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Thirteen-year-old Sukari Wright, a poet with Youth Speaks, shared her incredibly moving experience with the crowd at the Law Center’s 21st Anniversary Dinner.

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I Grew Up in Richmond
by Sukari Wright

“Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”
—Langston Hughes

I grew up in Richmond
A place where beauty lies on painted red lips of hookers on 23rd street
A place where power is found in guns as bullets become the paint brushes of our canvas
A place where innocence is sometimes too hard to find because we’re all dying of thirst
I learned the rules of these streets
Don’t get too close to anybody cause you never know
They could wake up one morning and be dead the next
It is sometimes the way of the city

On August 23, 2011
The sky was a deep blue
Winds rustled the leaves
Distractions drowned out by the stomping of our feet on barren ground
“Best friend!” I called
Chris nodded with a twinkle in his eye
I’ve known him since we were 5 years old
We’ve played basketball every day since preschool
Took bubble bathes after bathing in the mud
He was my butter biscuit
We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways
Promising to see each other the next day

I wasn’t there but I still imagine him
Walking towards the white house on the corner
There was probably pep in his step as he sailed along the sidewalk
Optimism coursed through his veins
Anxious to see his little brother

A black car drove by
Roses bloomed from a garden of gun smoke
2 thorns pierced his chest
One entered his lung
He laid on the ground
His life fading as the blood drained from his body

Later that day as I was eating dinner
I got a call saying he was shot in a drive-by
He was my best friend
He was like my little brother
So I sat in the Children’s Hospital waiting room
For an hour
From this distance I heard the heart monitor give out
He died at 4:32pm
My heart dropped
Feelings of abandonment
Layered on scars of sorrow
Just an hour before he was up and living
Now he’s down and dead
I’ve known him since we were 5 years old

3 years later I bring new tulips to his grave
I ponder on unanswered questions
Why does this always happen in Richmond?
Death is constantly around the corner waiting to claim it’s new victim
And it had to be him
The kid always ready to laugh
The chuckle of an old man
In his 10 year old heart

Why do we live to die?
Why do we waste away on street corners, selling drugs, letting our bodies be abused as if we have no worth?
I answered my own questions
This is the way of Richmond
Closes friends drop like rain in the sky during harsh winters
I have learned the rules but I refuse to play by them
I refuse to accept that this is just the way it is
This does not have to be our life
Paintings of little black boy silhouettes on gravestones, at memorials

We are the future of Richmond
When a child dies part of our future goes with them
This did not start with us
We are passed down problems before we are old enough to comprehend them
Now it’s our job to fix them
To build a city where
Death will be hard to find
Love will be inevitable
Power will be found only in our minds, not in our trigger-happy fingers
Rewriting the rule book
This will be the new way of Richmond