EDITOR’S NOTE: Ervin Coley III, 21, was one of three young Black men from North Richmond gunned down over a 72-hour period earlier this month. The killings were allegedly caused by turf issues. The string of violent episodes stirred up old memories for one young Richmond Pulse writer, who decided to share her personal story about an ex-boyfriend from North Richmond who was seduced by the drama of the streets.
At the age of fifteen, I had my first relationship with an African-American boy. He was born into a handful of problems, passed on to him by previous generations. I was also born into problems; my family migrated from Mexico to the United States, where we had no family and no money — only hope of a better life.
Both of our families disapproved of the relationship, but with time they learned to accept it. Well, at least some of them did. His dad was racist against Latinos, and my family disliked African-Americans.
Bobby Brown III was his name — born in a prison and raised by his grandma who was a drug addict. My best friend at the time introduced me to him and we slowly became friends, then we ventured into a two-year relationship. I liked his smile and his humor the most. He would put on the funniest facial expressions just to make me laugh. But his family had a long history of violence, drugs, poverty and prisons. When we started our relationship, he was just getting involved in what was a long family history of turf issues.
Our community in Richmond is divided into sections: We have central, south, North Richmond, Parchester Village and Point Richmond. People from North have problems with people from central; people from central have problems with people from south; and the vicious cycle continuous from neighborhood to neighborhood. Violence over turf issues is sometimes tied to drugs, or killings of relatives.
Bobby was born into a family from central Richmond who had turf issues with people in North Richmond, an unincorporated part of the city. The violence between the two neighborhoods was very strong, even before Bobby was born. His family was deep in the game, having generations of violent conflict with people living in North Richmond.
When we started dating, he had wanted to move beyond that. But one day as we were walking to my house – which is in San Pablo but very close to North Richmond – a friend walked by and told us not to go to Lake Elementary because some young North Richmond folks were playing basketball.
Bobby was hard headed and decided he wanted to go, regardless. As we entered the schoolyard, some folks from North Richmond recognized him and they began to rally around. As soon as we saw them looking at us we decided to leave, but it was too late. We had a group of about 10-12 boys and about 4-6 girls following us to my house. I was shocked and scared, since I had never had any problems with anyone. Bobby had a gun at the time, and he showed it to the group from North, which led to them keeping their distance from us. If it wasn’t for the gun, I don’t know what would have happened that day.
Bobby tried to stay out of trouble, but it seemed to follow him wherever he went. Despite his best efforts, he went in and out of jail constantly.
Two years into our relationship, Bobby found out that easy money lures easy girls, and he liked the lifestyle. The choice I gave him was, “It’s either them or me. Pick.”
I always had hope that one day he would change, and we kept in touch for several years, but things only seemed to get worse with time.
The last time I saw Bobby he was stuck in another mess. He called me four months into my new relationship with a voice of hope that soon turned sour when he heard I was celebrating my anniversary. Since then I have no idea where that boy may be but I hope he’s doing well.
Six years later, I can look back on all of this and see the relevance, even today.
The latest example is the killing of 21 year-old Ervin Coley III, who was from North Richmond. I never formally met Coley, but I remember him from Richmond High School. The last time I saw him was at the Sisters in Solidarity community event last month. He was picking up trash from tables with other youth, making sure we were all composting. I shortly found out that he, like me, was doing gardening work in Richmond. I read in the news that he had been shot before, meaning that he probably had issues in the past — but it looked to me like he was trying to move beyond that. I was very sad when I heard he died because even though I didn’t know him, he had a lot of potential and was moving in the right direction.
Growing up in Richmond and San Pablo, I continue to see youth in the same position. It’s hard, but I believe people can move beyond the violence if they focus on bettering their lives. They can enroll in after school programs, seek counseling, join a sport or surround themselves with people who have positive goals. But I also acknowledge that a lot of the problems violent communities are faced with are systemic. For a lot of youth in Richmond – and other poor communities – it’s hard to stay away from trouble when we are born into these neighborhoods that have such a long history of violence.