Roy Exum: Our Worst Epidemic

Thursday, September 6, 2018 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Who knows? If “Big Will” Edwards hadn’t used profane language talking to a girl earlier in the week at Birmingham’s Woodlawn High School, he wouldn’t have gotten a one-day suspension. And if that hadn’t happened, his momma wouldn’t have heard about it and wouldn’t have benched him from playing in last Friday night’s football game.  When she did, she wouldn’t even let him go watch the game and, for crying out loud, he’s the team captain. In her eyes, there are far more important things. “I punished him so he could learn respect for this certain girl,'' Mrs. Edwards said. "William cried when we explained to him that you can't disrespect girls.”

Vatongula Edwards has raised her six children the right way. She got home from work around 11:20 p.m. last Friday and, as usual, she talked to each child about their day and so forth. Will, the athlete of the family, had just finished playing the Madden video and soon went to bed in their East Birmingham house. That’s when Vatongula heard some faint noises, like plastic breaking, or something.

Suddenly “Big Will” – her third child of six -- raced back to the living room, nearly tackling his sister down on the floor in the event there were more bullets. That’s when momma saw the blood. Her husband grabbed towels, trying to stop the bleeding from the gun shots and then “Big Will,” who had already attracted interest from major football colleges, bled to death on the living room floor. At age 16, the one everybody loved was dead.

Who knows what could have been? But what really happened has shaken Woodlawn High like nothing in its 100-year history. Some kids get drawn into gangs. Others mess with drugs but Will was the apple in everyone’s eye. Every day this week there has been a steady parade through the house, including Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and just about every teacher William ever had. “We’ve cried and cried,” said his mom.

“He was full of life and full of energy,'' she said. "William made everybody laugh. There wasn't going to be a dull moment when he was around. He was just that funny."

Hundreds gathered in Birmingham’s East Lake Park on Sunday for prayers and to release balloons in a scene that is now repeated every day across the country. Black-on-black shootings are America’s greatest tragedy, society’s worst epidemic. In Chicago over 2,000 have been shot thus far in 2018 and 80 percent have been black. The latest FBI figures show over 90 percent of black homicide victims across America are killed by other blacks.

The liberals counter that 84 percent of white homicide victims are killed by other whites, but The Wall Street Journal explains "Blacks commit violent crimes at 7 to 10 times the rate that whites do." That’s why homicide is the leading cause of death among blacks between the ages of 15 and 34.

This isn’t just gang-bangers. Now we have a case where a dazzling kid in Birmingham, his name only known in police circles by his pal, the school resource officer, is senselessly slain as he went to bed. As Demetri Carpenter, who was a mentor to William and led Sunday’s vigil, told the huge crowd, “Will was loved by so many,'' she remembered. "He was a loving, life-giving jewel from Heaven. We've had too many losses.”

Boy, I’ll say.

And then there is this … Three days after William Edwards was pronounced dead in the same room he had just played the Madden football video -- this on Tuesday this week -- somebody found a book of poetry that a cool Birmingham group came up with in its mission to help students in the inner-city schools. The idea is to help kids explore different ways and methods to describe their early life experiences.

The little book was called, “I Don’t Believe In Mermaids” and included was a poem by a seventh-grader at Birmingham’s Putnam Middle School. That would be the same William Edwards who wrote back then:

* * *


by William E.

I'm scared of dying at an early age
and another one of my worries
is when the teacher calls on you
and you don't know the answer
and everybody starts looking at you
and when the teacher
says false information about you
I'm worried about the killing
of Mike Brown in Ferguson
I'm just worried cause if I was walking
and I got shot, I would feel
like a fish with no water.

* * *

In the world of sports, there are some silent indicators that speak volumes about a high school football player. Recruiters love to learn a prospect is an Eagle Scout (this is also huge for America’s service academies) and they look to see if a prospect was a class officer, head of the FCA, and so forth because today a boy’s character, his values, and his yearning for excellence separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

One of the biggest of all is whether the prospect was ever the captain of the team – you can’t fake your teammates – and if a prospect is chosen as a team captain while they are still an underclassman, that just might be the biggest endorsement one can have. ‘Big Will” Edwards was a junior on the Woodlawn football team and could quite literally play just about any position the coaches asked. But, what counts most, is that his teammates voted him as their captain.

What should count far more is that he, at age 16, is dead. All of America should weep.

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