Last week I attended a party for author and former local Shawna Kenney, as she visited her favorite Wilmington haunts during vacation. There, I was honored to meet award-winning journalist Majsan Boström. Her internationally respected writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Bangkok Post, Café, as well as other high-profile magazines across the globe. So, when she personally took me aside, handed me a memoir off her bookshelf and recommended it for encore, I had to dive into it.
Through chit-chat, Boström understood I was desensitized (yet moved) by hard-core war stories. Movies like “Tears of the Sun,” “Apocalypse Now,” “Black Hawk Down” and “Full Metal Jacket” are staples in my home; however, none of the aforementioned titles could have prepared me for what the book depicted. On every level, DaShaun “Jiwe” Morris opened my eyes to a very different, ongoing conflict, significant and encompassing our stateside streets everyday: gang violence.
Author of “War of the Bloods in My Veins: A Street Soldier’s March Toward Redemption,” Morris is an activist, mentor and “Blood Author” rather than simply a former “gang banger.” Within his first narrative, he chillingly recounts the journey of an East Coast member of the infamous Bloods gang. He writes about the absence of security or support, and how both mitigating factors are what thrust him into battle for the first time at age 11 in the streets of Phoenix. It was there that a friend’s older brothers placed him in a car, put a gun in his hands and made him squeeze the trigger toward rival gang The Crips.
“In the darkness of the streets, my childhood is murdered. . . . I am reborn—a gangster,” Morris writes. Noted as a cry to his brothers, “War of the Bloods in My Veins” has been touted an exceptional and ruthless look into the undying cycle of abandonment, violence, death and self-annihilation that plagues the lives of too many youths in our communities. The foundation of his work began during his time served within the Delaware State Correctional Facility as he faced 25 years.
“[The memoir] was birthed out of survival within the penitentiary,” Morris begins, “when I started, it wasn’t with the intention for a story; it was therapy . . . The hardest part was to tell the story of my mother. My mom had been straight off of crack for 14 years. She cleaned up, and I had to reveal a lot of her past—things she didn’t speak to people about. When the book came out, we were on the phone for a couple hours. She called me, sobbing uncontrollably. She said in all her years parenting, she never realized the mistakes she made affected her children so much, and to actually read it in my words, how her children felt about drugs, not having a stable father, she felt she failed.”
Comprehensive and raw, Morris’ vivid memories makes his silent, eventual redemption an enlightening page-turner for any race or ethnicity. Though, readers should be forewarned: His use of language is hardcore—not because he wishes to glamourize his former lifestyle, but because there is no other way to get his struggles and point across. Offensive dialogue aside, it’s important to move past it to catch the more important underlying message. It is this crucial element that makes it unsurprising to people of all genders and backgrounds. From the streets to suburban churches, many reach out to him for help guiding other troubled youth headed down a similar destructive path.
“Gang violence affects everyone,” he says. “I think that it’s necessary to be informed, to be enlightened about these situations. We should never shut ourselves off. It’s an important matter around the country—[and] learning how to help is important. People just turn a blind eye to this madness. I say, ‘Be more caring and express more compassion about what’s going on around the country. You can go in your house and block it off and ignore it, but when it hits you close to home, when your kid is bullied or hooked on drugs then it becomes a concern of yours. Be open minded.’ I’m a firm believer people are not born this way; things shape you. I feel like when more people get involved from a genuine place, you get better results, and when you don’t understand something, you don’t need to criticize.”
Today, Morris, a dedicated father, speaks to dozens of juvenile facilities, boys and girls clubs, half-way houses and high schools across America in hopes to redirect youth energy toward more positive outlets. He focuses on core values that mean the most to him: honesty, unity, family and general welfare.
Though published in 2008, “War of the Bloods in My Veins” is a timelessly relevant read. As Morris points out, so long as there is poverty, crack, projects and those who prefer to ignore it, there will always be gang violence. Check out www.jiweera.com for more information. Morris’ next book, “Not At Their Expense,” will be released in 2012.