LEALAN JONES(LJ), LLOYD NEWMAN(LN), STUDENTS, TEACHER, MRS. TOLSON, DALE ELLIS, JUNE JONES (Mom), SISTER JERI, JUNE JONES (Grandma), JERMAINE(cousin), SOPHIA(Lloyd’s sister), MICHAEL MURRAY(Chill), SISTER’s FRIEND, WAITER, GARY(Friend), TONY(cousin), JANELL(sister), GRANDDAD
LJ: Good morning. Day one. Walking to school. Leaving out the door.
(Door opens. Music fades up.)
LJ: This is my dog, Ferocious. You know why he got that name if you hear him bark.
LJ: I see the ghetto every day walking to school.
Some guys on the corner burning a fire. Be here summertime, wintertime, spring, fall — every day. With they drink in they hands. Probably some White Port, Willie P, Jack Daniels, E&J.
I live here. This is home.
(Speaking to friends) What’s up, Emmie? What’s up, Doodoo?
This is my walk everyday, so I’m taking you on a little journey through my life. Yes, my life. Yeah.
(Music crescendos, then begins to fade.)
LJ: My name is LeAlan Jones and I’m thirteen years old. I live in a house just outside of the Ida B. Wells Projects. My best friend, Lloyd Newman, lives in the Ida Bees. This is our story.
(Knocking on Lloyds door)
LJ: Every morning I pick up Lloyd on the way to school. Today we’re ready to work — strapped with our tape recorders and microphones.
(Sound of Lloyd’s house)
LJ: You got the Tom Brokaw-look, lookin’ like Tom Brokaw. You got the Tom Brokaw, nigger, sit down.
LN: This is Lloyd Newman and I’m fourteen years old. I live with my brothers and sisters in the Ida B. Wells projects.
LJ: Let me describe Lloyd. Lloyd is short. He weighs about 75 pounds. I have an inch between my fingers when I put them around his wrist. He got a head like a Martian.
LN: Alright, now let me talk about LeAlan. His belly take up his whole body.
LJ: Like your head take up yours.
LJ: We been friends since first grade.
LN: That’s seven years!
LJ: Man — seven years of our life together.
(Lloyds house fades out and the sounds of a classroom reciting the ”Pledge of Allegiance” fade in.)
LJ: Our first stop today is Donoghue Elementary School, where we’re both in eighth grade. It’s right across the street from Lloyd’s house in the projects.
Students (reciting): Liberty and justice for all . . .
Teacher: Be seated. No, no . . .
Student: Good morning Vietnam.
LN: Monday morning at 8:30.
LJ: It’s kind of rowdy in the morning.
Teacher: Shante Hayes. Torrence Hinton. Absent. LeShawn Hunt. Absent. Uhh Terry Johnson. Absent.
LJ: That’s Ms. Ford, our homeroom teacher. We give her a hard time.
Teacher: Fellas, would you please shut your mouths?
LJ: Some times we learn. Most of the time it’s just too rowdy to learn.
Teacher: I can support myself. I can buy the things I want to because I learned to use my brain. Now lets try working on yours.
O.K., the sheets that I have been giving you so far . . .
LN: LeAlan and I interviewed our principal, Mrs. Tolson, about working at a school like Donoghue.
LJ: Is it hard being a teacher in this neighborhood?
Tolson: Yes, yes. It’s difficult. Not so much because the children are really any different. It’s difficult because of the publicity that surrounds the area. And you don’t believe that we believe you’re smart.
LJ: But sometimes, there’s no denying we’re smart.
LN: After school, day one. Me and LeAlan head downtown with our tape recorders.
(Sound of bus)
LJ: On the bus, some one tells us that there are professional basketball players staying at the Hyatt Regency. So, being top notch reporters, we head to the hotel to check it out.
(Hotel lobby music)
LJ: You hear the nice music they’re playing?
LJ: A few minutes later, we scammed our way up to the 20th floor. That’s where we found Dale Ellis — a guard with the San Antonio Spurs. He let us interview him in his room.
LJ: Yeah, I’m from Ida B. Wells — what part of the United States are you from?
Ellis: Atlanta — actually Marietta I’m 29 minutes north of Atlanta.
LJ: I know you played for the Sonics and you won the three point contest. What are some of your greatest achievements in life?
Ellis: Well, the biggest achievement, I think, is just being here for one.
LJ: We chilled out with Dale for about fifteen, twenty minutes. It was cool.
Ellis: Math was always my favorite subject. It was always my favorite subject.
LJ: Thank you. Can I have your autograph?
LJ: (whispering): Goddamn. That was Dale Ellis man. That was Dale Ellis, man!!
LN: Dale Ellis, thank you.
LJ: Dale Ellis from the San Antonio Spurs.
(Downtown Chicago street sounds.)
LJ: After we finished with Dale Ellis, Lloyd and I figured we did enough for our first day as reporters.
LJ: Man, I’m tired.
LN: Who ain’t tired? I think I’m about to have a back-stroke carrying this stuff on my back!
LJ: Okay, I’ll talk to you guys later. I’m out.
(Tape recorder clicks off .)
(Fade up on sound inside LeAlan’s house.)
LJ: My house, day two.
LN: LeAlan lives just a block away from me in an old house on Oakwood Boulevard. There are three houses attached to the side of his.
LJ: One of them’s burned, and two of ’em just abandoned. And one of them, it leans over and keeps moving our house over to the side. When it get cold outside, it get cold in here. When it rain, the rain coming in. Whatever nature do, this house do. I’m in my front room now. How you doin’, Toochie?
LJ: That’s my mother. Everyone call her ”Toochie.”
LJ: Say hello, Jeri.
LJ: My little sister, Jeri. I’m walking up the stairs.
LN: LeAlan’s grandma and grandpa live on the second floor of the house up a rickety flight of steps.
LJ: Listen. (Shakes creaky banister.) That shows you how rickety they are.
LJ: My grand mother moved into this house in 1937. Her name is June Marie Jones. I interviewed her in her room.
LJ: This is still day two. It’s 12:06. Hello.
LJ: What we gonna talk about?
Grandma: We gonna talk about the neighborhood.
LJ: How it changed and everything. How do you think it changed?
Grandma: For the worse. When we first came in the area there were no projects, there were all homes. And at one time we had nice hotels where different movie stars would come in and stay.
LJ: When you start seeing a major change in the neighborhood?
Grandma: It wasn’t all of a sudden. It happened gradually: day by day, year by year. You could see the change when people would move out, or maybe the original owner would pass and their families didn’t want the building, and they would just go down.
LJ: My grandma raised eight kids in this house. Her two oldest boys died. Now she has six kids.
Grandma: I have three boys and three girls. They all spoiled rotten. And so are the grandchildren, and especially you.
LJ: Get you!
LJ: What type of child was I when I was little? I was a whining child?
Grandma: No, you was a nice little red headed boy with the blue eyes.
LJ: I had blue eyes or brown?
Grandma: They was blue. They were lighter when you were young. And your hair was lighter. And it would turn white in the summer and darker in the fall.
LJ: Well how was I named?
Grandma: You got your name from your two oldest uncles. Oldest boy’s name was Alan, and the second boy was Eric Lee, and your mother made your name out of the two names.
LJ: Why she didn’t name me no common name? Why she have to name me a sentimental name?
Grandma: Because you’re different. Your name is different and you’re different.
LJ: My name is LeAlan Marvin Jones.
Grandma: And she gave you the ”Marvin” for Marvin Gaye because she liked to hear him sing.
LJ: My name is sentimental.
Grandma: Yeah, your name is special and you’re a special person, too.
LJ: Compared to other people who live in this neighborhood, my grandma says she had it easy.
Grandma: I think I been blessed, because things could have been a whole lot worse than they have been.
LJ: But she has had plenty of troubles — the kinds of things you see in every family around here. My grandmother had one son who was murdered. She has another son who’s addicted to drugs and is in and out of jail. Her grandson, my cousin Jermaine, came down with leukemia when he was six. He was cured, but the medication left him learning disabled . It upset his mother so much that she started drinking. Now he lives here with my grandmother — sleeps in her bed.
LJ: How old are you?
Jermaine: I’m eleven. I’ll be twelve this year.
LJ: What do you think about your mother?
Jermaine: She okay.
LJ: You love her?
Jermaine: Yeah. When she not drinking I love her. If she start drinking, I don’t.
LJ: Me, my mother and my little sister all stay downstairs in the front room. I sleep on the couch. My mother and sister sleep on a mattress on the floor. Even though my mother lives with us, my grandma also has custody of me and my sisters, because of my mother’s mental illness. This is my mother, Toochie.
Mom: I been on medication, off and on, since 1977.
LJ: She’s okay now, but she’s had a lot of problems in the past. It’s upsetting to see her when she sick.
Mom: One time, I had went downstairs, and it’s a long story, but I started seeing shadows on the back porch when I used to look out the window at night. And it looked like Ronald Reagan, and he was talking to my grandmother. And I was hearing voices. And the voices told me to get butt naked. I had did that before, too — taking my clothes off.
LJ: What type voice are these? Are they a man voice, or a female voice, or just a voice?
Mom: Just a regular little voice up there.
LJ: Who is my father?
Mom: Your father is a fellow named Toby Flipper. He say he know you exist. He seen you when you was about two. And I ain’t seen him since.
LJ: What do you think happened to him?
Mom: He probably dead.
LJ: Thank you.
(Tape recorder clicks off.)
LJ: Lloyd lives about two blocks from my house in the Ida B. Wells Projects. The Ida Bees are made up of about 3,000 units. Most of them are low-rise houses. A lot of them are in miserable condition.
LN: Now we walking in the Ida B. Wells. Which is 50% houses are boarded up. Now we’re going into my house. We’re knocking on the door.
(Sound of knocking.)
Kicking on the door.
(Sound of kicking.)
I hope she hurry up and open it.
(Door opens up.)
Now we walking into my house.
(Sound of loud music played on the stereo at Lloyd’s house.)
LJ: Lloyd house is kind of messed up. There’s lots of roaches creeping around. The toilet’s been stopped up off and on for years. The place is always noisy. Lloyd’s mother died two years ago from drinking. His father is also an alcoholic. So Lloyd’s two older sisters have been bringing him up since then. Lloyd’s sister Sophia was the closest to their mother.
LN: How did you react to it when you heard that she died?
Sophia: I was very upset. I just thought my life wasn’t worth living. I wanted to die, too. I just thought we wasn’t going to make it without her. But I see that we made it, and I’m very proud of us.
LN: Do you think it’s hard bringing us up at the age of twenty?
Sophia: Well, I’ll be twenty this year — I’m nineteen. But sometimes you all give us a tough time, but I love having you all as my brothers and sisters.
LJ: All together there are four boys and three girls living in the house. Lloyd’s sister is bringing them all up on a $500 a month welfare check. It isn’t easy.
Chill: My name is Michael Murray.
Lloyd’s brother: His name is ”Chilly Mac.” He’s at the liquor store.
LJ: Almost every day, Lloyd’s father visits the house. His name is Michael Murray, but everyone calls him ”Chill.”
Chill: They gave me that name. I used to shoot pool, I used to hustle — any kind of way I could get some money.
LJ: When he come over, he’s almost always drunk. And the kids make fun of him. Like today — they asking him to spell ”food.”
Sister’s Friend: Spell ”food.”
Chill: L-O-O-F . . . L-O-O-F.
Sister’s Friend: F-O-O-D.
Sophia: Wait — what did you spell? We said spell ”food.” What you eat.
Chill: Oh, food. What you eat?
Sister’s Friend: Yeah, buddy boy, spell food.
LN: I asked my father, Chill, what his best memories of my mother are.
Chill: Me and her have fun, putting our feet in the water together. We were sober then — but once we started getting high, them memories gone. They gone.
LN: Why are you drinking?
Chill: I don’t understand why I’m drinking.
LN: Do you think you going to stop?
Chill: Yeah, I’m going to rehab, and take care of myself.
LN: What do you drink?
Chill: I drink about two or three pints of wine a day. But it ain’t helping me, it’s only killing me. Don’t people understand its destroying you?
LN: If it’s destroying you, why do you still drink?
Chill: That’s why I got to go into rehab, because I don’t want to destroy my family. I want my family.
LN: Do you think you’ve been a good father?
Chill: Yes, I have. To the best capability I could.
LN: I have no further questions.
(Tape recorder clicks off.)
(Fade up on sound of card game.)
LJ: Every Saturday evening at Lloyd’s house, a bunch of people comes over to play cards — mostly Lloyd’s sisters friends. Usually the game lasts all night. I left at about 11:30 or 12:00.
(Music, outside sounds.)
LJ: I met up with Lloyd the next morning.
LJ: How the card game go last night?
LN: I won all the money! It was 80 dollars!
LJ: Jeepers, how you be winning all the time?
LN: I don’t cheat, which everybody think I do. But I’m hooked now — once I start I can’t stop.
LJ: Man, what you want for breakfast — since you buying?
LN: I took LeAlan to Johnson’s restaurant on 39th Street for breakfast.
Waiter: Alright what else?
LJ: Since Lloyd had $80, we ordered everything on the menu.
LJ: Then with the omelet I want the hash browns and grits.
Waiter: Okay, now what about this French toast?
LN: I want the French toast with sausages.
LJ: And I want the juice.
Waiter: Hold on a minute, just hold on.
(Restaurant sounds fade out into outdoors sounds.)
LJ: Man, that was one good breakfast.
LN: We just now got through eating at Johnson’s Restaurant.
LJ: I ate twelve French toasts, two omelets.
LN: LeAlan ate the whole store up!
LJ: Ooh man, I could eat again. My stomach starting to get hungry.
LN: That’s all we do is eat, man, to tell the truth ain’t it — eat and talk. Let’s get on the bus man.
LJ: We take bus rides whenever Lloyd wins playing cards, or if either one of us gets a little money.
LN: Just ride to the end of the line.
LJ: Take a break from everyday life in the ghetto.
LN: There go the bus.
LJ: Yeah. Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go! Let’s go!
LN: Hold that bus! Hold the bus! Hold that bus, please!
(Sound of getting on bus and paying fare.)
LJ: On the bus. We just sit at the back, look out the window, and trip out.
LJ: What’s your favorite food — breakfast food, lunch food or dinner?
LN: Dinner food.
LJ: This is what I be doing G. .
(Refrain of music washes away conversation.)
LJ: When we on the bus we talk about anything and everything.
LJ: I don’t see how them Chinese people go to school seven days out of a week.
LJ: Man, there’s a couple of billion oriental people.
LN: ”Oriental.” Don’t you spell that ”O-R-I-E-N-T-A-L?”
LJ: Think that’s right.
LN: ’Cause that’s the name of the Ramen Noodle — you know the noodles that we be eating?
LJ: Yeah, I love them. Oriental noodles — I be tearing them off when I be hungry.
(Refrain of music washes away conversation.)
LJ: When a nice looking female gets on the bus, we like to let her know we there.
LJ: Hey girl, he say he like you. He say you attractive. He say it’s just that animal magnetism that just attracts him. Man, he say he love you.
LN: Uh uh — I just love you!
LJ: Oh God. Oh God.
(Refrain of music washes away conversation.)
LJ: We just like to act the fool on the bus. Get some attention.
(Sound of bus horn honking.)
LJ: We almost hit a car. Whew, that car came out we almost hit it. I think we did. No, we didn’t.
LN: If we would have had an accident, you think we would have gotten hurt?
LJ: I would have sued — ”My neck hurt. I can’t move. Man I can’t move my neck.”
”My nose broke ohh.”
LN: Would you rather have a rubber nose or a plastic nose? I ain’t talking about the kind like Michael Jackson.
LJ: A rubber nose, because if I have a fight they hit me it just bounce right off and hit them in they face.
(Refrain of music washes away conversation and then fades out.)
(Sound of telephone conversation.)
LJ: When I got home from our bus ride on Sunday afternoon, I found out that in the morning, while we were eating breakfast, my cousin Tony got jumped by one of the gangs in the neighborhood. They beat him up so bad they put him in the hospital. He wouldn’t let me interview him, but I recorded him while he told his friend on the phone what happened.
TONY: I’m out homes — I’m breathing and everything. I can hear everything. But I ain’t woke.
LJ: Tony’s saying that they beat him up until they knocked him unconscious. Then they hit him a couple more times in the mouth. That woke him up, and he got away. He says it’s just a blessing that he made it back home.
TONY: It’s just a blessing that I made it back home.
LJ: This is where the drive by took place last year, where the El Rukns shot down some folks right in this area where we walking now.
LN: Gangs and violence are just a way of life in this neighborhood.
LJ: And now we see the Fort, where the Fort used to stand.
LJ: Just a block from my house is a big vacant lot — that’s where the Fort used to be. An old movie theater that was the headquarters of the El Rukns street gang until the city tore it down.
LJ: We standing on the grounds now. You still see the caution police barrier.
LJ: Were just in eighth grade, but a lot of the kids we grew up with already joined the gangs. When we were walking around the neighborhood, we spied our friend Gary, selling drugs.
LJ: Gary! Slow up, man!
LN: LeAlan asked him what he thought he was going to be doing in ten years, since he already dropped out of school.
GARY: I ain’t gonna be alive ten years, because selling drugs and shit they gonna pop my ass.
LN: He says he won’t be alive in ten years, because with his selling drugs, someone’s gonna shoot him before that.
LJ: I don’t know why some kids just give up hope, and others — like me and Lloyd — hold on. Maybe its just that both me and Lloyd have at least one strong person in our families to watch over us.
LN: But, no matter what the situation, every kid who lives in this neighborhood has to grow up fast.
LJ: When I was nine, I knew where drugs came from. When I was ten I seen my first automatic weapon — a Glock Nine — two clips.
LN: I seen all kinds of guns — .44, .22, Techs. I saw rifles.
LJ: Mac 10, Mac 11.
LN: Living around here. You hear shooting all the time.
LJ: Like Vietnam sometimes. You might hear ”Booka Booka.” Silent. I remember one time I was over at my Auntie house spending the night. We playin’ Super Nintendo. I hear this lady: ”I heard you been looking for me, nigger.” Then she just — Boom Boom Boom Boom. She let off about eight shots. Then I heard the other gun fire off, and we were just still there playing there like nothing happened.
And then Vietnam, them people came back crazy. I live in Vietnam, so what you think I’m gonna be if I live in it and they just went and visited.
Living around here — it’s depressing. Man, it’s depressing.
It’s not a normal childhood by any means.
(Sound of the boys walking outside.)
LJ: Now we walking towards the lake front.
LJ: Sometimes, when we bored, nothing else to do, we get on the bridge which goes over Lake Shore Drive, and we drop rocks on the cars below — try to crack they windshields. And then run.
LN: Mini-vans are one of our favorite targets.
LJ: That’s a brother in there. Hit the white blazer. The white blazer. Throw it now!
(Sound of the boys running away.)
LJ: You just driving your car and — Poom! .We just hit the car. I don’t care about them people. Most of them going to the suburbs.
LN: You be bored you do anything.
LJ: Just to have some fun. Lloyd, come on, let’s stop running. All I know is I bust your windshield and you got an insurance claim — I don’t care about them people. Boy you didn’t think I was going to do it, did you?
LJ: It definitely aint easy growing up in the ghetto. So far me and Lloyd are okay. But it’s always tough to stay out of trouble in this environment. The poverty, the drugs, the pressures, the tragedies — it gets to people.
LN: You never whos gonna get into trouble, or when they just gonna give up. Like LeAlan’s sister Janell.
(Sound of TV at LeAlan’s house.)
LN: We back at LeAlan’s house.
LJ: My sister back here asleep in her room. What time you got in this morning? You stupid! When the last time you been to school?
LJ: My older sister, Janell. When she was my age, thirteen, she was an honor student. She won the spelling bee. She was the salutatorian of her class. Then when she hit fourteen, she started buggin’ out. Hanging around with the wrong crowd. Staying out all night. Stopped going to school.
LN: The week before we did our recording, Janell almost died. She drank too much, and had to be rushed to the hospital.
LJ: Can I interview you? Janell, tell me about yourself.
Janell: Well, I’m very energetic. I like to have a lot of fun.
LJ: Like to drink a lot.
Janell: No, I don’t.
LJ: Yes, you do. You smoke marijuana?
Janell: No, I don’t.
LJ: Yes, you do — tell the truth!
Janell: No, I dont.
LJ: You’re seventeen.
LJ: Have a child.
LJ: How old were you when you had this child?
LJ: How many close friends of yours have got killed through the years?
Janell: I don’t know. I can’t count all of them. Been a lot though.
LJ: You think it’s around fifty?
Janell: I don’t think it’s that many.
LJ: About thirty or forty?
Janell: Probably somewhere in that area. Maybe a little less than thirty.
LJ: Do you know who killed or murdered these people?
Janell: I know who killed some of them.
LJ: Like who?
Janell: Like Veal.
LJ: Who killed him?
Janell: I ain’t gonna tell you who killed Veal.
LJ: Who else?
Janell: I know who killed Slick.
Janell: I don’t want to tell you that either.
LJ: Who else?
LJ: Who killed him?
Janell: I ain’t gonna tell you that either.
LJ: Thank you.
(Sound of radio playing in grandmother’s room.)
LJ: My grandma sleeps across the hall from my sister, where she keeps an eye on Janell and all the rest of us. She’s been through a lot in this house. She spent a lot of years worrying about her children, and now she has to worry about her grandkids. But she’s a strong woman.
Sometimes I think about what might happen to the family if my grandmother dies. A lot of times Ive had dreams that she died — and when I wake up, I run upstairs to make sure that she’s still there. I get onto the bed with her and grandfather, and talk about all kinds of things. Like what my granddad was like before he had all his strokes.
Grandma: He was wild, liked to stay out in the street all the time.
LJ: He over there batting his eyes, acting like he sleeping. I see those eyes going, trying to find out what you thought about him.
Grandma: He go to work all day, and stay out in the street all night
LJ: Didn’t he work at the cow company?
Grandma: Stock yards, he worked at the stock yards as a lugger — he would carry the cows on his back.
LJ: A cow weigh 1500 pounds!
Grandma: He lug it. Hed carry half of it and put it up on the hook.
LJ: How you carry them cows, granddad? How you didn’t get squashed?
Granddad: Carry the half of the cow.
Granddad: On your back.
LJ: That’s why we all got strong backbones, huh?
LJ: My grandmother says she gets her strength to carry on, her wisdom, from the Bible. She loves gospel music. And of all the song she knows, the one she loves the most is called ”One day at a time.”
LJ: Could you please sing that song for us?
Grandma: With my voice all messed up?
LJ: Do it. One, two, three . . .
Grandma (sings): Do you remember when you walked among men? Well Jesus you know, if you lookin’ below, it’s worse now than then. They’re pushing and shoving, they’re crowding my mind. Lord, for my sake, teach me to take one day at a time. One day at a time, sweet Jesus, that’s all I’m asking of you. So help me today, show me the way, one day at a time.
LJ: She was hoarse but she still can blow. Thank you.
(Tape recorder clicks off .)
LJ: This is LeAlan Jones.
LN: And Lloyd Newman.
LJ: Peace out.
LN: Peace out. No good bye. A salaam aleikum.
LJ: A salaam aleikum.
LN: See ya’.
LJ: And wouldn’t want to be ya’.
LN: Peace out, I’m outta here.
LJ: Peace out.
(Music fades out.)