It’s one of those “last gasps of summer” days in September, with surprise temperatures in the 90s, when, in spite of the very high heat and humidity we all tell ourselves to enjoy it as autumn is knocking at the door. This is the day of my son’s first big singing gig. He’s just landed a plumb new job which requires a lot of studying, testing and licensing. All of which caused the date of his show to creep up on him. I’ve offered to help in any way I can.
I come racing back to my place, having dropped off my cordless mic at his place. Lots to do! I told him I would create a program in time is running out. I still have to shower and make myself “presentable”.
I’m approaching my place, when I notice a small whirlpool of commotion on this same corner where, a month ago I witnessed a man in the street calling out for help. He had just been shot twice. At this moment ,there is a man standing across the street who is visibly upset. A woman is calling to him from inside her van saying, “Call the police! Don’t let that child go with him! You don’t know who he is.”
I can’t help but notice that he is holding the hand of a tiny child no more than 2 feet tall. She is sobbing uncontrollably, which stops me dead in my tracks. I’m in a hurry to help Mike, but something’s not right.
“Do you know this child? Is she your child?” he calls to me.
He’s yelling from across the street. If I were to cast his story in a film, he’d be played by Samuel L. Jackson.
“Is this your child?”
“No.” That’s a stretch. I’m fiftysomething!
“Wait! Hold on.” I briskly make my way across the street. Mike’s show will have to wait.
“What’s going on?”
“Do you know this child?” She stands there holding his hand never bothering to look up, no doubt thinking ‘grown-ups are idiots! Why can’t somebody just fix this?’
“I found her running by herself into the middle of the street. She was almost hit by a car!”
“Oh my God!” I exclaim. I looked down to see this beautiful little girl dressed in colorful summer attire, with huge brown eyes filled with tears. She sobbing uncontrollably. She doesn’t make a sound. I pick her up and hold on for dear life. WTF! Where am I? And what’s up with this corner?
I look into those huge brown eyes and tell her, “It’s okay. Everything’s gonna be okay.”
At some point a white guy in his early 30s, who has evidently been privy to all this,, comes over to offer help.
“What happened?” I inquire of this very tall black man standing guard, with his bike leaned up against the gate.
“I’m riding my bike when I see her run in front of a car. I jumped in front of the car to stop it from hitting her. She’s so little! A driver can’t see someone so little. WTF! Then this lady says ‘Don’t let her go with anyone! Call the police.’ Meanwhile this guy in a van over there says this is his child! How you gonna let your child run in the street like that?”
He is clearly upset. I suspect he’s a little shaken considering he instinctively jumped in front of a moving vehicle. His fear from that event is surpassed only by his anger that it was allowed to happen in the first place.
“Good for you! Thank God you were there.”
“She could’ve gotten killed! How do you treat a child like this? It’s disgusting!”
“I agree.” I look at this sweet little girl who seems oblivious to our conversation. She’s lost in a sea of tears and her own little world. I’d forgotten what it’s like to hold a child. My son is 25.
“Did you call 911?”
“Sweetie you can’t run into the street like that it’s dangerous.” I’m able to get her attention as she settles down.
“What’s your name?” Silence.
It strikes me that she has no sense of stranger danger with me. That’s probably not a good sign. While I’m far from threatening in appearance or demeanor, it implies a lack of boundaries or no sense of personal space.
Seemingly out of nowhere, a guy in his mid to late 20s, randomly appears looking like a kid who is in trouble for leaving his bike out.
“That’s my baby! Gimme my baby.” (Yeah right! Like that’s gonna happen!)
“I inquire. How do I know that?” I inquire.
“That’s my baby!” I cling tighter. She isn’t going anywhere…yet.
“Is this your dad? Do you know this man?”
Nothing. Silence. Not even a nod..
“She doesn’t seem to know you.”
Indicating to the two men,”Can you please grab my cell phone from my purse?” It’s lying on the ground. The white guy hands it to me. I call 911.
“Hi. I’m standing at the corner of Sherwin and…, holding a little girl who is maybe two years old at best. She was found unattended, running across the street and almost got hit by a car. We you please send someone?”
He starts to move toward me to take her.” Gimme my baby!”
“No. I’m sorry. But I don’t know if she’s yours. And if she is, why was she alone, running across the street?”
“I was parking my car.”
“She was almost hit by a car. Why wasn’t she with you if she’s your child?”
The sentinel speaks.
“WHAT THE FUCK MAN! You call yourself a father? How you can let your child run into the street like that? She would’ve been hit if I hadn’t stopped the car. You don’t deserve to have a child!”
Testosterone is suddenly amped on both sides. Meanwhile I cling tighter as he tries to grab for her.
“What’s your name?” I ask this little child dressed in bright summer clothes, trying to defuse the situation. She just looks at me with those big brown eyes.
I can’t help but notice for beautiful long hair that someone took the care to put into loose dreadlocks. I look down to see that her tiny little toes painted with polish that has worn off. I can’t resist wondering about that scenario. Nail polish is an exciting right of passage for little girls. There’s a disconnect here, between the blatant disregard for her care and the obvious attention to her care. But allowing a toddler to run alone in the street, is more than just disregard for her.
“What were you running to? Were you running away?”
She nods her head, yes.
“Were you running away from him?” Another nod.
“Is this your dad?” Nothing.
“Your uncle?” Nothing.
Meanwhile there’s no sign of the police. The white guy is still standing by as these two start yelling at one another.
“You’re a fool. What the fuck? You don’t deserve this child! The police should take her away if she’s yours. SHE ALMOST GOT KILLED!!” I love this guy.
“Fuck you man! Gimme my child! THAT’S MY CHILD!”
There is an air of incredulity from him that I won’t let her go. She doesn’t seem to show any sign of wanting me to let go either, causing me to wonder about this relationship.
Ever see the movie “Aliens”? Remember the final scene with Sigourney Weaver in a robotic, defending the little girl Newt? That’s me. My maternal streak runs very deep. Which I realize can make me a huge pain in the ass sometimes. Luckily in this case I don’t need robotics because this wonderful, very tall black man, is not having it! Just knowing that he has my back, gives me strength.
“I don’t know this is your child.” I’m trying to diffuse things, while holding on tight to this little angel.
“If she’s yours, why isn’t she saying she’s yours?”
In the sentinel’s effort to get this man to acknowledge his shortcomings as a father, he explodes.
“THIS IS ABUSE MOTHER FUCKER! How you gonna abuse a child? Children are a blessing! You have NO right to treat her like that. You’re SUPPOSED TO PROTECT HER! YOU ASSHOLE!!”
It’s interesting how men are inclined to throw out their chests when ready to engage in battle. As the man approaches, like a bull ready to charge, the sentinel puts his bike up against the wrought-iron gate as they are about to come to blows. I jump in between them while holding her tight.
“STOP! Please stop this! This is about HER! Not you! You are scaring her AND ME!
They were both so wound up, I was in defensive mode, when I realized that I came dangerously close to getting hit. Like two bulls they are now staring each other down and breathing heavily.
“Please stop! You’re both scaring her and me. SETTLE DOWN! The police will come and will get it straightened out.” I signal to the white guy, who has no dog in this fight, “Will you please call 911?”
“Sure. Sure.” He obliges.
“Will you please stay until they get here? I’m not leaving. But I want someone else to be here.” He agrees willingly.
Things calm down.
“She’s right. This is about her. All I did was ride my bike when I see her run across the street and almost got hit. This lady didn’t see her. She so little it scared me. I’m gonna leave. Don’t give her to him. Wait for the cops..”
“I won’t. Thank you! You’re a good man.”
With that, he mounted his bike and rode off down the street. I wish I’d asked his name, although I’m not sure he would’ve told me.
As we wait for the police I quietly ask why she was running.
“Do you know him?” She nods, yes.
“Were you running away because you thought you were in trouble?” Another nod…yes.
“Does he hit you?”
She looks at me with wide eyes as though we’re playing the game “hot and cold”. I just got a lot “hotter”.
“I’m sorry. My dad used to hit me too. It wasn’t until I was a grown up that I learned people should never hit children. They shouldn’t hit each other either. But they should never hit kids!”
“Are you scared of your dad?” another nod. “I was scared of my dad too sometimes. What’s your name?”
“Gloria” the father blurts out.
The police pull up to the corner and get out of the car.
“Gloria? That’s a beautiful name. I love your hair! Did you paint your toes with your mom?” The affirmative nods come more easily now.
“Gloria you’re a beautiful little girl. But we want you to live to be an old lady someday. So… no more running into the street. Okay?” She agrees with another nod.
The police inquire what’s going on. I told them what I know.
Officer #1 asks, “Is this your child?”
“Yes. That’s my baby.” he replies.
For the record? In school I was never a tattletale or a snitch. I have little tolerance for them, in fact. It’s okay with me, if you are judging me a right about now as something of a douchebag or know it all. When it comes to the well-being of children, I don’t fuck around.
“She was found running into the street and was almost hit by a car. He was nowhere to be found and she didn’t indicate he was her dad until moments ago. She doesn’t seem eager to go with him. When I asked if she was running away from him, she nodded ‘yes’. I asked if he hits her and if she is scared of him and she nodded, ‘yes’.
“I don’t know either of them. I was just on my way home when…” I relay the story to them.
“Is this your daughter?”
“Yes. That’s my baby.”
“Why was she running into the street? Where were you?” Officer 2 inquires.
“I was parking my car.”
Clearly he still doesn’t seem to grasp the severity of his actions.
“She was almost hit. What concerns me is, the whole time she did not say he was her dad. And she also indicated that she scared of him.”
Officer #1 asks Gloria, “Is this your dad?” she nods “Yes”. Still not a spoken word from her.
“I don’t know what is the right thing to do. I’m concerned for her safety and well-being. I didn’t call you guys to tear up a family and I know how messed up DCFS is. If he’s hitting her I’m not sure going into the system is going to be any better for her.”
“So where is the child’s mother?”
“She’s at work. Just gimme my baby! “
By now I’ve set little Gloria down. But she makes no move towards her dad. She takes my hand in her tiny little hand like we’re old pals.
“Settle down please, sir. We could be real assholes and called DCFS.” I think reality just began to sink in.
I chime in. “All I care about is her. Obviously somebody is taking care of her. But I’m worried that she’s being hurt.”
“We can’t just take a child away from her parents ma’am.”
“I understand.” What a mess.
Officer #1 inquires, “What’s your name sweetie?”
A tiny little voice replies, “Gloria.”
He continues. “Gloria, I want you to do something for me. Okay?
She’s got wide eyes. She doesn’t seem to be intimidated by the presence these two men in uniforms though. She nods her head.
“If anybody hurts you, I want you to scream as loud and as long as you can. Can you do that?”
She opens her eyes wider, as though doing so will enable her to better hear and understand what he just said.
“Scream as loud as you can so someone can hear you. Promise me?”
She acknowledges the instructions with her usual nod.
“Just gimme my baby! Can I go now?”
“Hold on sir. We’ve taken a report and will be checking back to make sure she’s okay”.
At least that’s something…
“If it’s okay, I’m going to take off now. I’m running really late for something.”
“Sure ma’am” they reply.
I bend down to little Gloria so we are at eye level.
“It was wonderful meeting you. My name is Julie. I hope you I see you again sometime. You’re a beautiful little girl with a long life ahead of you. I want you to grow up to be an old lady someday. So PLEASE no more running into the street! Okay?”
“Okay.” I am honored. She spoke to me.
“By the way, I like your hair and painted toes. You look great!”
With that I go back and sit in my car until they leave. I don’t want her dad to see where I live. Perhaps I sounds paranoid, but only a month ago I saw one of my neighbors coming from the same block, a few doors away, screaming because he was just shot. (I later learned that he was shot by his “buddy” over a drug dispute.)
When I relayed the story to my friend Joe, he asked if the police commended me for doing the right thing.
“No. I didn’t do anything.”
“Yes you did!”
I don’t see it that way. But the story does have a hero. It was the cyclist who is missing a few teeth, who jumped in front of a moving car to save this tiny little 2 foot angel with dreadlocks and painted toes.
Not only did he risk his own neck with such a bold move, but he could have handed her over to her dad and driven off. Instead he took on the role of sentinel. Not only that, he was so incensed, he was ready to come to blows with her father for his neglect.
I don’t think he was too fond of the police and was probably eager to get on with his day. I’m inclined to think he took off to avoid punching the guy.
You may be wondering why I chose to write about this. It’s not just that it was a bizarre incident. It was. I don’t know if the Sentinel had kids of his own or not. He was probably between 35 and 40 something. Perhaps he did.
I guess my other motive for telling the story is the fact that, this image of black fathers neglecting their kids just pisses me off.
In my opinion and life experience, the black men who I’ve known, have all been exemplary fathers. That includes the father’s of my friends of color.
In some cases, I venture to say they put their white brethren to shame. I can’t even begin to count how many women’s white ex-husbands have ditched their responsibilities by neglecting child-support.
I also wrote this piece to pay tribute to this wonderful noble stranger who went out of his way to protect and advocate for a child he didn’t know. It was very courageous of him. I only wish I’d asked his name.
There seems to be (what I consider) a freakish trend in our culture of people not wanting to “get involved”. It’s frightening to me, how easy it is for people to turn their backs on someone in an acute crisis. (When I saw that poor guy was screaming for help in the street with 2 bullet holes in him, I called 911 as I watched everyone around him scatter. But there was no gunman in sight.)
Perhaps Gloria won’t remember this. She’s too young to process it all at this tender age. But hopefully one day she’ll know that she’s very important and her life matters a great deal. So much so, as to have the sentinel jump in front of a car to save her and three strangers intervene, if only momentarily, on her behalf.
In a perfect world, I hope she never has to make that scream for help. That’s the thought I cling to.
Oh! (Lest I forget) I didn’t get a chance to do much of a program. But Mike’s show was a huge hit! The place was so packed, we had to put seats on the stage. He did 2 encores!