If she could get each of her three sons to their 25th birthdays, Barbara Ginyard thought, they would be fine. She knew the statistics; she knew that when it came to young black men in the city, the years from 18 to 24 were the danger zone. For everything: drugs, guns, crime, violence.
Jerry, her eldest, is now 36, lives down the street from her and does home improvement work. Charles, her second, is 30, loves music and works as a deejay. That left only the baby, James, to turn 25, on Oct. 9, 1995. The day arrived, it was a crisply pleasant one of clear skies and cleansing breezes, and Ms. Ginyard and her family drove to Woodlawn Cemetery to put flowers on the hilltop gravesite inscribed "JAMES GINYARD III, 1970-1995."
James didn't make it. Nor did Brian or Elijah or Raymond or Corey or the scores of other young black men who are murdered every year in Baltimore before they can pass the 18-to-24 chasm. They are the group -- the race, the age, the gender -- on which the city's homicide rate takes its most immense toll.
On Monday, the Million Man March will make its way to Washington without them -- but, in some ways, for them. The marchers will be black men, standing shoulder to shoulder in a show of unity, commitment and what its organizer Louis Farrakhan calls atonement for, among other things, abandoning their families and communities.
It is an intriguing if uncomfortable concept to raise: the missing black man, and what his absence has wrought.
There are many ways to be missing. Physically, of course, but also emotionally; in prison or on the streets rather than in the home or on the job. But the most unalterably missing man is the murdered man. And, more than cancer, more than AIDS, more than car wrecks, homicide is decimating a generation of black men. It is the leading cause of death in metropolitan areas for black men ages 18 to 24.
If they were casualties of war, surely there would be protests and demands that something be done to staunch the flow. But instead, their murders barely register on the radar screen of public attention. If this newspaper, for example, noted their deaths at all, it was often in two or three paragraphs of stultifying sameness: "A 20-year-old Forest Park man died last night in a hail of bullets " "The youth, who suffered at least eight gunshot wounds, was pronounced dead " "The victim of the shooting, believed to be in his early 20s, was shot in the chest and both arms "
If a suspect is arrested, he usually is a statistical duplicate of the victim and headed for the criminal justice system that, on any given day, has one out of every three young black men in prison or on parole or probation. Another missing man. Often, though, the news accounts end with the dreary litany: no known suspect, no known motive.
And yet, if these victims are anonymous to the rest of us, if their individual lives and deaths passed without the attention of the larger world, to their intimates, they are now and forever the missing. The missing son, the missing father, the missing brother, husband, lover, friend.
There are so many. Baltimore's homicide rate has declined from the peak year of 1993 when 353 persons were slain; 243 have been killed since January. But the price that violence exacts on the black community has remained steady, and huge. Some 90 percent of the victims are African-Americans, and most of those are young and male. One out of every 21 black men in America, the Department of Justice says, can expect to be murdered. Conceivably, a few may die unmourned, lost long before the actual murder to whatever family or community once embraced him. But for most, there is a ripple of loss. There are hearts broken, potential unmet and, often and sadly, children left fatherless.
Family members of a few recent victims were contacted to bear witness for these largely unheralded young men. They spoke of loss, for sure, but also of remembrance.
JAMES GINYARD III
The pictures could be of twins, two identical Gerber-cheeked babies, round-faced and sweet, each framed with a pair of bronzed baby shoes.
The one on the left is Jamal Ginyard, now 6, and the one on the right is his father, James, killed in March just blocks from their house on West Lafayette Street. Barbara Ginyard raised James here, in a corner house that she and her husband bought just before James was born, and now she will raise Jamal here as well.
"When I get him up in the morning to go to school, I think, it's James all over again," she says. "He's very good in school just like his father. James was gifted and talented all through school."
Jamal has lived with her since his birth, and, after living in Owings Mills for a while, James had returned home as well. As his son grew from baby to little boy, James was becoming more involved as a father, Ms. Ginyard says, taking Jamal to his old school, Lafayette Elementary, P.S. 202, and attending PTA meetings.
Despite James' early academic successes, he didn't continue on to college but joined the National Guard. There, he learned water-treatment skills and, in March, was scheduled to take a civil service test that could lead to a city job. He was optimistic enough about passing to ask his father, with whom he remained in touch after his parents' divorce when he was 16, to help him find a car.
But on the evening of March 6, James and a friend went up to Poplar Grove, a main thoroughfare several blocks from his home, and there was a shooting. Ms. Ginyard was alerted and used the CPR she learned as a licensed day-care provider to try to resuscitate her son, but to no avail.
In the midst of her still fresh grief, Ms. Ginyard tries to keep her focus on Jamal's future. "In a way, it brings back a lot of memories of James, and it hurts," she says. "But I look at it this way, everybody is put here for a reason. He left this child here to carry on his name."
Until a couple of years ago, Angela Johnson and her children lived with her parents on Collington Street, on a block that pops up in surprising technicolor after you turn off the grimmer North Avenue. Many of the rowhouses have brightly painted and planted window boxes and, in matching colors, patio furniture resting against the wall and miniature picket fences. There's something tended and settled about this block, and, indeed, her parents have lived here for almost 40 years.
Her oldest son Brian, 21, still considered this his neighborhood -- many of his friends lived a block over on Chester Street, and Angela didn't worry about him hanging out here because she grew up here herself. There was the security of familiarity, plus the ever watchful eyes of her mom and dad who had given Brian his own key so that he could spend the night whenever he wanted.
That night last July, Brian had been out at a club on North Avenue with his friends. Around 2:30 in the morning, his grandfather Bernard Johnson heard gunfire outside his window. He ran downstairs to find his grandson lying in the street. The police, already in the neighborhood investigating another shooting, arrived in seconds, Mr. Johnson says, and a suspect has been arrested.
Angela Johnson was just 16 when she had Brian, and so in many tTC ways they grew up together. She feels the loss of this man-child in so many different ways. He was both the boy who loved to joke around with her and play with kids in the neighborhood but also the man of their household who would check on everyone before turning in himself.
"There was more than 10 years between Brian and the little ones," Angela says, "so he was like their father figure."
ELIJAH J. YOUNG
When E.J. was little, his sister Marie, who was about 10 years older, used to get him ready for school because their mother had to be at work by 7 a.m. If Marie didn't iron his Catholic school uniform just right, though, he'd get on the phone and call Mom to complain.
"He was always my baby, too," Marie Simmons, 31, says now, chuckling through her tears and memories of the persnickety E.J.
As the youngest of three children, E.J. was everyone's baby. He got into some juvenile trouble in 10th grade, his mother Evelyn Young says, and was sent to a forestry camp for nine months.
"That camp made him more responsible," says Ms. Young, a fiscal clerk for Liberty Medical Center. He returned, and worked a series of jobs, in food service and elsewhere, trying to save money to marry his girlfriend Denise and support their baby Daijah, now 2. He had been laid off, though, for much of the year before he was murdered on Jan. 23 in front of Northern High School. It was the continuation of a dispute between two neighborhood groups, police said. "It has torn the family apart," Ms. Young says.
Everyone has reacted differently: Marie vows to follow the court case through to the end to make sure justice is served. "None of this 15 months and parole," she says angrily. His mother seems beyond tears: She recalls not even crying when she received the phone call at work telling her of the shooting, and she couldn't even return to her church, where E.J. made his First Communion and then was buried, until two weeks ago.
As for his father, Elijah Sr., he remembers E.J. as "a good son, a caring son, a loving son." Elijah Sr. plans to march on Monday.
DONTAE J. COLEMAN
It was the Sunday before Labor Day, and Dontae was looking forward to school starting. Which by itself was a good sign, says his mother Cynthia, because he'd been out of school for about a year after a suspension from Patterson High School for failing to attend regularly and keep up his grades.
Maybe this would turn things around, she hoped, for the 18-year-old son who seemed sorely in need of a father figure and more discipline. "When you have boys and you live in a rough neighborhood, you need both parents -- even if they don't live together," the single mother says. "How do you punish them once they're past 16?"
Ms. Coleman, 35, had her hands full, trying to get ready for the school year. In addition to Dontae, she has two sons, a baby daughter and five nieces and nephews in her custody.
"My parents had eight kids, I'm the oldest girl, my mother passed, my father passed, so everything falls on me," she says.
That Sunday, Dontae was shooting craps on a street near his East Baltimore home, when someone rode up on a bicycle and shot him. A suspect has been arrested.
Ms. Coleman shakes her head over a world in which young men can't seem to resolve problems less violently. And she sees her 14-year-old son growing up in that world.
"He's at that age," she says. "I just got to get him out of this neighborhood."
It may seem odd to passers-by -- even Loretta Bailey's sister thinks its a little morbid -- but every June 2, she gives her son a birthday party. "I give him a celebration of life. We bring him flowers. The adults drink [champagne] and the children drink grape juice," Ms. Bailey says of the party that she holds improbably enough at King Memorial Park. "I just miss him so much. I have to accentuate his life."
There is nothing about Brian that you haven't heard before about other young murder victims: That he loved sports. That he had vague plans for businesses that he'd like to start, someday. That he was a good father to his three children. But if people always speak well of the dead, Ms. Bailey says, in this case, it's true.
"He had an outgoing personality. . . . People took to him."
It's been more than four years now, since Brian was found tied up and shot to death in the back of a car on Hunter Street in what police suspect was a drug-related incident. No one has been arrested.
Ms. Bailey doesn't dwell on those painful details. She prefers to remember the joyful parts: how her son loved to play basketball at rec centers and at the Community College of Baltimore that he attended for a while, how "effervescent" he was. And every birthday, the family remembers Brian, forever 22 years old.