Give Thanks and Remember

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Dana White and his daughter. Photo: Marlon Rice

For most people across the nation this week symbolizes Thanksgiving, a time to come together as a family, to eat together, to drink together, to just be together. Family members fly in or drive up from wherever they stay to come back home. They may live in Maryland, or in Virginia, or in Ohio, but home is the place that everyone goes to for Thanksgiving, not some static place with four walls and carpet, but home is wherever your family is, wherever your heart is the most fulfilled.

And while most of us take such a time for granted, this Thanksgiving I will be sure to hug my children tighter, to laugh with my family louder and to enjoy the experience of giving thanks more vividly because, unfortunately, I knew two men who won’t be able to eat turkey and stuffing on the couch while watching the Cowboys play on Thursday.

Kevin Virgo was a young man from this community. I met him at the hardware store on Fulton and Franklin, he worked there. Stocky guy with a bearded face masking a childish smile, our interactions started the way most positive interactions between Black men start, with a head nod. The head nod is the introduction to saying, “what’s up.” It’s the first mode of disarming tension that we learn as Black boys. You’re in a space with another guy, you’ve seen him a couple of times, you know that the two of you come from the same community so when you see him you make eye contact and give the head nod. It says so much. It says, “I see you.” It says, “I respect you.” It says, “I’m with you.” After the introductory head nod, the next time you see the guy you offer up a verbal, “what’s up?” This was the progression between Kevin and I. We went from the head nod to saying what’s up, to seeing one another in spaces other than the hardware store and outright greeting one another with handshakes and pounds. Kevin was so cool. I never once saw him acting out of character. He was a young man doing the right things, working and taking care of his daughter.

According to the CDC, the leading cause of death for Black men Kevin’s age is homicide. On November 2nd, Kevin was shot and killed outside of a restaurant on Atlantic Avenue. The streets say that his killing was revenge for him protecting and coming to the defense of a waitress at that same restaurant a couple of weeks earlier. Sounds like Kevin, always doing the right things. Losing him in this way is a terrible stain on the community. What is the state of our neighborhoods when we sit idle while scoundrels and evil men rob our community of good men like Kevin? His daughter and his mother and his family will no doubt mourn him this Thanksgiving as we all should because their loss is our loss.

Dana White and I attended Morgan State University together in the 90’s. Dana was rail-thin and full of energy. You could not meet this guy and not like him. Dana was from Baltimore, but he was a child of Hip-Hop. We would have countless conversations about the culture, touching on everything from lyrics to fashion to what the culture has taught us. You see, if you’re a child of Hip-Hop, you realize that this thing is more than just music and pose. Children of Hip-Hop are independent and have the work ethic and the attitude of a hustler. Our Hip-Hop in the 80’s and 90’s taught us to get up, to get out and to get something. That was Dana. He moved seamlessly through social circles and professional patterns while always simply being himself. Years after we both left Morgan, Dana would contact me and we’d talk about any and everything, all from the perspective of Hip-Hop. This summer we spoke about being new fathers. His daughter is a toddler, as is mine. We laughed about being 40-something years old men with young daughters. Our friendship was effortless. I could go for years without speaking to him and then pick up right where we left off. I bet he was like that with everyone, and that’s one of the things that made him so special.

According to the CDC, the leading cause of death for Black men Dana’s age is heart disease. On November 17th, Dana White died of a heart attack. I got the news from my Facebook timeline. A mutual friend posted a “Rest in Peace to Dana,” and I couldn’t believe it. I contacted a friend and asked him how could a guy with so much life inside of him die? He told me that Dana died of a heart attack. I began to cry for Dana but more so for his young daughter. He loved her so much. He posted pics of her and him all of the time. It isn’t fair that she should lose her father at such a young age. As much as we have loss in losing him, it’s nothing compared to what that young girl has lost in losing her father.

For this Thanksgiving, and for all of the ones to follow, bring love with you when you come home. Love one another, not just the ones you eat with, but love the ones you come across in all walks of your life. Your smile, your consideration, your attention may be a blessing to someone without you even knowing. We lose so much over the course of a year, let us remember to give thanks for simply having one another, being able to kiss our parents, being able to kiss our children. I know that if you and I really put giving thanks to practice in our daily lives then all we have lost will not be in vain. Happy Thanksgiving!