Smiling boy to violent young man: Matt's Memo

Syracuse boy checks out at 7-11 at South Avenue and Valley Drive.

The neighborhood boy's eyes lit up. His smile sparkled. He was paying for a bag of snacks and drinks at the 7-11 on South Avenue and Valley Drive. The 11 year old asked me if he could be on the news. His joy impressed me. That happiness quickly faded when I told him the topic of the story. It was the death of the 70 year old man who had been beaten in the parking lot just four days before.

Everyone in the store was talking about Jim Gifford. He was a regular. He was well known and liked. From behind the cash register the store clerk said she had been praying for his recovery. Centro bus driver Kym Everson knew Gifford from her days working with him at Van Duyn Nursing Home and from driving the bus. She told me how Jim would always lend a hand to someone needing help boarding the bus.

Across the aisle in the 7-11 a man with expertise in urban gang violence regretted not being present that morning at the convenience store. General Davis said he would have stopped the 18 year old from harming Jim Gifford. Davis is a former gang member. He has shared stories of his former life of crime with teens growing up in Syracuse. He knows the importance of connection for teens and the negative consequences of finding that connection on the streets.

Kym showed her empathy in sharing her stories of Jim. General showed his street smarts in sharing his insight into gang life. But, it is that young boy that left me reflecting on the future.

Where does that innocence go? What needs to happen for a boy growing up in the Elmwood neighborhood to follow the right path instead of the wrong?

Let's hope this boy has love and support at home. Let's hope he has teachers who care at school. Let's hope he connects with church, athletics or the arts. Let's hope he remembers the tragedy of Jim Gifford and chooses to lead a long productive life. Not one where the number of arrests nearly matches his age before he's out of his teenage years.

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