We Must Do Better!

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By Laura Lapointe

Oh, dear. This is a sad moment for me, and a call to action.

It started with a trip to Haley House Café in Roxbury today. While there enjoying the friendly vibe of the place, I remembered that about five years ago — when I worked for the Boston Re-Entry Initiative — I encouraged one of our soon-to-be-released clients to check into the food-service training program at the café. His name was Burrell Ramsey. I remember Burrell well because of his friendly, gentle demeanor, his smile and his sense of humor…and for his cooking skills. On the unit, he would create culinary masterpieces for himself and for the other inmates, just using stuff that they bought in the canteen. He was very creative and resourceful, even at 21 and locked up.

I don’t remember exactly what Burrell ended up doing when he got out because he was not actually my client as a case manager. I just got to know him a little on the inside and referred him to the Haley House program, making some connections there for him if he wanted to pursue it. Today, when I was there at the café, I thought of Burrell and I smiled.

Tonight, I decided to Google him to see what he was up to. I found an article about how Burrell was shot by police after a traffic stop over a year ago…the cause for which is still unknown. You can read it if you Google his name. Oh, Burrell. How heartbreaking this is. Beyond tragic.

This brings up two very difficult things for me. Obviously, one is that this young man died and that he died at the hands of police for an unwarranted incident, at best. Burrell had problems with the law. He had been arrested for selling drugs and carrying a gun. Did he grow up under difficult circumstances? Yes.

Did he have tremendous potential? Definitely! Why wasn’t he the one behind the counter at that café today…or the one who owned the restaurant? What happened? Burrell is the FOURTH one of my former students and re-entry clients killed in Boston…and those are the ones that I know about.

I find it incredible that I did not hear about his passing until a year after it happened. Why didn’t this tragic incident receive media coverage? Why am I not in my old stomping grounds where I was more aware of these things? The other deeply troubling thing is that I did not hear about his passing until a year after it happened. Due to some life circumstances I no longer inhabit the urban neighborhood where I used to live, and I feel out of the loop on those important things.

I need to be back in my element. Wow. I need to do better. In honor of Burrell, and David, and Joe, and Vernon — the other young men who I worked with who are no longer here — and the other many, many whose names I do not know. In honor of Trayvon. In honor of ourselves. WE must do better.

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