You know what got the most response - applause actually - at the funeral of 15-year-old Ronique St. Edwards last week? Not the folks who told the kids that they should learn a lesson from a life cut short. Maybe wake up, do the right thing. Nah. It was one of his boys talking about how he and St. Edwards were the youngest money-makers on the street, how their circumstances required them to do things they probably shouldn't have, how St. Edwards was doing what he needed to do.
Are you kidding me?
At some point, we have to stop making excuses for the young people in this city. It's undeniable they face poverty, hopelessness and other hardships each day, but we have to stop explaining away their self-destruction, their recklessness, their unwillingness to make the hard decisions.
We have to hold them accountable.
And the time is now.
Was it tragic that on a beautiful spring day St. Edwards and 20-year-old Dante Rodriguez, two young men who were killed in a horrific car accident two weeks ago, were being buried? Absolutely.
But it's hard not to contrast the young men in a car with a gun fleeing police at 1 a.m. and the two hard-working immigrants coming home from their second-shift jobs who also died in the crash.
At the funerals for Rodriguez and St. Edwards, friends and family talked about how horrific it was, losing their loved ones. How unfair. They wore T-shirts "Da good die young, the great die younger."
Of course people are going to say good things about the dead; that's human nature. Who wants to be the one to say that their bad decisions not only caused their deaths, but those of two innocent people? That the whole tragedy was absolutely avoidable?
But having that conversation is absolutely necessary if we have any shot at stopping the carousel of chaos in the city.
Over the last decade, I've been to dozens of funerals where friends of a kid who died young talk about the "mad heart" he had - they said it about St. Edwards.
But you know what? That's the biggest lie out there. Dying young doesn't show heart. If anything, it's taking the easy way out.
True heart is having the guts, the courage, the faith in yourself to do the right thing - to look beyond your grim surroundings and believe that deep down you have what it takes to succeed.
I was reminded of that when a father called in to boast about a daughter who overcame obstacles, including his heroin addiction, to make it. She's graduating from UConn in May. And again when I got a letter from Danielle Myers, raised in a tough section of town by a single parent. She's graduating from Weaver No. 10 in her class, ready to do whatever she has to in order to get to college.
"Failure is not an option," she wrote.
It's deciding you want more for yourself, that you are worth more than some premature funeral where friends wear your name on their backs, at least until the next death relegates you to just another in a big pile of RIP gear.
How many of those do you have? I asked a guy at St. Edwards' funeral. Ten, fifteen, he guessed before admitting he lost count long ago.
That's pathetic. It's wrong. It should be unacceptable.
And now is the time for the young people in this city to learn that if you really have heart, dying young, being mourned by your "boys," having your life summed up in trite phrases like "True Soldier," just isn't good enough.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at