We’ve lost many kids over the years through gang and gun violence. However, our recent loss was one I never would’ve envisioned… Our friend Jereau, at the age of thirty, took his own life. Jereau was a good man with a strong, vibrant faith. We didn’t know, but he had been struggling for some time with severe depression. In spite of all the good things in his life, it was hard for him to see the light at the end of the tunnel. He was suffering from the deep pain that can come with mental illness and he hid it from all of us.
Jereau had beaten the odds. At thirty, he had outlived what I call, the “young black man’s curse”. It remains true today, that by the age of twenty-five, out of every four black boys growing up in inner city neighborhoods like this one, one has been killed, one has been in prison and one has been on drugs. Jereau was the one who survived to become a man. He grew up in poverty, in a gang infested neighborhood. He was surrounded by negative and criminal influences in his community, school and family. Nevertheless, he avoided trouble and chose positive paths and people for his life, graduating from high school and maturing to adulthood. I pointed to him often as a person for young boys in our ministry to emulate.
Tragically, this didn’t have to happen. His wife recognized that he was ill and needed help and took appropriate measures but the authorities she turned to did not heed her concerns about his mental health and failed to take the necessary precautions. In a moment of despair, Jereau took his life. I was the last person to spend time with him.
I’ll miss him dearly. He’d been with us since he was ten years old. I know he’s with the Lord. He was a model to me of the gentle strength of Black manhood. He was committed to his family. When his child was born with kidney failure and needed round the clock care, Jereau dropped everything to stay by his side day and night. Whenever he showed up at our house or came to church, he lit up the room with his jocular presence. He was a great role model and mentor to the boys in our ministry. I remember, when we went to Mexico on a mission trip, that he once took the shirt off his back and gave it to a street kid who admired it. He helped me often working with kids at camp or with basketball. He was a good friend. He loved the Lord. I’ll miss him dearly, but he’s still with us. In the Lord, he’s still with us and in Christ our family will be reunited again.
I got the news about Jereau on the first night of Manhood Camp. I was deeply shocked and the grief was overwhelming. My prevailing thought at the time was, “What’s the use? If something like this could happen to Jereau, something could happen to any one of the kids I’d ministered to over the years. Who knows what could happen to one of the fifteen boys who are with me now? What I do doesn’t make one bit of difference.” But the Lord spoke to me… not in words, but in images of memory, of people who had passed through this ministry and our lives, some who have passed on and some who are still with us. And when I came back to camp and the boys surrounded me, I felt that same burning desire, that unrelenting drive, that divine call instilled in me… to love, to help, to serve, despite the personal cost. It is all worth it… if we can bring just one into the Kingdom.