL FHS STUDENTS, Damian FAMILY AND FRIENDS AND FELLOW STAFF AT FHS. I SPENT MY SUMMERS IN FRANKLINTON AND MY DAD AND FAMILY ALL GRADUATED FROM FHS. FOR THE RUDE COMMENTS THEY ARE NOT NEEDED. YES CHANGESEEKER YOU BEEN DOING YOUR RESEARCH FOR YEARS, BUT DID YOU ATTEND THE SCHOOL? NO NO NO, TO LELAN YATES THE BESTFRIEND, I UNDERSTAND YOU WAS HIS BESTFRIEND AND KNEW WHAT WAS GOING ON BUT YOU SHOULD HAVE TOLD HIS FAMILY THAT IN PRIVATE NOT ON A NATIONAL WEBSITE THAT A LADY (CHANGESEEKER) DOES NOT EVEN KNOW ANYTHING BASHING EVERYTHING EVERYONE IS SAYING. I SAY LET IT GO AND LET THE FAMILY AND THE SCHOOLBOARD DO THEIR INVESTIGATIONS. TO CLASS OF 2011 LIVE OUT HIS DREAM FOR HIM, GO TO COLLEGE AND GRADUATE AND POSPER IN LIFE AND LET NOTHING STOP YOU ALL. FRANKLINTON HIGH SCHOOL IS NOT RACIST AT ALL. EVERYWHERE WE GO , EVERYTHING WE DO THERE IS GOING TO BE A NEGATIVE AFFECT AROUND US, BUT WE AS PEOPLE HAVE TO OVERCOME THAT WITH A POSITIVE ONE. LIVE YOUR DREAMS & NEVER GIVE UP!!!! TO DAMIAN YOU ARE AT PEACE NOW, SO EARLY BUT NEVER LATER. I LOVE YOU DEARLY MY LONG LOST LITTLE COUSIN AND YOU WILL BE REMEMBER DEEPLY!!! AND NEVER FORGOTTEN. TO HIS FAMILY AND CLOSE FRIENDS YOU ALL ARE IN MY PRAYERS , BECAUSE WHEN PRAYERS GO UP BLESSINGS COME DOWN.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure Leland meant to put, "I do NOT know why my brother did it..". It was likely a typo

Gunnar Wyatt Kelley said...

Hey, guys! Here's an idea. Let's NOT post comments towards this, and instead ignore it. That way, it's a win-win! We all knew Damian was a GREAT guy, so why bother venting on this page? It's an unnecessary usage of energy that could be put towards other things. Just chill, an opinion is an opinion.

Anonymous said...

An opinion is an opinion, no matter how biased its intentions. On the one hand, it angers me to see Damian used in an example of "white supremacy" but then at the same time I'm glad the article was written. I say I'm glad because you guys have to realize that in a way it brought everyone together. Everyone stood up for what is really right and what we know is right instead of what someone who never knew us thought was right. I don't think the author had bad intentions when the article was written, but now people know how we really feel. Now there isn't any room for thoughts of "white supremacy". People may still believe the article, but whose word is stronger: the word of his fellow classmates, or the word of a stranger no matter how well intended?

Changeseeker said...

I don't think y'all understand what a blog is. It's news media and commentary. I'm not writing my opinion about Damian or about Franklinton. I'm writing what historical records and current residents have told me about both. How else would I have anything to write?

All of the people who have talked to me about Damian and all but one of you who have commented about him say he was a wonderful and well loved guy. Apparently, from the facts on the surface of the case, this wonderful and well loved guy walked into a Vice Principal's office at Franklinton High School and then walked out a few minutes later, went to the top of the stadium bleachers and jumped off. What is YOUR explanation for this?

Typically, young men with as much to live for as Damian don't do that sort of thing. I say in this post that I don't know what happened, but I do report what some say happened. What do YOU all say happened?

Sometimes when people are having trouble facing reality, they get really defensive. I'm not saying that's what's happening here, but the more you protest and lash out at me (somebody who just reported the story), the more you make it look that way.

Damian is dead, folks. There's a reason for that and I'm just asking. I'm not trying to hurt anyone's feelings or make the pain worse. But Damian SHOULD still be alive and he's not. Why do YOU think that is?

Anonymous said...

Because of the simple fact that you never TRULY know what is going on in a person's mind. Surely with ALL of your research you should have came across that simple fact. But that's right, I forgot that is not something you learn in a college classroom or from a textbook. Point is, he HAD to have been planning this. A simple taunt from the vice principal(which is complete heresy with no factual evidence whatsoever), would not push this young man over the edge. He wrote a note. Your research should also tell you that 83% of all suicide victims planned their suicide out before attempting it. You can make this out be "racism", or "bullying", or whatever you want it to be, but there is no arguing the common logic behind the fact that Damian Jenkins knew EXACTLY what he was doing, and had planned to do it. Why else would he write a note, hug his friends and tell him he loved them as he did me, then leap off of bleachers. A person does not do that on a whim. But, I know some of you "reporters" only see a story and ratings, so I wouldnt exactly expect you to understand. Thank you, that is all.

Tikyah Magee said...

Hey all yall franklinton high school princle is races!!! and if yall want to know who i am im damain's cousin im at jouinor high...Forget high school

Changeseeker said...

I never suggested that Damian Jenkins killed himself on a whim, Anonymous 6:40. But White Supremacy takes its toll in many ways throughout our society. I received information from various sources that suggested that racism played a part in Damian's decision.

I'm not a "reporter." And I don't write what I don't know anything about. I realize that this is an emotional issue for many and I don't take attacks against me personally. I know it's the result of very painful feelings and the unresolvable nature of the situation.

Changeseeker said...

Tikyah: Don't be discouraged. Find someone you can trust (preferably someone adult, if possible) and talk about how you feel. You can survive, regardless of what you're up against.

keith w. said...

Pretty good school... But there is definately some racism going on! Most of the people saying there isn't most likely never experienced it because they are white.

charles magee said...

they still need to be under investigation because i didnt appreciate that one of our people that are working with the school system would do something like that its been almost four years we still need to be under investigation because what yall are saying is not true about he was not racists but from my point of view he should still have been here today but coach G there are people that dont even know you and they think that you are cool person but you are not because that is what everyone is saying just because you made the parents of this child lose their son

Anonymous said...

we live in a good old boys town ,and a lot of things that happen around here ,just don't make sense,I go in and out of the schools a lot,there is a difference in treatment of students, but they do it on the downlow,all yhe things are not just happening ,we need to weak and be real , and love people and not color,the children are doing better than some of these old ku klux klan undercover sheet wearing people,that have to faces,we need to stop, do what we need to do and be fair,I'm not a person that feel like every white person are against me,there is just some white who representthe white in a bad way,we need to get it together.

Cassie Thompson said...

I use to go to Franklinton High, my school was not racist we were all treated the same, Damian was like my brother, i don't think anyone expected this to happen, only God knows what really happen on that tradgic day. I miss him so much, but my school is not racist, we are all family , i mean we had to see each other every day of the week, which made us family inless you go to Franklinton High you'll never know why we define ourselves as family. Go Demons. R>I>P Damian