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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Afrika Owes- From Prep School to Prison A tragic story I Know All Too Well

I was reading the paper this Sunday about Afrika Owes, a 17-year-old who was arrested as part of the 137th Street gang that peddled drugs and ran drugs in the shadow of Reverend Calvin Butts’ Abyssinian Baptist Church. The media is painting her as a victim who was led astray by the street. But I don’t see it that way. I feel Afrika is another unfortunate sista who made the choice to walk away from religion and education and "Keep it Real" by following  the false doctrines of “Thug Life” and is now paying the price for her actions.

Reading about Afrika Owes, she had the potential to be anything she wanted to be. She was a gifted Harlem girl who earned a scholarship to attend the prestigious Deerfield Academy a $43,000 a year private school in Massachusetts. She was a member of the Youth Ministry and Choir at Calvin Butts’ Abyssinian Baptist Church. A Student Leader in the Deerfield Black Student Coalition. A smart charismatic girl who was on her way to an Ivy League College. The world was her oyster.

But she chose to walk away from that opportunity to get with 20-year-old Jaquan “Jay Cash” Layne and join up with the “137th Street Crew” as a gun moll. Miseducated by the gang about the "realness of the streets", she probably thought it was cool to carry his gun in her purse and exciting to watch him get over on the cops with a smug smile when they found nothing on him. She also probably thought it was fun when he spent money on her buying her stuff like sneakers, clothes, and jewelry with his drug loot. Even though she was scared when he proposed it she probably thought it more exciting for her to make her own money selling crack rocks on the Deerfield campus. And when he talked about taking head shots only to her on the phone it was like something out of a movie like Scarface or a street lit novel.

Unfortunately real life isn’t like those street lit novels where the slippery heroines get away with their crimes. When the members of the 137th Street Crew were busted last week, Afrika wound up in Rikers Island and another story of a promising sista wound up with a with a tragic ending I know all too well.

I’ve run into a dozen Afrika Owes her during my time as a student in at Park West and Taft High school back in the late 1980s and early 1990s at the height of the Crack Epidemic. I even knew a few personally back then. Like Afrika, many of those sistas were pretty, smart and had a lot of potential. But when they wanted to have a boyfriend they didn’t want the brotha with the part-time job or the allowance he got from his parents. No, those guys were “soft, boring, and immature.”

Instead, they wanted to get with the older dudes who wore the gold chains and drove around in the fly rides like a Jeep, a BMW, or a Benz. The ones with enough money to buy them leather coats, gold chains, clothes from The Gap, Gucci bags, sneakers, and Timberland boots. The neighborhood drug dealer. The gang banger. The Thug. The guys who slung rocks on the corner and carried a nine, a blade, or a boxcutter. When other girls saw him on her arm or riding shotgun in his car with the booming speakers they got jealous.

Until tragedy struck and that poor deluded sista wound up another statistic.

Afrika Owes should count her blessings. She should thank God she just wound up in Rikers. Because she was truly lucky she got busted so young. At 17 she still has an opportunity to turn her life around. She can get her diploma, work towards her degree, and have a life after prison. There’s still a chance for her to have a happy ending.

Many of the sistas I used to know like her in Park West and Taft who had the drug dealer boyfriends back in the day probably weren’t as blessed as she is. Most probably suffered a series of tragic fates worse than anything Afrika will ever experience.

Some of the luckier ones probably wound up in prison doing time for his crimes because they followed the nonsensical codes of the street preached by fools like 50 Cent that state a woman has to take the fall for her man when he’s busted. But the truth is more like: He made a deal with the District Attorney and implicated her so he could avoid the mandatory minimum sentence. So SHE winds up having to do 20 years in a lockup for riding shotgun in his car while he continues running his game on the streets with another woman.

Many more of those sistas I went to school with probably wound up having babies by these thugs and drug dealers and now have no way to support them except welfare and food stamps. Why? Because most of the fathers are doing 25-to-life mandatory minimums in a Federal lockup like Leavenworth or 20 years in a state penitentiary like Sing Sing. And many more of those fathers were killed in drug deals gone bad or by a rival gangs over a beef. Others are running the streets and could care less about the children they abandoned.

And quite a few of those unfortunate sistas wound up alone as they became addicted to their boyfriend’s product. It was probably fun when he offered them a hit of weed in the staircase or at a house party. Over the years they probably got into harder drugs like crack, heroin, cocaine, and crystal meth. As a sista’s habit became an addiction that destroyed all her promise, potential and good looks, he moved on to the next ho, because that’s the code of the street.

And another handful of sistas wound up taking bullets meant for him. Those poor sistas were caught in the crossfire of drive-by-shootings or walked into ambushes from rival drug gangs where they got shot in the head or got their throats cut in an attempt to send a message to him. Meanwhile, he moves on to the next ho, cause that’s the code of the street.

And finally there are the sistas no one talks about, the ones killed by their thug boyfriends in domestic violence incidents. One of the tragic ironies many sistas encounter by getting involved with violent thugs and drug dealers for protection is that there’s no one there to protect them from his violence. Sooner or later they become a victim of his fists, his guns, and his rage. And when they leave him, usually it’s in a body bag.

Afrika Owes could have been a victim of one of those tragic fates like many of the sistas I went to high school with back in the day. However, I think God stepped in just in time to save her life. Even though she’s in Rikers right now, she still has a chance for Him to use her for His purpose. From here on in it’ll be up to her to make the choice to either turn it around, or continue down a road to self-destruction.


  1. That is just a shame. It just reinforces the fact that bad choices a teenager makes can effect them for the rest of their life. Hopefully she will turn her life around.
    This is a very informative blog Shawn. Good job!

  2. Sad, sad, but I'm so glad you told it in your inimitable style. At first I protested that none of it was her fault, but as I read it I knew she was old enough to make choices and you were right, this thug life is what our kids are learning to espouse in the street lit now being sold and heralded as "truth."

    I hope you keep on tellling it like it is. Pity helps no one but the one who is pitying. What can we do to help the Afrikas of our communities turn themselves around?

    Congratulations, Shawn, on exposing the sores of our present-day Black community body. For only then can be find ways to heal.

  3. I felt I had to write about Afrika Owes because I knew so many young girls in High school like her when I was growing up. Some of those sistas were good girls in need of guidance and support and never got it.

    It was disheartening to watch them get caught up in the "Thug Life" when I was a teenager. As they gave into peer pressure and got involved with drug dealers and gang bangers they threw away their opportunity to get an education, dropped out of school and wound up on one of several a tragic roads.

    I'm praying this little sista can turn her life around because she has so much potenital and promise and I'd hate to see her lost to the streets. I see God working in her life through this imprisonment and I'm hoping she sees Him as well.