Tears for Taylor Hayes, the 7 year old shot in Baltimore

I cried last night for someone else’s child.

My twin daughters are 8. Like every parent, I think my daughters are the most intelligent, beautiful girls in the world. And they are.

The oldest, by a minute, is brilliant. She has been reading since just before her third birthday, and she never stops. My wife and I sometimes argue with her about taking too many books out of the house with her for a short car ride. She’s an incredible speller and can tell you anything you need to know about “Shopkins” or “Minecraft” or whatever the latest buzz is in 8-year-old land. She’s a heck of an athlete too. She loves lacrosse, mostly because I do, and I think she’s going to be a really good player when she gets older. What I love most about her is how fast her mind works. She’s quick-witted like her mother, and I never know what she’s going to say next (and mostly neither does she), and it brings a vibrancy to our home that only she can add.

My youngest daughter, by a minute, is super smart too, but she’s the sweetest little girl you could ever meet. She is patient and kind and has the best sense of humor. She loves to draw, and I could listen to her sing all day long. She loves to play dress up, just like her mom, and even at 8, I’m already yelling upstairs for her to come down for breakfast because she’s taking too long picking out her outfit for the day. What I love most about her is how big her heart is. She’s never met another child who didn't become her best friend in five minutes. She brings peace to our home in a way that no one else could.

And that's why I started to cry. I’ve never met Taylor Hayes or her family, and I can’t even begin to imagine the heartache they must feel after their precious child was shot riding in the back seat of a car. But I do know what its like to be the parent of a smart beautiful little black girl, two times over, and I know that nothing matters more to me than them. Seven-year-olds like Taylor are supposed to spend their time chasing each other around the playground at recess. They’re supposed to ride bikes and jump rope and play freeze-tag in the hot summer sun. They deserve to have the chance to begin their exploration of the world. They shouldn't have to fight for that chance. They shouldn't have to fight to live.

I grew up not far from where Taylor was shot in southwest Baltimore. For as long as I can remember it has been a troubled neighborhood. One with lots of good people; many people who work hard and try to do the right things. People who want the best for their children but people who sometimes feel crippled by the violence and poverty that encircles them. My heart aches for them too. I know what its like to feel trapped and to be fearful in your own neighborhood. No child should have to grow up with that fear.

One afternoon last week, I picked my daughters up from summer theater camp at the Arena Players on McCullough street. On the ride home they told me about the new dance routine they’re working on for the show they’re performing at the end of the summer and how “so and so” wasn't so nice to “so and so” during art and how the teacher corrected him. They laughed about one of the new stretches they learned and complained about how hot it was outside, and within 15 minutes they were both fast asleep, heads bobbing from side to side, exhausted from a full day of being 8 year olds.

And that should have been Taylor’s experience too: carefree, exploring the world, being a child. Instead she fights for her life, and we wait for the next senseless shooting to cripple our collective conscious. We can’t keep waiting for someone else to fix the violence that faces our city. Mayors, councilpersons, judges and police are but a small portion of the coalition of people we need to have come together to make our communities safer for our children. It has to be all of us: teachers, store owners, barbers, pastors, grandparents and parents holding each other accountable and working together to do our part to keep our communities safe. Taylor deserves that, my daughters deserve that, all of our children deserve that.

Sedrick Smith (sedricksmith@gmail.com) is a social studies teacher and director of admissions at Baltimore City College; he’s also a doctoral student at UMBC and an adjunct professor in literacy education at Loyola University Maryland.

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