Beyond a Statistic: Remembering Rajohn

According to FBI statistics, black men made up 40 percent of all murder victims last year. That is a stunning number for a group that accounts for only 6 percent of the nation’s population.

You’ve likely read the grim statistics.  The homicide rate in the US  is among the highest in the industrialized world. The disproportionate  incarceration rate of Black men, coupled with the homicide rate, result in what many would call genocide. At the very least, we, as a nation, are faced with a crisis that has deep roots in both historical and current economic and social conditions.

I dedicated most of my undergraduate studies examining racial identity formation and the history of slavery in (all of) the Americas.  My graduate studies focused on urban education, analyzing what I understood to be the present day outcomes of institutionalized social and economic practices.  That’s not what I want to discuss right now…

What I am hoping to convey is the heartfelt acknowledgment of the humanness of an otherwise grim statistic. To remember the light in my student’s eyes, the reluctant but luminous smile, the warm and tender manner of a young African American male. To somehow communicate to the world the significance that Rajohn’s life had on one teacher.  To look beyond, or perhaps more deeply into, a statistic.

It’s been a bloody summer in Newark…The city hasn’t had a summer this deadly since 1990, when 38 people were killed.

RaJohn Powell, 18, was shot just after 8:30 p.m. on Blum Street Thursday night [8-19-10], and was pronounced dead at 9:37 p.m. at University Hospital in Newark, said Katherine Carter, spokeswoman for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office.

The teenager was standing on the corner of Blum Street when a “dark color Jeep-type vehicle” drove past him and circled the block once, Carter said. The vehicle rolled to a stop in front of Powell moments later, but as the teenager approached the vehicle, an unidentified assailant opened fire.

Powell’s shooting was the second on Blum Street and the fourth in Newark in a 24-hour period, authorities said.  Powell’s death is the tenth homicide in Newark this month.

James Queally/The Star-Ledger

Rajohn was especially easy to like. He was the student who I could make eye contact with while his classmates were cutting up.  We’d both shake our heads at their silliness.  Rajohn had discipline issues in other classes. In my class he was didn’t.

I’m not sure how much of ancient civilizations he would actually recall. What I recollect was his joy in being focused and accomplished in class–  perhaps one of the few places where he could feel successful.  Now, I’m not claiming that I had some special or extraordinary skill in reaching him. In retrospect I believe he responded to my respect and regard for his humanity. Beyond the identities and roles, the subject matter and grades, there was a young child who I had the opportunity to nurture.

The last time I saw Rajohn was about five years ago when I had visited his home to meet his sister’s newborn baby.  Still short and stout, he was a little more stoic.  Eventually I managed to get a smile from him.  Once he warmed up he seemed curious about my coming over– asking lots of questions and thanking me more than once.  I felt good after that visit.  I witnessed how, despite facing similar hardships, all of the children in Rajohn’s family have that same gentle manner, warmth and curiosity.

I thought he’d be okay.

I was wrong.

I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to know Rajohn.   It’s a tragedy he wasn’t able to live a long life as a contributing member of our community.  The greater tragedy is that perhaps he didn’t fully realize his capacity to express more of his unique gifts in the world. To know how much he mattered.

7 thoughts on “Beyond a Statistic: Remembering Rajohn

  1. Nice piece El. I’m sure Rajohn would’ve loved it & I know we both wish that he was here instead of you having to write it.
    Love Labor, Study Hard!

  2. The following are comments from Rajohn’s family:

    That was wonderful Mrs. Jorge. Rajohn was still the same person since 5th grade. He was so sweet… I miss my brother so much. Thank you for letting the world know who Rajohn Powell was. Love you much Mrs.Jorge

    Mrs. Jorge, your writing was beautiful. I don’t know if I was more sad that it ended or that you were not able to see him more often. Rajohn was a warm spirit and he always had conflict with what was expected from him. Like a lot of young men today, my brother [which was appropiate at his age] was coming to know himself. He had aspirations to be a firefighter and he reflected love. It hurt me to see my brother lay in a coffin with the same innocent look he had in the 5th grade. He would always say he was my “little BIG brother” because he always wanted to provide for his family. I am satisfied and grateful for your article. He was not the young man that everyone thought he was, he was a good son and brother. He [no one] deserves to be taken away from their family in that manner. Thank you.

  3. Oh Elo, what a wonderful tribute to your student. And who said teachers aren’t supposed to have favorites? Sure they are – as long as it’s still humans and not computer programs teaching our kids! They just shouldn’t show favoritism.

    I had several incidents like this in the twelve years I was teaching. Sometimes it was someone I always feared would end up in a bad situation, and sometimes it wasn’t. Either way, it’s a tragedy.

  4. I knew rajohn for a short period of time but when I met him he reminded me of myself he would be in the street but always kept his self cleaningan staid in a whip just lik me when I found out he got killd moments before I approched blum shum street I was in shockd an I felt my heart drop an it was crazy because I didn’t kno him for to long it was just that he reminded me of myself..when he died I knew the street was gonna b a problem because after dat alote of innocent people was being killed an in his sistuation he made me tell myself watch who yu call ya hommies because these boys ya call ya brotha ain’t really family soon as yu turn they will shoot u in da back of the head….but he was a cool person stayd smiling an jokeing he will always be remember …rest in peace rajohn heaven has a good angle

  5. This piece still makes me tear up. It’ll be six years since he passed and it’s just not the same without him. His laugh, his jokes, his confidence in thinking he had an LL Cool J affect on the ladiesis still missed . It hurts me to know that he lost his life @ 18yrs old. No HS graduation, no college degrees, no adult life experiences, no children. I will never forget you, you…RIP

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