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Jahlil Clements still speaks to us all

JAHLIL Clements is a name I want to remember.

Those of us in the news business are drawn into the painful details of many tragedies. To continue doing our jobs, we can't let them all affect us deeply.

But sometimes a story does, even for reporters and editors who think they have seen it all.  

I find myself not wanting to forget about this boy, who must have experienced fear and sadness that no child should. As we all know, too many of them do.  

Jahlil's fear is gone now, wiped away by his death.

However, he died because he chose not to cower. He took action in the face of danger and thus became a powerful figure.

He was the 11-year-old who was riding along Interstate 77 through downtown Charleston last Saturday night with his mother, her boyfriend and some other children.  

The boyfriend began to beat the mother, who was driving. She eventually stopped the car. Police have said he dragged her out and continued beating her.

Jahlil jumped out of the car and tried to flag down help as vehicles whizzed by. He was struck and fatally injured.

Two days before this happened, I had read a book that began with the story of another 11-year-old boy in sad circumstances.

"An Invisible Thread" by Laura Schroff is the true account of a Manhattan advertising executive's relationship with a street child who approached her to beg for change.

She kept moving, as city residents usually do, but several paces later stopped in her tracks. She walked back toward the thin, grimy boy and invited him to join her for lunch at a nearby McDonald's.

The story of the relationship that develops between these two unfolds in a compelling book that is difficult to put down.

Maurice, the boy befriended by Schroff, has an almost indescribably sad home life. All the adults in his life are drug dealers or addicts.

No one keeps track of where he goes or whether he eats. No one sees that he bathes, washes his clothes, or buys him new ones.

Little by little, Schroff begins to meet his needs, and the two become lifelong friends. Because of her help, Maurice escapes his family's drug-addled poverty and manages to build a middle-class life.

In trying to explain her actions, Schroff tells of her own childhood. She is one of four children who grew up in a lower middle-class family on Long Island. Her father was an alcoholic who supported his family but also terrorized them.

When he drank, he would become explosively violent toward his wife, children and even their household possessions. Schroff describes some of the episodes in enough detail to paint a vivid picture of domestic violence hell.

Fresh from reading her story, I heard of Jahlil's tragedy.

It's not hard to imagine the horrors being experienced by other children living in situations they are too young to handle or to understand. They are in the news nearly every day.

It is hard not to despair. What can any of us do? People will drink or use drugs, and some of them will turn into monsters. Others will zone out and simply neglect their children. It has always been this way.

Perhaps hearing, and remembering, the stories of people who manage to do something and make a difference is important.

Jahlil's funeral will be held at an East End church today. His school, Malden Elementary, has organized a spaghetti dinner for Monday night to raise money for his family.  

Jahlil also liked to roller-skate, and the rink where he went on weekends, Skateland in Campbells Creek, will give the family the proceeds from its 6 to 9 p.m. session on March 31.

While Jahlil would have welcomed this help for his family, not everyone will be able to attend the dinner or go to the rink.  

Perhaps there's another way to do something for this young hero.

There will be other frightened or sad children who just need a little help.

We can remember him and be willing, as he was, to act.

Friend is editor and publisher of the Daily Mail. She may be reached at 348-5124 or nanyaf@dailymail.com.


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