Why I Care
Doing outreach work in the Bayview-Hunters Point area of San Francisco can be fun, also dangerous, as the district has seen countless shootings of youth. I was working as the outreach coordinator for a youth-development agency for at-risk teenagers. It was my job to leave the safety of the agency’s office and build referral services for other at-risk teenage agencies and community businesses. The area that was targeted was the Bayview Plaza at Third Street and Evans Street, all the way up to Third and Williams Street. The central area three days out of the week for me and my crew was Third and Williams Street, where we often posted-up to mingle and interact with the youth that congregate there, especially during the summer months. Third and Pavlov is a well-traveled area, what some refer to as a “hot spot,” where a lot of African American kids and teens hang out or wait on buses. Over the years, there have been many deaths of youth in this Bayview Hunters Point area, and it seems to worse with time: black youth killing black youth. So, in my role as an outreach worker, this block, Third and Pavlov provided an excellent place to interact with at-risk teens.
It’s fall 2002, and I’m doing post-ups at least three days a week, Monday through Thursday, accompanied by three other outreach workers. We watch each others’ backs: It is well known that it can be nice, warm and sunny on the block, youth laughing, talking, interacting, and then without warning, gunshots can ring out, and a murder is what’s left. My co-workers and I post-up at Third and Pavlov, passing out information on medical, dental, housing, school, and job training assistance—and other information relevant to the inner-city youth in the Bayview Hunters Point district. It is one of these days, in September, that I come into contact with a young woman. The weather is nice, very warm, and I have on a “Think Peace” T-shirt that the agency provides for its outreach workers to wear while out in the community, to push the message, “peace.” I love it when I can dress down, when I don’t have to wear a jacket in the city; my mood this day is a reflection of the weather.
There is a lot of activity all around me. I can hear people talking and traffic moving—cars, trucks, and horns. I am engaged, interacting with a number of youth, giving out information and answering questions. During this period, I notice a young girl who I can tell wants to speak with me. I have enough experience to understand that she wants to speak with me alone. She’s made eye contact with me, and is waiting patiently, within earshot of the other conversations. Eventually, the youth I am interacting with begin to disperse, one by one. Now alone, I turn to the girl.
“How can I help you?” I ask. The girl pauses for a while. It must be two or three minutes before she says anything, but all the time she’s not speaking she’s looking at me in the eyes. Now, I have met all types of people in my lifetime, with stories to tell, so when I recognize that someone is attempting to tell me something of importance, I wait for them to begin. I stand on the corner with this girl, waiting. My attitude is helpful. When she first begins to speak, he voice is shaky.
“I’ve seen you on the block a lot of time, and I know you are about helping people. Some of my friends have told me that you’ve helped them,” she says. She is about five feet, six inches tall, with shoulder-length hair in braids. She has a coffee cream complexion, and a sad look on her face. She doesn’t say her name, and I don’t ask. She is about sixteen or seventeen years of age. “I want to tell you what happened to me,” she says. “I don’t know why I’ve chosen you to talk to, but I made up my mind days ago that I was going to tell you.” To me, this is emergency-type talk, where you just listen. I don’t anticipate what her story will be, so I just ready myself to listen to her.
The girl begins by telling me about her friend, with whom she does everything—goes to school together, hangs out together—and how boys always attempt to talk to both of them. They both have boyfriends, but they never date the same boys. A few days before, she was at her girlfriend’s house, which is normal. They are like sisters, and are always over at each other’s houses. That morning, her friend had gone to the store, leaving her in the house by herself. She says, “Shortly after my sister left, there was a knock on the door. I thought it was my sister, so I opened the door without really checking to see who it was. It was her boyfriend. I left him in because I knew he was my sister’s boyfriend, plus he had been to her house before. He started looking around the house. I told him that my sister went to the store, and she’ll be right back. My sister’s boyfriend walked up on me, saying he was looking for his girl. He was up on me so close, I couldn’t move anywhere but backwards, so I moved back and he moved back with me.”
I’m listening attentively. I haven’t said a word, I’m just acknowledging everything she’s saying by shaking my head, and saying, “Uh huh.”
She continues, “I had no place else to move. I was cornered. He started pressing his body upon me. I was trying to create some space between us but he wouldn’t allow it. He kept saying, ‘I’m looking for my girl.’ He began to feel on me, he was acting like he wasn’t hearing me. I was asking him to stop, telling him his girl would be back in a minute from the store.”
Some feelings are beginning to come up for me, as this girl gets further along in her story, because I can see where the story is going. I knew she is going to tell me she got raped. I’m bracing myself for it, but I’m getting angry. I can see helplessness and despair on her face, and I can hear it, and it adds up to pain. Pain is coming up for me, too, but I don’t know where it’s coming from. Initially, I think it’s from what I’m hearing from what this girl is telling me. But there’s something else I feel, too. I can’t identify it.
She continues, telling me, “I really tried to resist, to free myself. While he was going crazy, the only thing I could think about was how I was going to tell my girlfriend?” She told me that everything happened real fast and that before she could process anything, the boy pulled her down on the couch, and raped her.
I’ve never had anyone share a story of this nature with me. I’m outraged by her disclosure of what happened to her—she’s so young that what she’s sharing with me could have come out of the mouth of my own daughter. I look up into the sky, and when I look back at her, in her eyes I see the truth. I see the truth not only about how she was victimized, but how I had victimized as well. I see everything that she has told me. I see the boy forcing himself on her, I see her struggling to no avail, and I see the boy raping her. I see it through her eyes, and I also see it through my own eyes.
I flash back to 20 years ago, and it’s me committing this rape. It’s January 7, 1982. I’m in college, a football player, a member of a fraternity, popular on campus, and a ladies man. I’ve gone out clubbing with my boys, my fraternity brothers. It’s a habit of ours, not only to have fun, but also to pick up girls. I’ve had fun, but I haven’t picked up a girl. I want to be with a girl, I want some sex. I’ve been drinking. I’ve had enough drinks to support the thoughts I’m entertaining. When it’s time to leave the club and go back to the fraternity house, I make another plan for myself. I have my boys drop me off at the apartment complex of a girlfriend of mine. I am not invited over, I have not called to announce my arrival, I just show up. I have a fifth of couversier in my hand that I continue to sip. I’m full of myself, confident. I’m on a quest, and I will carry out my plan.
I knock on the door. It opens, but it’s not my girlfriend, it’s her roommate. “What’s up?” she greets me.
“I came to see my girl,” I say.
“Your girl is not here. She went out with her boyfriend.” This makes me angry. I frown. “You knew she had a boyfriend, so don’t be mad,” her roommate tells me. I take the top off my alcohol and swig it. I’m standing in the door and ask her if she wants some. She refuses. This offends me.
Punk b—-h, I say to myself. She thinks she’s better than me, too good for me. I step towards her, towards the open door, forcing myself in. I say, angrily, “You ain’t gonna invite me in? It’s cold out here and I got dropped off, so I need to make a phone call to get a ride.” As I say this, barging into her apartment, I’m thinking, If no one else is here, she’s home alone, we can have sex. I’m telling myself that she wants me. “I want to have sex with you,” I tell her. She looks at me for a moment.
“Yeah, that could happen, but not here and not now.” This is not what I want to hear. I am not going to be denied.
It’s 2002 and I’m back on Third Street with the girl. I can’t believe what listening to her has brought up for me. I can’t believe how it’s making me see myself. Even though I was arrested after that night and convicted in a jury trial for rape, I only saw what I wanted to see; I told myself over and over that I had not raped anyone. I’ve told myself for twenty years that it was a set-up, racism at its best. I was black, she was white, it was my word against hers. Because she was white, in front of a white jury, the white system, I was convicted, sentenced to six years in prison.
Now, though, listening to this teenage girl’s story, I’m seeing something different. I can’t explain why, after all this time, I’m right now seeing the truth about my sexual violence. How just like the boy who raped this girl in front of me, I raped that girl in 1982. I see me touching and groping my girlfriend’s roommate. I’m cornering her. I’m rough and controlling, and I’m not going to be denied. I force myself on her.
A thought goes through my mind: My friend’s roommate was probably thinking, What am I going to tell my roommate? Just like this teenage girl on the corner of Third and Pavlov was thinking twenty years later. I raped my victim, just like this other boy raped this girl before me. There’s no difference between us. I, too, am guilty of rape.
The girl is here, and her story is making me be accountable, and it’s ugly. I’m hurt by what I’m seeing of myself, because I’m hurt by what this girl is telling me. I’m devastated. Guilt, overdue guilt, and shame, are beginning to overwhelm me. I’ve been lying to myself and others all this time, just like I know, without doubt, this boy is going to lie about the rape he committed. Just like me.
It will forever haunt me that I didn’t help this girl on Third and Pavlov Street that day. If I had been truthful with myself about what I had really done twenty years ago, I could have done restoration work and allowed the empathy that I have today to have helped this teenage girl who, for whatever reason, chose me to disclose how she was a victim of sexual violence. I could have referred her to a rape crisis center, or to some type of support group for the victims of rape. I could have given her my support, and suggested that she go to the police and report the rape. Instead, I left the girl standing on Third and Pavlov. I literally spun on her, because what had ignited in me was more than I could bear. I tucked my tail between my legs and ran off like a cowardly dog, and I kept running.
I ran from this girl on Third Street. I ran from my job as an outreach coordinator. I ran from the responsibilities that went with that position. I ran from myself, my dignity, and integrity. I ran from my commitments and my sobriety. I ran, as self-pity ate me like a cancer.
That same night, I would make a decision to relapse back into my addiction, and eventually back into jail, doing time for the crimes I’ve committed and held to answer to today.
Today, I’m committed to telling and sharing my experience with rape with anyone who will listen—and especially with men. I know that not only do me need to be educated about how easy it is to rape, but also how one can be in denial about one’s violence for many years. I’ve done a lot of work through RSVP, including creating a rape prevention program. I’ve regained my self esteem and self worth, and I’m restoring myself.
Also through RSVP, I now have empathy. I truly feel for other people. I feel the pain of victims and survivors of rape, as well as survivors of violence in general. I have thorough knowledge of the impact of violence, as well as the resources that can be taken or added as a result of violence. I’ve become an advocate for non-violence, stopping my violence, and advocating equality between all people, especially between men and women. We men need to understand that No Means No, and young men and boys need to be taught this early in life. Females are not property or second class citizens or sexual objects.
I will never forget the experience I had with the girl on Third and Pavlov, and even though I neglected to help her, I feel bad about, and will for some time to come. Through her, I discovered the truth about my violence and myself, and that’s “Why I Care.”